Chinese Medicine divides the year into five, not four, seasons. Late summer begins around mid-August and ends with the September equinox. As with all of the other seasons, its unique weather affects our internal environment and our organs. Awareness of Chinese Medical Principles gives us the opportunity to adjust diet, exercise, emotional choices, and lifestyle in order to glide into the cooler weather a little stronger.
Dampness predominates at this time of year; it can play havoc with the body and mind if our systems are stressed from fatigue, overwork, or pre-existing disease. If dampness settles in the joints, it can cause pain and swelling. It can make the chest feel stuffy, too full. Dampness can produce muzzled, foggy thinking, as well as exacerbating allergies.
Here are some ways to prevent, alleviate or completely dissipate dampness:
See an acupuncturist: Specific needling protocols can resolve damp. Of course, each case is unique and there will be many factors to consider when choosing a treatment plan. Other modalities can be effective as well, such as cupping (yes, the cupping that caused the purple circles all over Michael Phelps’ back during the Olympics). Cupping brings damp to the surface, out of muscles where it can cause pain and fatigue.
Moxibustion is another modality that acupuncturists use to produce warmth in the muscles and expel damp by burning an herb near the skin. Some acupuncturists are adept at using Chinese massage (tuina) and acupressure to stimulate specific points without needles to get the circulation of qi and blood moving. A few treatments can do wonders for stubborn damp that can wreak havoc with one’s wellbeing.
Diet: The spleen and stomach are the organs associated with and most sensitive to the climate of late summer. Digestion becomes more difficult if they are weak. Reduce the intake of complex sugars and greasy foods. This is the season to eat light. Try simple pasta dishes topped with sautéed peppers and tomatoes from the garden. Cooked food is better than raw because it is easier to digest.
Exercise: Move. Get your circulation moving to resolve the damp that can get ‘stuck’ in the joints and elsewhere in the body. Choose something you like: perhaps fast walking, yoga, biking, tai chi, or one of my favorite forms of exercise: qigong. Make it a point to move for a good 45 minutes to an hour daily.
Emotions: The spleen is associated with earth energy in the five-element system of Chinese medicine. When the spleen organ system is overtaxed, we worry. We think too much, dipping into pensiveness, and our thinking can become obsessive. This is a good time of year to rethink our routines. We often have a tendency to overload or get involved in things that really do not suit us. What can we add or take away that will bring our lives into balance?
One last thought: The spleen is the organ associated with nurturing and caring for others. ‘Taking care of the world,’ as some are prone to do, is not in our best interest if we give more than is available. Late summer is a good time to focus on what we need to do for ourselves. Then, our help for others can flow from a healthy and balanced center.