Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that we should all live in harmony with the seasons. While spring signals the beginning of birth and growth, summer – which is nearly here- fosters this growth to mature and reach its full potential.
Each season has many associations that help us change our habits allowing for a more balanced mind and body. Summer is represented by the fire element as one of the five elements. Summer is the season that includes the heart and small intestines – and a focus on digestion and increased energy.
The Principle of the Five Elements
The Principle of the Five Elements (known as the Wu Hsing in Chinese) describes the flow of Qi (pronounced chi), or “energy,” and the balance of yin and yang. According to the principle, all in the body occurs in five distinct stages. Each of these stages coordinates with a particular time of year, a specific element in nature, and a pair of organs in the body. A practitioner of TCM uses this principle to diagnose and treat health problems, linking specific foods, herbs, and acupuncture points to the restoration of yin-yang and Qi.
The Role of Traditional Chinese Medicine During the Summer Season
As a holistic healing system, TCM has been used for thousands of years to treat and prevent illness. TCM encourages harmony between the mind, body, and environment. According to TCM, each season has a unique influence on the body and mind, and practitioners believe in the importance of adjusting your lifestyle and wellness practices on a seasonal basis.
Yang Energy in the Summer
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yin and Yang are complementary but opposing energies that are present in all things. Summer is a time of abundant Yang energy. This energy is associated with increased heat, light, and activity. Yang energy is necessary for digestion, circulation, and metabolism, and requires balance from Yin energy for optimal health and well-being. This is consistent with the physical effects of summer, when the body’s metabolic rate is high and there is an increased need for hydration and energy-balancing foods.
According to TCM, Summer is the season associated with the heart (Yin organ) and its partner organ the small intestines (Yang organ). In TCM, the Heart houses the Shen (Spirit/Mind), dispersing the Shen through the body through the circulation of blood. Utilizing the pure and disposing of the impure, the small intestine is “the separator of pure from the impure” in TCM.
Based on the Five-Element Theory, the summer season corresponds with the fire element, the emotion of joy, the color red and bitter taste. When the Fire element is in balance, we live in a state of balanced joy.
What Happens When Yang Energy is Unbalanced?
TCM is based on the belief that balance between Yin and Yang energy results in health and wellness for the body and mind. In the summer, Yang energy can become unbalanced and lead to unpleasant or unwanted effects including:
Excessive Heat – As Yang energy is related to heat and warmth, abundant Yang energy can result in excessive heat in the body. This may lead to feelings of hot flashes or thirst, sweating, and inflammation.
Irritability – Yang energy is associated with movement and activity and while activity is beneficial, too much can lead to agitation, restlessness and irritability. This can lead to further issues like difficulty sleeping and anxiety.
Hypertension – Heat accumulation in the body from excess Yang energy is believed to sometimes result in high blood pressure, causing symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision.
Hyperactivity – Too much Yang energy can result in hyperactivity and impulsiveness, often leading to agitation and difficulty focusing or concentrating
What Foods Are Best for Balancing Summer’s Yang Energy?
To balance Yang energy, Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends reaching for cooling and hydrating foods to balance and complement Yang energy by helping to clear heat from the body. Foods high in water content are an excellent choice – like the watermelon tomato recipe you will find below. Other popular summer options include:
- Green tea
Foods to Avoid in the Summer According to TCM
TCM recommends avoiding excessively cold or frozen foods during the summer, which can weaken the digestive system and reduce Yang energy. TCM also recommends avoiding excess sugar, alcohol, excessively spicy foods, and anything dehydrating like coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Avoid foods that are generally difficult to digest as well, like heavy and greasy foods, fried foods, and dairy products. In contrast with cold raw foods weakening the digestive system, fried, spicy, and dairy-based foods can overstimulate the system resulting in inflammation.
TCM Lifestyle Tips for the Summer Season
As your body sweats more and stays warmer during the summer, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water which also absorbs and removes excess heat from the body. Eating soups and drinking herbal teas can also help to support the body’s Yin energy by moisturizing and nourishing your digestive system.
