4 Tips for an energizing, joyful summer

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each season is associated with one of the elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Perhaps unsurprisingly, summertime is associated with the element fire. Fire represents maximum activity. In nature, everything is at its peak growth during the summer, so TCM sees our energy as its most active and exuberant. Summer is the time of year with the most yang energy, which is all about excitement and assertiveness.

 

Summertime is also associated with the heart and small intestine, according to TCM. When the fire element is in balance, the heart is effectively circulating blood and ensuring the beginning of the digestive process in the small intestine is working. From an emotional standpoint, a balanced fire element looks like confident self expression, gentle sensitivity and a strong heart and mind connection.

 

TCM suggests that summer is the time when our fire and yang energies are most likely to be in balance, because of what is happening in nature. However, it’s also really easy to get overextended, quite literally overheated and energetically burn out by September. Summer can be a very busy season, full of outdoor adventures, holidays and social commitments on top of our regular obligations.

 

Here are 4 tips to maintain balance in your fire element this summer.

 

Adjust your sleep schedule. TCM suggests realigning your sleep schedule as the season changes will help you have the most energy throughout your day. In the summer, take advantage of the long days by getting up early, going to sleep later and taking a rest in the middle, hottest part of the day.

 

Be conscious of your priorities. At the beginning of summer, write down your four top priorities for this summer, so you can come back to them all season long as you find yourself pulled in many directions. These might be reading, spending time with family, swimming and cooking. Or something totally different. Whatever they are for you, mindfully choosing four priorities is a great way to stay grounded through all the activity.

 

Balance your exercise with breath. Summer is the highest energy, highest movement time of year, including in terms of moving your body. TCM suggests getting a lot of exercise during the summertime. Along with running, biking, swimming, hiking or whatever your summer activity of choice is, incorporate some slower, more mindful movement to stay strong and healthy. Practicing yin or restorative yoga or choosing to meditate in stillness outside can be great for staying in tune with your bodies needs and cultivating mindfulness in all your activities.

 

Stay hydrated. The opposing element to fire is water, and addressing its implications is an important part of staying balanced during summer. Especially if you live somewhere very hot in the summer, it is very important to drink plenty of water each day. Whether the climate is humid or dry, drinking enough water is very important. Staying hydrated helps your energy levels and assists in digestion. TCM also recommends watermelon juice for cooling the body and cleansing the system.

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Healthy eating from early to late summer

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is all about balance. In this ancient system, the key to health is to move through the world in such a way that our bodies can remain in homeostasis, in balance. This idea connects to sleep patterns, what we eat and ultimately the flow of Qi, or energy, throughout the body. For that reason, healthy eating in summertime, according to TCM, is all about using cooling foods to balance out how hot it is outside. In other words, we can find homeostasis from the inside out.

 

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for healthy foods to keep you cool and active all summer long.

 

Fresh fruits like watermelons, strawberries, tomatoes and pear are cooling and have strong yin energy. Summer meals should be predominately fresh fruits or vegetables, according to TCM. These food groups have the strongest yin energy, balancing out the fierce yang and fire energies of summer.

 

Fresh vegetables that are in season in your region are also a great choice, especially cooling vegetables like cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, peppers, celery, raddish, carrots and cauliflower. Vegetables have the second highest yin energy, according to TCM.

 

Summer herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley and mint are a great, healthy addition to most recipes. These herbs are also natural diuretics and heavy-metal detoxifiers, which flush excess waste from the body.

 

The best foods to eat vary with geography. If you live in a place where summer days are long, but not very hot and the nights get really cool, incorporate more neutral or even warming fruits and vegetables into your summer smorgasbord. These fruits and vegetables can include most varieties of squash, especially pumpkin, butternut and acorn squash, lentils and legumes, whole grains like brown rice and root vegetables like beets, potatoes and parsnips.

