Chinese Medicine Tips for Indian Summer

Indian Summer (late summer) is the season of the earth element.

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

It is a time to slow down and observe the abundance created during summer. It is also a time of self-reflection and self-awareness. With self-awareness, we can be cognizant of our needs and nourish ourselves. When our needs are met, we have the surplus energy to be sensitive to the needs of others.

In order to move forward with ease, we must be grounded in our center. The earth element provides us with this grounding and balance. It is the transition point between the seasons. The earth element is present late summer, late autumn, late winter, and late spring.

The energy pathways associated with the earth element are stomach and spleen. Tips to support the spleen and stomach energy are:

  • Avoid excess consumption of cold tea, liquor, cold melons, and sweet greasy foods.
  • It is important to exercise at least three days a week. Long periods of inactivity are harmful to spleen and stomach energy.
  • Eat a healthy, nutritional diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, a little protein and some grain.
  • Yellow and orange foods, foods harvested in late summer and root vegetables are very good to support stomach energy.
  • Eat dinner by 6 or 7pm each night if possible. To give the stomach time to digest before sleep.

Tips for Staying Healthy in Summer

Though we are almost 2/3 through the season of summer, we still have hot, humid weather ahead of us. Staying hydrated and not overdoing activity during the hottest part of the day is important to avoid heat exhaustion.

Some other important tips to stay safe are:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Protect against sunburn
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses
  • When sweating profusely, replace electrolytes with Vitamin Water, Gatorade or Pedialyte. (I prefer low sugar options)
  • If feeling, dizzy, weak, lightheaded or nausea move to a cool spot and apply cool water or ice packs.

We’ll miss the summer when it’s over, so it’s important to enjoy as much as we can.

Treating Adrenal Exhaustion with Chinese Medicine

tired womanAdrenal fatigue often occurs when we are experiencing prolonged periods of excessive stress. During this time the adrenal glands produce excessive levels of cortisol to aid in the flight or fight response of the body. Since most of the time we are responding to everyday deadlines or relationship stresses, we are not physically fighting or fleeing and do not use the cortisol. This cortisol then becomes stored around the abdomen as excess weight. Over time the adrenals become exhausted as do the kidneys which sit below them.

When the kidney energy(water) is low it is unable to hold down the fire energy generated by the heart. This heat is needed for the organs below the heart to function properly. Without heat, our other systems, digestion, elimination (large intestine, small intestine, bladder) will be adversely affected.

Some symptoms of weak kidney and adrenal glands are:

  • Allergies – the intestines are not getting adequate blood flow to digest and assimilate food. This inadequate oxygenated blood flow can also cause inflammation which can adversely affect the immune system.
  • Dizziness or light headedness
  • Increase or decrease in blood pressure
  • Frequent urination
  • Sleep issues, overactive mind, racing heart or palpitations
  • Low energy and extreme exhaustion
  • Body pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Brain fog

Adrenal exhaustion can occur after long periods of excessive stress. This is much more common than we realize today since so many people are multitasking, having schedules which run them ragged and working long hours each day.

The symptoms of adrenal exhaustion are many and varied from dizziness and lightheadedness to frequent urination, pain, and anxiety to name a few. Today I want to address solutions to this issue.

Since this condition of adrenal exhaustion and weak kidney energy has occurred over time there is no magic bullet to reverse it. It will take a multi-faceted approach to improve the condition and restore the kidney energy over time. The normal aging process weakens the kidney energy to a certain extent, but when we experience long periods of extreme stress without adequate rest or nourishment for the kidneys, we accelerate the aging process.

To restore the balance of fire and water energy, we need a whole-food-based diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and warming spices.

Foods which support the kidney energy are:

  • black or dark-colored (i.e. black rice, black sesame seeds, black beans)
  • salty or savory in flavor :
    • dark leafy greens
    • seaweed
    • kelp
    • eggplant
    • unrefined sea salt
    • pink Himalayan salt
    • bone broth
    • dark mushrooms
    • sardines
    • kidney beans
  • organ meats, oysters, root vegetables with dark color

Creating lifestyle habits which promote mindfulness will also help. Practices such as:

  • Meditation, yoga, prayer, tai chi, walks in nature, Epsom salt baths will all support the kidney energy.
  • Have the same bedtime each night, try not to be on a computer or watch tv for an hour or two before bedtime. The blue light coming from our tv or computer screens can prevent us from getting restful sleep. Avoid having this light in your bedroom. Restful sleep is one of the most effective things to nourish our kidney energy.
  • Holistic modalities such as acupressure, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy and others can help us release physical and emotional stress that we are unable to release on our own.
  • Chinese Herbal tonics can be very important in supporting kidney and adrenal health. If you feel that you may need an herbal supplement, it is best to consult with a qualified acupuncturist.
  • For lighter kidney support, herbal teas such as, chamomile, Tulsi, passionflower and Reishi mushroom can be helpful.

