Did you know that seasonal changes can influence how your body feels from the inside, and that how your body feels will subsequently have a direct impact on how you feel emotionally? For example, the hot weather in the summer can bring up a lot of “heat” in your heart, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, which can lead to you being more likely to become agitated. Did you also know that, by eating the right food and performing the right kinds of activities to heal your body, you will be able to control how you feel physically, emotionally and mentally?
That’s one reason why I am really into Traditional Chinese Medicine – it inspires me to respect and follow nature, and act accordingly. That way, we will be able to be in harmony with it, achieve physical, mental and emotional balance, and ultimately be happier, of course!
In order to learn more about summer tips for better skin and health, not only I’ve done my research, but also I’m honored to have conducted an interview with Ming Li, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner who has been practicing acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine since 1997 and currently owns a clinic based in Newton, Massachusetts.
From this blog, you will learn:
- How Traditional Chinese Medicine explains about a balanced body and great skin
- Why should you particularly take care of the heart and spleen in the summer; and how to do so
- Why bitter and sweet tasting foods are important in the summer; and what foods to shop for
Five Elements, Seasons, Colors, and Flavors
In my post on basics about Traditional Chinese Medicine, I briefly mentioned TCM uses five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water – to understand and explain how the body works. Specially speaking, through thousands of years of observation, Chinese believe that each element can be associated with one season, a particular part of the body, certain innate organs, one specific taste, and even a particular color. The chart below gives you an overview of their associations:
As you can see, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are five seasons throughout the year. Yes, there are five seasons in a year. That’s because summer has been divided up to two periods: summer and late summer. You can also see that these two periods relate to two different elements, meaning you have to take care of the body slightly differently.
Summer is a fire element which is associated with heart. Bitter-tasting foods are recommended to stay in balance in this season and get rid of excess heat caused by hot summer weather; and whole foods with red color are good for nourish the heart. On other hand, late summer is an earth element and is connected with the spleen. As days tend to become hotter and damper in late summer, TCM sees that this can create extra stress on the spleen, which makes it very necessary to protect and take good care of the spleen.
Whole foods with naturally sweet tastes are recommended (warning: they are different from sweets from refined sugar or other processed foods, which need to be avoided). At the same time, it is important to consume more foods with yellow color which can help nourish the spleen.
How will You Look and Feel when Your Body is in Balance?
The element of fire represents yang energy. A balanced body should be able to reflect qi and vitality at their peak. When an individual has achieved physical, emotional and mental balance, one’s heart will circulate oxygen-rich blood throughout the body; also one will have clear memory, good thinking process, healthy emotional well-being and consciousness, a calm mind and rested body as well. Meanwhile, when the Earth element stays in balance, one should have good digestion, feel awake, relaxed and energetic; spiritually, one will become more practical, caring and self-reliant.
How to Know when the Fire and Earth Elements in Your Body Are out of Balance?
If the fire element is not in balance, then you are likely to experience excess body heat, or what Traditional Chinese Medicine calls “heart fire”. You would be suffering from profuse sweating, parched mouth and throat, constipation and heart palpitations. For example, if the tip of your tongue is red, a TCM practitioner would say there is too much “heart fire”. Besides, you might experience nervousness, agitation, insomnia, heartburn, confusion, red complexion and poor memory. When the Earth element is out of balance, then you may experience excess dampness inside the body. Dampness may manifest as fluid retention, excessive weight, cysts, or anything with mucus or pus. Other symptoms include: abdominal pains, vomiting, intestinal spasms, diarrhea, lethargy, aching joints, heaviness in the chest, oily skin or phlegm, poor digestion, poor appetite and blood sugar imbalances.
Relationship between a Balanced Body and Great Skin
If you’ve read my blog on introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine, then you’ve already had the answer. Heat and dampness are believed to be the two driving causes for various skin problems. Since summer and late summer season are the two periods of time when you are likely to develop both inside the body, you should be particularly careful about what you eat, your lifestyle and what’s in your mind (as anxiety, worry and obsession are all linked to the spleen and can harm digestive process) to minimize or avoid the accumulation of excess heat and dampness, which cause burdens on your heart and the spleen, hence worse skin conditions.
