Here we are in late summer, the often overlooked season. In traditional Chinese medicine, there are actually five seasons, with late summer starting the third week of August and going until the autumnal equinox, on September 22 this year. Late summer corresponds to the nurturing earth element (stomach, spleen). Late summer is a time of transition, a time to make sure we are prepared for the inwardness, or yin, of fall and winter. The Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation says that in late summer, “Earth gives one last push to lengthen the passionate, heat-driven growth that has bursted forth through the summer months. In the coming weeks, we will feel this rush of energy and then the eventual slow down as Fall preparations begin.”
But are we really ready to go inward again? Late winter and spring this year, the beginning of the coronavirus shutdown for most of us, felt like a forced inwardness. The world telling us we needed to stop, to slow down. The fire of summer has come with infection spikes in some parts of the country, social upheaval, and a feeling of general unrest. But perhaps focusing on staying in harmony with the seasons, even given outward restrictions, is one thing we can control. Making sure we are taking care of our basic needs—nourishing ourselves, allowing ourselves to rest, doing joyful movement every day—and if you are able, making sure others have their basic needs met—perhaps attending to these things is the one thing that can give us real purpose right now, in the midst of this very chaotic and confusing time.
In that spirit, it is important to take care of your earth energy (stomach, spleen) right now: 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? I always recommend booking an appointment with a trained acupuncturist/herbalist, as we are able to diagnose your unique energetic imbalances and help to bring you back into harmony with acupuncture and/or herbal medicine specific to your earth energy. But a step even before—or simultaneous with—that is to do a diet check, especially important with the long hours spent at home, in addition to the depression we may be feeling given the state of the world: Late summer is a time for improving one’s diet, supporting the earth element/digestive system (spleen/stomach), nourishing ourselves physically and emotionally and spiritually. The stomach and the spleen are two main organs that take what the earth provides for us and translates or process’s it into energy and sustenance: it is absolutely vital that we give them the care and attention they require.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR EARTH IS OUT OF BALANCE
It won’t be hard to tell if the stomach and the spleen are not where they should be energetically. You may experience some of these common symptoms of earth imbalance.
- Weight gain/bloating
- Blood sugar disorders
- Low energy
- Loose stools
- Food intolerances
- Low energy (afternoon energy slumps)—perhaps beyond the coronavirus slump…
- 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:
This one may be harder to identify, given what we are going through right now. But either way—whether you are experiencing a season imbalance or a logical reaction to current events—you can offer yourself and others kindness. 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 and worry 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 BALANCE YOUR EARTH
Since late summer is all about the earth and nourishing ourselves physically and emotionally, 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: If you are able to, subscribing to a farm box or CSA is totally worth it and gives you a fun surprise and challenge every week to come up with new recipes for all the different vegetables and fruit you’ll be getting. My family has been ordering Misfits Market for organic produce delivered right to your door, I highly recommend.
- Avoid Cold Food & Drinks: It may seem counterintuitive, but drinking freezing cold beverages right now—or any time—is not the best thing for our bodies. 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 (or that iced coffee!) 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 & Others: Social gathering is still complicated these days. So what can you do on your own that allows you to take advantage of the season, and also reflect on your own mental, emotional and physical transition from yang to yin energy? I love super long walks in the park, or on paths. Lauren Barrett, a Jen Becker Acupuncture practitioner, says that even taking care of a house plant can bring joy and connection to nature. When you’re feeling ungrounded and consumed with spinning thoughts and worry, taking a time-out for a meditation and focusing on your breathe or a mantra even for just 10 minutes can really help calm your mind and bring you back into your body. Yoga and Qi gong are also great ways to ground and re-balance. And of course, continue to reach out to others. It’s so important that we all stay connected in our communities during this time.