The Heart Meridian and Summer

Since the heart meridian is so important, I’d like to talk a little more about it before discussing the other summer meridians.

The warm weather of summer encourages us to be physically active outdoors.  It is a time to enjoy the weather and our friends.  Summer is a time for laughter, vacations, and fun. The heart meridian, which is most active in summer, is closely aligned to the mind and is considered the emotional center of the body.  This is not that that far-fetched for us.  We say someone who has difficulty hiding their emotions is “wearing their heart on their sleeve.”

In TCM the heart commands all the organs and tissues, houses the spirit and controls the emotions. When the heart is peaceful and strong it controls the emotions; “when it is weak and wavering, the emotions rebel and prey upon the heart-mind, which then loses its command over the body.”

Internally, the heart is functionally associated with the thymus gland which plays an important role in the immune system.  Extreme emotions such as anger and grief have a suppressive effect on the immune system by hindering thymus function.

The heart (fire energy) is also closely related to the kidney (water energy).  When the kidney gets depleted by excess work, exercise or sex it is unable to nourish the fire of the heart.  Symptoms of insomnia, heart palpations and anxiety may occur.

If the heart energy is scattered by too much physical activity, mental overstimulation or over-socializing, symptoms of insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, palpitations, and aversion to heat may occur. The key is to find balance in all things work, rest and play.  Meditate, have fun, enjoy your life.

Some tips:

Red foods resonate with the heart: tomatoes, radishes, beets, red pepper, and watermelon are good choices for summer meals

The Energies of Summer

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Though technically it isn’t summer until the summer solstice on June 21st, we can feel the shift in the weather with the longer days and the warmer weather. The summer has begun.  This season represents abundant energy, expansion, growth, activity, and creativity.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, summer is ruled by the fire element, the color is red, the emotion is joy, the organs most active are the heart and small intestine, pericardium and triple warmer.  It is the most yang(active) of the seasons; life and energies are at their peak.

In TCM mental activity is associated with the heart and therefore our memory, thought processes, emotional wellbeing, and consciousness are also attributed to the heart and fire element.  When the fire element is in balance, the mind is calm and sleep is sound, the heart is strong and healthy.  When the fire element is unbalanced, either lack of joy (depression) or excess joy (mania) can occur.

Symptoms of imbalance include agitation, nervousness, heartburn, and insomnia. Growth, joy and spiritual awareness between the heart and mind are the focus of this season.

Tips for summer health:

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • Wake up earlier in the morning, go to bed later in the evening, if possible, rest at midday.
  • Stay cool and hydrated
  • Eat lighter and cooling foods such as salads and fruits
  • Add pungent flavors to the diet
  • Keep calm and even-tempered (anger exacerbates heat)

The Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Together with the Yin-Yang theory, the Five Element Theory forms the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, diagnosis, and treatment.  

Traditional Chinese medicine was based on an observation of man in his environment.  In early times Chinese doctors identified patterns of continuous change and transformation in the universe and how these changes also occurred within the human body.  The concept of chi, the vital energy of the body and the Yin-Yang theory, which views the relationships between things as complementary to the whole, are integral to the master blueprint of the Five Element Theory.  This blueprint organizes all natural phenomena into five master groups or patterns in nature.

The five groups include: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each of these elements includes many “categories such as a season, a direction, climate, stage of growth and development, internal organ, body tissue, emotion, aspect of the soul, taste, color, sound…” the list is seemingly endless.  This theory gives a template to show “how nature interacts with the body and how the different dimensions of our being impact each other.” It gives a multidimensional view and provides a diagnostic framework to identify where imbalances lie.

We are in the season of spring which is the Wood Element.

  • The Liver and Gallbladder are associated organs
  • Eyes and tendons are associated body parts
  • The emotion of anger
  • The color green
  • Wind
  • Calling sound
  • Sour taste
  • The direction is east
  • 11pm – 3am -time

When the Wood chi is weak, indecision and a feeling of being stuck can occur. People who have a strong wood energy have clear goals and vision and can manifest their goals. Planning and decision making are their forte.

Navigating the Energies of Spring

Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash

During this beautiful time of year when nature is awakening and sending its energy up and outward, the energies most active play an important role in our modern world. The Gallbladder Meridian, which begins in the head and ends between the 4th and 5th toes, is responsible for decision making and overcoming obstacles. It’s partner, the Liver Meridian, controls our ability to plan our lives.

