So, it’s what, 108 degrees in Dallas today? I guess once it gets that hot the number just doesn’t matter anymore.
In honor — if that’s the word, and I don’t think it is — well anyway, in honor of this totally brutal Summer, Part II today will focus on the Summer and a couple ways how Traditional Chinese Medicine relates it to your health.
One of the foundations of Oriental medicine and TCM is the Five Element system. It is a very profound theory with far-reaching philosophical roots that allows for describing any phenomena in nature. The Summer and its distinct aspects are the phenomena we are discussing today. So let’s start with these two Statements of Fact in TCM:
The qi of summer communicates with the heart.
The hot qi of summer nourishes the heart.
The heart itself is considered to be a manifestation of one’s fire element. The Summer is also ascribed to the fire element in nature. But elemental fire (as opposed to pathogenic fire), for most folks, often runs deficient… not up to the par required for normal complete health. Fire also has a unique quality important to understand here, which is to do what fire does in nature and can be observed to rise, expand, and disperse. This is what flames do when left to their own devices (without being blown about by wind, or directed by the presence of burnable fuel, for example, because this demonstrates other elements getting involved and affecting fire). By way of fire’s natural movement, to rise/expand/disperse, fire has an ability to reach out and affect things, and penetrate outer defenses. ‘The qi of summer communicating with the heart’ is exactly this action of the warmth or heat of summer, that which relaxes, opens, circulates, and softens, reaching out from the sun and into our bodies. It literally warms the channels identified in acupuncture, allowing them to relax and open for improved circulation and warmth in the body. So the second statement becomes more clear now, right? The hot qi of summer nourishes the heart through opening and warming. And the heart, even more than other organs, really likes openness and warmth. So this is good, the Summer effect.
But not so fast. Yes, it is good, but what about too much of a good thing? Well, it’s 108 outside. We are right in the middle of ‘too much of a good thing’. And now for the next relevant Statement of Fact.
The heart is averse to heat.
So, things get a little interesting here. The top two statements say that adding warmth to the heart is natural, especially during this season. So, how is it averse? Well, the fact is all organ systems and all life itself are dependent on heat and have an obvious affinity for warmth up to a point. The heart isn’t averse to any or all heat, but it is averse to excess heat, which is defined as more heat than the whole body and physiology can balance out. Where the heart is associated with fire the kidneys are associated with water, and water cools or controls fire. So, as the heart is exposed to excessive heat, which can come from a litany of possible causes, the kidneys function to keep the heart properly cooled. This prevents damage through excessively fast heart rates, or excessive sweating (associated with the heart), for example.
If the kidneys are not fully up to the task, which is indeed quite a challenge in a Summer like this one, then the heart’s fire burns and burns, eventually leading to many of the following symptoms that tend to come on stronger in the Summer than other times during the year: anxiety/panic, palpitations, sleep issues, feeling scattered, poor focus, lack of drive or motivation, excessive sweating, and irritability & restlessness. In the clinic these symptoms are typically treated best by improving the water at the kidney rather than treating the heart directly. By the way, improving water to the kidney requires more than simply drinking more water, although that may or may not be a part of the treatment.
I personally love the Summer, because I love the feeling of openness and vitality that comes with the warmth and activity these months. But I am also very aware that we all have our unique limits with how much heat exposure we can naturally deal with. So, enjoy the Summer! Yet watch yourself… any of the symptoms I listed above are early signs of a worsening imbalance, and the general rule of Wellness is to treat early to make it easy. Or treat late and make it more difficult than it needs to be.
If you are experiencing any difficulties with the heat this Summer then check in with me. If I can help as many folks as I do, then I can almost certainly help you, too!