Happy Summer Solstice everyone! I don’t know about you but the summer equinox always posed a problem while growing up. On the one hand it was the official start of summer and always a welcome one as school had usually only barely gotten out. On the other hand it also meant that the long slow progression of lighter days was now going to begin to reverse itself. The official start of summer is a double signal, one to promise the hottest days have yet to come and secondly, long days become shorter from this point forward.
Of course it is all part of nature, and the further north (or even south of the Equator) one lives the more dramatic the changes in the seasons. As we have learned in earlier blog posts East Asian Medicine follows the Jie Qi of the year. You may remember this important relationship to our own life and health cycles and that the twenty-fourJie Qi (in a year) correspond and reflect not only to what is going on in the natural world but in our own bodies as Ancient Chinese qi “scientists” observed these processes not only reflected in an annual cycle but in the lifecycle of every living thing. (To review the concept of Jie Qi please follow this link: Well-being in the New Year)
Xia Zhi (Summer Equinox) is the dominant Jie Qi right now. For the next 15 days the natural reflection of the energetics of nature and life are unfolding before us. This is not meant to be a mystical observation or even a religious belief but merely an observation by the qi “scientists” of Ancient China observing what was going on around them and within themselves. Xia Zhi is the time of year where light is penultimate.
So what does it mean for our bodies and health when the Sun is at its zenith and summer gets it’s beginning? Heat in non-desert climates (like ours) has a tendency to be more damp and therefore oppressive in a different nature than the dryer desert-like climates. They are not without their own health challenges, but injecting warmth into a damp zone no matter which part of the US you live in adds a level of health challenges that are unique to each climate zone.
Xia Zhi signals the start of the heavy and hot season with mixed heat and damp which can make you in turn feel heavy, lose your appetite and ultimately feel less able to digest large heavy meals. Emotions, patience and tempers can all be tested and the sensibility and susceptibility to the mishandling of food adds to the already increased irritability of the GI tract leading to some rather inconvenient symptoms.
What you can do to help your body be more in balance with Xia Zhi
Eat light meals more often in order to avoid feeling too full. This gives your digestion time to break down and absorb the food. Also, limit the frequency and amount of hot foods in your diet. This will help your body, already beginning to feel the stress of the warmer days, self regulate more easily. Remember there is less dense caloric need in the summer as your body no longer needs help keeping your internal body temperature warm to make up the deficit from loss to colder weather. But there is usually more activity and so ready access to energy is best. But above all fluid loss is the greater culprit to causing stress on the body so remember to drink plenty of fluids.
To make up for dietary challenges eating more bitter foods like dark leafy greens or spring mixes will help support digestion. There is also a need to reduce sour foods this time of year. In general, foods that are easier to digest should be the larger portion on your plate and those harder to digest or are heavier on the stomach should be the smallest amount or even removed. From a Chinese medicine perspective adding foods like lotus leaves, light green or white teas and bitter melon are beneficial this time of year. Steeped citrus (peels or fruit) can aid digestion.
A nice alternative that is not a Chinese dietary medical tradition is Orange Blossom Water, a Middle-eastern refreshment enjoyed after a meal, aids in digestion and is a nice light and refreshing treat. Lotus soup and toasted barely tea are beneficial especially during wetter than usual summers. As with all things, individual conditions may require the above advice be adjusted for your own specific health need but your acupuncturist, especially those here at White Center Wellness Clinic, can help you find the right balance for your specific health needs.
Other cautions in summer are drinking too many iced drinks. Sure they are refreshing and make some things taste better but Chinese medicine tends to prefer that we avoid too much iced beverages, preferring patients to drink them closer to room temperature. This is for a few reasons, one it helps the body maintain key internal body temperatures that aid in metabolic processes, digestion, circulation and healthy active immune systems.
For women it can be especially important as combined damp climates with cold drinks, long-term, can cause a lot of reproductive tract conditions or exacerbate those that are already present.
The same can be said for cold raw foods, we are often more likely to counsel patients who enjoy raw food like vegetables, to let them sit out for a short while, to let them warm up to at least to room temperature and then eat them, rather than right out of the refrigerator cold for the same reasons listed above.
Lastly, finding a good herbal or tea shop in your local area to buy white chrysanthemum tea is a great self-care and personal indulgence you can easily include in your daily routine. Add a little honey to set it to your preferred taste and sip on it throughout the day. It is both cooling for the body and relaxing for the mind.
Exercise, dress, and rest
Summertime is a great time to exercise because we can get out of the home or local group gym and be outside to do our favorite activities. The combination of fresh air and sun can do wonders for our immune system and metabolism but it doesn’t come without it’s challenges. The best times to exercise is in the morning or evening, when temperatures are comfortably moderate and don’t cause excess sweating. The best thing one can do is avoid showering right away. Let the body cool itself down, by letting the sweat evaporate and the pores to close back up. Waiting to take that shower lets your body cool itself and the immune system to reset itself prevents you from making yourself susceptible to the elements.
In Chinese medicine as well as Western natural medicine traditions, not keeping oneself protected from sudden temperature changes, or wind or cold drafts can make you susceptible to succumbing to certain opportunistic conditionsEvery year at this time, as people get used to learning how to layer and dress while temperatures vacillate, summer flus or colds increase in frequency as people fail to protect themselves from the elements. Staying out of the direct path of fans and AC output will also help keep you healthy.
Naps are beneficial too. There is a reason siestas are common in tropical countries. It is easier for the body to stay cooler when metabolic processes are slowed down from a lack of activity and also gives the body time to catch up on the constant draw on the body’s resources.
Happiness and health
More Western science studies are corroborating what Eastern medicines have been saying for thousands of years, a happy heart (and mind) means a healthy body. Doing what you enjoy reduces stress, ameliorates the effects of our busy lifestyle and allows the body to take a rest from the constant “fight or flight” stimulation of our modern lives.
Hobbies, time-off, rest, meditation, being in nature all help to contribute to a healthier you. These same studies are proving over and over again that it is integral to our longterm health. In our medicine, Joy is the emotion governed by the Heart. It is believed, and sadly shown everyday in the clinic, to be critical for a healthy body and mind. The single most important piece of advice we can give someone who lives a stressful lifestyle, is to take more time for themselves. Balance in our lives is key. Doing something we enjoy is restorative. We see more and more Western doctors paying attention to what the research is saying and so are also counseling their patients in the same way. It leads patients down a path of heart, mind, intra and interpersonal health.
How can White Center Wellness Clinic help you during the Jie Qi of Xia Zhi?
Sometimes self-care can be a little late in coming or the summer months exacerbate a condition already present. We at White Center Wellness Clinic can help with a host of health issues whether they be aches and pains, summer time colds or flus, internal medicine conditions like GI discomfort, irregular women’s cycles or annoying seasonal allergies. We use acupuncture, herbal medicine, bodywork, Guasha, cupping and other techniques to help bring your body back into balance. Don’t put up with the discomfort any more, feel better today and let us work with you to help you reach your healthiest self yet.
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