This is part 3 (go to part 1 and part 2) of a seasonal look into the energetics of each season and how they affect our inner and outer worlds. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), The 5 Elements Theory, invites us to live more in flow and alignment with the seasons and offers us the opportunity to link ourselves more to the natural world and to become more aware of ourselves, the world around us and our role within it.
The five elements through the lens of TCM - wood, fire, earth, metal, water - represent the cyclical changes of nature. The cycles we see in nature are interconnected with those we experience as humans. The flow of the cycles manifest in many ways and are reflected in our energy, creativity, emotions, ease and dis-ease, expression, foods, tastes and colours we seek and crave.
Each season is linked to an element and a set of organs that need a little more care and nourishment in that specific season. Health conditions and/or emotions related to the specific organs may also flare up but there are many things we can do to support our body through the cyclical changes that also manifest within us. Learning about each element may enable us to create more internal balance which will improve all areas of health whether physical, mental or emotional.
Yin & Yang and summer
The Yin and Yang theory is the underlying principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Philosophy, the Taoist culture. Everything is composed of opposites, relative to each other, complementary and as constantly interacting forces. One cannot exist without the other.
There is no night without day, no heaven without earth, no moon without sun, no up without down, no out without in, no cold without warmth, no youth without age, no opposition without unity, no stillness without noise, no passive without active.
Summer is the peak of the Yang time of the year. There’s light, warmth and life, there’s an abundance of fresh and colourful fruit and vegetables. Energy is high and we want to be outdoors, we want to feel the sun and the heat, we want to be active. There’s a clear outward and upward energy that propels us to move more, socialise more and spend more energy as it’s so readily available. This is also a time to nourish and pacify our spirit and realise our greatest projects by using the energetic benefits of this phase of the cycle.
In TCM, good health is believed to come from a balance of Yin and Yang. Too much or too little of one or both will cause imbalances throughout the body and will manifest in physical, mental and/or emotional dis-eases.
The fire element
In TCM and according to the 5 Elements Theory, the Fire element is associated with summer and the Heart and the Small Intestine.
Organs: Heart and Small Intestine
Colour: Red, Plum
Taste: Bitter → drying, downward inward direction, drains and purges, clears dampness and heat, detoxing, stimulates purging, tonifies Yang
Positive emotion: Joy, delight, happiness
Negative emotion: Sadness, mental health issues, hysteria
The heart’s main function is to pump oxygen-rich blood through the body. In TCM, the Heart is considered the “Emperor”, it also rules the blood and the blood vessels. It stores the Shen (the spirit) and our consciousness.
The fire element has a dynamic outward and upward energy. We can witness this within ourselves through more social interactions, feeling more energised, we may travel more and in our environment we see and feel it through the heat, the dryness and nature at its peak of growth and the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available.
The emotion associated with the fire element is joy. When balanced we experience openness, happiness and joy. We are able to execute and action all the plans and dreams we may have been working on throughout the spring (wood element). Imbalances or blockages within this element and the heart space and this dynamic energy of passion and enterprise can leave us feeling ungrounded, overexcited and even hysteric.
An overabundance of fire can make us feel restless, anxious, palpitations, insomnia, flushed face, dryness. We can temper this imbalanced fire with water (cooling, moistening, downward) and earth (grounding and nurturing).
A lack of fire, on the other hand, can make us feel low on energy, depressed, have a dull complexion, lack of drive, low libido, feel cold, lack warmth in our personality. Here it will be important to increase fire through more dynamic practices that make our energy flow upwards again.
How to nourish your body
Food is medicine!
Your daily food intake is the basis of your transformation. Your food becomes your blood, cells, organs, body, mind, emotions and thoughts. Food is nourishment. Your input will affect your output physically, mentally, emotionally. The gut and the brain are inherently connected and our food choices will have a direct effect on our brain function.
Connect with your food and where it is coming from, eat with the season, favour locally grown organic whole foods where possible. This is also an active and easy way of participating in reducing CO2 emissions.
Seasonality and energetics when talking about food is important in the way that foods that grow in summer are lighter in nature and have cooling properties to them, such as tomatoes, cucumber, berries etc., when in turn in winter, the seasonal foods are heavier and warming in nature such as onions, leeks, root vegetables, cabbage, apples and pears.
Now is the time to indulge in all the abundance of delicous, fresh and colourful produce that is available.
Nature is beautifully intelligent and if we look closely, we can find so much wisdom from the changes and transformations that can be witnessed within each season.
Summer food and cooking styles
The overall theme in terms of food for summer is red, purple and bitter. This colour and taste nourish the heart - the organ we are looking to support in this time.
Tomatoes, aubergine, zucchini, green beans, radish, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, blackberries, peas, cucumber, fennel, celery, arugula, dandelion greens, endive, chard, radicchio watermelon, carrot, peppers, plums, peaches, apricots, mirabelles, pears, nectarines, seafood and light fish.
In summer we want to favour light meals, and more cooling foods and this is the best time of year to eat salads and raw foods and light and quick cooking methods like sautéing or quick steaming. Contrary to popular rituals, this season isn’t optimal for heavy, hot, grilled meals. But you can keep summer barbecues lighter and cooler too. Think grilled summer vegetable salads with garlic, herbs and greens. Favour light white fish over heavier types of meat like beef, lamb and pork, which are heating and already very yang in nature. Also, minimise your intake of dairy and fried foods. Eat red foods!
Wellbeing practices for summer
These are simply suggestions and ideas. As always, find what feels good.
Wishing you an abundant and delicious summer full of fun and lightness. Don't forget to rest when your body tells you to, preserve yourself. You create your own balance.
The next seasonal blog post will be about late summer and the earth element, another abundant season where harvest is at its peak, where we're slowly coming back to ourselves after the fire of summer and can start looking towards more nurturing grounding practices.
Any thoughts about summer and the fire element, other practices or insights, feel free to leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!