Summer Health Tips for A Hot & Dry Climate
In Chinese medicine, summer is the season related to the heart. The heart is considered to be of the element fire (each organ correlates to an element), and the heart can easily blaze out of control when certain conditions arise. Those of us living in the Pacific Northwest can understand this nature analogy. Heart fire blazing in Chinese medicine can manifest as any of the following conditions: palpitations, tachycardia, insomnia, anxiety or mania. Summertime is often when various heart-related conditions will show up.
The aim of this brief article is to help mitigate the effects that the heat of summer can have on the heart. If you are someone that suffers from mild palpitations that your primary care physician has ruled benign, then it is an important time of year to protect your heart. If you are affected by summer’s heat in a negative way, or easily become over-heated, these tips can be very useful. If you have regular skipped beats, regular palpitations or tachycardia episodes, please go see your physician. Get a cardiac work-up and make sure to rule out any biomedical condition.
Foods Choices During Summer
When the temperatures begin to rise, and you find yourself drifting towards more anxious thoughts (with or without mild palpitations), this is a sign that heart fire is beginning to blaze. Foods that will help cool the heart, specifically, are bitter flavored foods: arugula, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, beet greens, celery and cucumbers with skin. Balance raw salad greens with some lightly sauteed or steamed bitter greens for optimum digestion. Sipping hot or chilled green tea is in the early afternoon is another way to enjoy the bitter flavor. Coffee can agitate heart fire, so it may be a good time to cut back or choose to drink green tea instead.
Avoid the temptation to eat everything raw during summer. According to Chinese medicine, the majority of foods should still be cooked for optimum digestion. Consider adding more cooling foods into the diet, instead of adding more raw foods. The following foods are considered to be overall cooling to the body: hormone and antibiotic free pork (pork loin, pork chops), cucumbers, watermelon, apricot, lemon, peach, broccoli, mung bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, snow peas, sugar snap peas, spinach and asparagus. Try grilling watermelon, then let it cool and chop it up for a delicious side salad.
Increase Water Intake with Infusions
Try infusing water in your refrigerator for a refreshing twist. Cut up some watermelon (consider adding lime, too) and toss a handful or two into an empty pitcher. Fill with filtered water and let it infuse for several hours or overnight. Cucumber is always a solid choice for water infusing as well as mint. Lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit are very popular options. Not everyone loves the fresh herbs in water, but if you enjoy growing your own kitchen herbs, there are fun possibilities to be found in your garden bed. Grapefruit and thyme, lavender and lemon, watermelon and basil are a few delicious standbys. Each of these flavors add a small amount of nutrients to your beverage. Change your pitcher flavor combinations daily to stay interested in hydrating.
There is a specific breathing exercise found in the yoga tradition that cools the body, almost instantly. It is especially helpful if one is beginning to feel overheated or is having a hot flash. If possible, bring your self into a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Set a timer for 1-3 minutes and prepare to simply breathe for a few moments in time. Sit or stand comfortably. Curl your tongue into a taco shape and stick it out slightly. Close the lips around your tongue and breath in and out of the mouth. There should be enough of an opening in your curled tongue that air passes easily in and out as you breathe. The sensation should be similar to breathing in and out of a wide-mouthed straw. Focus on smooth, steady inhales and exhales while you practice letting the body relax and soften. Even if you can’t pop into a bathroom or pull over off the road for a few minutes to use Sitali Pranayama, you could still reap some cooling benefits by taking a few breaths through the mouth in this very specific way.
If these simple adaptations do not help with your insomnia, mild palpitations or anxious feelings, contact your local Chinese medicine provider. In addition to acupuncture providing some immediate relief, there are a plethora of Chinese herbal formulas that address heart fire symptoms and are traditionally used the most during the hot summer months.
Julie Baron is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. Julie seeks to empower individuals and communities. As a movement and mindfulness educator, she has a penchant for functional anatomy. As an EAMP, she also has a passion for herbal medicine.