Summer Self-Care

By: Amanda Gawrysz, L.Ac, MSOM

Milwaukee is known as the Midwest’s best kept secret. The winters can be without a doubt long and dark, but the summers here are a time for farmers markets, street fairs, outdoor concerts, and hitting the beach.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), our goal is to balance four substances. These substances include Qi, blood, yin, and yang. The focus here will be on the principle of yin and yang specifically. Conceptually yin is rest, slowness, darkness, feminine, and quiet. Conceptually yang is moving, active, rising, masculine, forceful, and light. The summer season is known in TCM as the most yang time of the year. Summer time with its yang energy also corresponds to heat and the element of fire. As our kids are out of school and we begin engaging in many fun outdoor activities and vacations, the external environment is also very hot and damp which can cause the body to acquire extra heat. This heat causes our body’s to dry out leading to dry skin, constipation, and lack of fluid in the body which is known as a deficiency in our yin energy. The fire element is also associated with the color red, emotion of joy, bitter taste, and with the heart and the small intestine organs. In addition to this, TCM practitioners are well aware that our heart houses our “shen” or spirit/mind. Adding on the environmental heat, eating spicy foods, drinking more alcohol, and expanding so much energy we are like firecrackers waiting to be lit and ready to explode. Once this fire element is out of balance issues with insomnia, mental disturbances, and anxiety can arise.

It is essential to balance the yang with yin energy in all areas of our lives. I am sure you have heard people say, “everything in moderation.” This is a general and very basic principle behind Chinese medicine. Why? Because yin and yang are interchangeable aspects. Chinese philosophy describes this concept brilliantly with the yin and yang symbol showing how two opposing and separate forces can also be interconnected and interdependent. A small piece of each is shown within each other, therefore, one cannot exist without the other.

How can we live a more balanced and healthier life during the summer months? Nutrition is a very important concept in TCM and eating seasonal fruits and vegetables is highly recommended. Eating the correct foods can help combat the drastic change in weather we experience in the Midwest. Eating foods that are moistening and cooling in nature will not only help keep you hydrated, but will also counter the summer heat. This will allow your body to decrease its natural stress responses providing you with more calmness and better sleep. Cooling foods that are great for the summer time include cucumbers, watermelon, green leafy vegetables, green tea, pears, pineapple, tofu, mung bean, watercress, broccoli, lettuce, aloe, and asparagus.

Since summer is a time for growth both in nature and in our lives we should be focusing on balancing all the outdoor action with some calming yin exercises. Try replacing those hot yoga classes with restorative or yin yoga instead. Taking a walk on the beach instead of running or biking outside is another great option. Tai Chi and Qi Gong involve gentle flowing movements focused on body posture, breathing, and meditation. In China, many individuals start or end their days by incorporating the highly beneficial movements of these two systems. Swimming is easy on the joints and will keep you cool. Meditation will slow your mind down and allow you to focus on your breath. Yoga will keep you flexible, grounded, and your spirit calm. These yin style exercise options will help you maintain good sleep and aid in your personal growth this summer season.

Other alternative summer lifestyle changes you can make include going to bed by 10pm and sleeping on an empty stomach. This will help your body to start healing and regenerating as well as giving your liver a chance to detox all the emotional and environmental garbage you have taken on throughout the day. If possible, try to take daily afternoon naps to replenish your mind and body; it will make you more productive and efficient. It is also important to be in nature everyday. You may choose to participate in the numerous outdoor or beach yoga classes Milwaukee has to offer; or you may choose to go on a walk on the Seven Bridges forest trail in South Milwaukee where you can practice the art of forest bathing. Most importantly, be mindful of your thoughts and self-talk. Try to be alone and in stillness every single day whether it is through meditation, journaling, or walking. Whatever you choose to do, choose something that you love and can make a habit of it.

Below are a few tips to staying cool this summer:

  • Add cucumber or mint to your water

  • Eat more fruits and veggies, take advantage of farmers markets and eat seasonal

  • Avoid hot, greasy, or spicy food

  • Avoid or decrease alcohol intake

  • Add more seafood and fish to your diet

  • Decrease intake of red meat

  • Engage in light or moderate exercise

  • Be still, practice gratitude, and stay present in the moment

Counter this yang season by nourishing the yin and embracing stillness. Now get out there and enjoy, after all, joy is the emotion of the season!