Health for All Seasons: Late Summer, or "Fifth Season"
Greetings and welcome to our new blog series, Health for All Seasons! Every couple of months you will find an article here that is specifically tuned in to the current season and how your can align your diet and lifestyle during this time for optimal health. We will begin with Late Summer, or as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) likes to call it: "Fifth Season."
In TCM Fifth Season begins towards the end of August and lasts until the Autumn Equinox, which this year falls on September 23rd. It is a brief season, but truly stands alone from Summer or Autumn: the days are still long(ish) and we are still gathering the last bounty from our gardens, but there is a crispness in the air, a subtle shift that can be felt in the cool evening breeze. It is both a transition time, yet also a still or central point in the year. Late Summer represents the transition from the Yang energies of the Spring and Summer cycles of growth, flowering, and fruiting, and into the more Yin energies of Autumn and Winter's harvest, storing, and dormancy period. Five Element theory in TCM organizes each season with corresponding elements and organ systems in the body. For Late Summer, we are in the season corresponding to Earth and the organ systems of Spleen and Stomach in TCM.
Spleen and Stomach in TCM are thought of as the organs responsible for our digestive health and immune systems. They also play an important role in building and nourishing the blood and muscles of our bodies. When Spleen and Stomach are strong and in balance, we would expect a healthy and regular digestion, strong immune defenses, good energy, relaxed mood, and well-developed or defined muscles. Conversely, when Spleen and Stomach are weak we often see digestive imbalance, low immune system with frequent colds, flu, or allergies, low energy, and a tendency towards soft muscles or carrying excess weight.
Now here is the important part: this time of year, Fifth Season, is a crucial time to support and nourish the Spleen and Stomach for better digestive and immune system health year-round, particularly if you have reason to believe that your Spleen and Stomach are imbalanced or weak (see the paragraph above for signs of Spleen and Stomach weakness, or ask your acupuncturist if you aren't sure!) How do we nourish the Spleen and Stomach? Well, I'm glad you asked...
Consume whole foods, seasonally appropriate, warm or cooked when possible: Our Spleen and Stomach prefer mild, cooked or warm foods. If you've been living off of salads and smoothies all summer long, now would be a great time to start adding some roasted veggies to those salads. Maybe swapping the smoothies for oatmeal or millet porridge. In general, you'd be advised to avoid extremes during this time - nothing too spicy, too sweet, or too cold.
Stop worrying: Worry or anxiety are the emotional states most likely to damage the Spleen and Stomach. If our Spleen and Stomach are already weak, then worrying can only do more damage and worsen symptoms of imbalance. This is a great time to try to work on your habit of worrying, fretting, over-thinking, or just generally feeling anxious all the time. Perhaps try meditation or mindfulness exercises. Regular physical exercise is fantastic for anxiety, particularly if you are able to be mindful while you are running or practicing yoga, instead of thinking of all the things you need to do or should have done.
Get outside: Remember, the element for Late Summer is Earth, so why not get out and connect with the Earth? Maybe a mountainous hike or simply a walk in a wooded area. Perhaps a day at the beach, free from the congestion of peak summer crowds. Or just walking out into your backyard barefoot in the mornings and soaking up some of that grounding Earth energy.
Get an Acupuncture treatment or try some at-home acupressure: As an acupuncturist I'm obviously a huge fan of getting a seasonal "tune-up" treatment right about now. Your acupuncturist can use points that will help you to cope with the changes of this season, especially if you've discovered that your Spleen and Stomach seem a little out of balance. However, if that isn't in the cards for you right now, I'd advise you to try daily acupressure on the point Stomach 36 - Zu San Li, just below the knee.
I wish you the very best health this season and look forward to sharing more information with you about balancing our minds and bodies with the seasons as we move through the year. This extra Fifth Season is my personal favorite, which made it a great point to begin this new series! If you are looking for more ways to harmonize with the season, why not join me as I partner with Kathleen at Yoga Shivaya for our somewhat-monthly Yin Yoga and Acupuncture class? Our next one will be on Sunday September 22nd, and will consist of a series of postures targeted at the Spleen and Stomach meridians followed by an extra long savasana with a mini acupuncture treatment to balance the same. We always try to make the focus of these classes be to balance and align with the season at hand and its corresponding TCM organ systems. So if you are interested, please sign up here, as space is limited and most often sells out!