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The Rise of Summer

By Sara Calabro

Last Tuesday, June 21, marked the official beginning of summer. With the warmest of seasons comes a palpable sense of eagerness and freedom, of expanding beyond limits to connect with the things and people that bring us joy.

Conventional Western thinking attributes this heightened vibrancy to circumstance: school’s out, vacation’s in, and the days are longer. But acupuncture offers a different theory.

Acupuncturists view humans as microcosms of the natural world that surrounds them. Weather and climate, particularly during the transition from one season to another, factor significantly into diagnoses and treatment plans. Each season is associated with a natural element, emotion and organ.

Fire Is the Element of Summer

The element of summer is Fire.

In Five Spirits: Alchemical Acupuncture for Psychological and Spiritual Healing—the best resource I know of for understanding the five elements—author Lorie Dechar describes Fire like this: “It is the energy of summer, of relationship and blossoming creativity as well as the qualities of spiritual warmth, initiating impulse and spontaneity that give an organism that ability to expand, to express its true nature and to reach out and connect with others.”

During summer, acupuncturists look for signs of healthy expression of the Fire element. It’s not just that a break from school and work frees up time to explore creativity and relationships. In addition, our capacity and desire to spend time on such endeavors innately expands. In summer, these things come more naturally.

Do You Feel Extra Happy in the Summer?

People also may experience increased feelings of joy, the emotion associated with summer.

Emotional health from an acupuncture perspective means that all emotions are present in appropriate doses, at appropriate times. For example, just as many people feel happier in summer, it’s normal to experience slightly darker moods in winter. It’s the inability to settle into these seasonal emotional shifts, or transition out of them, that suggests an imbalance.

A patient who by summertime has not shaken the winter blues might be diagnosed with Heart Qi Deficiency.

The Heart, the organ system associated with summer and Fire, is responsible for regulating joy, so a deficiency can lead to a depressed mood—a lack of joy—that’s inappropriate for this time of year.

Heart Qi Deficiency also can produce physical symptoms such as chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue and insomnia.

The other end of the spectrum, excessive joy, can be problematic as well, ultimately wearing out the Heart Qi and leading to the same Deficiency pattern. In Western culture, it’s difficult to grasp the concept of too much joy, but from an acupuncture perspective, the goal is always balance—having too much joy is just as troubling as having too little.

It’s important to note that “joy” (as with any emotional or physical quality) looks different from person to person. Deficiency or excess is relative to each person’s unique constitution and situation—including all emotional and physical signs and symptoms, environmental factors, as well as pulse, tongue and other diagnostic readings. A diagnosis is determined in context of how symptoms fit within a person’s overall presentation.

Turn Up the Summer Heat

In addition to the Fire element, joy expression and the Heart organ system, this time of year acupuncturists pay extra attention to signs of Summer Heat.

Summer Heat is one of six pernicious/environmental influences. Wind, Cold, Dampness, Dryness and Fire (different from the Fire element discussed above) are the other five.

These influences invade the body and cause symptoms that reflect the climactic conditions after which they are named. Dampness, for example, may be suspected in someone who describes feeling heavy; a patient invaded by Wind could be dizzy or experience tremors. Summer Heat, as the name suggests, commonly occurs in summer (often accompanied by Dampness) and causes symptoms such as fatigue, excessive thirst and sweat, and quick-onset fever.

Summer, a season rightfully celebrated joyously, can give rise to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Acupuncture fundamentally understands the relationship between human health and environmental factors. It is an ideal therapy for staying well while the sun is shining—and staying strong in preparation for the transition into autumn.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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