Taking Care: Summer
AOMA’s recommendations for staying on top of Summer Heat
by Lauren St. Pierre-Mehrens
Summer in Austin is full of many wonderful things. Swimming at Barton Springs, backyard BBQs, free concerts at Zilker Park, and the HEAT. Well, for some the heat is wonderful; for most of us, it can be a challenge both mentally and physically. Summer Heat is one of the “six pernicious evils” in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory and is nothing to scoff at. Protecting yourself and understanding how to avoid dehydration and heatstroke are vital to making the most of your summer and protecting your body for the rest of the year.
Summer is yang in nature and a time of increased energy and expansion. It gives us long days to explore this yang nature, to be social and active. A wider variety of local seasonal food is available, and it’s a wonderful time to diversify our diets with fresh fruits and vegetables. Nature has harmony in mind when we look at the foods around us. What’s local during the summer months often is what we should be eating due to the cooling nature of the foods.
It is also a time that requires protecting our yang from damage. Nothing sounds better during a midday scorcher than an ice cream or downing a full cup of ice water, but in TCM, this damages your yang. Why does that matter? Our body is constantly trying to balance yin and yang, hot and cold, moist and dry. When we damage one, the other can become relatively too great, or unchecked. Simply put, yang is the fire in us while yin is the water. If you keep pouring ice water over a fire, eventually it will be too weak to burn. We don’t see the problem with this in the summer when all we want is to put that fire out, but as the seasons change, we will start to see digestive and circulation problems. Acupuncture, herbs, and qigong can help to restore balance, but why not prevent potential problems in the first place?
In Austin, we also have Damp mixed in with our Summer Heat. Austinites might experience more heavy sensations in the body, as well as fatigue, abdominal fullness, and digestive upset. All the more reason to get in harmony with the season.
What might Summer Heat look like?
The excessive yang nature of Summer Heat affecting the body comes in many forms. We often will see a very red face, bright red tongue with yellow or no coating, fever, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, constipation or diarrhea, elevated blood pressure, headaches, mouth sores, skin rashes, and acne.
Children and the elderly as well as those who tend toward excess yang, or heat, may find they are more susceptible to Summer Heat.
What can I do to support my body?
- Stay hydrated and avoid peak sun. In Austin that can be from 10am to 4pm, or later, given that we’re on Daylight Savings Time. Use good judgment and always carry water and a hat or umbrella with you.
- Use cool packs on your elbow creases and the back of your neck if you’re overheated.
- Increase these foods, which have cooling properties:
◦ mung beans
◦ peppermint or chrysanthemum flower tea
◦ lemon/lime and other citrus
- Moderate/avoid these foods, which can be too warming, if you’re seeing Summer Heat signs:
◦ anything spicy and/or fried
◦ red meat
◦ lobster, mussels, and prawns
Acupuncture and dietary therapy can be an effective way beat the heat, but watch for red flags of actual heat exhaustion or heatstroke and seek medical attention if they occur: fainting, dark-colored urine, rapid heartbeat, confusion, throbbing headache, and vomiting. Be safe, have fun, and come see us at AOMA for more personalized support.
About the author
Lauren has lived in Austin since 2006 by way of Lake Tahoe, California. While pursuing her MAcOM at AOMA she continues to work with The American Cancer Society as a cancer information specialist. She counts ATX as her home with her husband and two Boston terriers. http://www.earthspringacupuncture.com/
Upper respiratory infections such as colds or the influenza virus are prevalent during the cold months of the year, but can be caught all year round. Typical symptoms are headache, coughing, sore throat, stuffy and running nose and body aches.
Pores are the windows of your body
During hot climate seasons like summer, the pores of our skin are wide open. These pores on our skin are like the windows of our body. They can help with releasing the heat from our body and promoting sweating. When the weather gets cold, our body starts to close these ‘windows’ entirely, so it can prevent the external wind and cold from entering. The process of these windows closing, however, is slow and adjusted according to the weather changes. Therefore, if the temperature suddenly drops and the windows are still open, we’re easily vulnerable to a wind-cold pathogenic factor attacking us.
Releasing the Exterior
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to help enhance the immune system and ward off illness. Its immunostimulating functions treat all types of upper respiratory infections -- including colds -- effectively, achieving a quick recovery without side effects. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views colds and flus as pathogenic invasions that can easily be expelled using certain treatment points and herbs. This is called “releasing the exterior” in TCM.
