"What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?"
The above quote is so New England isn't it? Anytime we want to complain about the heat, there's this little voice whispering in our heads, "You remember when it snowed in April right?!" And then we appreciate the summer a little more and want to enjoy it while it lasts! But the above quote also explains a lot about Chinese Medicine and the balance of yin and yang. When it's cold out we need to warm up and vice versa, but it's not always how you think.
When I was 25, I spent 6 months living in India where day by day the temperature kept gradually getting hotter and hotter, until we were regularly in the triple digits on a daily basis. It was so hot and with the approaching monsoon season, more and more humid. But I noticed that everywhere I went everyone was still drinking hot chai; a warm beverage with 'warming' spices like ginger, black pepper, cardamom and cinnamon! So I started asking around, why isn't everyone drinking ice tea if it's so hot outside? They all seemed to know that drinking hot beverages actually does a better job at cooling you down than the cold ones! I was very confused to say the least!
So I started reading a book about Chinese Medicine that someone gave to me called, "Staying Healthy with the Seasons," by Elson Haas where he had some very interesting things to say about staying balanced during the summer heat. This was before I knew ANYTHING about the topic, and it was very eye opening. He said that while it's really healthy to focus on a LIGHT and COOLING diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in the summer, that including some herbs such as cayenne and ginger can induce sweating, open the pores and actually have a cooling action on the body. WOW I had to admit, it made sense, and I was really noticing, that even without ice cubes and air conditioning, I was managing quite well in the heat.
In fact, we had a meditation room (called 'the cave' although it was not an actual cave) that was the only place at the ashram I was living in that had air conditioning. And while that air conditioning was amazing, and definitely motivated my regular meditation practice, I always noticed that I felt extra hot when I came out of the air conditioning and back into the outside world. The extreme contrast had the effect of making my body feel less balanced and not more.
So, I realized that the more I ALIGNED with the natural energy of the season, the healthier I would feel. So here are a few tips for finding your equilibrium this summer!
1. Enjoy lots of colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables that are ENERGETICALLY COOLING for your body: When something you eat is cooling, it does not mean that it is a cold temperature. PEPPERMINT is cooling, even if you drink it hot, and GINGER is warming even if you drink it cold!
2. Add some spice to your life: want some of that spicy salsa or even a hot cup of chai? Adding some spice to get you sweating will attune you with the heat of the season and can actually lead to you feeling cooler, not hotter. The heat in your body gets drawn up to the surface and more closely mirrors the summer climate, making you less effected by it. Obviously this should be in balance and agree with your body in terms of digestion. If the spices are causing heartburn or digestive upset, please go easy!
WARMING FOODS AND SPICES FOR SUMMER:
3. Eat lighter and eat less: eating a heavy diet with a lot of meat can drag the body down in the summer. When the temperature gets high, let your diet get a bit lighter and focus on hydration.
4. For heat stroke symptoms try using food as medicine: if the heat really starts to effect you, some of the symptoms might be fever, excessive sweating, thirst, shortness of breath, irritability and weakness. Some cooling dietary remedies include the cooling foods above plus RADISH JUICE, BITTER MELON SOUP AND WATERMELON JUICE. And definitely make sure to see your doctor!
5. Cool down with essential oils: you can create a spray bottle to cool you down in the summer by filling it with water and adding a couple of drops of cooling essential oils. The best choices are peppermint, eucalyptus, any citrus blends and a little lavender for calming if you want. You can also diffuse the oil in your house if you have one and get a similar therapeutic benefit.
I hope you get some value from these tips and are enjoying your summer to the fullest! (You'd better, the snow will be back before you know it! LOL) Between vacations and spending time with the kids, we hope you can swing by the clinic for your self-care!
Melissa is a self described 'nerd' about all topics relating to health and wellness. She is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and co-owner of Open Circle Acupuncture & Healing.