In the classic texts of Chinese Medicine (compiled from earlier material in roughly 206 BC to 220 AD), they wrote about how our health changes over the course of the year. During the summer months, the days are longest, and that has a subtle effect on the body. Just like trees will blossom at certain times of the year, or become bare at other times, our bodies also change just as much due to the seasons.
The primary classical text, the Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, translated by Paul Unschuld) says, “Go to rest late at night, and rise early.” This wasn’t advice to get less sleep, but was saying that we should try to wind down for the evening when it becomes dark out, and wake up as the sun rises. An example of what not to do if you want to be healthy would be to work a third shift job.
We might not be morning persons, but if you ever wake up with the sunrise, you can notice how peaceful and wholesome it is…that sense of peace and goodness has a beneficial effect on our bodies. So, try to wake up with the sunrise during the summer, but also make sure you’re well rested.
“Never get enough of the sun” says the Neijing, of the summer months. During this season, we should be outdoors, enjoying how nice everything looks in nature. Everything is blossoming during this time of year, and being out in the sunlight brings health and enjoyment. Simply going for a walk down your street can be good to do, or you can make an excursion to a local park to get closer to nature. Or head to the beach. Tanning is very healthy to do at this time of year (as long as you wear some sunscreen, because we now understand the effects of UV light causing skin damage). The ancient Chinese thought that the sunlight during the summer recharges our batteries for the rest of the year, and prevents illness when the following seasons come. Even in Western Medicine, we know that the body produces its own Vitamin D as a result of sunlight exposure.
An example of the opposite of what we should do during the summer: stay indoors all day, sitting, with the blinds shut. We might not feel the ill effects immediately, but Chinese Medicine would insist that doing such a thing would make us less healthy in the seasons that follow. Instead, it’s important to get outside at least once each day.
Next, the Neijing says, “Let the mind have no anger”. While sometimes life throws us a curveball, and we can’t help how we feel, and shouldn’t repress it… we should also know that it’s considered harmful to our health especially at this time to become overly angry. It’s a good season to cultivate relaxation and openness. Metaphorically, just like flowers are all blooming open around this time of year, facing the sunlight, so should we. I will share an easy method for cultivating relaxation later in this newsletter.
In a certain school of Ayurveda (Indian Medicine, slightly related to Chinese Medicine), they teach that there is a subtle “heart lotus”, which when open leads to health and well being. It’s thought that disturbing emotions, especially anger, immediately close down the “heart lotus” – the opposite effect of what we want during this season. So, be sure to take extra time to relax in the summer, which will help your heart to stay open and healthy.
The Huangdi Neijing says next: “Stimulate beauty, and have your elegance perfected”. Sometimes it’s hard to translate the classical Chinese which was written over 2,000 years ago. But this basically means that we should both be appreciative of beauty that we see, as well as try to make ourselves look good, too. An easy qigong exercise for improving the complexion, the area of our body most associated with beauty, is to gently massage the face for a few minutes each day. This increases circulation to the skin of the face, allowing one’s unique and natural inner beauty to shine forth externally. As I mentioned previously, tanning is also good this time of year, and gives a healthy and beautiful look to the skin.
“Cause the qi to flow away as if what you loved were located outside of you” is another tidbit of advice from the classic text. During the summer months, yang qi (our body’s vital energy, which is linked with our attention) is naturally at its peak. Just like the sun peaks in the sky at midday, and just like flowers bloom on the tops of the trees during the summer, so does our internal energy rise to the surface of the skin and upper body at this time of year. Our energy naturally wants to go outward at this time – which is another reason why it was said earlier to “never get enough of the sun” and be outdoors often. So, during the summer our attention should be going outward toward things of beauty, which will bring us in tune with the seasonal changes.
Speaking of having our attention go outward – here is the method that I was talking about for cultivating relaxation and openness during the summer. It’s derived from Dr. Amit Sood’s meditation techniques from Mayo Clinic. We can call it the Flower Meditation:
1) Take a flower that you think is pleasing or interesting to look at.
