Welcome to Late Summer
February to March Equinox
Late (or 'Indian') Summer is the 'fifth' season of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and relates to the earth element and digestive processes of the stomach (yang) & spleen / pancreas (yin). It can be a time of intense environmental heat, using the alalogy of a tree, where the energy of the extremities (sap or blood) begins it's slow retreat into the core, the extremities drying as a pre-curser to the falling leaves of Autumn.
As such, this is a time where we can still utilise all of that positive, light, active yang energy of Summer whilst remaining mindful of our limitations and taking care not to 'burn the candel at both ends' or 'burn out' as the heat of the environment turns out to also have a potentially negative effect on the body & mind if we overdo it at this time.
In terms of the daily cycle it can be likened to late afternoon, that time of the day when even though the sun has moved way past it's peak (which occurs around mid-day) it often feels at it's hottest. In the lifetime cycle we can think of Late Summer as representing that period between the prime of our lives and those first few years when we just begin to notice a few small changes, normally physical and the natural effects of ageing where, if we are smart, we can begin to respond by changeing our behaviour to something that feels slightly more appropriate. Those in the media who we notice and appreciate for 'ageing gracefully' have been able to enter or at least move through this early stage of ageing most 'successfully'.
Ironically, the first thing most people begin to notice as they enter this stage is that they often cannot eat what they used to, both in quality and quantity. Late Summer's link with the digestive 'fire'; in TCM spleen yang and in yogic physiology jathara agni or samana vayu and the energies connected to manipura (solar plexus) chakra - means that this is a great time to focus on our metabolic processes - what and how much we are eating - and what practises we can follow to keep this procees of receiving & extracting the nutrients (including the prana, chi or qi) from the food we eat and ensuring that this system (continues to) run(s) smoothly and efficiently. Some people also find that the energetics and physical processes of this system have always provided a constant battle and if so, Late Summer is the perfect time to take a look and see what improvements can be made.
"We cannot really lose what really belongs to us, even if we throw it away. Therefore, we need no anxiety.”
Generally speaking, the warmest months of Summer & Late Summer are a time where the environmental warmth strongly suports the digestive system and so is a time for incorporating as much variety into our diet as possible, as seen by the great number of fresh foods that are ripe and ready to eat at this time of year. Buying fresh, locally grown produce ensures that we are always eating the right food for our body at the right time. These months are a time to do more and eat less. Listening to our body ensures that we don’t just mechanically force-feed ourselves the same diet at the same frequency & quantity the whole year long, allowing ourselves to adapt and change our diet to something more suitable & appropriate as we move through the seasons. Those with otherwise sensitive / sluggish digestive systems will find the environmental warmth very supportive to the warmth required by the digestive system to run optimally. TCM normally advises a diet of warm, well cooked food in order to assit this process but during these warmer months, you might find you are able to relax this rule and venture into including ingredients of fresh, uncooked salad into your diet at this time.
Chewing properly and sitting down to eat in a pleasant & relaxing environment are also important if you want a smooth digestive function. This information seems little more than common sense, but how many times do we find ourselves trying to shovel down a quick snack on our short break at work, at our desk or even worse, on the run? Focusing on the chewing process and being present with the food you are consuming is also critically important so eating & working or watching tv whilst you eat are both considered no-nos.
If you do have a problem with overeating (and you don't neccessarily have to be over-weight to crave this feeling of comfort or satisfaction) then the best advice I have for you is to eat only when you are hungry. Again, this may seem like strange advice but you'll notice a huge difference if you simply take the time to notice if you are actually hungry the next time you are standing in front of the pantry or the open fridge door, holding off, walking away and coming back only when you, and your body, are really ready to eat. I have noticed that many skinny people actually enjoy feeling hungry where as those prone to put on weight actually enjoy feeling full and are afraid to ever allow themselves to feel hungry. As a result, the latter group are never giving their digestive system a rest and a chance to build up the 'fire' required to efficiently process their next meal.
When you do eat, try to always stop when you're still feeling a little bit hungry - filling the stomach only half with food, a 1/4 with liquid (including the liquid already present in the food) and leaving 1/4 empty is ideal for the digestive process. Whilst room temperature water a half an hour before food can stimulate the digestive process, avoid drinking and eating at the same time, favouring a warm herbal or green tea if anything and definitely avoiding cold &/or fizzy drinks will also promote a considerable improvement in your ability to process your meals.
The digestive processes, like eating, reflect our ability to ingest and process the situations and events we are constantly encountering in our day-to-day lives and in TCM the earth element & spleen / pancreas energy relates to the emotion of worry. So, above all, don't worry or stress about what and how you are eating and just simply try to encorporate a few of the above changes into your daily routine step-by-step until eventually, improvement becomes obvious.
"I'm an old man and have known
a great many troubles, but most of them
have never happened".
In yogic physiology the digestive centre is connected to the fire element & manipura (solar plexus) chakra, our centre for confidence, willpower & self-esteem.