Both Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have similar overlapping views on the effects of hot Summer and the Fire element on our overall well-being.
The dryness of the longer, bright sunshiny days combined with summertime lifestyle changes can wreak havoc on our energy levels. We may also become more prone to restless sleep and insomnia, digestive complaints, and even dryness depending on where we live. Our lack of a more consistent schedule, a tendency to be late-to-bed and later-to-rise, not getting enough sleep, consuming more cold and iced foods and drinks, increasing alcohol consumption and eating more erratically while consuming less nutritious food are all significant contributing factors.
Summer brings heightened nervous system activity so it is important to support our mental and emotional aspects with calming attention and practices. For example, Summer is not the best time for a cleanse. Rather it is the time to really hydrate ourselves and nourish the body very well. Simple practices such as getting adequate sleep, good hydration and proper nourishment can help keep our nervous system in balance.
An important key is to always consume the foods of the season. During Summer, eat light, nutrient-rich, easily digestible foods and beverages with a touch of spice. Both TCM and Ayurveda say to back off on the iced drinks and foods in order to keep our inner fire in balance. This practice combined with maintaining regular mealtimes and consuming smaller portions of food can help keep our inner fire balanced.
Summer is not the time to consumer bitter foods and drinks. Bitters can drain required heat from the body. Instead, consume more pungent foods during Summer which are supportive of our internal heat and our energy at this particular time of year. Garlic, onion and chilies are examples of such pungent foods. They will come out through our pores and even aid in repelling pesky insects!
Favor foods that make you feel lighter and are easy to digest. If you feel like you want to take a nap after eating during Summer, you’ve eaten food that is a little too heavy for the season.
Fluctuating weather patterns also can have a punishing effect on our well-being. Summer is the time we see sharp forceful winds including, in more extreme cases, hurricanes and more tornadoes. We are vulnerable to wind during Summer:
• on boats, bicycles and motorcycles
• in the draft of air conditioning and fans
Since the pores of our skin are naturally more open during Summer because of the heat, it is not good to place ourselves directly in the line of drafts because they have the potential to carry pestilential chi into the body. TCM advises that pathogens contacted in the Summer can actually linger on in our bodies into the Fall and Winter emerging as larger physical problems during those seasons.
TCM relates the Fire time of year to the king of organs, the heart, which circulates both chi and blood. The small intestine is the heart’s paired yang organ and acts like a reservoir for excess heart heat and since the small intestine meridian forms a single pathway with the bladder meridian, excess heart heat can affect the urinary bladder resulting in bladder infections.
Summer saps our energy and many people become more tired at this time of year. And while TCM indicates we are naturally more active, Ayurveda feels it is time for us to rest and take it easy. Many Summer activities we consider to be the norm are not natural or good for us according to Ayurveda. Examples are:
• boating on a hot Summer day (Boating during Autumn is ideal.)
• doing yoga in the park at noonor playing golf or tennis when the sun is at its peak. (Save your outdoor yoga practice or sports for very early morning or sunset.);
• running or hiking in the heat of Summer (Wait until the sun starts setting.)
• lying and baking our bodies on a hot beach in order to get a suntan (Be nice to your skin and sunbathe for very short periods of time and always wear sunscreen).
The external heat of the Summer months can negatively affect our bodies when we engage in activities that cause us to get overheated in the sun, when we exercise in the sun, sunbathe, eat spicy foods and consume more alcohol and caffeine than normal.
People tend to sweat more during Summer while they are at the same time decreasing their overall water consumption as they opt for Summer drinks other than water. Many even tend to purposely drink less water so they don’t have to urinate as often while they’re enjoying Summer outdoor activities. Now more than ever, we need to be very focused on keeping up adequate water consumption.
Ayurveda urges to be wise with physical activity levels and don’t overdo. Summer is a time of natural dehydration and it can lead to serious sicknesses like heat stroke and sun poisoning. Sweat is the fluid of the heart and heart’s vitality can be depleted by too much sweating. Exercising in the sun provokes heart fire and depletes the body of fluids. Step up your room temperature water intake and increase your consumption of high water content produce.
Don’t be rigid with these guidelines. Feel your way through them and discern for yourself if your choices are healthy or if they are cravings coming from emotional neediness. If you identify a craving you may want to satisfy it briefly and then move on without judging yourself. In general, strive to make your choices healthy ones. Ayurveda says the greatest imbalance is to have knowledge and then go against it.
Shea, Bridgette. Handbook of Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda: an Integrated Practice of Ancient Healing Traditions. Healing Arts Press, 2018.