Consciously living in harmony with the world around us supports our body, our emotions and our spirit. Within that consciousness we need to be in harmony with the greater cycles of life. When we tune into the passage of time by living with the seasons our energy synchronises with universal and earth energies to bring balance.
I’ve been luxuriating in the relaxing space between work finishing before Christmas and now, the New Year, doing very little and simply enjoying the summer. This two week period included the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the day when the sun shines the longest and the night is shortest.
I make it a practice to live in sync with the seasons, emotionally as well as in the basics like what I eat or wear. But slowing down over the Summer Solstice flies in the face of this practice. The energy of Summer Solstice is intense, joyous and one for celebration and partying. Taking it slow isn’t what’s called for but this year the seasonal energy called for rest.
The ancient teachings behind Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are perhaps where we see the theories of living with the seasons at its strongest in our modern world. This ancient discipline examines the effects that emotions and foods have on the different organs of our body. It provides guidelines about which organs of the body are most significant in each season and the steps needed to support the appropriate organ and create harmony within.
The steps of TCM are based on many aspects of diet including the quantities of food eaten, time of day, even your state of mind while you eat.
But living with the seasons requires more, it requires an wholistic approach.
Getting sufficient exercise, sleep, and clean water; reducing stress, anxieties and toxin exposure are equally essential to living a balanced life, in tune with the rhythms of the earth and the seasons.
Living With Winter
The natural way for your body as a whole to respond to the seasons is to ‘close down’ over the winter and to ‘open out’ over the summer. During the cold, dark winter months you need and want more sleep, your activities slow and quieten, your body requires external warmth from fire and warm, nourishing foods. Even emotions can close down and it’s not uncommon for depression to surface during the depths of winter, partly due to the lack of sunlight and associated decreased Vitamin D intake.
Living With Summer
During the warmer summer months, when the days are longer, the body requires and benefits from, less nourishment. It doesn’t need extra kilojoules to keep itself warm, you feel more energetic and your natural instinct is to get out, socialize, and be much more active.
Take a moment to think about how much easier it is to go out to a party on a warm, balmy summer night than it is on a cold, dark, rainy winter one, when all you want to do is curl up with a book or movie, or simply sleep. Think of how much easier it is to diet and exercise during the warmer months when your requirement is for lighter foods.
As more and more of us grow our own veggies and shop at Farmers Markets we are becoming increasingly aware of which foods are in season at any time, and beginning to direct our food choices towards only those foods that are in season. Obviously we don’t need watermelon in the winter when it doesn’t grow. Instead, we look for stews made from warming meats and root vegetables in season at that time.
Seasonal Wellness Books
Summer holidays are the time when many catch up on their reading. There are a few books I love that you might like to take a look at, which are useful guides towards living in tune with the seasons.
One is a cookbook appropriately named Eating For The Seasons by Janella Purcell, an Australian Naturopath, Nutritionist and Cook. It’s a great book with tips and recipes carefully selected to benefit and support to your body in each of the four seasons.
Another book I love is Ancient Healing For The Modern Woman by Xiaolan Zhao. This book looks at the ‘seasons’ of a woman’s life, rather than the seasons of the year, and offers wonderful ways to naturally remedy problems like PMS, symptoms of pregnancy, menopause, and breast health. It contains lots of great, simple tips taken from the authors personal experience of Traditional Chinese Medicine used by her family in China. She is a doctor of both TCM and Western Medicine in Canada, and her advice is very soundly grounded in both modalities.
If you’d like something a little more hefty you may prefer Healing With Whole Foods by teacher and nutrition researcher Paul Pitchford, a very comprehensive guide to Chinese Medicine. This book also contains lots of information about nutrition and diet, as well as a cookbook. There are sections on the Ayurvedic principles of food-combining, treating disease with foods, plus much more. As I say, detailed and comprehensive.
Living In Tune With The Summer Season
Early and Mid Summer
According to Chinese Medicine, summer is the season of Yang (masculine energy), and during early and mid-summer the heart and small intestine come to the fore. The emotions associated with the heart are joy and playfulness. Mental acuity is also associated with the heart in TCM, so memory, thought processes, emotional well-being and consciousness, as well as sleep also belong to this time.
When the heart is balanced the mind is calm.
