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We are in the midst of the season of the heart and the fire element!

In Chinese medicine, summer is all about love, connection and expansion. This period is also associated with the color red, bitter flavors and unsorted or scattered emotions, which can be transformed into love, profound lasting joy and creativity. Growth, happiness and spiritual awareness between the heart and mind are the focus now. We are at our healthiest when we align ourselves with the rhythms of each season. We can subtly alter our self-care behaviors to resonate deeply with the tempo of summer, paving the way for greater health the next time the seasons change.

Each season brings its own unique opportunities to shore up the body. Living in tune with these natural rhythms and activities can keep us strong for each stage that follows. We all have unique constitutions, which can either react very favorably or negatively towards heat. For example, some uncomfortable symptoms people may experience during the summer season are excess body heat, profuse sweating, continually parched mouth and throat, constipation, allergies or heart palpitations. Other signs of heart disharmony are agitation, nervous exhaustion, insomnia and heartburn. The best medicine is always preventative. 

Here are five ways you can align with the season to have your best summer ever:

1. Reach out and connect with other people.

Connect and engage with friends, family and the outside world. This is the season of intimacy and warmth. There is a reason we call affairs “summer flings” and not “winter flings”! We shed our layers physically (no more jackets or sweaters!) and can begin to move toward shedding them emotionally. This season’s element is associated with the mind and its stability, as the heart is synonymous with the mind in Chinese medicine.

Emotionally, when our fire element is balanced, we feel genuine, friendly and humble, and have clarity in our self-expression. Joy is our reward for achieving equilibrium between heart and mind. Say “yes” to the party, the BBQ, the beach day and all celebrations, which enable us to cultivate community, support and love in our lives.

2. Regulate your body’s temperature by eating “cooling” foods.

All year long, I advise my patients against eating salads. For the majority of people, cold, raw foods are the worst thing for digestion. Finally, we have entered the season where salads will benefit rather than potentially harm. In general, when you are cooking, you will want to steam or simmer foods as quickly as possible. If you are going to sauté or stir-fry, do so quickly and infrequently, as this cooking method adds additional heat to your food.

Your goal is to create a cooler internal environment to balance the heat from the external environment. Some foods that are particularly helpful in accomplishing this are watermelon, apple, lemon, lime, cucumber, salad greens, seaweed, tomatoes, wild-caught cold water fish and bean sprouts. Avoid heavy meals, meats, curries and fried or greasy foods because they can cause you to feel sluggish. Your appetite may lessen during the summertime. Be mindful of this and you will naturally adjust by eating lighter fare and less food.

3. Focus on expansion, growth, and creativity.

The yang energy of summer is all about excitement, assertiveness and exuberance. What this means is that summer is a perfect time to focus on changes in your life, on growth, joy and spiritual awareness. Enthusiasm, warmth in our relationships and conscious awareness should be our focus now. Be creative and look to the outside world for inspiration. Find joy in the lushness of the foliage, the intoxicating scent of blooming flowers and the beauty of the landscape magnified by the sun. Strengthen your consciousness and collect your scattered mind with spirit-focusing practices such as devotional singing or chanting mantras. Look within to find what you need, and then bring your newfound self-knowledge out into the world to shine and multiply. Bring something you hold close to your heart to fruition. Make it happen.

4. Use alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods in moderation.

Alcohol, caffeine and spice are all considered energetically “hot-natured” foods. With all of this heat occurring in our external environment, we don’t want to add to that by overwhelming our bodies with more of the same. Choose white wine over red wine or liquor. Green tea is also a more cooling caffeinated choice than coffee or black teas. The summer element in Chinese medicine is connected to the small intestine as well as to the heart. A lighter diet and strong or spicy flavors are recommended to keep this organ healthy and to reduce the risk of indigestion. However, as with all things, moderation is key. Spices initially increase warmth, but ultimately bring body heat out to the surface to be dispersed. Black pepper, horseradish, fresh ginger, cayenne pepper and chilies can suit this purpose and take a more prominent position in your summer meal preparation.

5. Don’t work too hard or play too hard.

The energy of summer is of fire, movement, expansion and the maximum potential of the year. The greatest amount of activity in nature takes place right now, as fruits and vegetables are ripening, the sun is shining and we are at our energetic peak. We tend to take this extra burst of energy and run with it. People naturally travel and socialize more in the summer. Particularly when we spend more time outside in the heat, we can easily get depleted from overactivity. Take time to balance these periods of energetic expenditure with quiet, relaxing activities such as reading, meditation or simple mindful contemplation.

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