A Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to Summer Self Care

by Sarah Canga |

A Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to Summer Self Care

Summer is the time of expansion, growth, lightness, brightness, outward activity and creativity. It's the time when the energy around us is most superficial, abundant and available. Just look outside and witness everything in full bloom.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, summer is the time of the Fire Element, with the meridians most active are those that pertain to the Heart and Small Intestine channel. Perhaps because the energy is so available this season has another organ pair active as well: the pericardium and triple warmer.

fire element

A Traditional Chinese Medicine Summer "Cheat Sheet"
  • Color: Red              
  • Taste: Bitter
  • Emotion: Joy          
  • Meridians: Heat/Small intestine and Pericardium/Triple Warmer
  • Element: Fire          
  • External Factor: Heat
Your Heart-Small Intestine Channel & Summer Wellness

The main function of the heart-small intestine system is circulation, just like what you would think about in western medicine. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the heart also houses the mind, spirit and controls sleep and memory. The pericardium is said to be the master of the heart as well as its protector.  Because of this, it is considered that the pericardium carries the same functions as the heart.

The small intestine has the job of separating the turbid from the clear for both the food we eat for usable energy and also for our thoughts.

The "Triple Warmer" protects the organs on the outside as well as controls the “waterways” of the body which helps with distributing energy throughout the body. One of my teachers would say that the triple warmer is a concept looking for an organ. There are three warmers: upper, middle and lower that divide the torso in a certain respect. 

Your Tongue & Summer


The tongue is a useful diagnostic tool in Chinese Medicine. It is the only organ that is both internal and external. We look at the tongue as a way to see how the body is functioning internally. Its size, shape, color and coat all indicate something.

The tongue is also where the heart energy opens to. If you have trouble sleeping, are feeling restless or anxious, take a peak at your tongue.  Chances are the tip of your tongue will be redder than the rest of the tongue body. If you find a center crack on the tongue that can indicate stress in the body or can be constitutional deficiency of the heart energy.

When stress recedes in our lives, typically the center crack will as well even if it doesn’t go away completely. Balanced heart energy means you have an easy time communicating your thoughts. Trouble finding words or getting “tongue tied” can indicate an imbalance with the heart. Forgetfulness is also a sign of heart energy imbalance.

The "Joy" of the Summer

The emotion of the summer is Joy. Like any emotion, it should be balanced. We often associate joy as being a positive emotion that you can’t have “too much of.” An example of too much joy would be shock. For example - a woman was once thrown a surprise party. When she walked into the room and saw all of these people she started to scream uncontrollably. This is an example of the excess joy taxing the heart.

Another example of excess joy would be overstimulation. You might think of burning that candle at both ends as overstimulation. All fun and no rest is damaging to the heart energy of the body. Manic energy is also depleting.

Especially in the Midwest it can feel like we wait all year for summer. It can feel like such a short season and we might feel compelled to get the “most” out of it. As a way to keep "joy balanced", this is a perfect season to practice mindfulness.

Implications of Summer Sweating

The heart energy also controls sweating in the body. The heart energy can be damaged by too much heat. If you find yourself sweating excessively or feeling hot or stuffy especially in the palms, feet and chest this can indicate a heart-yin deficiency, essentially your body needs more coolant. Acupuncture, herbs and diet changes can help rectify this.

A "Bitter Summer"

The taste of the summer is bitter. This is often referred to as the most under utilized flavor in western cuisine and perhaps for good reason. In nature typically bitter plants warn us of the plant’s poisonous nature. However, the bitter flavor of foods helps to increase saliva which in turn helps to improve digestion which allows the body to absorb more nutrients from the foods we eat giving way to our ability to have more usable energy.

The bitter flavor also clears away heat and drains dampness which can make our bodies feel heavy and lethargic, not how you want to feel in the summer!

Examples of bitter foods include celery, dandelion, burdock, yarrow, chamomile, hops, Echinacea, alfalfa, romaine lettuce, rye, asparagus, papaya, quinoa and citrus peel. Coffee and dark chocolate are also bitter.

Digestive bitters are also another great way to incorporate the bitter flavor into your diet. Take a teaspoon or so of bitters before a meal to help prime the body for digestion. If you indulge in a heavy meal that leaves you feeling full, bloated or gassy, taking bitters after a meal can help assuage your symptoms.

I find that the bitter flavor also leaves me craving more water which is a great way to keep the body hydrated in the summer months.

This article was originally published here and has been republished with explicit permission from the author. Please head to sarahcanga.com to read more from Sarah!

Sarah Canga, L.Ac. developed an interest in Eastern approaches to health and medicine after experiencing western hospice care and finding it disappointing. She has training in nursing, massage therapy, hatha yoga, and acupuncture, with a particular focus on women's health. Her passion is empowering patients to have the highest quality of life through simple tools, remedies, and natural alternatives. You can learn more about Sarah at http://www.sarahcanga.com/.

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