Hang On – late summer is a season?
Yes, in Chinese Medicine, there are five elements, and five seasons. The fifth season, relating to the Earth element, known as Late Summer, is the season of ripening – the growth of spring and summer turns to the ripening of fruit and grain.
Late summer is seen as the hinge between the hot and cold seasons and is the best time to address spleen disorders. Unchecked, these disorders can continue to strengthen and lead to colds and cough with phlegm in autumn and winter.
The organ associated with the earth element is the Spleen. Completely different to western knowledge of the Spleen, in Chinese medicine the Spleen and stomach are “responsible for the storehouses and granaries” or another way – all nourishment comes from the spleen.
When the Spleen’s qi is abundant it transforms consumed food and drinks into the building blocks for the body’s vital substances. The body feels strong, the complexion is bright, everything is where it should be, thoughts are clear and rational.
When the Spleen is weak, the body craves sweet flavours like sugars, carbohydrates. There can be weakness and heaviness of the limbs or head, obesity, diabetes, gout, phlegm, acne, fluid retention, bruising, spotting, haemorrhage, haemorrhoids and prolapse. Thoughts can become muddles, overthinking and worry become an issue.
So, what can be done to stay in tune with the season and help keep the Earth element happy?
- Avoid processed and sweetened foods. Choose wholesome unsweetened and unprocessed instead. Use a little honey for sweetening (I use it in teas and porridge). Other foods that help tonify the spleen include this list.
- Practice mindful eating. Avoid watching tv, reading or working while eating.
- Drink tea with ginger or other warming herbs.
- Get up early, but retire a little earlier in the evening.
- Try to avoid overthinking and worrying – if you find yourself bearing over and over on the same thought stop and practice mindfulness and breathing exercises for a few minutes.
- Practice qi gong that brings qi into the center of the torso – standing with feet pointing forward and shoulder width apart, arms by the side. Breathe in drawing the hands up to halfway between the belly button and solar plexus, breathe out pushing the hands forwards. Breathe in again drawing the hands back to the spleen and breathe out while pushing the hands downwards. This exercise moves qi to the spleen from the ground and the air and helps purge stagnant qi from the organs
- Acupressure – There is an acupressure point on the midline of the abdomen, half way between the belly button and the bottom of the sternum. This point is used to balance the earth element (spleen and stomach) and can even be massaged gently for babies with constipation, diarrhea or cholic.
- Exercise – the association of the earth element, the muscles and the four limbs mean that exercise that invigorates the body can invigorate the spleen. Indeed, sweating and cooling off again in hot summer days is said to help prevent malaria type diseases in autumn. However, don’t cool off in a draught or evil wind can invade the pores.
- Engage in activities that nourish the soul. Whether it’s reading, walking gardening, activities that you feel good afterwards will help warm the earth element.
- Most of all, enjoy the remaining warmth of summer – the hats and scarves will come in time.