Welcome to Earth!
*Will Smith voice* - Welcome to Earth!
If you’ve been noticing both your hair and the number of showers you want to take in a day increasing, you’re feeling the effects of our current mini season – Late Summer – ruled by the Earth element. This shorter season is recognized by Chinese Medicine as starting from approximately the third week in August through the Fall Equinox. It’s characterized by everything from full gardens to farmer’s markets and even the humidity being in full bloom.
Late Summer is seen as a transition from Yang to Yin – aka busy summer life to the quiet winter months. It’s the pause before the pendulum starts to swing back in the other direction. As such it brings the feeling of the final lazy days of Summer where laying near a body of water seems like the only thing worth doing. Occurring after the building seasons of Spring representing Wood and growth, and Summer representing Heart and abundance; you may notice this is the most popular time for people to take vacations and recoup before the seasons change again. After all that early summer activity to get out and take advantage of the weather, you may have overindulged a little making fatigue and lethargy a common complaint.
This is the time of the Earth element and the Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach. These organs represent digestion and the center of the body. Which correlates to the actual Earth being “pregnant”and full with vegetation during this time. This system has the big job of breaking down food and deciding what is being kept to provide nutrition and what is being moved on as waste. Those who are strong in the Earth element tend to be hard, focused workers (digestion is a big job!), organized, creative, strong and nurturing. If this system is overburdened due to stress, poor diet, etc it can become overwhelmed and unable to keep up. Often a side effect of this is a condition called “damp” which can manifest as chronic fatigue, lethargy or the feeling or heavy limbs, foggy thinking, loose stools and bloating. Other common symptoms of a stressed Earth element can include acid reflux/indigestion, excessive worrying often accompanied by the inability to fall, stuck in unproductive or detrimental behaviors and heavy menstrual bleeding.
So how do you support your Earth and digestive system? First is to practice moderation. I know it’s the boring answer but if you think of every successful long term dietary plan – moderation is key. Right now the Earth itself is overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables so take advantage. One thing to keep in mind is that eating all raw, cold foods ends up putting a burden on your digestive system as it takes longer and more energy to break it all apart. So while this is a good time for fresh salads and watermelon, mix it up with some lightly cooked foods as well. This is especially true if you are prone to bloating or digestive distress to begin with. Simple food combinations and light cooking methods are helpful to keep the job simple.
The color of the Earth season is yellow. So yellow or round (sorry Flat Earth theory people) are especially nourishing and harmonizing. Your digestive system also likes mildly sweet foods, hence the sweet cravings people get. Remember moderation is key so stick to mildly sweet things such as corn, carrots, squash, potatoes/sweet potatoes, yams, rice, peas, chestnuts, apricots, peaches, cantaloupe, etc. Other beneficial ingredients are cabbage, chick peas, tofu, amaranth and chestnuts. This system is overly affected by heavy, damp and very sweet stuff so keeping dairy, meat and other heavy things to a minimum now is the best way to go. And yes, sadly, that includes ice cream – as an occasional treat is one thing, but don’t make it your nightly dessert. If you don’t experience frequent bloating or loose stools regularly then this is an appropriate time for a 2-3 day vegetable or fruit cleanse to take advantage of the fresh produce in season right now.
One of the best ways to counteract damp is movement so light exercise is great. Evening walks, yoga, swimming or moderate weights are all ways to keep things from accumulating. However, this is not the time of year to start Crossfit. Remember it’s a pause in movement between transitions so by starting a heavy exercise routing you’re literally fighting nature. Relish in these last few lazy days and don’t push yourself too hard if you’re not already training for something, especially if you’re feeling fatigued.
Try to take these last few weeks of summer to pause with the season and rest before the busy Fall kicks in. Taking steps to support your digestive system now sets you up for the colder months ahead. Autumn is controlled by the Lung and as we know it is the beginning of cold and flu season. Chinese Medicine states that damp (think mucus) is formed in the Spleen and stored in the Lung. By supporting your Spleen and Earth now, you’re helping to reduce the amount of damp and mucus produced by your body. As acupuncturists we are all about trying to help our patients prevent issues before they start, because it’s much easier to guard against something than fight it once it’s already a problem. So by making your Earth element happy, you’re already helping to protect yourself.