 

In places with cooler summers, or during late summer, the fifth season according to TCM, diet is about prioritizing self-nourishment so it can be utilized as energy. Late summer is the time to choose smart sugars that won’t clog up the spleen pathway, including apples, carrots, dates, figs, grapes, peaches, pears, sweet potatoes and squash. These smart sugars also regulate the body’s blood sugar, which decreases the strain on the pancreas.

 

For those whose summer climate is hot, here is a recipe for a cooling, detoxifying water you can drink all summer long to keep yourself in balance.

 

Cooling detox water:

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • ½ cucumber
  • Water
  • Bunch of fresh mint

 

Slice the lemon, lime and cucumber and add to the water. Stir in the mint. Let it sit in the fridge overnight and enjoy chilled.

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Extraordinary Vessels – Chong Mai

 

Most acupuncture points are located on the 12 primary channels that flow along the surface of the body. However, there are eight Extraordinary Vessels that flow more deeply in the body, and are perhaps even more powerful that the 12 primary channels. The Extraordinary Vessels regulate the 12 channels, and are deep lakes of energy, which can feed the 12 primary channels when they are depleted.

 

Chong Mai is one of the most important Extraordinary Vessels, and some texts place it as the nexus of the whole Extraordinary Vessel network. It has numerous branches throughout the body and has even more physiological and energetic functions.

 

The Chong Mai, also called the Penetrating Vessel, originates in the space between the kidneys, along with Extraordinary Vessels Du Mai (Governing Vessel) and Ren Mai (Directing Vessel or Conception Vessel). Its internal branch descends through the uterus and emerges in the perineum. Its descending branch flows down the inner leg to the medial foot and big toe. Meanwhile, its abdominal branch flows upward through the abdomen, following the kidney meridian, and spreads out throughout the abdomen and chest. The head branch further extends through the throat, chin and eyes. While the spinal branch flows along with the Du Mai up the spine.

 

Based on its pathways alone, it is easy to see why the Chong Mai is such a powerful vessel, as it covers so many areas of the body and touches so many of the 12 primary meridians and organs.

 

The Chong Mai is called the “Sea of Blood,” making it incredibly important in treating gynecological conditions. It is said to transform kidney essence into menstrual blood, and plays a key role in maintaining healthy menstruation. Particularly concerned with adequate movement of blood throughout the body, it can be used to treat any sort of blood stasis pattern, including certain gynecological, circulatory, musculoskeletal and hormonal pathologies. The Chong Mai is particularly linked to heart blood, through its action of dispersing through the chest. Therefore, the Chong Mai is related to heart rhythm, cardiac function and emotional issues such as anxiety and panic attacks (as the spirit resides in the heart blood, from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective.)

 

Chong Mai helps to keep energy and blood moving throughout the whole body – when there is stagnation or pain, the Chong Mai isn’t functioning optimally. By maintaining flow throughout the primary channels, the Chong Mai also is closely tied to the correct directional flow of energy in each system. The Chong Mai also has a close relationship with the stomach, so for nausea as well as other stomach symptoms, treating the Chong Mai can help.

 

The Chong Mai doesn’t have any points that lie on it directly – rather, it is opened through certain points on the wrists and feet. The Chong Mai can thus be stimulated with acupuncture, but also with Chinese herbal medicine and techniques to direct energy such as Tai Chi and qi gong.

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Extraordinary Vessels – Dai Mai

 

In addition to the 12 main acupuncture meridians that flow along the surface of the body, there are also deeper channels of energy in the body called the Extraordinary Vessels. You can understand the relationship between the primary acupuncture channels and the Extraordinary Vessels by thinking about what happens when it rains: first, small ditches become full – these are the collateral vessels that break off of the 12 main channels. Next, the reservoirs become full, which are the 12 primary channels. When they are full, they overflow into the Extraordinary Vessels, which are deep and vast lakes of energy within the body.

