Summertime Wellness and Chinese Medicine
Feeling anxious, restless or irritable? Having poor sleep? Are the symptoms new or worse with the summertime or heat? Chinese medicine has methods from small diet changes and herbal medicine to cupping and acupuncture to calm your restless mind and help you adjust to summertime and the impending heat.
In this blog post we will explore the Chinese Medical view on how summertime effects the body and mind, pathologies that arise from heat, and how we can restore health and balance using diet, herbs and lifestyle shifts.
The Heart, Mind, Fire, Summertime, and Heat.
Summertime brings Heat*. When Heat is added to our system in healthy doses we experience improved circulation. Improved circulation in turn nourishes and warms our muscles and tissues, improving our range of motion and often decreasing pain that was present in winter and springtime. Our moods are also often improved in the summer because Blood* and Qi (energy) are more free flowing because survival is easier compared to winter.
The Heart* governs Blood, circulation, sweat and the mind. In the poetic language of Chinese Medicine, the Heart is flame of the body and through circulation it warms the tissues and spreads Heat. And like a flame is to wax, the Heart is dependent on Blood to support it and not let it get out of control or let it be extinguished. When there is not enough Blood, the fire of the Heart burns out of balance. Regardless of the season, Heart pathologies can occur. However, the added heat of summertime does influence our system in general and the Heart in specific. Previously existing Heart pathologies are heightened during summertime and new Heart pathologies can also develop.
Blood is the water that controls fire of the Heart. One of the ways we lose Blood is through sweating. When there is too much Heat in our bodies our response is to sweat to regulate our temperature. The fluid we secrete while sweating is derived from our Blood and moves to the surface of the skin. Once the sweat is on our skin, it releases internal body heat and further cools us down by carrying heat from the skin while it evaporates. In addition to secreting water, sweat is composed of various nutrients including: sodium, potassium, calcium and potassium. Significant loss of these nutrients can lead to dehydration, muscle cramping, delayed menstrual cycles and changes in consciousness.
Mild sweating from physical activity or being in a warm environment is healthy. However, when sweating is sustained for lengthy or repeated periods of time it is very depleting to our Blood which in turn affects the Heart. Exercise especially in hot/heated environments (i.e. Hot Yoga, running in summer heat, etc.) or being in the sun too much (i.e. being at the beach and tanning) are ways to quickly deplete the Blood. Damage to the Blood can also occur by eating too much spicy food and drinking alcohol or smoking.
The Heart is the organ believed to house the mind. A healthy functioning mind includes feeling mental spaciousness (going with the flow and less reactivity) with the ability to be focused. These are signs that the fire/ water balance in the Heart is healthy. When the Heart is affected by Heat our perception and relationship to our environment will shift out of alignment and the quality of our consciousness deteriorates. We can end up feeling anxious and restless and in worst cases end up manic and angry. These are Heated moods and directly use Heart Blood up quickly.
Falling asleep can also be difficult in heat and many people experience nightmares and startling dreams in summertime due to Heat affecting the Heart/mind. Prolonged periods of insomnia/poor sleep also deteriorate the Blood and quality of consciousness because the Blood is not able to rest.
Food, sleep, and self-care are the main ways to keep vitality during the summer time.
Make sure you’re eating enough cooling and moistening foods to combat the heat. Raw fruits and vegetables are generally cooling. Eating melons like cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon cool the Liver and the Heart, especially when eaten first thing in the morning. Snacking on melons and stone fruits (i.e. plums, apricots, nectarines, and peaches) throughout the day are a way to cool the body and provide gentle nourishment. Dark bitter leafy greens (kale, collard greens, etc.) and root vegetables like beets and sweet potatoes build the Blood and keep the Heart cool and you less irritable.
Drinking water with lemon or lime can also help keep you cool. Green tea can promote a good mood and has a positive calming effect on the mind while being gently energizing compared to coffee which is very Drying and Heating. Herbal teas like mint and chrysanthemum promote a clear mind and can clear eye redness from hot windy weather.
Avoid eating spicy foods during the summer. Spicy foods agitate the mind by increasing the Heat present in the body. Instead, choose more flavorful foods flavored with herbs like thyme, oregano and rosemary.
Alcohol is generally very heating. However, If you are drinking alcohol there are choices you can make to reduce its heating effect. Choose white wine over red, cider over beer, and gin over other hard alcohols.
Sleep is often disrupted with summer heat. Sleeping in a cool, dark environment can reduce restlessness and help you sleep more deeply. Wearing an eye mask while sleeping and having a fan on (facing away from you) while sleeping can help you go deeper into sleep more quickly. Having a fan directly on you while sleeping or sleeping near an open window increases grogginess and facial puffiness in the morning, and may lead to increased muscle twitches. Pleasant dreams are a marker of good quality deep sleep. Excessively vivid dreams and nightmares are a sign of Heart Heat pathology.
Exercise during cool times, especially in the early morning while the temperature is low. This will cause you to sweat less and deplete your Blood less. Working out in the evening is very Heating and stirring to the Blood and not ideal for cultivating deep sleep. Coconut water is one of the best ways to cool down and hydrate after working out.
If you are struggling with the change in season and summer heat and notice changes mood, sleep, or fatigue, come in and get acupuncture and herbal medicine so you’re more in harmony with the seasons.
*Capitalization is used to connote Chinese Medical concept strongly related to the western anatomical term.
Logan Delaney, LAc