Updated: Feb 11, 2020
In Chinese Medicine, there are 5 "elements" or rather 5 "movements". Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. To each element corresponds a color, a sound, a cardinal direction, a taste, an emotion, a couple of organs, and among many other attributes, a season. Yes, there are 5 seasons in Chinese Medicine, namely autumn, winter, spring, summer and "late summer", or 长夏。
What is Late Summer?
Late Summer can be considered as the period around the Fall Equinox, or the last month of our solar calendar Summer. It is in fact the middle of the Lunar Year which usually starts around February. According to the foundational Classical Chinese Medical text "黄帝内经", "Huang Di Nei Jing" or "Classic of the Yellow Emperor" , special attention has to be given during late summer because is the key to maintaining health for the shift from Yang to Yin, from Hot to Cold, from Light to Dark.
The Nei Jing states we ought to live in harmony with the energy of late summer as we shift into the Fall in order to avoid illness of the lungs and large intestine during winter (hear flu season, stomach flu, common colds).By turning inward and cultivating a more balanced routine in late summer, we can make sure that the body is sufficiently bolstered with the energy it needs for the colder months to come.
According to the 5-movements theory, the seasons and their characteristics do not abruptly shift from one into the next. Rather, they continuously wax and wane, morphing slowly, hence the dynamic term 5 "movements" rather than 5 "elements". The transitional state in between two seasons also belongs to the Earth movement. Late Summer then also represents the transition period of a couple of weeks between two seasons, usually around equinoxes and solstices.
The Earth movement - 土
Color: gold, yellow, "earth tones", like ripe wheat
Climate: Dampness (see below the note on dampness and sugar)
State of growth: Transition
Odor: Sweet, Fragrant
Yin organ & time: Spleen, 9-11 am
Yang organ & time: Stomach, 7-9 am
Body tissue: Muscles and flesh
Sensory organ: Mouth, lips
Emotion: Worry and pensiveness
Soul: Yi, or thought
Nutritional tips to bolster the Earth and
support the Spleen and Stomach during Late Summer
So, what to eat? Yellow or orange colored, sweet and warming foods. Think pumpkin spice!
Cooked foods are more easily digested and less taxing or your spleen-stomach.
Bland or Sweet Flavors (natural flavors, not added sugars of course)
Sweet potatoes or yams
Root vegetables such as beets, carrots, parsnips
Whole grains: rice, millet, quinoa, oat
All types of Squash
Yellow or Orange Colored foods
Golden beets, carrots , squash
Foods with warming quality
Cooked and warm meals
cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove
Do not overwhelm your digestive system: cook with relatively mild flavors, and simplify your dishes and ingredients combination. Why not try some easy squash soups, rice and millet savory porridges, or good old cinnamon baked apples.
Turning inward with your intentions and the execution, try to cook and consume for easy, simple and comforting nourishment.
Quick note on "dampness" and sugar.
As mentioned in the chart above, the ailments related to Late Summer are linked to dampness. Dampness is a sticky pathogen that primarily affects the spleen (the main organ of late summer), making us slow, sluggish and unable to focus. It can manifest as excess weight gain, sugar imbalances, digestive issues, a thick coating on the tongue... It might appear as water retention or edema, or when it has been condensed for a while becomes phlegm and masses.
Dampness type patterns include edema, cough with sputum, yeast infections, sinus infections, diabetes, chronic pain, etc.
The main culprit for dampness in California (where it clearly does not come from climate), and for most Americans is diet related. It is generated by an excess intake of carbohydrates, sugar, and too many raw and cold foods (such as salads, dairy and ice cream) combined with irregular eating hours and dieting.
So when we recommend "sweet" foods for the earth organs, we mean non refined grains and sweet root vegetables, not ice cream!
Other lifestyle tips to help stay grounded through transitional times
1. Create a routine to eat and go to bed at regular times
When everything else is changing around you, rely on a simple and consistent structure. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends. Have a set schedule for meals and consume them calmly, while sitting down.
2. Breathing exercises: Sama Vritti or Equal Wave breath
Breathing with a 1:1 ratio between inhalation and exhalation is very balancing. You cannot go wrong with that breath. It is energizing if you feel sluggish, and calming in case of agitation. During changing times, whether it be the seasons or transitional life events, even breath can smooth out the edges of overwhelm.
3. Yoga poses : twists!
Twists are incredibly spiritual tools, that not only target the digestive system but also invite us to turn our gave inward. Most twists target the navel chakra, aka the digestive system, which correspond to spleen and stomach.
The Ayurveda Samana Vayu, the centering and assimilating force, mirrors the Chinese medicine principle of the Earth movement).
More on Yoga practice for the Earth season in this article.
- Eat more cooked foods, yellow and orange colored foods, root vegetables and warming spices (think pumpkin spice)
- Establish regular routines
- Simplify, minimize and try not to overthink
- Include twists in your yoga practice