The days are slowly getting longer, and my tree peonies are in full bloom. This post is coming out a bit late since almost 2 weeks ago, on May 5, the Beginning of Summer (Li Xia 立夏) arrived. Perhaps I’m writing this so late because around here the last few weeks were unseasonably cold. However, this week there was a dramatic shift to warmer weather appropriate to the current season. The days are really are much longer and brighter, and at this point in time, in only about 1 ½ months the days will start getting shorter again. Right now the Yang of the natural world is close to its fullest, and correspondingly the hexagram that represents this time of year is Qian Gua (乾卦) – six solid-Yang lines.
Summer is associated with the Fire phase, although the 4th month belongs to the Spleen (the 4th month in the Chinese calendar is May, since February is the first month). This is interesting as in ancient times the Heart was associated with the Earth phase as well as the Fire phase. For example, in the Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the Han Dynasty dictionary that gives the etymology of ancient characters, the definition of Heart is 人心土藏 – “human Heart, the Earth zang-viscera.” The Spleen channel also has a direct connection to the Heart Zang. Many of you who practice Tung’s acupuncture will notice that the main Heart Dao Ma group is located in the space between the Spleen and Stomach Channels; this Dao Ma group is the Zu San Tong consisting of Tong Guan 88.01, Tong Shan 88.02 and Tong Tian 88.03. In Tung’s acupuncture all of the major Heart points have some relationship with Pericardium channel, the original Heart channel from the Neijing (e.g., the Source point of Heart in the Ling Shu is Da Ling PC-7, not Shen Men HT-7). One needling technique we can use during this time of year with otherwise healthy patients is to incorporate Pericardium channel points (such as Nei Guan PC-6) or the Zu San Tong Dao Ma group into point prescriptions. These points help the body harmonize with the movement of the season right now.
To remind everyone, each of the 24 Seasonal Nodes has a traditional set of health guidelines where we should focus on certain things and avoid others. For Beginning of Summer the traditional things we focus on are preserving a good mood, nourishing the Heart, and thereby entering stillness (保持良好情緒，養心入靜). The things to avoid are allowing Heart fire to become too exuberant and intemperance in food and drink (心火過旺，飲食沒有節制).
As we just mentioned, the Heart is the fire organ. This means that occasionally it is prone to excess heat, signs of which include insomnia, irritability, dry and hard stool, red eyes, and thirst for cold beverages. One way to avoid excess Heart Fire is to dress appropriately for the warmer weather as it starts to come. Avoid strenuous work in direct midday sun, instead taking advantage of the slightly cooler temperatures in the early morning or later afternoon. Be sure to consume plenty of clear fluids such as water or herbal teas. Mint tea and chrysanthemum tea are both gently cooling to the body, and additionally they help with allergies that are so prevalent right now in northern New Jersey.
Another way to avoid problems of Heart Fire is to maintain a good mood. One of the best prescriptions for stress relief is moderate exercise. Take advantage of the improving weather and go for a short walk in the cool early morning hours. Also consider taking a few moments throughout the day to simply take some quiet deep breaths. Those who are local to New Jersey can consider joining our Qigong and Taiji classes.
With the new seasonal node come new dietary suggestions. One of the first, as already mentioned, is to avoid intemperance in food and drink. Overeating, especially of very heavy, sweet or greasy foods, places a burden on the Spleen. Overeating these foods, and overconsumption in general, also create internal heat that can worsen Heart Fire.
In terms of traditional flavors, this time of year we should focus on eating slightly more sour, a little more bitter, and light or gently cooling foods. Eating sour foods helps build fluids and blood so as to nourish the Heart, and bitter can drain fire. As the heat in the environment increases it is understandably appropriate to eat more light fresh vegetables and other foods that will gently cool the body. Specific foods to consider this Seasonal Node include bananas, peaches, plums, umeboshi (Japanese salted plums), asparagus, cucumber and corn. Since this time of year is associated with Fire and Heart, red foods are also good to incorporate – think of strawberries, tomatoes and hawthorn berries.
It is appropriate to increase slightly intake of water or herbal teas. Patients who tend towards excess heat can drink chrysanthemum tea. Even though the beginning of Summer means more heat, some patients still may be cold and deficient internally. Since Summer sees increased environmental dampness, these people can drink a very light ginger tea or fennel seed tea, sweetened with a little local honey. Allergy sufferers (right now in New Jersey we are in the middle of a pollen tsunami) can take mint tea with some local honey, as local honey is used as a traditional allergy remedy.
Two traditional Beginning of Summer recipes are Celery Congee 芹菜粥 and Suan Zao Ren Congee 酸棗仁粥. For Celery Congee take several stalks of celery, remove the leaves, clean and cut into small pieces. Take an appropriate amount of white rice and cook in water to make a porridge (i.e., congee), and then add celery for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste. This recipe clears heat and extinguishes fire, reduces blood pressure, and eliminates vexation. However, it should be avoided by those with Spleen-Stomach vacuity cold patterns. Celery Congee can be taken daily in the morning as a warm breakfast. This recipe originally comes from the Ben Cao Gang Mu.
For the second recipe, Suan Zao Ren Congee, use about 50g of Suan Zao Ren 酸棗仁 to about 100g of white rice. Add an appropriate amount of water and boil until you have congee. At the end, add a small amount of sugar or honey to taste. This recipe can be taken as an evening snack as it can treat Heart vacuity and vexation to help sleep.
I hope you are all enjoying the gradually improving weather. Happy Summer!