Summer is the season of fire according to the five element theories of Chinese Medicine for obvious reasons. The element of fire sits at the top of the five elements wheel and is attributed with the auspicious color red. Its related body organ is the emperor of all: the heart.
Does that mean that summer is the best season and we are safe from harms of the cold?
You might be surprised at the amount of ER visits on the hot days of the summer. The ER waiting room gets filled rapidly and the wait time easily surpasses a few hours. The more hot outside the more chaos inside!
What I've seen in the past few weeks in the ER in abundance: bleeds, nosebleeds, surgical bleeds, strokes, high blood pressure, dizziness, anxiety, insomnia, palpitation, panic attacks, manic behavior, confusion, accidents, falls, bouts of anger, respiratory attacks, urinary tract infections, sepsis and dehydration.
Here is five major tips on how to balance the fire element and prevent a summer ER visit:
1. Drink plenty of Water.
The most simple advice and here is the rational from the Chinese Medicine perspective. The Water element is the cooling balance of the Fire. In general the way to keep heat in check is with cold. From the elements the Water and Metal are considered cooling. So the first step would be to replenish the body with plenty of water, especially if you are outside or sweating. The best time to drink water is during the day, especially around noon which is the time of the heart meridian. As a rule of thumb drink water when you are feeling thirsty. If you don't feel thirsty, try to take little sips during the day. In general it's beneficial to be around water as well, so visit lakes, spend time by rivers and swim in the ocean!
Watermelon, xi gua, is considered one of the best sources to replenish our body fluids in the summer. It's also helpful for the health of urinary tract. In Chinese Medicine theory, the heat of the heart can descend to the urinary bladder and cause urinary tract infections. The example for that is when anxiety and insomnia lead to urinary tract infection. Watermelon supplies the body with electrolytes and is considered a cooling herb in Chinese Medicine. I like to put it in the blender with some mint and include the white parts of the watermelon for more cooling effect.
3. Sleep before 11pm.
Sleep issues are more common during the hot summer months, especially if you have a busy day and at night your mind keeps you awake. Sleep is attributed to the Kidney organ and the Water element in Chinese Medicine. So the better you sleep the more you can balance the anxiety and heat of the Fire element. In general it's okay to go to bed a little later in the summer months and wake up earlier, following the path of the sun. The best time to go to sleep is before 11pm which is the time attributed to the liver meridian in Chinese Medicine. The liver is in charge of storing blood and detoxing at night. It holds the spirit of our dreams and visions. If you stay up after 1am, you may have experienced that it is actually harder to fall asleep, since the liver has lost its time to charge and renew. The minimum amount of sleep you want is 6 hours of continuous sleep so that the Kidney meridian gets a chance to recharge as well. You will know if you had a good sleep when you wake up and feel rested.
4. Do a gentle workout and take deep breaths.
The Fire element is the opposite of Metal in the five elements theory of Chinese medicine. The Metal element rules the lungs and large intestine, the organs of purification. Those who suffer from respiratory conditions such as allergies, asthma and COPD might experience more attacks during the heat of the summer. Having a routine breathing exercise throughout the year, especially in Winter and Spring is a helpful way to prevent respiratory problems during the summer. You don't want to do too strenuous of exercise and sweat too much. Sweat is a precious fluid close to blood and attributed to the heart organ in Chinese Medicine. One does not want to lose it in excess and usually the moment one feels that sweating has started it is a good time to stop the exercise to avoid excessive loss. I do a yoga practice few times a week and a yoga breathing exercise every morning to keep the healthy qi of my lungs flowing!
5. Avoid getting angry!
Anger attributed to the Wood element is the mother of Fire. Have you ever seen the bonfires of summer solstice celebration? That is anger, wood element, giving rise to ecstasy, fire element! Both extreme emotions to be avoided during the heat of summer. The first makes one blind and prone to bad decisions, ending up in the ER with a hemorrhagic stroke, bouts of mania or confusion. The second leaves you dry of all fluids and leads to nights of insomnia, palpitation, anxiety and fear.
The heart is happy when it's at ease, and there is joy in moderation, not as an extreme state. The heart is happy when there is love, peace and harmony. When the day is planned with lot's of space and time to rest and take a deep breath, this allows for one's whims.
In closing I want to bring up this paragraph from The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, Su Wen Chapter 1 about the summer:
"The three months of Summer are called the period of luxurious growth. The breaths of Heaven and Earth intermingle and are beneficial. Everything is in bloom and begins to bear fruit.
After a night of sleep people should get up early. They should not weary during daytime and they should not allow their minds to become angry.
They should enable the best parts of the body and spirit to develop; they should enable their breath to communicate with the outside world; and they should act as though they loved everything outside.
All this is in harmony with the atmosphere of Summer and all this is the method for the protection of one's development.
Those who disobey the laws of Summer will be punished with an injury of the heart. For them Fall will bring intermittent fevers; thus they will have little to support them for harvest; and hence at Winter solstice they will suffer from grave disease."
Happy summer solstice! Enjoy your summer and stay out of the ER!