Early and mid-summer is a time for celebrating and partying, as well as balancing that with enough rest and sleep.
When the fire element is out of harmony, so too is your experience of joy. You feel either depressed with too little fire, or joyous chaos with too much.
When your fire is unbalanced you experience associated symptoms that include agitation, nervousness, high blood pressure, heartburn, irregular heartbeat and insomnia.
Imbalance of the heart, governed by fire, can lead to confusion, crazy or no laughter, a very red or very pale face, stuttering, verbal diarrhoea, memory loss, mental illness or an aversion to external heat.
In the late summer (the fifth season in TCM) it becomes the time of the spleen and stomach. Overworked spleen and stomach is associated with worry and obsessive thoughts. Spleen is associated with damp and problems may kick in if the weather is humid.
The summer season is ruled by fire. Life and energy is at a peak.
Align With Summer Energy
The aim during Summer is to let your energy flow ‘out’, to get rid of the heat stored in the body over winter.
- Eat spicy foods to induce sweat, it helps rid the body of heat
- Rise early to benefit from the rays of the sun.
- Go to bed later. Rest at midday if you need more sleep.
- Drink plenty of clean water (water is the opposing element of fire), take cool baths, seek shade. Watermelon juice, an old remedy for dehydration, cools the body and cleanses the system.
- Add pungent and strong flavours to your diet
- Avoid drinks full of sugars and chemicals which don’t actually relieve thirst, but do bring toxins into the body which then have to be cleared out.
- Refrain from anger, keep calm.
- Eat more cooling, hydrating yin foods to balance the fire heat of summer – raw foods, salads, seafood, legumes, sprouts (especially mung-bean), zucchini, cucumbers, kelp, and fruits like watermelons, apples, limes and lemons. Cooling foods tend towards the green foods – lettuce, cucumbers, watercress. Very few vegetables are warming. Fish and seafoods are cooling but most meats are warming. Be careful not to eat too much raw or cold food though as it may ‘cool’ your digestion too much – you want to achieve balance in all things!
- Bitter yin foods are associated with the heart and small intestine. They reduce the heat and drain dampness. Foods such as celery, dandelion, endive, watercress, quinoa and rye. But be careful not to overdo bitter foods, unless you have lots of fire in you. Asparagus and lettuce are both bitter and sweet.
- Later in the summer add the sweet yang flavours of complex carbohydrates, legumes, nuts, oats, rice, peas, peaches, avocado, kiwifruit, cucumber and raw honey. These build and strengthen the spleen and thus the whole body. The spleen is the most important organ of the immune system. They also slow and relax an overactive heart and mind. But don’t have too much!
- Add lemon or lime slices to water to sip during the day.
- Eat foods that promote energy and activity. Use hot spices such as fresh (not dried) ginger. Black pepper, cayenne and horseradish will induce a sweat. Cardamon is a useful spice as it clears the digestive system of blockage caused by heat.
- Mint, chrysanthemum and chamomile are all cooling teas. Green tea is great for summer
- Eat in moderation. Keep your food light and simple. Indigestion, sluggishness and even diarrhoea can easily occur in the summer. It’s healthier for you, and it gives you more time to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.
- Avoid heavy or salty foods – meat, excess grains, dairy, oil and eggs as they will make you feel sluggish during summer.
- Avoid cold foods in early summer – iced drinks and ice-cream (they hold in the sweat and heat)
- Focus on changes in your life related to joy, growth and spiritual awareness. With the predominant nature of Summer being Yang, related to excitement, assertiveness and exuberance, it is the perfect time to take action to make positive change.
The Key To Living With The Seasons
If you remember that the human body is simply a microcosm of the universe, the macrocosm, it becomes easier to understand that the same imbalances that occur in the environment are mirrored in the human being. By keeping this relationship with nature in mind we can become more conscious of keeping the rhythms of life in harmony, of living with the seasons.
All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.
Purcell, J, Eating For The Seasons, Allen & Unwin, 2011
- Juicing With the Seasons – It’s Important (happyhealthyresearch.wordpress.com)
- Eating in Peace (cynthiamcgilvray.com)
- Chinese Medicine-Uncovering the Basics (medindia.net)
- Eating For The Seasons:Summer (threeseeds.co)