“Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind.” (Seals & Croft)
Ah, the summer breeze. The one that makes me want to while my days away under a big willow tree and sleep outside under the stars. Kind, caressing and so inviting on the skin.
Mother Nature in all her magnificent glory knows to give us this beautiful breeze to counter the otherwise sometimes unbearable summer heat.
Heat in moderation is a wonderful thing. It energises us and brings out our passion and zest for life. Creativity and growth flourishes during periods of our life when heat and fire is in abundance.
Doing anything introverted and indoors is challenging for me during these months of the year; I really struggle to sit at the computer and write. No wonder most of Europe closes shop for August.
This is because summer is really happening on the outside and all of our own energy is moving outwards to match the heat in the environment. So we also want to be out there. Whether it be days at the beach, barbecues in backyards, lazy afternoons by a pool or socialising at eateries with friends and family; we simply just want to play!
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) summer is known as the ‘Big Yang’. The time of the year characterised by fire and heat. Both feed on our bodily fluids and harm our Yin, which is our more receptive calming nature.
This is where heat in excess can make the joyous feel of summer turn into something more aggressive and/or exhausting.
As someone who has a bit of ‘fire’ ready to flame up in her, I’ve learnt to balance the Yang of summer by working with it.
I get up early and spend the first couple of hours of the day walking on the beach, followed by an ocean dip and a laze in the sun. All of this awakens and enlivens me and makes me feel as if I’ve had a dose of external life before I settle down to do some work for the morning.
When the sun is at its peak at midday and beyond, and therefore our own heat is at its peak too, I try and take some time to siesta and enjoy that tantalising feel of the summer breeze. Time spent under a big tree, amongst the lush greenness of a forest or by the soothing blue of the water helps counter the propensity for heat and outbursts of energy.
It seems logical to also consume cooling foods and drinks to disperse the heat and replenish body fluids. This is why nature’s bounty provides us with an array of delicious, juicy summer fruits and vegetables such as tomato, cucumber and zucchini.
But, and this is a big but, we all need to be very aware of not overdoing the cooling, especially cold, foods. This is where I personally became unstuck as the main challenge for all of us over the summer months is how to keep our body cool without putting out our digestive fire.
This is because the Yang of the body is more on our surface during summer, meaning that there is less heat within to light our internal digestive fire, in turn explaining why many of us simply feel like eating less.
Each of us will have differing strengths of digestive fire so it’s important to observe our own needs. In the most, a poor appetite, lethargy and fatigue, fluid retention, bloating and digestive concerns, together with a swollen and pale or white coated tongue is usually a good sign we’re stretching ourselves.
I can overheat in summer but also have a tendency towards a temperamental digestive fire, so I’ve spent a few years tackling and mastering this quandary of mine.
It was that sensual summer breeze I adore so much that gave me my initial lead on how to address this.
The breeze is cool, but not cold. Unless you live in my hometown of Melbourne, where seasons change in one day, generally speaking the summer breeze is of a temperature our body nicely responds to.
So too should our food. Not too hot, yet not too cold either.
Refrigeration was created so that our foods could last longer, not because it’s better to eat food at that temperature. It takes a massive amount of energy to breakdown and essentially ‘cook’ cold food in our stomachs. Extra energy we don’t necessarily have in the midst of raging summer heat.
By keeping our food warm, whether it be lightly cooked or at least returned to room temperature, we’ll ensure we keep our digestive fire lit.
Likewise the breeze is light and airy, so should our food in the main. Heavy foods and big meals that nourish us in the colder months tend to weigh us down in the warmer months.
Lots of cold and heavy foods will not only burden our already weaker digestive fire, but in some cases put it out all together. This is most common with elderly, young children and those recovering from an illness, but it’s also happening more often today with people of all ages due to the added stresses of the environment and foods we eat playing havoc with our digestion.
The main lifestyle change I made to deal with this was that when I get hot, rather than indulge in cold beverages, I opt for an ocean swim, cool shower or even splashing water or placing cold towels on my pulse points, back of neck or feet. This way I keep my digestive fire slowly humming away but manage to also soothe the heat on the surface of my body.
Here are some of the other things that particularly work for me in terms of diet:
- Choosing a warm drink that cools and cleanses the body, such as green tea. It has become my summer elixir. Known in TCM to disperse heat, cool heart fire, calm the mind and expel toxins, it really knows how to take the edge off a summer fire and eliminate damp-heat. Other good options include mint and camomile teas and squeezes of lime or lemon in your warm beverage of choice. I also wait for the warm drinks to cool slightly so that I’m not getting a rush of heat in.
- If I’m really craving a cold drink, I have it between meals and drink it slowly. This way there is time for the digestive fire to recover and re-boot before needing to digest food again. And I always avoid ice.
- Including a nourishing sweet element to every meal to help warm the centre. This is something we ought to be doing all year round, but the key difference in summer is to just reduce the quantity. It could be adding a few pieces of roasted chicken, pumpkin or sweet potato to a salad, or even a trickle of honey into a lemon drink. A bland, bitter meal of steamed vegetables on its own may seem light for summer but will not keep our centre burner firing.
- I always have a warm breakfast, or at least the major component is warm. This is when we want to be moving in line with the Yang and rising sun. Starting the day with cold food is like putting out a fire before we’ve done the cooking.
- I eat raw food or salads at lunchtime when the digestive fire is naturally at its peak, but I will never have it on its own – there always needs to be a warming element.
- I enjoy fresh seasonal fruits that add fluids to the body but also give it a bit of an energy boost at the same time.
- The way I add ‘air’ into my meals is by including delicate and light foods such as herbs and green leaves or ones with a slight bitter or astringent bite. And wherever possible I like to bring that summer breeze into my meals by sitting outside or by an open window or door.
Sleep can become an issue during summer. Not just hot sweaty nights when you really want to throw off any cover and take your bed outside, but wild dreams that wake you at regular intervals and leave for a restless night. I’ve known these only too well over the years…
Once again I like the TCM explanation for this, which essentially says our spirit, which resides in the heart and blood, is unsettled. Our spirit’s home gets harmed by excess heat and unless we do things to balance that heat during the day, our spirit will have nowhere to settle calmly at night.
Keeping hot, spicy food to a minimum, finding time during the day to rest, revive and do some heart-centred activity, such as meditation, singing or dancing, or even deep breathing, all helps.
For me, the colour white settles my spirit. I’m always opting for white sheets, white clothes and white flowers, such as jasmine, gardenia and frangipani, in my hair and house during the heated heart-centred summer.
And, for a little bit of alternate (even controversial) thought, one of the best foods to calm the heart-mind in summer is wheat! Both TCM and Ayurveda recommend it as the summer grain of choice, together with long-grain rice.
If we manage to keep excess heat at bay, summer can truly be the most luxurious, heart-warming and joyful time of the year. Enjoy its gifts!