Summer has arrived. We've greeted and said goodbye to the longest day, packed away our woolies and, for at least some of the time, we are enjoying the sunshine. The world is teeming with life: insects are buzzing, flowers blooming and many of us are feeling great.
According to Chinese Medical theory, we are just a part of nature, feeling and behaving much like the flowers, the insects and all the animals that have long been out of hibernation.. When planning an acupuncture treatment, the time of year always has to be factored in. To fail to do this would be like trying to grow strawberries in Bristol in November. No matter what we put in the soil, it's just not going to work!
Summer corresponds to the Fire Element and the height of Yang. Its colour is red, its emotion is joy and its energy is uplifting; but be warned - it can easily burn out of control, or reduce to ash. The seeds have been sown and nurtured through from late summer of the previous year, survived the frosts of winter and the delicate determination of spring. Nature is now in full bloom and at the height of its powers. This will be reflected in the way we feel and the state of our health. If we have looked after ourselves, we should be feeling great, but some of us find this season too powerful and may be wilting due to its force.
In Chinese Medicine the organ associated with summer and the Fire element is the Heart. In both Chinese and Western Medicine the Heart is a pretty vital organ. In Chinese Medicine, the role of the Heart stretches beyond the physical - the organ that supplies every organ and cell of our body with oxygen, blood and nourishment. The classical texts liken the Heart to the Emperor; it rules every aspect of our being. When it is happy, the kingdom (which is our body) will run smoothly; when it is out of balance everything will fall into disarray.
Due to its extreme importance, the Heart has three levels of protection: the Pericardium, Triple Heater and the Small Intestine. These each play their part in protecting the Emperor physically and emotionally from insult and injury, damaging relationships and us separating the pure from the impure. Each one of these levels of protection needs to be nurtured and respected to ensure good health.
In Chinese Medicine the Heart looks after relationships and connects us to others. Its associated emotion is joy. Strong Heart energy allows us to spontaneously connect with others and live and flourish in the moment. It is diagnosed by an acupuncturist as the light (or lack of light) that shines from our eyes and the relationships we are able to form with others. A skilled acupuncturist should be able to diagnose a Fire / Heart imbalance the moment a person walks in a room, by the nature and quality of eye contact.
In Chinese Medicine the Heart plays a huge part in connecting us to others. In his book 'Spark in the Machine', Daniel Keown draws on parallels in Eastern and Western Medicine and their understanding of the importance of the Heart in relationships.
'The studies on relationships and heart attacks are so dramatic that if you could bottle what occurs between loved ones and sell it as a drug you would be the richest person on Earth'
He goes on to say that in the first day after bereavement, loved ones are 21 times more likely to suffer a heart attack.
fire in the body
In Chinese Medicine illness can be a result of an excess or deficiency. For the Fire Element this can often be diagnosed through heat. Heat naturally rises, and a person who carries quite a lot of heat may find their symptoms suddenly get worse in the summer. Signs of excess heat can include:
- Rapid heart beat
- High blood pressure
- Inability to sleep
- Hyperactivity / inappropriate laughter
- Manic disorders
- inflammation / fever
Likewise, if someone's Fire is deficient, this may manifest in:
- Palpitations / weak, erratic pulse
- Cold hand feet
- Insomnia / disturbed dreams
- Lack of joy
- Poor concentration
How Can Acupuncture Help
If you struggle at a particular time of year, acupuncture can very gently bring you into balance. If you suffer from any of the above, a skilled acupuncturist should be able to diagnose the root cause. In Five Element Acupuncture the success of a treatment is based on the practitioner's understanding of each element and how they manifest in every person they treat.
For example, conditions linked to excessive heat may be a result of an imbalance with the Fire element. They could equally be an imbalance of Water (Water cools and controls Fire) or Wood (Wood fuels Fire).
acupuncture point of the season
Acupuncture point Pericardium 8 is a wonderful point to balance Fire energy in the summer. If your energy is low and you are really struggling through the season, it can recharge you and reconnect you to summer's emotion - joy! Aptly named 'Palace of Weariness', it is one of my favourite acupuncture points at this time of the year and has the power to lift a person's spirit in an instant.
Located on the palm of the hand between the second and third metacarpals (bones below the thumb and index finger), the point can be a little tender, but the results are well worth it!
looking after yourself
During the summer, Fire energy can tend towards excess. Food should be cooling, but not chilled or frozen, as these cause the Stomach to work harder and create more heat in the process.
Summer is the time of year when Chinese medicine permits us to eat raw food in small amounts, although for the most part it should be lightly cooked. Cooling foods include cucumber, salad greens and summer fruits. Small amounts of spices such as chilli and ginger can be used because, although they are warming, they tend to push the heat out to the exterior, cooling us down through sweating.
Spend time with loved ones and friends
The Fire element is all about connection with others and joy. What better way to look after ourselves than spend time hanging out with friends? Enjoy the parties, barbeques and holidays this season brings. Not only are you having fun, but looking after your health at the same time!
As summer is the height of yang, it is a great time of year to be outside and active. We are naturally more energised at this time of year, so it is great to use some of this energy by looking after the season's organ: the Heart!
However, as always, it is important to listen to the messages your body is giving you. As mentioned earlier, Fire can appear excessive due to deficient Water (most people I treat have a deficiency in Water). Ways we can address this are through: drinking plenty of water; spending time near water (listening to it and touching it); cultivating inner peace and stillness, spending time engaging in tranquil hobbies or simply learning how to do nothing but reflect.
Calabro, Sara: 7 Ways to Kick It Acupuncture-Style This Summer, AcuTake, discover how acupuncture works: http://acutakehealth.com/7-ways-to-kick-it-acupuncture-style-this-summer
Keown, Daniel; Spark in the Machine, How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine, Singing Dragon (March 2014)
Reichstein, Gail: Wood becomes Water, Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life; Kodansha America, Inc (30 Nov. 1999)