Get Enough Rest
Summer is typically a time of activity and high energy, so it’s especially important to prioritize rest and relaxation. Going to bed early and waking up with the sun can help to support the body’s natural rhythms, maximizing recovery during sleep and balancing the active energy of the day.
Engage in Moderate Exercise
Summer is a great time to enjoy outdoor activities like swimming, hiking, and biking. While it is energizing to be outside in the warmth and sunshine, it’s important to avoid overexertion which causes the accumulation of heat and inflammation in the body. TCM recommends moderate exercise, as well as avoiding exertion during the hottest hours of the day.
What TCM Modalities Can Encourage Balance in the Summer?
Acupuncture is a healing and balancing modality that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. During the summer, acupuncture practitioners may focus on points that help to clear heat, promote digestion, and support the body’s Yin energy.
Massage can help to promote circulation, relieve muscle tension, and support natural healing processes and relaxation. One type of Chinese massage called Tui na massage is particularly beneficial in TCM, promoting wellness and healing through pressing, rubbing, and kneading the body’s soft tissues.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses a variety of herbs to support the body’s natural healing processes. Some are favored in the summer over others as they are useful in clearing heat from the body and promoting healthy digestion, including chrysanthemum, mint, dandelion, and honeysuckle.
- Chrysanthemum – Chrysanthemum is often used in TCM to reduce fever. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory, sedative, anti-hypertensive, and anti-arthritic effects, balancing the potential negative effects of overabundant Yang energy.
- Mint – Mint is a favorite cooling herb in TCM. It is believed to promote sweating, expel heat from the body, and soothe internal irritation and inflammation.
- Dandelion – In TCM, dandelion is recognized for its effects on the liver and stomach pathways. It is said to help with digestion and detoxification, as well as calming skin problems, supporting the menstrual cycle, and supporting normal joint and muscle function.
- Honeysuckle – Honeysuckle flower is another herb with cooling properties and is believed to have balancing and cooling effects on the lungs, stomach, and heart. It is particularly useful in the summer season to treat heat-related symptoms like dizziness, thirst, and excessive sweating.
Benefits of TCM for Summer Wellness
Whether you’re new to traditional Chinese medicine or have been following TCM methods for years, it can have incredible benefits for your overall health and wellness in the summer. Nourishing and balancing Yang energy can stabilize and balance circulation and digestion, leading to improved energy and mental clarity. It can also help to reduce stress, improve sleep, and boost your immune system. Embracing TCM in your summer wellness practices is an excellent way to ensure a healthier and more fulfilling summer season.
Finding Harmony this Summer
One of the key components of living The Harmony Way of Life is being balanced and living seasonally. By adjusting what we eat alongside the seasons we allow ourselves to live harmoniously with nature and our environment. For Summer seasonal eating it is best to stay with cooling foods. Food that is considered cooling will help clear heat and reduce toxins.
A favorite all-time cooling food on a hot summer day is watermelon. In TCM, Watermelon is known for its ability to clear heat and regulate water. Tomatoes are cooling in nature and aid digestion and detoxification. This summer if you looking to incorporate TCM seasonal eating on a hot summer day try the below Watermelon and Tomato salad. Your stomach, heart, and intestines, will say thank you.
WATERMELON AND TOMATO SALAD
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
4 to 6 large tomatoes, ideally heirloom varieties, cut into 1¼-inch cubes
1 small seedless watermelon, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar (if you do not have this, you can
substitute lemon juice)
1 cup feta cheese, large crumbles
1. Combine the cubed tomatoes and watermelon and toss gently to combine. Add salt and
let stand for 10 minutes while you prepare the dressing.
2. Whisk together the oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Add the cheese to the tomatoes and watermelon, then the dressing, and toss gently to
4. Place over a fresh bed of Arugula to add bitterness.