At the height – and joyful heart – of Summer

21 June 2021 and the Summer Solstice, traditionally known as mid-summer, has landed!

After a UK May of rain, hail, more rain, slugs and snails, and unseasonably cold temperatures, the first three weeks of June gave us a vintage heat that really did live up to the title of Sir Frederic Leighton’s painting. Summer seemingly burst forth from nowhere. Suddenly, life became a kaleidoscope of colour. All that rain, followed by life giving sunlight and warmth gifted us a resplendent bounty of impossibly tall wildflowers. It was as if they were intent on making up for lost time, making the most of every daylight moment to reach the pinnacle of their potential. It really was a joy to be outside and immersed in nature: to feel her palpable energy and almost see growth taking place all around us.

Of course, in the style that is so typical of the British weather, the rain – carrying with her a return to much cooler temperatures – has for the time being returned to mark the longest day of the year. But surely it won’t be too long before the prodigal sun stages a glorious comeback.

In Ancient China, the sun’s position in the zodiac was how the “24 Solar Terms” came to be. As traditionally agricultural people, the Chinese found that sub-dividing the seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter into 24 Solar Terms enabled them to best align their farming activities and lifestyles with the subtle climactic changes that occurred as one season would wax and wane into the next.  

According to the 24 Solar Terms, the start of Summer occurs in Southern China on 5 May. Two further terms – “Small Full” when grain seeds begin to plump but are yet to ripen, and “Grain in Ear” when wheat ripens and Summer planting commences – pass before the Summer Solstice is reached. Beyond that, we have “Minor Heat” on 6 July, followed by “Major Heat” on 22 July, when sunshine peaks in terms of duration and temperature. And so we see that wondrous pattern once more; Summer is the most Yang time of the year.

Summer’s climatic condition is heat. Thus, its corresponding element is Fire and the colour is red. In Classical Chinese Medicine, the Yin organ associated with summer is the Heart, with its Yang partner the Small Intestine. The Heart, as a Yin organ, is characterised by the energy of ascension. It pumps and circulates blood around the body and in Chinese Medicine is also responsible for regulating the blood, as well as our Qi. The Heart is connected to the exterior of our bodies via the Tongue and our complexions reflect the quality of our Heart function. The Heart also houses our ‘Shen’ or spirit and is associated with the emotion of joy.

Summer is a time of growth, of exuberance, and playfulness. With all the extra daylight and warmth, we find ourselves naturally rising earlier. Powered by the sun and imbued with seemingly limitless energy, we might be motivated to strive for the peak of our capabilities. But we must beware burnout. Balance in all things is key even during the intensity and potency of summertime, for what we do now can either fortify or deplete us ahead of the coming Yin seasons of autumn and winter.

Uncontrolled excess fire energy can leave us feeling like our burners are still blazing late into the night, resulting in insomnia, and a fried central nervous system. Our spiritual wellbeing also suffers where our experience of joy is overlaid with mania. Think overheated, loud and over the top. Conversely, a deficient fire energy can manifest as an inability to experience joy, perhaps low mood, and even depression.

If our fire energy is balanced, we experience a life that is calm not only in spirit, but also in body. Our hearts beat steadily and strong in optimum health. We are well hydrated, our skin glows and our tongues and mouths are free from ulcers. We speak clearly and are not tongue tied. Our eyes are bright and moist, not red and dry. Likewise for our digestive systems, where we are free from nausea, stomach pain, constipation, and gastrointestinal disorders.

When we consider the Heart’s Yang partner, the Small Intestine, we see how its role in Chinese Medicine comes into play. The Small Intestine indeed extracts what we need for health and vitality, then eliminates that which serves no beneficial purpose. But the Western perspective of merely digesting food and fluid is transcended, as the Small Intestine relates also to the processing and letting go of negative experience, attachments and emotions through healthy discernment and sound judgement that is not clouded by mental imbalance.

Given Summer’s essence of expansion and light, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that the fire element is unique in that it has two additional meridians: the Yin Pericardium and its Yang partner, the San Jiao; sometimes referred to as the Triple Burner. The Pericardium is recognised in Western Medicine as the membrane that encloses the heart organ. In Chinese Medicine it is similarly regarded as performing a protective function – again, not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally. The San Jiao, however, has no Western counterpart. It is best described as the hollow cavity within the body’s trunk, divided into three: upper (concerned with respiration and from where fluids are dispersed to all parts of the body), middle (concerned with the stomach, where food and drink is digested and then transported), and lower (concerned with the removal of impurities and where waste is moved to be eliminated).    

So we are invited during summer to rise early and retire later; living our lives in playful tandem with the expansive energy of the sun. To reinvigorate and replenish the reserves that were depleted during the cold dark Yin season of Winter. We are encouraged to devote our increased time and energy to ripening our creative endeavours, but all the while to keep a watchful eye that we don’t tip into burnout. Walking barefoot in the grass, swimming in cooling water, practising yoga to keep the heart open. Partaking in pastimes that make our hearts sing, and that bring joy and happiness not just to ourselves but to others. Expressing gratitude for life’s many gifts.

Eat bitter, cooling, moistening foods – fresh and raw produce, particularly salads and green foods with a higher water content: think watercress, spinach, cucumber, mint, watermelon and strawberries. Consume fish and seafood. Avoid hot, spicy and drying foods, as well as eating to excess. Drink more water to stay adequately hydrated.

Massage & acupuncture at H8, P3, LI11

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