Fire and Joy: Learning to Embrace Summer Fully

It’s officially summer! Today is the summer solstice (the exact moment of the solstice–when the earth is most greatly inclined toward the sun–is 6:07 AM EDT on June 21st this year). Summer’s fiery energy bursts in on us just as quickly as spring flutters away. As I touched on in my post on spring and the wood element, in traditional Chinese medicine, there are 5 seasons, each associated with a different element (fire, earth, metal, water, wood), organ system, flavor and energy. Summer is associated with the element of fire; fire is a unique element as it has 4 organ systems that correspond with it versus the usual two. Fire corresponds to the heart, small intestine, pericardium and triple heater; the color red; and the flavor bitter. A healthy and balanced fire equates with joy, connection, fun, expansion, passion, love and play.

The Fire Elements
You may be asking yourself, what is a triple heater? A pericardium? Those are organs?! The answer is yes! In traditional Chinese medicine, the fire element is uniquely comprised of these 4 fire organs. Below are a few basic characteristics to help you understand these powerful fire elements and how they manifest in us physically and emotionally.

Heart: The heart houses the spirit and is the seat of consciousness. It allows us to connect on an intimate level with ourselves and others. It powers our circulation and the flow of qi and blood throughout the body.

Small Intestine: The small intestine is in charge of separating the “pure” from the “impure” physically, emotionally and spiritually. Small intestine imbalances can manifest as indecisiveness in figuring out what to hold onto in our lives and what to let go of; feelings of confusion; feeling stuck; or experiencing digestive issues such as leaky gut or food intolerance.

Pericardium: The Pericardium is the heart protector, the drawbridge to the heart, letting relationships in or keeping them out. It also physically promotes circulation through our bodies.

Triple Heater: The triple heater is a very important fire element. It regulates circulation, body temperature and the movement of fluids in the body.

Connection and Joy
Fire is all about joy, relationships and connection. Some of us may naturally feel an excitement and motivation this time of year, almost as though a light has switched on; our spirits feel lifted, making it easier to feel more joy in our day to day lives. This is the time to take advantage of being outdoors–firing up the grill, hanging with friends and connecting with nature. It is also the time to connect with friends more deeply and open up your circle to let others in, continuing with or reaping the benefits of the creative energies that you launched in the spring. The Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture says:

“When fire is balanced within us, we are able to give as well as receive warmth and delight in the company of others.”

Fire Imbalance
Your fire element can easily become either deficient or excessive, however, leaving you feeling out of whack and setting off a chain reaction for the seasons that follow. This is not at all uncommon; I have many people come into my practice this time of year experiencing fire imbalances such as insomnia, heart palpitations, depression, anxiety, confusion, hot flashes, hives (skin outbreaks), sexual dysfunction (high or low libido) and digestive issues.

How to tell if you are fire imbalanced:
If your fire is deficient/low, you may feel numbness or cold, experience cold symptoms, and have abdominal pain and discomfort; you may feel the need to withdraw socially and find it difficult to summon up joy or let people into your life. If fire is excessive, on the other hand, this may result in inflammation in the joints, insomnia and other sleep disturbances; it may also lead to anxiety and difficulty in slowing down, resting and recharging.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell when we feel off or imbalanced in our busy lives until something happens to stop us in our tracks. One way to find out if you are spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally balanced with the current season is by seeing an acupuncturist or traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. They will be able to hone in on your energetic blockages, and treat you with acupuncture and herbs, opening you up to the incredible potential for connection, light and love that is summer.

There are also things you can do yourself that can support and boost your fire energy this summer. Below you’ll find a few of my own suggestions for how to fully embrace summer:

Schedule FUN! No matter how busy we all are with long hours at work, families, and managing our day to day lives, it’s important to think of having fun as a part of your health and self-care routine in the summer. Schedule it in just like you would schedule in a doctor’s appointment or an errand. Fun can be anything that gives you joy: go out dancing, go see live music, a theater show or a sporting event, plan a meal with friends or loved ones. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you really enjoy doing that you usually don’t have time to do. I personally struggle with this one as I am in introvert and need alone time to recharge. But I really notice a difference in my spirits when I make a point to make fun a priority. A few Saturdays ago, for example, my husband and I, tired after a long week, rallied and rode our bikes into the West Village from Brooklyn to listen to live music, one of my favorite things to do. I’m so glad we made that effort, as the next week I had more energy and felt nourished on a soul level.

Exercise: Summer is the perfect time to get back into a regular exercise routine–even 20 minutes a day can make a big difference in your overall well-being. Finding exercise that you enjoy is key, as you don’t want to drag yourself to the gym if you hate working out indoors. Experiment with different activities and see what you actually like! And don’t be afraid to get creative. It could be as simple as dancing your head off in your living room for 20 minutes or you might enjoy biking, rollerskating/blading, or even just taking walks in your favorite neighborhood or parks. If you’re crunched for time, as of course most of us always are, there are tons of online options for working out at home now. With my schedule these days, I personally have been working out at home. I like to do free yoga on Youtube (I use Yoga with Tim) or squeeze in a session through a circuit training app I love called Sweat with Kayla. Getting your circulation and blood flowing is an important part of having a healthy heart and fire element.

Bitter Foods: The flavor sensation bitter goes with the fire organs. Bitter foods help assimilate digestion and move along sluggish energy that could lower our digestive function and overall energy. To keep our digestive fire strong, enjoy bitters in moderation such as: Kale, Swiss chard, escarole, spinach, endive, dandelion, rhubarb, bitter melon, green tea, dandelion tea, rose tea, hibiscus tea or my favorite: Dandy Blend.

Red Foods: In traditional Chinese medicine nutritional theory, red foods are nourishing to the heart. So dig into fresh cherries, tomatoes, red grapes, strawberries and watermelon. Watermelon has the additional benefit of cooling summer heat from the body and generating fluids and is known as Xi Gua in the Materia Medica. Make sure to stock up on watermelon on those steamy hot summer days!

Cool it: With summer as the season of fiery yang, outward, expansive energy full of connection and fun, it’s just as important to balance all that socializing and play with some more yin, inward energy. As important as it is to make plans, connect and socialize, it’s equally important to get enough sleep and keep up with your meditation practice. Especially if you start to feel burn-out, it’s okay to say no to plans. Remember: a healthy fire also has healthy boundaries and knows when to say no and recharge.

Spread your light: As summer is the month of connection, I encourage you to reach out to someone who may need some extra love or is going through a hard time. By sharing and connecting, you will also nourish your own fire energy. Just simply telling someone you are there for them and making the effort to connect can make a real impact on that person’s emotional well-being. Make the extra effort this summer to connect and help spread your light any way you can!