As a practitioner of Chinese medicine for several decades now, I especially love that its primary foundation is based on Yangsheng – nourishing life – which has been the core of this ancient holistic medicine that’s been developing continuously for around ten thousand years. In other words, the focus of Chinese medicine is really about a way of living that promotes well-being and health on a daily basis.
Yangsheng, nourishing life, philosophy and practice was discussed in manuscripts discovered in a lacquer box at one of the Mawangdui burial sites in 1973. These manuscripts, dated to 168 BC, written on silk and bamboo, outline specific practices to cultivate health and longevity and to strengthen the body. These include therapeutic movement (Dao Yin and Qi Gong), diet, massage, adjusting the Qi, meditation, breath work, and other practices still being used today worldwide.
The ancient Chinese Taoist sages lived in harmony with the seasons and preserved their well-being. Chopping wood and carrying water was their daily life so they needed to keep healthy, strong and to live in accordance with their surroundings and the changing seasons to thrive. Their observations are recorded in ancient medical texts such as the Nei Jing, which gives us explicit advice to nourish our well-being during each season.
Sunshine, warm days, flowers, and tending my garden beckon me outside in the summer. The days are longer and I love being outside in my garden long hours. Chinese lore says that during summer the heavenly energy descends and the earthly energy rises and their merging energies creates the abundance of flowers, fruits, and young animals. In summer, our Yang Qi (outgoing, rising energy) is exuberant and reaches it’s peak. Chinese sages advise us to arise early and to stay physically active to prevent our Qi (vital energy) from stagnating. Emotionally, we are advised to refrain from anger or from holding grudges; to be happy and easygoing so our energy can flow freely and communicate between the external and internal layers. This helps us to avert illness in the fall.
Get Outdoors and Have Fun!
As if we needed it, there’s a plethora of research showing the benefits of being outside in nature on a regular basis. We can walk, hike, river raft, garden, picnic, backpack, or just sit quietly by a river or under the trees in the forest and enjoy! Slow down and engage your senses. Take time to relax, listen to the sounds, feel the air and breezes on your skin, smell the forest or or the ocean, and notice how you feel in your body and psyche. Spending time outdoors restores our connection with nature, revitalizes us, and profoundly restores our energy and positive outlook on life.
Summer Earth Element: Nourishment and Digestion
Each energetic system of Chinese medicine has an affinity with an organ system, a season, an element, and other factors. Summer is correlated with both the Fire and Earth elements. The Fire element, which includes the Heart and Small intestine systems will be the topic of another article.
The Earth element is the energetic axis of the Spleen and Stomach systems and digestive functions. They relate to nourishment, transformation, and creativity on all levels. Emotional/mental states that deplete the Earth energetic system include over-thinking, worry, excessive study, being over-focused, or over empathetic. The positive aspects of the Earth element include groundedness, sincerity, contemplation, acceptance, empathy, and balanced meditation.
“Worries are created by the mind, love is created by the soul.” Eckhart Tolle
Summer Foods: Enjoy a Rainbow Abundance of Plant Foods and Herbs
“First, regulate diet and lifestyle.” Sun Simiao, 7th century hermit and physician
In the Chinese lunar calendar, summer begins much earlier than the Solstice which is actually the peak of the Yang summer energy. Summer is a great time to lighten up on foods and enjoy an abundance of plant foods as they come into season in your garden or local farmer’s market. Preparing more water-cooked vegetables (such as steamed or in soups) and eat way less oil-cooked (sautéed or fried) foods enhances nutrient intake and eases the burden on the digestive system, liver, gall bladder, and lymph system all of which play a role in processing fats and oils. It also increase our water intake and hydration in the hot weather.
Plant foods – vegetables and fruits, herbs, and kitchen spices – provide the foundation of a healthy diet. These are nature’s most nutrient-dense foods packed with essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and innumerable phytonutrients (nutrients unique to plants) vital for the health of our body. These valuable phytonutrients provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions and nutrients that enhance cellular health, signaling, and activity. Our cellular health is the foundation of well-being for all the organs, tissues, and systems of the body.
Plant foods and herbs also provide living foods closest in the food chain to sunlight, and carry the life force (Qi) in the greatest abundance, converting sunlight to nutrients that directly nourish us. Humans and plants have co-evolved over millennia and they have always provided us with an abundance of nutritious food and profound medicine.Increase your daily intake of these amazing plant foods whether or not you are vegetarian. Enjoy their natural variety and abundance. Include several servings a day of vegetables and fruits to enhance your natural vitality and well-being. Use kitchen spices liberally on your foods and grow some in your garden to enjoy fresh. Drink a variety of herbal teas throughout your day. (We’ll discuss herbal teas for summer in an upcoming article.)
While Chinese medicine generally recommends cooked foods to enhance healthy metabolism and digestion, in summer we can enjoy more salads and raw vegetables. Load up your salads with a colorful bounty of vegetables including radishes, raddiccio, roasted red pepper, fennel, cucumber, artichoke hearts, carrots, cucumbers to complement the lettuce and add nutrient diversity. Include a touch of fruits such as sliced figs, blood orange slices, dried cranberries for a burst of flavor. Add handfuls of chopped fresh garden herbs like basil, cilantro, chives, parsley, or mint for dynamic energy.
For a real treat, include edible flowers from your garden for color and flavor. Calendula flowers, Johnny-Jump-Ups, Chive flowers, Nasturtium flowers are a just a few delicious ones. Complement your salads with a variety of fresh steamed vegetables and enjoy fresh pressed vegetable juices for nutrient-dense meals that proved a powerhouse of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant compounds.
Make every meal a rainbow!
Listen to your body
What foods feel nourishing? What foods sustain you? Which ones drain you? Observe and listen.
“Pay attention to your body. The point is everybody is different. You have to figure out what works for you.” - Andrew Weil