Summer corresponds to the Fire element. Symbolically fire energy is warming, expansive, illuminating, and Yang (active) in nature. Summer days have more hours of light and sun, making the days longer and warmer. In general, we engage in more activity in summer, thus expressing our own internal yang energy. If you pay attention to the surroundings, you’ll notice the trees and plants expanding to fullness and the environment is abuzz with insects and bird activity.
In our internal environment the fire energy is expressed through the heart organ system, which includes the small intestine and storage of shen (heart spirit). The heart performs the physical function of pumping blood out to the extremities and the brain, which stimulates and nourishes our physical being and thinking processes. If heart energy is balanced, we feel contented, joyful, (joy is the emotion corresponding to fire energy), and mentally clear. If there is weakness in the heart organ, we may experience symptoms such as palpitations, anxiety, fuzzy thinking, despair or a lifeless feeling
If the heart energy is excessive, there may be symptoms of insomnia, schizophrenia, inappropriate giggling, hyperactivity, manic expression or a feeling of burning the candle from both ends. Extreme excessive energy could even lead to a heart attack. Heart energy is most active in the summer, so if an imbalance exists it will be exacerbated at this time. Summer is also the optimal time for addressing a heart or fire imbalance.
To address imbalances of any type in the body, it’s important to note that in the Taoist healing system, emphasis is given first to the internal environment and then treatment protocols are modified according to the external environmental influences. For example, excess heart yang energy in summer might include more bitter, bland and raw foods, avoiding fried, broiled or roasted foods, cooling and calming herbs, some form of meditation or quiet sitting and a diet that emphasizes cooling and moving foods. In winter, less raw, but still cooling foods that are steamed, boiled or stir fried and would include some neutral to slightly warming herbs is appropriate.
Our bodies like the universe are in a constant state of change, so becoming aware of the changes within has tremendous intrinsic value; and can guide us to choose foods and activities that can balance our personal energy. Following is a list of foods that can balance energy in the summer. This list is partial but will hopefully give you an idea of how foods are classified according to Chinese nutritional therapy.
Foods that nourish the heart and calm the spirit include: Bitter – bitter foods are cooling, purge heat and move energy down in the body asparagus, bitter melon, okra, endive, dandelion, amaranth, quinoa, rye, chickory, sesame, chocolate, cilantro
Sour Foods – sour foods consolidate, gather & astringe scattered energy lemon, limes, oranges, sauerkraut, dill, pickles & most fermented foods (those cultured with whey are preferable)
Pungent Foods – pungent foods move energy and pathogens out to the exterior of the body. most culinary herbs are pungent fresh ginger, basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, cayenne, etc.
Cooling Foods – raw is more cooling than cooked, however raw foods may not be appropriate for someone with a compromised weak digestion. most fruit is cooling, barley, millet, mung beans, sprouted grains, radishes, sea vegetation (nori, kombu, wakame, arame, hiziki etc.), watercress, green tea, white basmanti, melons, tofu, wheat, mushrooms etc.
Most meat and fish is either neutral or warming, but they can still be eaten in the summer; especially by those that have a protein, blood or deficiency illness. To balance the warming energy, it’s best to poach, steam or eat fish or meat in a soup or stew. Also, instead of having meat or fish as a main ingredient like it is in American cuisine, you can eat it like the Chinese do. A stir fry or using meat like a condiment to flavor dishes.
Understanding and becoming more aware of the seasonal influences can help to inform our choices and decisions, so that we can optimize the healthy benefits and positive energy influences in our lives. This way of harmonizing with Nature will also increase our intuitive capacity, thus balancing our intellect, body, mind and spirit.