Here is an example from personal experience: since summer came, I’ve been having some small breakouts over the forehead periodically. My Chinese doctor explained to me that this could be a sign of excess heat inside the body. And every time after a good workout when I sweated a lot, I would always feel relaxed; and skin conditions were improved the next day. That’s because sweating is an effective channel for detoxification, as you may know already. From a TCM perspective, it is also a good way to expel heat outside the body as well.
Your #skin is the destination that reflects what you eat, lifestyle and what’s in your mind – http://ow.ly/zFRFC via @skininitiative
Ming’s Summer Tips on more Energy, Feeling Great and Better Skin (plus My Additional Research)
Before we move onto specific suggestions, Ming clearly and repeatedly stated the importance of individualization. Individualization is a key feature in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which means that TCM respects the fact that everyone’s body is different, and, therefore, should be treated differently. So, it is very important to seek ways to understand your own body constitution for accurate suggestions. In fact, in my upcoming e-book, I will cover how to identify your body constitution. If interested, you might want to sign up for my newsletter and receive updates once my book comes out for free.
With that said, the tips below are only general suggestions; but are good enough to get you started to take care of yourself in accordance with seasonal changes.
To take care of the heart – to avoid excess heat
- Eating clean and getting on a plant-based diet is especially important in the summer. Ming suggests eating meat as little as possible as meat in general produces heat inside the body, whereas fish produces phlegm;
- To remove excess heart heat, try mung bean soup, lotus seeds soup, lily soup with white fungus;
- Consume more red foods that are cooling in nature to nourish the heart and, at the same time, expel heart heat such as strawberries and watermelon (make sure strawberries you buy are organic, as Environment Working Group suggests that the non-organic ones are loaded with pesticides) ;
- Choose to stay outside of air-conditioned rooms, if you can; and, instead, go outdoor, exercise and sweat, which is a great way to connect yourself with nature, detoxify the body, and expel internal heat;
- Have enough rest. One could consider taking naps during the midday, if that’s possible;
- Explore different stress relief technique such as meditation, since agitation and anger can lead to excess heat in the body as well.
To take care the spleen – to avoid dampness
- Consume foods that aid digestion such as leafy vegetables, home-made or preservative-free pickles and sauerkraut that provides good bacteria to the stomach to promote digestion. Good digestion is crucial throughout the year, especially in the summer. Improving digestion is a way to nourish the spleen, which is considered as a key foundation for our body’s well-being;
- If you are suffering from poor metabolism, which is a sign of disorder in stomach and the spleen, you could try Chinese yam and millet;
- To nourish this organ, consume more foods with yellow color such as pumpkins, millet, oranges and potatoes.
Live a Bitter Sweet Summer
As mentioned above, these two flavors are connected with the heart and the spleen; and can help nourish both organs.
Bitter belongs to yin; and is cooling, descending and contracting. It reduces excess heat; and dries and drains dampness. This flavor can also ease inflammation and infections, reduce swelling, and stimulate bowel movement. Ideal bitter foods include bitter melons, lettuce and asparagus. But remember, despite all the benefits, bitter foods should not be consumed in excess, otherwise you would break the yin yang balance to cause the body to become too yin or weak.
Sweet belongs to yang. Naturally sweet foods can build and strengthen the spleen and the entire body. An adequate amount of sweet foods can slow down an overactive heart and mind, sooth aggressiveness, and ease impatience. Like bitter foods, sweet foods should not be consumed in excess, either, because over-consumption of sweets can lead to formation of phlegm, excess heat and dampness. Ideal sweet options include brown rice, fruits, cucumbers, nuts, legumes and peas. Watch out for artificial sweeteners such as refined sugar and concentrated fruit juices. They basically do no good to the body other than disrupting your hormonal system causing more breakouts, potentially leading to mood swings and speeding up your aging process, as David Wolfe suggests in his book Eating for Beauty.
By now you’ve known the two organs you should pay particular attention in this hot season – the heart and spleen – and two flavors you should find in natural whole foods in the market – bitterness and sweetness. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this is one key area to help your body function properly and keep your skin clear and glow. Below is what I’ve prepared for you to take away, so that you can always conveniently review what’s been covered here. Enjoy!
The stage is back to you. What is the first thing you will do after leaving this post: taking a nap, shopping for more yellow and red foods, reducing the intake of meat in the summer, or anything else?
Lots of love,
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