Summer and the heart meridian in Chinese medicine

By Lucy Mei Lee

The sights, sounds and smells of summertime warm many people’s hearts; it is a time to be laughing with friends and enjoying the sunny outdoors.  In Chinese medicine, it is understood that our environment has a strong impact on one’s health - how can it not when the rhythms of all the rest of the animals and even the plants are guided by the weather and the length of days?  After long observation, these seasonal correspondences were systematized and became part of the foundation of Chinese medicine.  Today, I want to share with you some of the correlations of this present season, Summer.

Summer, being the warmest and brightest season, is represented by the Fire element and is pure yang.  What does this mean?  It means that it is the most active time of the year when all the birds and bees are buzzing about, plants are growing quickly and things heat up.  In our body’s, we may notice it is harder to sit still; people like to be on the go and are more social in this season.  The longer daylight hours mean that perhaps we need a little less sleep (and more in the winter to create a balance).  It means that we are wearing lighter clothing that allows the sun to touch more of our skin, bringing us out of our shells and to the surface of the body.

Summertime is also represented by the Heart and Small Intestine meridians in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).  The Heart meridian is considered inseparable to the mind and to be the emotional center in the body.  This belief is not only in Eastern tradition but Western as well.  Have you ever heard someone say, “He wears his heart on his sleeve” when referring someone who cannot hide their feelings?

The heart is also considered the root of life.  It is our instinct and ability to live and stay alive.  In TCM, it maintains our personality, individuality and integrity.  In modern medicine, cardiovascular health is one of the biggest markers for longevity.  Engaging in regular, moderate exercise to improve resting heart rate has been shown to reduce the over-all mortality rate and prevent disease.

When I see a person who is friendly, charismatic, genuinely speaks their mind, has a hearty laugh and rosy complexion, then I certainly think of them as a person with a balanced Heart meridian.  They have open hearts and clear, brilliant minds while remaining humble throughout.

A balanced heart brings about a peaceful and happy nature.  Many people are surprised after receiving acupuncture for the first time how profoundly relaxing it is.  This is because effective treatment naturally has the ability to calm the mind which then shows the body how to relax.  A quote from the Inner Classic text says:  “When the heart is serene, pain seems negligible.”  Have you ever began enjoying an activity and completely forgotten about a problem area in your life? 

In order to diagnose, an acupuncturist will ask many questions about your health, look at your tongue and take your pulse.  In particular, areas to focus on would be the tongue tip and left first pulse position when assessing the Heart meridian.   The tongue tip may be red or have prickles and the pulse may be forceful, thin, rapid or irregular.

Signs that the Heart meridian may be out of balance could be: insomnia, lethargy, feeling scattered or forgetfulness, agitation, night sweats, red complexion, high blood pressure, circulation problems, palpitations, loss of sense of taste, some skin diseases (especially if stress-related) and many others. 

As for dietary recommendations in the summer season, you can nourish the Heart by incorporating red coloured and heart shaped foods into your diet such as berries and tomatoes.  No surprise that they are ripening at this time of year.  It is suggested that you cook lightly sautéing or simmering for shorter periods of time is more appropriate. In this heat, who wants to turn the oven on for hours?  I would also suggest eating lighter in general and using brightly coloured seasonal fruits and vegetables.  Enjoy creating fresh and exciting meals using a wide variety of produce that is shooting up in gardens so abundantly at this time of year.   On the hottest days, stay cool by serving salads, sprouts, cucumber and melons.  Chrysanthemum, chamomile and mint teas also have a cooling effect.   However, avoid too many cold foods and drinks as this weakens the digestive organs.  Ever notice how many of the hottest countries incorporate spicy foods in their cuisine?  This is because warm food induces sweating which cools the body temperature as opposed to cold foods which cause contraction, holding in sweat and heat as well as potentially causing cramping. 

As always, Chinese medicine is very practical and we recommend keeping a balance by avoiding extremes.  Take time to have fun, be active but also rest and incorporate peaceful practices.  For more information on how to do this, look for my next article on Qi Gong – Dynamic Exercises to Strengthen and Relax.  Stay safe and enjoy your summer.