 

The Dai Mai, or Girdle Vessel, is one such Extraordinary Vessel. It is unique because it is the only channel – primary or extraordinary – that flows horizontally. The Dai Mai originates at a liver meridian point on the lateral ribs, descends to the waist line and then encircles the waist like a belt. In the back, it connects with a side branch of the kidney meridian.

 

The Dai Mai divides the body into two halves, and it has the essential function of keeping energy flowing effectively between those two halves. If the Du Mai is too tight, then energy can’t flow properly, causing pain, sluggishness or a feeling of heaviness through the whole body. It can also cut off energy circulation to the legs, causing pain, cold legs and tense outer leg muscles.

 

If the Dai Mai is slack or weak, then energy can’t rise properly, which can cause many different health problems. When the Dai Mai is too weak or loose, fluids and dampness can pool in the Lower Burner, causing symptoms such as difficult urination, cloudy urine and excessive vaginal discharge. A weak Dai Mai also means energy can’t flow properly into the channels of the legs, leading to muscle weakness and atrophy. When the Dai Mai is weak, it can’t adequately hold the kidney’s essence, which depletes many other Extraordinary Vessels. When the Dai Mai is slack, energy cannot rise through the body, leading to such problems as hernias, organ prolapse and recurrent miscarriages.

 

The Dai Mai is closely related to the liver and gallbladder energy systems, based on its trajectory and what points it overlaps with. It helps to regulate excessive energy in those systems. This makes it useful for treating symptoms such as temporal headaches, migraines, anger, gallbladder pain and chronic neck and shoulder tension.

 

Based on its pathway, the Dai Mai can also be used to effectively treat abdominal pain, low back pain and hip pain. It can be treated with acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tai chi, qi gong and many other forms of exercise.

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4 Lifestyle Tweaks to Thrive this Spring

 

 

In traditional Chinese medical theory, one of the best ways to stay healthy is to live in balance with the seasons. Balance, in this context, means mindfully crafting your diet and certain aspects of your lifestyle based on what season it is.

 

An easy way to think about this is with fruits and vegetables: we are lucky these days to have grocery shops stocked year round with fruits and vegetables from every corner of the globe at all times of year. That makes it possible to enjoy asparagus into the winter months in northern climates where asparagus would never naturally grow at that time of year if at all. Chinese medical thought prescribes realigning our diets with what would be available to us in the region where we live and at each time of year. In this way, we’re aligning ourselves with the rhythms of the earth. Not only that, but eating fresh, local fruits and vegetables probably means they’re going to be better tasting fruits and vegetables in the first place, because they’re fresh off the vine and ripened close by. Living in balance with the seasons helps to keep us healthy and free of disease, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

 

Each season is also connected to one of the main organ networks and a related element, both based on associations with what is happening in our bodies and in the natural world. In spring, Chinese medicine says we should be attentive to our livers. Springtime is all about new life and life-giving processes. The liver provides essential support to our lungs, heart and circulation system – in other words, all the life-giving systems in our bodies. The liver also stores and distributes nourishment to the whole body. It also filters toxins from the blood and breaks them down for elimination.

 

When the liver is functioning properly, there is functionality throughout the whole body, and we feel a physical and emotional freedom and expansiveness that allow us to take on the essence of springtime.

 

Here are four ways to tweak your lifestyle this spring in order to support balance in your liver.

 

  1. Rise and shine. Make it a habit to wake up earlier in the spring than you were during winter. Notice if getting up earlier allows you to have more energy during the day.
  2. Exercise more. Try to incorporate more movement into your daily life during the spring. Especially during spring, exercise is a great way to battle depression and anxiety that can creep in due to a liver imbalance.
  3. Add sour foods to your diet. The flavor connected to the liver is sour. Adding lemon to your water is a simple way to do this that will help you digestive and emotional health.
  4. Keep breathing. Be intentional about developing or maintaining habits that help you to de-stress during spring. Springtime can feel like a burst of energy compared to winter, but it is important to make space each for downtime and not get too busy too fast.
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