In the Five Element philosophy of Chinese Medicine, summer is associated with the Fire Element. As such, summer is the time to nourish and tend to our own inner Fire element (remembering that we have each of the five elements' energy systems within our being, and to have health they all need to be in balance). Fire is the element of joy and connection, and its season, summer, is when the yang energy is at its peak-- the days are the longest and hottest, and the energy is one of openness and expansion, like a flower in full bloom. Each season I like to share a little about how we can align ourselves with the particular element of that season, so this month I'm sharing how we can tend to and balance our inner Fire element.
Here are some ways we can align ourselves with the seasonal energy of summer and the Fire element:
*To stay replenished in this season of utmost yang, and not "burn out", we must always balance the Fire element with the Water element. Water is the utmost yin energy, and to stay healthy we need to nourish our yin, especially as the expansive and fiery yang energy is at its peak. This means, in essence, balancing outward activity with inward replenishment. In the summer many of us do a lot of traveling, going to festivals, amusement parks, etc. These are all very Fire Element activities, and it's good to do them, but we need to be sure we aren't just going-going-going until we burn out with exhaustion. If you have a very exciting trip or outing planned, try to schedule some down time of doing nothing soon afterwards to integrate and replenish. This is how we balance Fire with Water.
I also encourage people to schedule "yin time" in their daily lives. Yin time is doing something meditative and restorative, such as sitting or walking meditation, yin yoga, Tai Chi, or qigong. It's ideal to have 10-30 minutes of yin time practices in the morning and the evening (as book ends to your day), and even in the late afternoon ("siesta time") if you can. Just mindfully drinking a cup of tea or taking a short cat nap can be deeply replenishing yin time.
*The emotion associated with the Fire element is joy, so this is a good time to reflect on what brings us joy in life. You may even want to make a list of all the people and things in your life that genuinely bring you joy. What makes you glow, what fills you with warmth? Are there things that used to bring you joy but have fallen by the wayside in the hustle and bustle of life? Consider how you could re-incorporate these things or relationships back into your life. Or perhaps be a pioneer, and explore new interests or friendships.
*The Fire element is all about connection. Our connection to each other, to ourselves/our hearts, and connection to the greater universe/greater spirit of life. Summer is a good time to contemplate and nourish these different connections...
*Connection with others: Are there people in your life you've been meaning to connect with and reach out to, but for whatever reason haven't? Pick up the phone, send an email, schedule some quality time with them. If you have a spouse or partner, plan a special date or getaway, as a time for reconnecting.
*Connection with your self: Sometimes we forget that we also have a relationship with our own self, our own heart, and it's an important one! Spend some quality time alone at least once a week, having a date with yourself! Take a solo walk in nature, spend some time journalling in a beautiful place, do something that brings you into a greater connection with yourself.
A great way to connect with yourself is to place your hands over your heart center, close your eyes and spend several minutes as you continue to breathe into your heart ask yourself with deep sincerity, as you would ask a dear friend, "how are you doing in there?" See what thoughts or feelings come up as you ask this simple question. You may become aware of a feeling a tightness or tension, and you can gently breathe into that tension, inviting it to release with the breath. This is a beautiful way to listen to your heart and connect with yourself.
*Connection to the universe: Regardless of our specific spiritual beliefs, we can probably all agree that we are living in a pretty vast, and even limitless, universe. Connecting to that vastness and limitlessness can put our own lives into a greater perspective. Some of us might be open to inviting that big energy connection into our own hearts, and there are a number of ways we can do this. One of my primary teachers, Thea Elijah, teaches a series of practices called Whole Heart Connection, which I have incorporate into my own self care.
One of my favorite of these practices, which I share with many of my clients, is the practice of "basking and asking." In this practice we bow our heads and energetically breathe into and open up the area between our shoulder blades, the back of our heart. We often don't pay much attention to the back of our heart, but with breath and intention we can create a little portal there. We can ask this big universal energy to enter us through this portal and fill our hearts with all the love, light, and strength we need. Doing this, we allow ourselves to be filled until we are like a cup that runs over. Some people call this praying; you can also call it connecting to the greater universe, the universal love, the Tao, whatever. However you choose to frame it, it is a way of connecting, and it can be a very powerful practice.