It is said that the gallbladder energy carries out the plans of the liver. The emotions connected with the Liver Meridian are anger, resentment, and frustration.

In our present-day society of deadlines and responsibilities, a healthy gallbladder and liver energy is essential to good decision making. Difficulty with procrastination or frustration level are symptoms of gallbladder and liver imbalance.

Diets which are high in processed carbs, fried food, trans fats dairy and fructose can lead to gallbladder imbalance. Some pre-disposing factors to liver disease include diabetes, alcoholism, drug abuse, malnutrition, and viral liver infection.

To improve gallbladder and liver health:

  • Juice a combination of beets, apples, lemon, carrots, and dandelion greens.
  • Eat more leafy greens, walnuts, olive oil, asparagus, garlic, turmeric, cauliflower, tart cherries, broccoli, and kale
  • Get some type of exercise every day Meridian

The Springtime Meridians

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

During spring the life force in our bodies is most active in the Liver and Gallbladder Meridians (energy pathways). These meridians are responsible for the liver and gallbladder organs as well as the eyes, blood, tendons, and ligaments.

We’ve spoken about the liver meridian, among other functions it stores and filters blood, regulates chi and prana, rules the health of muscles, tendons, nails, hands, and feet and is responsible for balancing emotions.

The major functions of the Gallbladder Meridian are:

  • Secretes digestive enzymes to break down fat
  • Gives us the ability to follow our path in life
  • Helps with our capacity to regain equilibrium aftershock
  • These meridians also affect anger, frustration, and courage. The liver controls the ability to plan one’s life, while the gallbladder controls the capacity to make decisions.

Some symptoms of impaired Gallbladder function are:

  • Pain over the eyes
  • Gas, bloating
  • Pain along IT band
  • Cramping at the 4th toe, knees, and thigh

Some symptoms of a congested liver are:

  • Skin problems; rashes, brown skin spots
  • Difficulty losing body fat
  • Distended stomach on a thin body
  • Ringing in the ears

Tips for supporting and rejuvenating your Liver and Gallbladder:

  • Start your day with a cup of lemon water
  • Juice or blend beets, apples, lemon, carrots, and dandelion greens
  • Eat more sulfur-rich foods: garlic and onions, and vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards, and cabbage
  • Have your energy balanced

Springtime and the Gallbladder Meridian

In Traditional Chinese Medicine each of the twelve meridians has a specific two-hour time period when the Qi (energy) is at its peak in that meridian. The Gallbladder Meridian is most active between 11:00 pm and 1:00 am. Its partner meridian, Liver, is most active between 1:00 am and 3:00 am. If you are consistently waking during these hours, it is an indication of imbalance in these energy pathways.

When the energy of a meridian is blocked and not flowing freely due to an overload of stress, poor eating habits or overexertion, physical symptoms appear.

Causes of Gallbladder dysfunction include:

  • Excessive consumption of processed, greasy and fatty foods
  • Anger, frustration and bottled up resentment
  • Excessive consumption of dairy products
  • Insufficient water intake

To support a healthy Gallbladder Meridian:

  • Exercise (yoga is especially helpful)
  • Start your day with a glass of lemon water
  • Identify food sensitivities
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruit and smaller portions of antibiotic-free protein

The Energy of Spring – Liver Meridian

In Chinese Medicine, man is seen as part of the natural world.  Therefore, in order to experience optimum health and wellbeing and prevent disease living in harmony with the seasons of nature is of utmost importance.  Spring is a season of new life and growth.

The energies associated with spring are liver and gallbladder.  Liver Meridian carries the energizing and expansive energy of spring in our bodies.

Last week I spoke about the associations of liver and symptoms of imbalanced liver energy.  Today I want to expand on that.
The most common symptoms of liver imbalance are:

  • Anger or irritation
  • Depression
  • Shoulder and neck tension
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Menstrual disorders (PMS, irregular or painful menses)
  • Digestive problems (IBS, indigestion)

In spring there is an increase in these symptoms because our energy is most active in Liver Meridian. To help harmonize liver energy:

  • Get enough rest and wake early
  • Increase intake of greens: sprouts, arugula, kale, watercress – help purify the liver and gallbladder.
  • Add the sour flavor to your diet- lemon water or apple cider vinegar in water in the morning.
  • I can’t emphasize exercise enough, especially for depression.  Walking in nature 20- 30 minutes 3 times a week is very helpful.
  • Include downtime in your schedule.
  • Have your energy balanced with acupuncture or acupressure.