One of the deepest insights of the human body from Chinese medicine is the appreciation of the body in the every changing cycles of seasonal climate changes. The heat and the cold of the Solstices, the winds and patterns of weather that occur throughout the year, these are all observed and adjusted to accordingly with slight changes in diet, lifestyle, and treatment. The solstices and equinoxes are notable times to re-calibrate ourselves to the universe and to our own self-care.
The human body is a delicate and dynamic system that requires constant attention and fine tuning, so during extremes, we should apply extra care to ensure we aren't injured or harmed by the dramatic peaks of seasonal changes. We will look at some traditional views of the Summer Solstice, recommend some teas and foods to help the body manage the heat, and some general recommendations to protect your body's delicate balance and longevity.
From a Chinese lunar calendar viewpoint, Summer solstice, June 21, is actually the peak of Summer, and the beginning of the end of the dominance of Yang for the year. From an astronomical viewpoint, the solstice is the longest day of the year, and every day from here until the Winter solstice will become shorter and shorter, with less and less light and heat.
The intensity of light from the sun, the long days, and the heat, all stimulate movement and expansion inside the body. This is most easily observed in slightly rapid pulses, readily sweating skin, and typically a reprieve from Cold-type joint and muscle pains that tend to get better during warmer months and worse in colder months.
For more classical views from the Chinese wisdom traditions, we recall notes from my teacher, Ming Liu who coalesced his experiences and teaching about the Summer solstice*:
"During this qi node the environmental qi (Heaven/Earth) is best at Noon. When you wake, practice qigong/stretching/exercise facing due south. Do not overexert yourself; but sweating a little bit is not harmful. Chew well. During the day eat two or three small meals, rest (nap) after lunch, drink green and chrysanthemum tea and in the evening enjoy a light soup.
Guard the heart (shen) from strain by expressing your feelings, singing, dancing and socializing. Before bed bucket bathe and add a final cold rinse. The Classics recommend that we go to sleep just after dark. Rest, relax, travel (vacation by sea or high mountains), exercise modestly and do not get burned by the sun. Do not work or rest directly in the sun of midday!"
The extra Yang of this time of year can quickly damage the Yin. This is observed in an increased need to drink fluids, as the heat increases our body temperatures and causes us to more readily sweat and release fluids. With increased Yang manifest in higher UV indices, the risk of damage to the skin from sun and heat exposure goes up. It may also be difficult to sleep at night due to the heat and increased energy of the Summer. To combat these sometimes deleterious effects, we can make some more general recommendations that might help you be more comfortable and protect your body.
First a disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any recommendations made here is not meant to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have a medical concern, please contact us or speak with your primary care provider.
So now on to our tips for protecting yourself from Summer Heat:
1. Drink extra fluids. Drink more water, tea, or lightly flavored water as these beverages are not dehydrating and will help keep the body functioning at all levels. If your urine is dark in color, it is likely that you are dehydrated - use this as a sign to increase fluid intake.
Note: We generally recommend avoiding cold and iced drink most of the year but during heat waves, it can be protective to incorporate a little ice into your water or tea. Otherwise, drinking room temperature or even warm to hot drinks is more supportive to the digestive system and generally.
2. Drink green, white, or lightly kilned oolong teas. These styles of tea are higher in anti-inflammatory catechins which will have a 'cooling' effect physiologically on the body.
○ Drinking tea during more humid heat will also help relieve the accumulation of stagnant and thick fluids in the body, reducing likelihood of infection. Tea is also antimicrobial.
○ Tea has gentle amounts of caffeine compared to water so it is unlikely to cause dehydration, and the small amount of caffeine encourages healthy elimination through the bowels and urine.
○ Tea has many health benefits that have been extensively studied: "In recent years, the health benefits  of consuming green tea, including the prevention of cancer  and cardiovascular diseases , the anti-inflammatory , antiarthritic , antibacterial , antiangiogenic , antioxidative , antiviral , neuroprotective , and cholesterol-lowering effects  of green tea and isolated green tea constituents..." (link to Literary review)
○ Consider a jasmine white tea, a green oolong, or a high quality white tea.
3. Incorporate more cooling foods, eat lighter meals, and chew thoroughly to support complete digestion.
○ In Chinese food traditions, and herbal medicine, foods and substances are classified by how they affect the physiology in terms of Hot or Cold; foods qualified as "Hot/Warm" generally stimulate increases in metabolism, cause more bacterial and yeast activity, and/or cause irritation due to their difficulty to digest. Conversely, foods qualified as "Cold/Cool" generally reduce inflammation, have antioxidant properties, control and manage bacterial and yeast activity, and support elimination of waste materials and toxins.
○ In Summer, it is helpful to calibrate ourselves by upping our intake of 'cooling foods' to protect ourselves from the heat of summer. Note that you should consider your own body, your own appetite, and what is appropriate for you. While a little of something can be a good thing, eating too many 'cold foods' can be counterproductive and end up harming the digestive system. Here is a list of cooling foods:
○ Cooling herbs:
○ Cooling vegetables:
○ sprouts, asparagus, bamboo shoots, celery, Chinese radish (daikon), cucumber melon, eggplant, green leafy vegetables (kale, chard, mustard greens, beet greens, collards), all seaweeds (kelp/kombu), lettuces, lotus root, white mushrooms, tomato, water chestnut, watercress, winter melon
○ Cooling fruits:
○ apple, banana, lemon, grapefruit, orange, lime, pineapple, kiwi fruit, pineapple, pomelo, watermelon, musk melon, green grapes
○ In general, eating smaller meals reduces calories, and therefor reduces workload on the system and overall production of energy, particularly in the form of heat. Oppressive heat can put a strain on the system, diminishing digestive efficiency. Offset this by paying attention to chewing more intentionally to ensure more efficient digestion.
One final note about Summer solstice is that it is a culmination that signals the arrival of Winter solstice. It is the beginning of the decline. We can learn about life, and our life, by looking at this annual shift and what it teaches us about the natural progressions and patterns of life.
In the context of the year, it should trigger a shift in your mind to reevaluation of how much effort and strain you have been employing to achieve your desires and subconscious drives. Now is the time to stop, rest, cool down, and review in preparation for the natural fulfillment of our efforts and the abundance of Heaven and Earth in their movements. Pushing beyond our capacity, not heeding the signs of stress and overheating, general ignorance or arrogance, can and will result in injury, suffering, and loss. Ming Liu described the delicate qualities of this time by pointing to the dangers and ironies of this annual pivot, saying, "Flowers blossom and many fruits and vegetables ripen but this explosion of splendor is a gesture of survival (launching seeds). The force of Yang, if not tempered, will destroy rather than ripen. The Chinese character for summer depicts a farmer at rest (idle) – growth in this part of summer needs no nursing. Yang is raging on its own." So listen to the world around you. Learn from nature's endless cycles. Let go of the never-ending desires that push us into pain and suffering. Chill
* To learn more about Ming's teachings and the wisdom science of Chinese traditions, see his book "The Three Treasures".