*Nourish your heart with diet and supplements. Each of the Five elements is associated with organs in the body, and the heart is the main organ of the Fire element. There are certain foods and tonics that are especially beneficial for the heart and for the fire element within us. Fish oil (specifically the EPA fatty acid in fish oil) is an important supplement for heart health, as is magnesium. A safe and gentle herbal tonic that supports cardiovascular health is the leaf, flower and fruit of the Hawthorne tree; you can get this as a tincture, capsule or make a tea.
As for diet, eating seasonally means that summer is a time to "eat the rainbow" of fruits and veggies that are brimming in the gardens and farmers markets. The bright colors are indicative of antioxidants, which prevent cellular damage (the red colored ones especially have an affinity for the heart and the fire element). From a Chinese Medical dietary standpoint, the bitter flavor is associated with Fire, clearing excess heat. Dark green leafy veggies all have this bitter flavor, especially ones like arugula and dandelion greens (small amounts of very dark chocolate can also be used as a bitter!). When there is more cold and deficiency in the fire element, with symptoms of poor circulation, spices like ginger and cayenne can be used.
Energetically summer is the time of full flowering, so teas and tinctures of flowers like lavender, rose, borage, albizzia, and Hawthorne are a good way to match the energy of this season (and these flowers also gently work to calm anxiety and soothe the heart).
*Every element is associated with a sound, and the sound of Fire is laughter. Laughter is good medicine! It's also contagious so spending time with a funny friend can be very therapeutic. So can playing with little kids, watching a funny movie, reading a hilarious book, or conjuring up a ridiculous memory from your past. These are all good ways to get yourself laughing.
*Contemplate if there are any areas in your life in which you need to "lighten up." The Fire element is the most carefree and lighthearted of all the elements. One way to support our own fire element is to contemplate the ways in which we are just too heavy, or might be taking some things (or ourselves) way too seriously. This doesn't mean turning into a flake or being irresponsible! But many of us could probably greatly benefit from loosening up a little. Where in your life do you get a little too tightly wound? I know for myself lately it's been with my three year old son, who has been really testing boundaries and pushing buttons. I've found if I can lighten up a little, consciously loosen my inner tension, and even bring some humor into the situation it makes things a lot better.
*Spend some time near Fire. Spend some time this summer sitting by an actual fire--whether it is a campfire, a bonfire or even just gazing into a candle. This is not only a good way to experientially connect with this dynamic element, but this is often something we do with friends and family, so it also nourishes the need for connection that the Fire Element is so much about.
Another way to connect with the actual element of Fire is to sunbathe. Obviously we should use common sense by not overdoing it or burning our skin, but a little time basking in the sun's warm glow is deeply nourishing (and gives us a dose of that incredibly important Vitamin D!). We are a sun-phobic society, but sunlight is very therapeutic for the body as well as the spirit, as long as we don't overdo it.
* Spend time in and near the water. Water and Fire have a very intimate relationship with each other in the healing philosophy of Chinese Medicine. Water represent our depth, our roots, our kidney energy; Fire represents our height, our flowering, our heart energy. These two elements are clear representations of yin and yang, and they are always in dynamic relationship to each other. In winter, which is the season of water, we cozy up around the fire; this is nourishing the yang within yin. In summer, which is the season of Fire, we splash in the water; this is nourishing the yin within yang.
Immersing ourselves in actual water, or spending time next to it, is very balancing to the fire within us. It can also be a deeply replenishing meditation to simply listen to the water, whether it's sitting by a babbling brook, a rushing wild river, or the crashing waves of the ocean. Sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and bring your full attention just on the sound of the water. This is a powerful meditation in its own right.