Summer and the Fire Element

Things are heating up as we enter the hottest months of the year. Summer is the time we all come out of our cocoons, our wintry shells, to shed our layers and play! In Chinese medicine, summer is the season associated with the fire element, and with the organs of the Heart, Small Intestine, the Pericardium, and the Triple Heater (more about those last two in a moment). They are the organs of warmth, connection, joy, and passion and by using the principles of Chinese medicine, we can learn to have balanced fire in our own lives.

They key components to having a balanced fire element are healthy boundaries with others, an ability to share and withdraw our warmth and friendliness when needed, and the ability to experience joy that feels appropriate to each situation. Each of the four organs associated with the fire element can help us understand where our fire is healthy and how to bring it into balance in the areas it needs help. When reading the descriptions below, see which organs you identify with, and where you know in your life you are strong and where you need support.

We can feel our fire is out of balance when we have trouble saying "no" (or "yes") to others, when we let other people's moods affect our own, when we let people into our lives who we know are not good for us, who do not love us the ways we know we need to be loved. These functions we associate with the Pericardium in Chinese medicine, which we also lovingly refer to as the Heart Protector.  As you can see, it's second name is indicative of its function, protecting the Heart (literally as the muscle around the heart), and the Heart Protector's job is to be the sentinel at the heart's gate. The Heart Protector says, "Yes, you may come in," or, "no, you may not come in," to people and situations we encounter. A balanced Heart Protector knows where we are loved and where we are not, and makes sure to put us in those places where we feel appreciated.

So who is this Heart that needs so much protection? The Heart in Chinese medicine is considered the Ruler, much like the king or queen on a throne. Even as in western medicine, without the heart, there is no life, and the body does everything it can to protect its Ruler from injury. You know you are in the presence of a "Heart person" when you meet someone who is charismatic, charming, warm, and present. A strong and balanced Heart has the ability to connect with people in a rooted and genuine way. When our Heart is unbalanced, we feel awkward around other people, identifying more with our own insecurities and the insecurities of others. We find it difficult to "know our own hearts" and feel anxious, restless, and unsettled more often than not. Using acupuncture to balance our Heart, we can restore peace in the kingdom, feeling settled and at ease in every situation.

The Triple Heater is a mysterious organ to us westerners. Technically, it is not an organ at all, but three general areas of the torso: the chest, the solar plexus, and the abdomen. It functions as a great waterway in the body, shuttling fluids and energy throughout the body. Emotionally, the Triple Heater likewise disseminates our warmth to the rest of the world. If our Triple Heater is unbalanced, we have trouble knowing where to appropriately put our energy in relationships. We can be overbearing with our energy--being overly identified with the other person's needs,or even overbearing with our romantic energy, or we can burn ourselves out by being too available, too helpful, too busy. But when our Triple Heater is balanced, we use our positive energy wisely, giving warmth and help where it is needed, never feeling over-extended.  

You may wonder why the Small Intestine is considered a fire element organ. It's closely related to the Heart in Chinese medicine, and helps us discern right from wrong. Another protective organ, it absorbs and sorts the physical, mental and emotional things we encounter in our life. Just like we think of it in western physiology, the Small Intestine discerns which food needs to be absorbed and turned into energy and which food needs to be quickly processed and eliminated. In Chinese medicine we extend this function to our emotional world, saying that the Small Intestine discerns which relationships and situations should be turned into something more meaningful and which should be processed and let go of. A Small Intestine that is out of balance produces anxiety, a sort of free-floating jitteriness especially when it comes to deciding matters of the heart. A balanced Small Intestine has the capacity to make decisions, choose wisely for her/himself, and to feel calm doing so.

The best ways to support your fire this summer are to share your warmth with others, partake in experiences that are joyful, and to have fun! Balancing that with some quiet time will keep your fire from "burning out" and of course, staying hydrated while playing is key. Cold foods in summer are more acceptable in Chinese medicine, more so than any other time of the year, so enjoy your watermelon and your salads while you can! And remember to use acupuncture and herbs to help you when you feel restless, anxious, over-extended, and over-joyed (too much joy is a pathology in Chinese medicine!) to help restore the warmth and friendliness that fire brings. Happy summer!

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