2) Sit with it close to you, or holding it in your hand, so that you can see it closely.
3) Pay attention to what makes the flower unique. Notice a detail about it.
4) Keep repeating this, slowly noticing one new detail at a time. Instead of trying to concentrate on the appearance of the flower, trying to focus on it, or trying to meditate with it…just notice a new detail about it which makes it different. Noticing something is what helps us draw our attention toward it. Noticing something new is similar to an open state of mind, but trying to focus or concentrate closes down the mind…there’s a subtle yet important difference.
5) If you find yourself thinking about something else, just go back to steps 3 and 4, noticing the fine details of the flower. Continue for just 5 minutes, and then stop.
That method, which is similar to “calm abiding” meditation in Buddhism, is a way of relaxing the mind and calming the emotions. It’s completely in harmony with the qi of the summer season, so it’s good to do every day at least once.
So far we’ve had some lifestyle tips, and a couple of techniques:
Wake with the sunrise, and be well rested. Wind down for the day as the sun sets.
Spend time outdoors, and get some sunshine on you.
Cultivate relaxation, and openness, instead of anger.
Face massage qigong for good complexion.
Have your attention go outward, rather than inward.
Flower Meditation technique.
Furthermore, during the summer when our yang qi is at the surface of the body, there is less yang (activity) internally. Yang qi is what helps us digest food properly, and digestion is the source of our body’s vital energies. With good digestion we are in good health. So, during this season it’s important to eat lighter and not have heavy meals, which would overburden the digestive system. It’s also a time when we should eat more vegetables according to the Yin Shu (the oldest book on daoyin/qigong, from 186 BC). Brassica vegetables tend to be harder to digest, so it’s important to cook them well. There has been a trend in the past decade among healthy people to eat a lot of kale…that is definitely one which should be prepared well, and not simply eaten raw. Easier to digest vegetables, like iceburg lettuce, are beneficial to eat raw in salads (in moderation). Take note of how different foods make you feel, and if any cause any sort of symptoms.
A simple method which works incredibly well for improving the digestion: chew each bite of food 30-50 times. Our saliva contains enzymes that help start the process of digestion, so it’s important to chew more than we’re used to, in order to make use of our body’s natural means of assimilating food. Also, when we chew more, the food particles are broken down into smaller pieces, making it easier on the gastrointestinal system to digest them well. Whenever I notice that my digestive system is off, such as with loose stools, gurgling in the gut, feeling tired or weak, certain foods bothering me…I make sure to at least force myself to spend an entire day chewing very well. It usually takes care of any problem right away.
I think it is especially important, if you’re trying to improve your health for the entire rest of the year, to make it a habit of chewing well on the summer solstice (June 21st, 2019) and a day or two before and after it. At that time, the yang qi is at the absolute peak of the entire year, and the digestive system needs all the help it can get. At the very least, make sure to keep your meals light around those days.
No eating heavy, and feeling stuffed! Chew 50 times per bite!
Finally, here is a tip for the days when it’s very hot out. Eat some watermelon as a snack. Or put it in a blender, and then strain out the pulp, then drink it as an agua fresca. Cool foods like this will help cool down the body’s temperature, which will prevent too much yang qi from escaping in the case of being overheated. Watermelon is also very moistening and hydrating, which is important due to increased moisture leaving the body when it’s too hot (or if you end up sweating, due to exercise).
If it’s VERY hot, it’s natural to seek out the shade. Even though the advice from the Huangdi Neijing said to get a lot of sun, it’s also important to stay cool in the summer. Shade and a breeze are just as important as being in the sun.
Part of living in harmony with the seasonal changes is to do what makes sense, what feels most natural, and what brings good results.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning some Chinese Medicine lifestyle tips. I plan to always share them freely in these quarterly newsletters.
If you’re interested in acupuncture, acupressure (without needles), herbal medicine, or further lifestyle tips which are catered to the individual, take a look at the different options on my booking site: ginkgoleafacupuncture.janeapp.com
Have a Happy Summer,
Scott Schauland, LAc