5:43 PM eastern time on June 20 is the summer solstice, the official start of summer, when the earth is most greatly inclined towards the sun. And it is fitting that it comes the day after Juneteenth this year, the commemoration of the end of slavery in the US. In traditional Chinese medicine, summer is associated with the element of fire; fire is a unique element as it has 4 organ systems that correspond with it, rather than the usual 2. Fire corresponds to the heart, small intestine, pericardium and triple heater; the color red; and the bitter flavor. A healthy and balanced fire equates with joy, connection, fun, expansion, passion, love and play. How appropriate, then, that our nation has burst forth in a fire of passion and righteousness to speak out against the racist, murderous acts that have plagued it recently, and for centuries, and to fight to repair and replace the broken system we currently have.
But this fire is complicated by the fact that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Having gotten through the slow unfurling and opening-up of spring, you are probably at the end of your rope, bursting with energy, anger and a desire to come together. Before I delve into the specifics of the summer season for traditional Chinese medicine, I want to thank those who are marching and risking their lives to fight for justice. And I also want to remind you that for those who are still social distancing and quarantining, you can still channel that fire and heart. Here are a few things you can do:
- Call and email your council members to demand that they take actionable steps toward repairing racist systems in your city/district
- Call and email your council members to demand that they support specifically cutting police department budgets—in NYC this budget is notoriously bloated (a whopping $6 BILLION) and has been upheld in the face of cuts to social services, education and public health
- Here’s a list of NYC council members
- Vote! People think that voting in the primaries at this point is silly since the parties have basically already decided on their presidential nominees. But important congressional seats are up for election as well as state senate and assembly positions. It takes literally 2 minutes to apply to vote absentee.
- Donate to the family of a victim of racial violence/police brutality and sign petitions to charge officers, get laws enacted to ban no-knock warrants and other unfair and racist practices. Blacklivesmatter.carrd.co has consolidated many of these portals, sites and resources.
- Support Black-Owned Businesses! Download this app, Official Black Wall Street, to find black-owned businesses in your area and make it a point to shop at these places. Eventually, they will just become part of your regular circuit.
Now that you have some resources and means to direct your passion and make a difference, 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 & Joy:
Fire is all about joy, relationships, and connection. While things are complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, if you are able to, this is the time to get outside. 511 epidemiologists were polled in the New York Times two weeks ago and there was a consensus that “outdoor activities and small groups were safer than being indoors or in a crowd…’Fresh air, sun, socialization and a healthy activity will be just as important for my mental health as my physical well-being,’ said Anala Gossai, a scientist at Flatiron Health, a health technology firm, who said she would socialize outdoors this summer.” But this 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.” Even if you are not able to get outside and protest, march, or even just enjoy nature with a friend, you can make a point to reach out to friends and loved ones, to tell someone that you are thinking of them, and to hold people you care about in your thoughts and hearts.
Your fire element can easily become either deficient or excessive, 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. These symptoms are only exacerbated by the stresses we are going through as a nation and individually.
How to tell if you are fire-imbalanced:
If your fire is deficient/low, you may feel numbness or cold, experience cold symptoms, 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.
At this moment it can be hard to tell what is an imbalance and what is your body and mind just naturally reacting to the stress of what’s going on in the world. Whatever the cause, there are active things you can do to support and boost your fire energy this summer. Below you’ll find a few of my suggestions for how to fully embrace summer—even in this chaotic time of 2020.
Schedule FUN! Yes. And if you need to literally write it down in your daily calendar, do that! Whether it be having a private dance party to your favorite artist, making a silly video just because, dressing up in costumes for the whole evening, or allowing yourself to watch the cheesiest rom-com on Netflix and not feeling guilty about it, you need to allow yourself to laugh and smile. You will have more energy and feel nourished on a soul level for the other parts of your life.
Exercise: As I mentioned in my post on spring, you can still move your body, even in quarantine. Some gyms are opening up, and again, if you are able to, you can certainly take a run or go for a walk or a bike ride outside. But even from the comfort of your own bedroom floor, you can practice yoga, stretching, pilates and more with Melissa Wood Health, glo, Down Dog Yoga App, and many others. Either way, 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 TCM 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.
Cool it: With summer as the season of fiery yang, and outward, expansive energy full of connection, it’s just as important to balance all that socializing and play with some more yin, inward energy. As important as it is to schedule fun and reach out to loved one, it’s equally important to get enough sleep and keep with your meditation practice. Especially if you start to feel burn-out, it’s okay to say “no” to things. Many of us may feel extra guilty for saying “no” to virtual hangouts, as we are all desperate to get back together with each other. But virtual hangouts are still socially draining—and draining on the eyes too!—so let yourself know that it’s ok to skip these once in a while. 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 always encourage people to reach out to those in need at this time of year. Now more than ever, our BIPOC friends and loved ones need our support. But often a text message checking in can place the burden on them to respond and continue the conversation. Why not write an email or a letter, just expressing your appreciation of them and letting them know you are holding them in your heart? Make the extra effort this summer to connect and help spread your light any way you can!