Summer is undeniably a magical time filled with excitement and delight. The warmth and abundance of the season invite us to revel in long sunny days, enjoy outdoor activities, and bask in the beauty of nature in full bloom. Whether we immerse ourselves in adventurous hikes, soothing boating trips, or simply indulge in the company of loved ones, summer brings with it a sense of joy and vitality.
However, it can also be overwhelming with its high energy levels especially when we overindulge in outdoor activities or expose ourselves to excessive heat. It can leave us feeling drained and fatigued, impacting our overall well-being. Despite the joys of summer, it's crucial to find ways to nurture ourselves and keep our bodies cool and energized. Especially since Summer aligns with the season of the Heart, and the Fire Element in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). As the Emperor, the Heart reign on all our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual body. Back in the time, the Emperor in China was responsible “to oversee the well-being of the land and His role was to maintain peace and harmony by governing with intelligence and an enlightened mind”.
The Nature of the Heart/Mind
In the Chinese language, the word for Heart, XIN, also means the Mind, traditionally called the "Shen." Like every other aspect of life, our Shen has a Yin and a Yang nature. The Yuan Shen, our Congenital (prenatal) Mind, constitutes the mind's Yang nature. It is our intuitive Mind, our body's innate intuitive intelligence. It transcends conceptual thinking and dominates all of the body's vital activities like the heartbeat, digestion, motor function, etc. It is also responsible for all intuitive and perceptive insight. Therefore, it constitutes the spiritual aspect of the Mind.
The Shen Zhi, our Acquired (postnatal) Mind, constitutes the mind's Yin nature. It is the conditioned mind or discriminating mind. It is developed from the five senses and the knowledge acquired through our accumulated experiences. It dominates all our mental activity and is responsible for thinking and learning behavior. Therefore, it constitutes the analytical aspect of the Mind.
The Shen Xian, a third nature of the Mind, constitutes the Eternal Soul that descends from Heaven. This is the universal divine spirit that is implanted in each of us, connecting the individual to the spiritual reality that exists beyond the physical and mental realms. This is referred to as the "Higher Self", our True Nature.
A Powerful Force to be contained
Like all the elements, Fire is a powerful force that can foster transformation as well as being disruptive and destructive. Fire can burn, we all have experienced that. But Fire can also give rise to extraordinary growth and possibility. I am thinking of the seeds of some pine trees that need Fire, that heat, in order to germinate. In our modern life, Fire is a useful tool we know how to manipulate. And we also know that it needs to be contained so as not to burn down all that we build.
In the physical body, the Fire Element helps us keep our body and our Heart warm and maintain the circulation of blood and the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. Our physical heart beats more than 100 000 times each day. Every minute our heart pumps roughly 10 liters of blood through approximately 60 000 miles of blood vessels in our body. The blood delivers nourishment to the cells and removes waste from them. A balanced Fire Element contributes to a healthy pulse and blood flow.
In Chinese Medicine, Blood and Body Fluids have the same origin, and sweat is therefore considered to be one of the fluids of the Heart along with blood. For this reason, one of the important functions of the Heart is also to control perspiration.
In the physical realm, an imbalance of the Heart (Excessive or Deficient Fire Element) can manifest in various ways from palpitations, hyperactivity, restlessness, and general tiredness to insomnia.
Our Heart is also related to our ability to express ourselves with enthusiasm, laughter, and playfulness, as well as our capacity to form deep and meaningful connections with others. A balanced Fire Element supports clear thinking, emotional stability and contentment, a calm mind as well as fosters a sense of purpose and inner harmony.
However, Excessive or Deficient Fire can lead to Shen (Mind) disturbances, which can result in mental instability and emotional turmoil. This will manifest through poor memory or amnesia, lack of Joy and enthusiasm, difficulty connecting with others, overactive emotions, depression, or anxiety.
Harmonizing the Fire Element
As with all elements in Chinese Medicine, balance is the key to overall well-being. When the Fire Element is in harmony, it adds a vibrant and joyful dimension to our lives, allowing us to connect deeply with ourselves, others, and the world around us.
Harmonizing the Fire Element involves nurturing the qualities of joy, connection, and emotional balance. Caring for our Heart and our Shen during this season is of paramount importance to maintain balance within our bodies and there are many ways to do just that.
1. Regulate body temperature
The Heart can be easily injured by heat and Fire and overexposure to a hot climate will have a draining effect on the Heart. Pay attention and listen to your body's signals. Individual tolerance to temperature varies. If you feel too hot, take appropriate actions to adjust your body temperature.
· Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and breathable clothing made of natural fibers like cotton.
· Seek Shade or Shelter (especially in the peak heat of the day).
· In indoor environments, adjust the thermostat or use fans, cooling towels or air conditioning to maintain a comfortable room temperature.
· Take cool showers or baths to help lower body temperature.
2. Stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of water is crucial to cool and detoxify the body during the heat of summer. To enhance its cooling properties, infuse your water with mint and lemon. Also, avoid excessive alcohol and caffeinated beverages, as they can lead to dehydration.
3. Eat cooling/bitter foods
During this season, enjoy foods that support the Heart. Embrace a diet that provides essential nutrients while keeping your body cool and nourished. Bitter-tasting food is known to have a cooling and calming effect on the body, clearing excess heat and toxins. Here are some examples of bitter-tasting food:
Kale, Endive, Arugula, Mustard Greens, Rapini, Brussel Sprouts, Artichokes, Grapefruit, Dark Chocolate
4. Spend time in Nature
Harmonizing with Nature can help cultivate a sense of balance and connection. Wonder with the serenity of natural surroundings allows us to find inner harmony.
5. Engage in meaningful relationships
Spending quality time with our loved ones is vital for our emotional well-being and overall life satisfaction and for taking care of our Heart’s health. Schedule regular get-togethers, outings, or activities with friends and family that you enjoy. Shared experiences help build stronger connections.
6. Avoid Overexertion
Allow yourself moments of mindful rest and relaxation to recharge your energy levels and soothe the heart. Adjust your sleeping schedule to the season, follow the movement of the sun going to bed at sunset and waking up with the first rays of light. Also, limit physical activities during extreme temperatures. Take breaks and afternoon nap in cooler areas.
7. Seek inner balance
High-stress levels have a huge impact on our Heart’s well-being. Harmonize and balance your energy by engaging in mindfulness practices like prayer, meditation, or Qigong exercises. Practice indoors or in the shade during the cooler parts of the day.
These are simple ways to nourish our Hearts and our Shen that let us be content and at ease. Try some of them and explore for yourself other practice that supports you this summer. Let's embrace the season's abundance while listening to our bodies and finding moments of inner tranquility, ensuring a harmonious and joy-filled summer experience.