Late summer: the fifth season in Chinese medicine
Did you know that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a fifth season, late summer? It’s a short season from the end of August through to the Autumn equinox, which falls on 23 September this year. Late summer marks the transition between the yang energy of spring and summer to the yin energy of autumn and winter. It’s a season of harvest, transformation and nourishment.
There is a natural return to routine as schools begin a new year and we’re drawn to find stability and balance. It’s a crucial time for self-care supporting and nurturing our bodies and minds for the year ahead.
What does it mean for your health?
In TCM the season of late summer is associated with the element of Earth, the spleen-pancreas and the stomach, the colour yellow, a sweet taste, worry and singing. When we think of Earth, it nourishes and nurtures the growth of all living things. This is resembled in our spleen and stomach which nourish all the organs and tissues of the body supporting them in performing their role. Along with digesting and processing the food and drinks we consume, the spleen also digests and processes our thoughts. When the spleen and stomach are in balance our metabolism is good, we’re energetic, our immune system is strong and our menstrual cycle is regular with a healthy flow. We’re able to balance caring for ourselves and those around us.
What causes imbalance?
Modern day living can leave us skipping meals, eating on the go or consuming poor quality food. When we push ourselves too hard, working long hours, irregular sleeping habits, overexercising, partying hard or continually putting the needs of others before our own (hands up people pleasers) digestion can be weakened. Excessive worry or rumination can also have a knock on effect even if we consume high quality organic foods.
How to nurture your spleen and stomach?
- Our spleen loves routine: Some suggestions are getting up and going to sleep at the same time each day, eating meals at regular times and having a regular meditation practice.
- Balance exercise with rest: Move in a way that feels good to you. Regular walks, dancing, yoga, pilates, aerobics all help care for your muscles and tendons and build energy. Take care to avoid over exertion.
- Make time for breakfast: The digestion is at its strongest between 7-9am. Eat something substantial at this time and awaken your metabolism. There is a saying in TCM to eat, ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.’
- Consume warm foods and drinks: Support your digestion by choosing to foods and drinks either cooked or at room temperature where possible. Begin to swap salads and smoothies for slow cooked foods like stews, soups, broths, roasted vegetables and porridge in the morning. Your spleen and stomach prefer to keep things mild and avoid extremes – nothing too spicy, too sweet or too cold.
- Spend time in nature: Connect with the Earth element. Enjoy a hike or a walk in a local woodland beach or park.
- Be present: Bring your attention to what you are doing in each moment and begin to break the cycle of worry and rumination through meditation, mindfulness and yoga. Find a practice that suits you and experience more ease in your day.
- Make your home calm and inviting: Reconnect with family and friends. If you’re in-between homes or have builders in, be sure to take extra care of your spleen and stomach.
- Make time for what nourishes and nurtures you: This can be different for everyone. For some it may be a long bath, a walk in their favourite place or a cup of tea with a friend. See what resonates with you.
- Massage Zusanli (Stomach 36): This is one of the most important acupuncture points in the body. It’s the area where ‘qi’ collects and goes deep into the body. This point nourishes and strengthens the whole body. It can leave you feeling grounded as it’s also an Earth point.