Chinese Medicine divides the year into five, not four, seasons. Late summer begins around mid-August and ends by the autumn equinox. Just like all of the other seasons, its unique climate can dramatically affect our body, mind, emotions and spirit. Having insight into these ancient principles gives us a wider perspective and wisdom on how to maintain our health. Late summer is the dampest time of the year. If our systems are vulnerable from too much stress, chronic fatigue or an illness, we can experience symptoms such as foggy thinking, aching joints and runny noses. How do we, as acupuncturists, use the treatment protocols we’ve learned to help “resolve dampness” in the body. Here are 4 clinical strategies:
• Needling: certain combinations of points are specifically used for ‘draining the damp’.
• Cupping: think of Michael Phelps who used cupping regularly as he trained for the Olympics. Imagine how waterlogged he was from spending hours training each day in the pool. He made cupping famous with those black spots on his back. Who knows, they might have even given him an edge over his competitors.
• gua sha: this gentle repeated rubbing of the skin with a smooth edge helps bring toxins trapped in the organs and muscles into the layer just under the surface of the skin where it can be easily flushed away by the lymphatic system. Gua sha is the Asian healing technique so well known in the East that often the ‘cook of the house’ administers it to whomever is in need-whether for a cold, a tight neck, a ‘chill in their bones’, etc. I often say that gua sha is one of the most useful techniques I learned in acupuncture school.
• moxibustion: the burning of an herb above the skin to produce warmth in the muscles or channels (called meridians) to promote a smooth flow of qi and blood). Mungwort, the herb used for moxibustion, smells like marijuana. Unfortunately, I can’t use this in my private practice since my floor is shared with professionals in various fields whose clients would have no idea why the whole floor smelled like a party at 10am!
But aside from these specific treatments, we can tweak our lifestyle to help us so we will need no medications or Chinese Medicine. Here are some tips on keeping healthy at this time of year.
Diet: Avoid complex sugars and greasy foods. The spleen and stomach are the organs that work the hardest late summer. Digestion becomes more difficult if they are weak because these two organs are responsible for the digestion, transformation and transportation of food. Eat the natural sweets of the season: peaches and cherries, squash and tomatoes. This is the time of year to try to eat light. Try simple pasta dishes topped with sautéed peppers and tomatoes from the garden and some Parmesan cheese. Try new recipes, using the plentiful harvest from local gardens.
Self Care: The spleen is the organ associated with nurturing and caring for others. It is represented by the earth energy in the five-element system of Chinese medicine. Being ‘mother earth’ or more dramatically ‘taking care of the world,’ as some are prone to do, is not in our best interest if we are giving more energy than we have available. Late summer is a good time to focus on what we need to do for ourselves. Stop and think about your own needs and make a plan to attend to them. Having a time for stillness and silence will help you better discern what is in you highest and best interest. When we do this, our help for others flows a healthy and balanced center.
Exercise: Getting your circulation moving is one of the best ways to break up the phlegm that can stagnate in the joints and tissues of the body. Choose a type of exercise you enjoy doing. Just make it a point to move for a good 45 minutes to an hour daily.
Emotions: When the spleen is healthy, we experience a state of well being best described as being “grounded”. We feel as if we belong right where we are and are imbued with a natural sense of confidence. On the other hand, when the spleen organ system is over-taxed, we worry. We think too much becoming overly pensive which can become obsessive in nature. Late summer is a good time to reexamine our routines. What can we add or take away that will bring our lives into balance?
One last thought to support your health in this season full of the last burst of energy before the final harvest. Try to shower your brain with thoughts of gratitude and forgiveness. This mental exercise brings a natural smile to your face helping to boost not just your spirit but those around you as well.