Nurturing and Transformation in Late Summer: Earth Element

Whether you consciously knew there was a fifth season in traditional Chinese medicine or not, you probably instinctively felt it – especially this year, with a wave of cooler weather and calmer vibes. In Five Element Theory in TCM, late summer starts the third week of August and goes until the autumnal equinox, on September 23 this year. Late summer corresponds to the nurturing earth element, as well as to the stomach, spleen, pancreas and muscles.

During the fall and winter, our bodies store energy so that we can nourish ourselves even when resources are scarcer and the environment is inhospitable. But in order to go through this stage successfully, we have to “set the stage” for our bodies: making sure they are functioning properly and providing our whole selves with nurture, care, and grounding. The Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation sums the season up perfectly: “This is a powerful time for us to fully ripen and transform, using the last of summer’s bountiful energy.” Late summer is not just a last gasp of good weather, though. It is actually the turning point between the yang (outward) energy to the inward yin energy. It is the stepping stone between summer’s fire energy and fall and winter’s metal and water.

The stomach “official” (in TCM, the organs are thought of not just as parts of the body, but also as “officials,” non-physical entities that help our body function mentally, spiritually, and emotionally) helps you to receive the abundance of nature. The spleen, on the other hand, is the official of transport, taking what the stomach has prepared and using it to nourish the body’s cells. “A healthy Spleen not only nourishes us at the physical level, but also makes sure the nourishment reaches our minds and spirits.”

How will you know if you are in tune with the season or not and if these officials are doing their jobs correctly? Well, of course, I always recommend booking an appointment with a trained acupuncturist/herbalist like myself, as we are able to diagnose your unique energetic imbalances and help to bring you back into balance with acupuncture and/or herbal medicine. But a step even before – or simultaneous with – that is to do a diet check: have you been subsisting entirely on watermelon and hot dogs this summer? Late summer is a time for improving one’s diet, supporting the earth element/digestive system (spleen/stomach), balancing blood sugar, and checking on the stomach’s health through various tests. The stomach and the spleen are two main organs that take what the earth provides for us and translate or process it into energy and sustenance. It is absolutely vital that we give them the care and attention they require.

HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE OUT-OF-SYNC:

Physically:

It won’t be hard to tell if the stomach and the spleen are not where they should be energetically. You may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Weight gain/bloating
  • Blood sugar disorders
  • Low energy
  • Loose stools
  • Food intolerances
  • Low energy (afternoon energy slumps)
  • A feeling of heaviness or puffiness in the body
  • Forehead/frontal headaches
  • Illnesses affecting other organs: all the organs in the body rely on the stomach and the spleen for health. If these two are breaking down, you may feel it in a myriad of other places and ways.

Spiritually & Emotionally:

You may feel that you are constantly searching for something you can’t find, constantly in need. Late summer is associated with sympathy and compassion – giving and receiving it. If you are experiencing an imbalance, you may feel unable to sympathize with those around you; or you may be desperately searching for sympathy that others cannot give. Obsessive thoughts are symptomatic of a stomach/spleen imbalance as they are a manifestation of a failure to process correctly what the earth and others around us are emitting. But you may also feel empty, like you are unable to receive nourishment no matter what you do or who’s around you.

HOW TO GET IN-SYNC:

Since late summer is all about the earth and harvest, the methods for getting back into harmony with these elements are not surprisingly earth- and nature-focused. Reevaluate what you are taking in from the earth and how you are moving through the earth and you will find your way to a relaxed harmony with the seasons:

  • Eat Seasonal Produce: Delicious fruits are in season right now, from berries, figs and peaches to the first apples. Don’t let your body fool you into opting for the artificial versions of all this bounty: cut out the fake stuff, and hit up a local farmer’s market and take advantage of what nature is offering. In that same vein, it’s time to put your whole diet under the microscope and make some changes – if need be. Maybe it’s time to do a meatless week, or cut back on all that gluten that is making you feel lethargic.
  • Avoid Cold Foods & Drinks: I know a lot of people are obsessed with cold brew and iced tea during the summer (or even year-round!), but just stop and think for a moment about these frigid fluids progressing through our bodies, and how much of a strain you are putting on your fire element, whose job it is to regulate body temperature. I tell my patients to think of the digestive system as a wood-burning stove: In order to keep your house warm and the fire stoked, you need to keep adding warmth to the fire. If the first thing you do in the morning is pour a bucket of ice on the fire, it will go out and will take A LOT more energy to warm back up again to function properly. This is the same for our bodies, especially if you tend towards digestive issues, such as bloating, loose stools, etc. You want to stoke the fire in the morning and eat warm and room-temperature foods throughout the day and you will notice your energy, mood and digestive function improve. If you need to eat something cold like a salad, I recommend drinking a ginger tea afterwards to help your body process and stay warm after.
  • Nurture Yourself: Do something fun and/or interesting that feels nourishing to you in the last few weeks of summer: take a solo road-trip, stay in bed all day reading your favorite book, venture out on a camping/hiking trip. The latter would also give you a two-in-one experience, allowing you to reconnect with nature at the same time that you reconnect with yourself.
  • Nourish Others: One wonderful way to get in-sync with yourself is to get in-sync with others: care for a sick friend or family member, reach out to those you’ve lost touch with, or even just send a thoughtful note or email – or even an actual phone call!  to a loved one. Nourishing others is the quickest way to nourish yourself.

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