In the West, we think of the seasons as the quartet of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. And in 2021 we’ve seen the gamut of what the British summertime has to offer, from extremes of heat to almost ‘Octoberesque’ bluster. Now as the late summer fruits ripen, let us look again at the 24 Solar Terms seen in traditional Chinese life.
According to the 24 Solar Terms, the onset of “Autumn” is placed as early as 7 August although any authentic sign of pumpkin spice latte season is still some way away, given that just over two weeks later we see the day known as “Limit of Heat” when the truly hot summer is said to come to an end. During this time and when the sun is high, there is still warmth. Yet while the sun continues to rise early and set late, the days are shortening almost imperceptibly, and the hint of a chill hangs in the air at the start and end of each day.
Limit of Heat gives way to “White Dew” on 7 September, marking the start of Summer’s transition into Autumn, before we reach the Autumn Equinox on 22 September. It is this broad time frame that Classical Chinese Medicine regards as Late Summer: the betwixt time when we prepare to shift down from the most dynamic and fierce Yang part of the year, into the slower, more introspective quality of the Yin season of Autumn and beyond that, Winter.
In Classical Chinese Medicine, the organ associated with late summer is the Spleen, with its Yang partner being the Stomach. The Spleen controls the integrity of our blood vessels and is connected to the exterior of our bodies via the mouth and lips. It is also associated with the emotion of worry. The role of the Spleen is a crucial one, as it controls the production of Qi that has first been harvested and then transformed from food processed by the Stomach.
Qi is the name given in Chinese medicine to all the energies that power change throughout the body and, indeed, the Universe. Qi is the vital life force energy needed for all living processes to take place; where we humans are concerned, our Qi comes in different forms.
Starting with original Qi, our “Yuan Qi” is the single dose we inherit from the genes of our folks and it resides in our Kidneys. The rest of the Qi we need during our lifetimes must be produced from the food and drink we consume (“Gu Qi”), and from the air we breathe (“Kong Qi”).
So it is to the Spleen that we look to see where Gu Qi is made. This organ is then responsible for moving the Gu Qi upwards towards the Lung where it is then combined with Kong Qi to produce “Zong Qi”. Not only does Zong Qi warm and nourish the Heart and Lungs so these organs can perform their own functions of keeping our bodies healthy through the wider circulation of Qi and Blood, but Zong Qi undergoes a further and final transformation into Meridian Qi, or “Zhen Qi”.
Zhen Qi is the Qi which, ultimately, is carried by our blood to the 12 invisible energetic pathways within our bodies; known as our major meridians. It exists itself in two specific forms: “Ying Qi” (Nutritive Qi) and “Wei Qi” (Defensive Qi).
Ying Qi is the energetic substance that sits within our meridians and so is activated by Tui Na massage or the acupuncturist’s needle. Ying Qi spends two hours every day in each meridian, performing a deeply nourishing function. For the Stomach, those hours fall between 7am and 9am while for the Spleen, it is between 9am and 11am.
Wei Qi on the other hand moves both in and outside our meridians. Tending to reside within the superficial muscular layers and skin during daytime hours, its role is to protect us from invasion by pathogens and infection. It then retreats to the interior of our bodies during night hours, and so it follows in traditional Chinese medicine that this is the time we are believed to be at our most vulnerable. How many of us have gone to bed feeling well, only to discover on waking that a viral overlord has somehow managed to launch an overnight stealth attack, filling our poor unsuspecting bodies with lurgy?
Late Summer’s colour is yellow and its element is Earth. Its climatic condition is damp. Stagnant and oozy, dampness is perfect for breeding many of the ills we encounter within both our environment, and ourselves. At this time of the year, the air has a quality of stillness and humidity can be high, so the pores of our skin are open. During this time of change and adjustment, our focus should be on the harvest of all that has come to fruition, both within and without. A sense of heaviness and of slowing down is all around us in nature. Boughs groan under the weight of the Earth’s ripened bounty, so we gather the abundance now for valuable sustenance in leaner times to come.
For us, it is time to nurture ourselves after the high energy of the earlier summer season. It is time to begin preparing for the changes in the Yin seasons to come by devoting our energy to self-care and striving for balance, through centring, grounding, and stabilising. Not too much and not too little. Our focus should be on our digestive and immune system health, and in doing so we give ourselves the best chance of thriving through the scarce Autumn and Winter seasons ahead.
When Spleen and Stomach energies are strong, our digestion is healthy and regular. We are imbued with energy, with robust immune systems primed to fight off the kinds of seasonal ailments that thrive in damp conditions. Our skin is clear and bright; blood is nourished; our muscles are strong and well-defined.
But when Spleen and Stomach energies are weak and imbalanced, we risk oedema, bruising, varicose veins, along with a tendency to carry excess weight. We suffer from aches and our muscles are poorly defined. We feel physically and mentally lethargic. A fog descends. We suffer from abdominal pain, bloating and spasm, along with gastro-intestinal problems. Excessive worrying and over-analysis, anxiety, obsessive thoughts and behaviours, as well as an inability to concentrate and make creative decisions, are all symptomatic of Spleen and Stomach imbalance.
We are invited during late Summer to embrace gentler forms of exercise, such as walking, swimming, Tai Chi, and restorative Yin Yoga. In essence, that which encourages reflection and introspection over higher intensity workouts where heavy muscle use depletes the Spleen and Stomach energies.
Unlike the foods we’re encouraged to eat during the high Summer season, our focus now should be on warming foods that are cooked. Root vegetables that reflect the earthy, grounding colours of the season: sweet potato, carrots, squashes, pumpkins and beetroot. Oats and Rice, as well as soups and stews using warming spices such as cinnamon, coriander, cloves, fennel, turmeric and cumin.
To discourage internal dampness, avoid raw foods, as well as chilled and iced food and drink. Also abstain from sugar and refined, processed foods, as well as greasy food.
Massage & acupuncture at SP21 & BL20 (aching muscles, fibromyalgia, abdominal bloating), BL21 & ST36 (boosting immune system, bloating & diarrhoea)