Summer is officially upon us. You may be noticing yourself having more energy, feeling more social, or experiencing all-around better moods. This is normal for this time of year, when, from an acupuncture perspective, the yang -- extroverted, lively, enthusiastic, active -- aspects of a person are at their peak.
In acupuncture theory, humans are viewed as microcosms of the natural world that surrounds them. Weather and climate, particularly during the transition from one season to another, factor significantly into diagnoses and treatment plans. Each season is linked with a natural element, organ and emotion.
The element, organ and emotion of summer are, respectively, Fire, heart and joy. So, how does this influence the way we feel in summertime?
Do You Like to Play With Fire?
How we feel during summer is largely determined by our constitutional expression of the Fire element.
We all know people who can run around on 90-degree days with plenty of energy to spare. Often, these people are high-energy, charismatic, communicative, optimistic and alert. They have a playful attitude, enjoy intimacy, and are quick to connect with others. This is the profile of a Fire-type person.
Then there are those people who constantly complain about the heat, and spend June through September feeling lethargic and fatigued. They may be perceived as selfish, distant and introverted, becoming easily overwhelmed by too much socialization or noise. This is the profile of someone with an under-expressed or deficient Fire element.
The acupuncture perspective on seasons is that during each season, the associated element should shine a bit brighter than it does in other seasons. So for example, in summer, Fire qualities tend to be more strongly expressed.
Over the next three months, it's normal to feel an extra pep in your step. You should feel a bit happier, freer, more spontaneous, energetic and connected. You should want to stay up a little later, talk a little longer and run a little farther.
If you're someone who tends toward under-expression of the Fire element, you'll want to pay extra attention to encouraging these qualities in yourself throughout summer.
However, if you're a Fire type, someone for who Fire qualities come naturally -- or perhaps have a tendency to be overpowering -- your focus should be on appreciating these things but remembering to keep them in check. Elemental qualities can more easily become excessive during the time when they are naturally in bloom.
Here are seven acupuncture-inspired pointers for maintaining a balanced Fire element, and staying happy and healthy, all summer long.
By remaining active during summer, you work in accordance with the extra Yang energy that's available to us this time of year. Also, since the Fire element is associated with the Heart system (which includes but is not limited to cardiac function as we think of it in biomedicine), summer is a good time to pay attention to heart health. Exercise keeps blood and oxygen circulating so that proper nutrients can make their way to the rest of your body. Fire types should be cautious about overdoing it with exercise, especially on very hot days or at signs of excessive sweating or face flushing.
Characteristics of the Fire element include connection, intimacy, communication and joy. What better way to tap into these qualities than spending time with friends? So have that BBQ, hit that pool party, organize a day at the beach. Nurturing connections during summer not only makes the season more fun, but it also helps ease the transition into fall and winter, when we tend to pull inward and spend more time alone.
Friends are fun, but so are strangers! During the summer months, you may find yourself more inclined to smile at someone in the grocery aisle or spend a few extra minutes chatting up the postman. Again, connection is important this time of year, so if you have the urge to strike up a conversation with someone you don't know, go for it. It's just your natural Fire coming out to play.
Every element has an associated emotion and expression of that emotion. Fire's is joy and laughter. When you're hanging with friends or strangers this summer, crack jokes, appreciate theirs, tell funny stories, then tell them again. Keeping the laughter flowing will keep your Fire burning bright.
In general, acupuncture favors warm foods -- that is, foods with warm properties, not necessarily warm from a temperature standpoint. They are thought to ease the digestive process by causing your system to relax and more easily break down food. Cold foods, in contrast, cause contraction and stagnation, which means your body has to work a lot harder to digest. Summer, however, is the one time of year when it's okay to cool things down diet-wise. It's not license to chug ice water all day and eat raw salad at every meal, but cooler fare such as watermelon, cucumber and tofu may be better tolerated in summer.
All of acupuncture's natural elements keep each other in balance, but perhaps none have a more complementary relationship than Fire and Water. Maintaining balance between the Heart (Fire) and Kidney (Water) systems is especially crucial because they represent opposite ends of the continumm in terms of how we perceive reality -- Heart/Fire is responsible for the way we interface with the external world while Kidney/Water is about our inner life and ancestral/genetic identity. Since in summer there is a natural exaggerated expression of Fire/Heart qualities, being physically near water can be a grounding experience that reminds us of the interconnectedness within and around us.
With school out, sun shining into the evenings, and social events revving up, sometimes sleep is the last thing on our minds in summer. It's natural to sleep fewer hours when daylight is so abundant, but rest should still be a priority, especially since many of us move and sweat more than usual this time of year. Also, sleep in acupuncture is a function of the Heart, the organ of summer. Keeping a regular sleep schedule helps prevent disruption in this aspect of the Heart system, which is prone to imbalance during summer.
The driving principles behind all of these tips are awareness and balance. Know that summer is a time to allow your Fire element to flourish while remaining mindful that the flames, for some, may need to be tamed. With that, happy summer!
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