How to make the most out of your summer using these top traditional Chinese medicine tips
By Sophia Power, BA Media
- Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) incorporates seasonal shifts when it comes to diet and lifestyle habits. Switching up the foods you consume and your exercise regime as the temperature increases can have a range of benefits, from improved digestion to better mood and productivity.
- Summer is associated with the element of fire in TCM. Increased heat can be beneficial, but it’s important to learn how to work with the season to prevent imbalances.
- Including more cooling foods in the diet and finding ways to burn off the excess yang energy associated with summertime can help keep your body and mind balanced throughout the summer.
Summer is upon us and for some, it’s blissful basking in the sunshine, while for others it can amount to little more than sweltering discomfort. If you’ve been following Fusion for a while, you may have noticed a theme - we really love nature and believe that humans are intrinsically connected to it. This isn’t a new concept, but one that we all sometimes need to be reminded of. This belief is fundamental to the practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Working with the seasons is a specialty of TCM - so how can you find the flow with the summer season? Read on to learn how to ‘do summer’ the TCM way.
What element is summer in TCM?
In TCM, there are five elements - fire, water, earth, metal and wood.Summer is the fire element that governs the heart and small intestine organ-meridian systems in Chinese medicine. These systems include the heart, blood vessels, the blood flowing through these areas, and by extension, the nervous system.
Fire also represents energy, passion, creativity, joy, and intensity. Summer is therefore a time of acting more outside of ourselves, getting things done on to-do lists that may have languished through winter and autumn, catching up with friends and filling up that social calendar.
Want to know which of the five TCM elements you’re most like? Take our quiz to find out here.
Summer: when yang dominates yin
In TCM, all aspects of life are seen to exist in an ever-changing balance of yin and yang.
From this perspective, summer is when the world is at its most yang. For example:
- Warm temperatures (yang) are more dominant than cold (yin)
- The daylight hours (yang) exceed the darkness of night (yin)
- We tend to be full of beans with a burning desire to be active (yang) rather than having low energy reserves and an increased need for rest (yin)
- The desire to be out and about socialising (yang) is more compelling than the yearning to stay at home and turn our attention inwards (yin)
What does summer in TCM represent?
Summer represents a lot of things - beach time, picnics, more socialising, sunburn, cold beverages and salads, to name a few. The heat of summer corresponds to yang energy dominating yin, - it’s a time of more ‘doing’ and being more active, expansive, expressive, intense and being out in the world.
While it’s a time of fun, excitement and even increased energy, it’s important to stay in balance. When in balance, the fire energy of summer is calm, heart-centred, joyous, productive, energised, creative, and dynamic.
Out of balance, fire energy in summer can often mean excess heat for many of us. This usually manifests as feeling more negative, impatient, exhausted, and frustrated, as well as struggling with headaches, fevers, constipation and dehydration.
TCM summer lifestyle
Moving with the season
Movement is always at the core of a healthy lifestyle, but the summer brings with it more opportunities to get outdoors, get your heart rate up and your sweat on!
Being a social, joyful time, you may find yourself gravitating towards group workouts, social walks with friends out in nature, fun, dynamic movements like a dance class or Capoeira, or even some high-intensity interval training if you’re so inclined. For joint-friendly, heart-rate-boosting activities, look to fast-paced yoga or swimming laps.
Don’t forget to wind down
While summer brings more opportunities (and more desire) for socialising - remember to maintain that yin and yang balance. If you’re feeling tired and wired, this is a sign you might have overdone it. Remember it’s okay to withdraw for some downtime and solo activities - even in the summer!
With the longer days, it’s also normal to get to bed slightly later and wake up earlier. This is part of living in rhythm with the season but take opportunities to rest if you find you’re getting less sleep and feeling tired.
TCM summer foods
The summer season really stokes the digestive fire. This means that the cold foods that many TCM practitioners would tell you to avoid the rest of the year can be enjoyed in the summertime. That being said, it’s important to maintain balance because too much raw food can be hard on the digestive system to process in large amounts. The easiest way to find out what’s in season is by looking to the produce markets for what’s on offer.
Here are some of the best ways to include TCM summer foods:
- Make a summery smoothie with seasonal fruits and vegetables and add to your favourite type of milk and protein powder for a satiating, cooling breakfast or snack.
- Add summer fruits and herbs to a jug of water and allow the delicious flavours to infuse - try slices of citrus fruits, strawberries, blueberries, mint or lemon balm.
- Maintain that yin and yang even in the heat! Stay balanced by adding raw foods like salads to cooked foods such as a curry or a protein source.
- Bliss bowls that include some cooked grain and root veg, salad greens and fresh herbs are a perfect meal for maintaining that hot/cold food balance.
- Keep alcohol to a minimum - enjoy beverages like herbal teas that work with the summer heat to remove toxins from the liver and gallbladder. Chrysanthemum, as well as green tea and white tea, are TCM summer favourites.
Our favourite cooling yin foods to enjoy in summer include:
- Apples and pears
- Citrus fruits
- Cooling herbs such as mint, coriander, dill, lemon balm, peppermint, lemongrass, chamomile, and chrysanthemum
- Leafy greens such as bok choy, rocket, kale
- Rockmelon, watermelon
- Salad greens
- Snow peas
- Tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, and passionfruit
Fusion Liver Tonic
As summer is a time where many of us indulge more than usual, extra herbal support is something that we could all probably use more of over the summer holiday season. According to TCM philosophy, a stagnant liver generates heat in the body (called an internal heat pattern), which can compromise its ability to perform its detoxification functions. When this occurs, baical skullcap is traditionally taken in Chinese medicine to clear excess damp-heat from the liver and support the body’s natural detoxification processes in patterns of internal heat. Find baical skullcap alongside milk thistle, which supports liver health, in Fusion Liver Tonic.
Curious about how you should approach your wintertime habits according to Chinese medicine? Find out more here.