This is the fifth in a series of articles exploring the relationship between the seasons, the Five Elements in Chinese Medicine and the ever-changing state of your health.
In September 2010, I began this series with Earth: Our Source for Daily Health where I discussed how the strength of our digestive system helps create daily stability amidst change and transition—the transition between seasons as well as the transitions of our lives.
In October 2010, I wrote Your Immune System, the Fall, and the Element Metal, which explored how, as daylight gets shorter, it is the time of year to begin to store up our harvest for winter, how it is time to begin to slow down and quiet down to strengthen our immune systems as cold and flu season approaches.
In December 2010, I wrote Winter, Water and Our Resources, which focused on our innate need to store up our resources from the Fall and use them to nourish us through the winter months. I discussed how so much of what I treat in my patients stems from the “I can rest when I am dead” lifestyle that we live here in mild weathered Southern California, and an imbalance in our Kidney system can lead to such conditions as low back pain and low sex drive.
And in April 2011, I wrote, Spring, Wood, and Our Stressed Out Liver, which illustrated how stressed out daily lifestyles of pushing and striving, of seeing obstacles as something to break through rather than go around, and of how this attitude is so endemic and pervasive throughout our national character. Yet, while it may be our blessing, it is also our curse. Much of what we suffer from in our health is due to the tax such stress places on our system. And the real health of the Liver comes through the patience and nourishing wisdom of Water that feeds the energies of Wood.
Summer is here!
Southern Californians LOVE summer time! We hit the local beaches, stoke up the BBQ’s, and thoroughly enjoy the longer days and shorter nights. It is the one time of year when it is actually appropriate to burn brightly and to burn long.
In Chinese Medicine, summer is associated with element Fire and with the organ systems of the Heart and Small Intestine. Fire is all about creativity and passion; it is a flickering flame that shifts its attention from one object of interest and beauty to the next in a moment’s notice. It is what gives us the spark of love and romance, the seductive desire for all things new, and the power of connection with friends and family.
Yet, too much Fire singes everything around it and soon goes out. As the saying goes, “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” Just look around at advertising today. Everything is “extreme” this and “extreme” that. Are we so numb to subtle experience and sensation that the only way we can feel ourselves and others is if it is “extreme?” We burn and burn and expect the flame to stay bright even if we refuse to stop in at the filling station. We are addicted to energy drinks and caffeine, riding the stimulant roller coaster up to be followed by a precipitous down only to repeat the process all over again tomorrow.
The Clinical Picture
The classic signs of too much Fire are insomnia, anxiety, palpitations, canker sores, unusual sweating patterns, and nightmares. The Heart is a warm organ that needs to be cooled by the nourishing Water of the Kidney. When that doesn’t occur, it can overheat leading to pathology. The common sources of pathological heat that I often see are stress and infection. When we get stressed, our Liver feels it the most. Our Liver controls the free flow of Qi, or energy, in the body. When it gets obstructed through frustrated desires, emotional repression, poor diet or actual Liver pathology, it can overheat. It is akin to sitting at a stop light and revving your car engine in neutral; you create a lot of heat without a productive outlet for it. And that heat does what heat always does; it rises up disturbing the Heart.
Another possible source of heat irritating the Heart is from infection. Here we could have a lung infection from an unresolved cold or flu or even mold exposure. We could also have an infection in your mouth from leaking dental amalgams, which can challenge your immune system to such a degree that it can trigger a continuous inflammatory response causing a neurological disturbance interfering with sleep or even electrical conduction in the heart leading to palpitations, to name just a couple of my recent findings.
In some cases, the Heat can be disturbed by a lack of Blood nourishing it or a lack of Qi supplying it. This can come from improper nutrition, running yourself into the ground, or perhaps due to excessive bleeding like a heavy menstrual flow. Hopefully we can catch this pattern early before it fully develops since it is far easier to cool someone off than it is to rebuild what has been lost.
Regardless of whether you have a condition of excess or deficient heat, and no matter the source, acupuncture and herbs can cool you off, soothe your stress and nourish your spirit. And through careful observation and conscious awareness, we can work together to identify aspects of your lifestyle and food choices to change so you may no longer be a slave to those unhealthful patterns but instead, triumph over them and learn to live more in accordance with not just nature’s rhythms but your own.
Enjoy the summer! Bask in the exuberance! Bite into a delicious organic peach and let the juice drip down your chin.
And as we get closer to Fall, take a look at my article on the Earth Element as the transition between seasons. Living according to the seasons is one the oldest most tried and true ways of maintaining good health. As each one approaches, I recommend re-reading my seasonal articles for some helpful and healthful guidance. And if you would like more specific advice, feel free to call or email me. I am always happy to help.