LATE SUMMER: Healthy Habits for the Fifth Season
We are fortunate to experience all four seasons here in Vancouver but today marks the beginning of a special fifth season in Chinese Medicine: Late Summer!
Linked to Yin/Yang theory, Chinese medicine uses Five Elements to represent various functions and phenomena in the natural world (of which you are a part).
These elements are:
- Wood 🌲
- Fire 🔥
- Earth 🌍
- Metal 🔗
- Water 💧
Each element is tied to its own season, biological functions, colour, sound, psychology and more. Ancient Taoists (along with many other cultures across the globe) believed that tuning in and living in alignment with the rhythms nature lays a foundation for preventing illness and nourishing wellbeing.
From August 7th until the Autumn Equinox (on September 22nd this year), the Earth element 🌍 will be at its peak.
What does this mean?
Now is the perfect time to take advantage of earth’s abundance and set yourself up to for better health come fall. Let’s look at an overview of the Earth element followed by some recommended practices to boost your health during late summer.
PHYSICAL HEALTH:A strong digestive system is the focus of late summer. Just as late summer is the midpoint of the seasonal calendar, our digestive system sits at the centre of the human body, providing the nourishment needed to survive. Spleen and Stomach are the organs in charge with both literal and figurative functions we want to support. Here are a few tips on how to strengthen your centre:
1. Eat Fresh Seasonal Produce
It is a time of harvest and abundance. Take advantage of all that is available fresh and in season. Antioxidant-rich berries, leafy greens, sun-ripened fruit, summer squash, - options abound. Now is a great time to check out your local farmer’s market. Not only are you supporting local businesses and best farming practices, your food will be at peak ripeness and nutrient density.
2. Food that Support the Spleen/Stomach
Focus on warming, yellow foods such as squash, cooked whole grains, ginger, root vegetables such as yams, ginger, and chicken broth.
3. Avoids Foods that Weaken the Spleen
Inflammatory, “damp”, “sticky” (think sugar and dairy), heavy, and overly greasy foods will bog down and weaken your digestive function over time. As will too much cold, raw, difficult to digest food. Minimize foods such as sugars, refined grains, modern dairy, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, fried food, isolated protein extracts (think protein powders), cold food and drinks (ice cream, frozen smoothies, ice water), and highly processed food.
4. Build New Blood Cells
The spleen also represents the function of building, storing and helping to circulate good quality blood. Your spleen actually stores a reserve of lymphocytes which help fight infection. It’s a good time to get in some extra iron-rich foods such as dark greens, nettles, and some good quality animal protein.
5. Eat Slowly and Thoroughly Chew Your Food
You’ve heard it a million times for good reason. There are enzymes in our saliva that help breakdown and pre-digest food. Help your stomach out by properly breaking food down into bite size pieces. Larger pieces of half-digested food can ferment in the intestinal tract causing gas, bloating, and reduced nutrient absorption.
6. Relaxing Meals
The negative impact stress has on gut function is well known. It’s best not to watch the news, stressful media, or have upsetting conversations while you eat. Don’t multitask. Sit down and focus on tasting your meal. Play enjoyable music, light a candle, use the good plates - whatever creates a good atmosphere for you. Create boundaries around meal times. You need both your mind and body to digest!
7. Start Incorporating Warmer Foods
Summer is the time for cooling foods. Think cucumber, watermelon, bitter melon, more salads, etc. It’s now time to start scaling back on the raw, cold food and transition into body temp or warmer dishes. Your stomach not only has to break food down, it has to warm it up to body temperature into order to extract nutrients and maintain homeostasis. Ever experienced a stomach ache after eating ice cream or drinking something super cold? Help your digestion by incorporating more cooked foods and staying away from chilled food and drink.
8. Build Your Gut’s Immune System
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, lacto-pickled vegetables, kombucha, and coconut yogurt replenish strains of healthy intestinal bacteria critical for good digestion and good immune function. You also need to feed your gut flora the fibre it needs to thrive. Make sure to consume a variety of vegetables - cook them if you have any digestive issues.
9. Get Moving to Help Transport and Transform Nutrients
Help your body digest and efficiently use energy with regular movement and exercise. Modalities like Qi Gong, yoga, dancing, and strength training are especially good. Why not get outside for an after-dinner walk?
10. Have your First Meal Between 7-9am
When the Earth Element is in balance you should feel grounded. The less structured, exuberant and expressive nature of summer is transitioning to the discernment and letting go phase of fall. Late summer is a time to simplify your schedule and start planning for the shorter, cooler days ahead.
The (energetic) Spleen is a powerhouse for mental digestion. It helps us learn, plan, and organize. Out of balance, it is prone to worry and over-thinking. Feeding your body properly also helps ground and feed your mind. We all know how much harder it is to think and feel stable when we are hangry! What we mentally consume is also important. Over consumption of information and negative media is difficult to mentally digest. This is a good time to limit media and practice fully engaging in the present moment.
Some other habits to help boost the mental emotional health during Late Summer:
- Simplify your schedule and start building more routine.
- Summer is for late nights but late summer means setting a regular, earlier bed time.
- Get out into nature. Get your feet on some dirt and your face in some sun.
- Try some earthy, clay-based masks for the skin.
- Use that heightened mental capacity to ease stress by planning ahead. Meal plan, freeze leftovers, organize your schedule.
- Also make time for mental breaks. Calm and ground your thoughts with meditation and mindfulness practices.
- If you like working with crystals, (they are literally of the earth) real citrine, pyrite, and orange/ yellow calcite are particularly good choices right now.
- Connect mind and body with modalities like massage and acupuncture.
- Sing! The sound of the earth element happens to be signing. Singing also forces us to breathe deeper and take in more oxygen.
- Take a moment to reflect on and write down the "fruits of your labor". Too often we move on to the next thing without acknowledging our hard work. What is ready to harvest since spring planting? It could be surviving switching to homeschooling during the pandemic or even honoring that you needed to let go of a relationship. Maybe you found new ways to keep your business going or have greater compassion for yourself. It's harvest time and a good time shift away from a focus on lack and take stock of all we do have.
Seasonal wellness and Classical Chinese Medicine is an enormously rich subject - difficult to distill into one small blog. I hope some of the information here may have peaked your curiosity and provided “food for thought”.
Tuning into the seasons is a great way to reconnect with the natural world of which we are all a part. Wishing you all a wonderful Late Summer and abundant good health!
Written by: Christina Cecconi R.TCM.P (www.hinokiwellness.com)