Why do some people easily catch colds, but others not so often? In biomedicine, we often say those people who have strong immune systems are less likely to catch cold. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we say these people have strong defensive Qi (or wei qi). Their body has a quick adjustment to the environmental changes around them. In other words, they can close their windows faster, allowing their body surface to be sealed so wind-cold pathogens have no chance to get in.
When a wind-cold pathogen enters our body, it causes sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, body aches, and headaches. That’s when we say, “You caught a cold.” In this case, your acupuncturist would recommend some pungent herbs to help the body expel the wind-cold pathogen. For example: ginger, onion and peppermint are the most commonly used herbs in herbal teas for common cold.
Take a Ginger Bath
A ginger bath can be very soothing and therapeutic when you are coming down with or already have a cold. Again, this helps to “release the exterior” and expel the pathogen. Take a large ginger root and let it boil in a pot of water until the water turns golden in color. Pour this into your hot bath and soak. You can also drink a cup of the ginger tea while you take the bath.
If caught in the early stages, especially within the first few hours of the onset of symptoms, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and qigong can be very effective at eliminating pathogens. Once illness has progressed beyond the early stages, Chinese medicine can be used as symptomatic relief and adjuvant therapy.
Chinese Herbal Remedies for Colds
In the process of treating immunity, Chinese medicine also transports nutrients, improves circulation, balances the body, supports vital energy, and assists your body in maintaining its natural healthy state on its own. Several clinical studies have demonstrated that Chinese medicine reduces the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections and shortens the course of illness.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal remedy most often used for people with weak defensive qi is called Jade Windscreen Formula. It contains:
Radix Astragali Membranacei (Huang Qi)
Radix Saposhnikoviae Divaricatae (Fang Feng)
Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Bai Zhu)
It is suggested to take the formula 1-3 months before the cold season comes to help prevent the onset of the common cold and strengthen the defensive qi. While most Chinese herbal remedies require a prescription, there are certain brands that make the Jade Windscreen Formula that you can get without one.
It’s 1976, and my mom and dad are sitting quietly with their eyes closed, hands resting upward — thumb and index finger touching — while my younger siblings crawl on their backs and shoulders. My older two brothers and I sit nearby, holding our own meditation poses, bored, rolling our eyes and counting the minutes until this ritual will end.
At least once a week or whenever things got stressful, my parents would pull all five of their children — ranging in age from ten to one — into our library for a family meditation. As much as I complained, a part of me yearned for this spiritual practice.
Spiritual renewal is essential to our emotional well-being. It helps us nurture our essence, feel centered, build inner strength, live in integrity, and trust life. It allows us to experience a connection to a higher power, feel a sense of purpose, and experience meaning in our lives.
There are many different ways we explore and nurture our spiritual lives. For some this includes spending time in nature, yoga, prayer and meditation, or musical or artistic expression. Some of the daily practices that provide me spiritual nourishment include:
We all crave sacredness and ritual in our everyday lives — not just around birthdays and weddings. Rituals can be both carefully planned events and casual but regular remembrances such as voicing gratitude before a meal or creating dedicated space in your day for contemplation.
When we mark important transitions or milestones in our lives — whether it’s your daughter’s first period or your son starting kindergarten — we connect to the sacredness of everyday life. We remember that life is mysterious and we’re more than our to-do lists!
Stillness, whether experienced through prayer, meditation, or reflection, is our time to be alone and connect to our inner wisdom or our higher power — what I call our internal GPS system. It’s essential for all of us to carve out time for quiet reflection each and every day.
One of the biggest gifts I’ve received from a daily meditation practice is the ability to live more comfortably with what is--whether that’s my husband’s recent layoff or a car accident. Life is like the weather in Texas — constantly changing. Meditation has helped anchor me, so that despite this impermanence and turmoil, I’ve learned how to be still and find my center in the face of it all.
Practicing Service to Others
Mother Teresa says, “The fruit of love is service.”
We are all interconnected. The more we reach out and are present to one another’s pain and suffering, the stronger we become and the easier it is to embrace the esoteric idea that we’re all one. I believe huge shifts in consciousness can occur when we reach out and help one another navigate this sometimes scary, often isolating and perplexing, but beautiful world. Sometime that might look like serving soup at your local homeless shelter and other times, it’s helping out your neighbor who just lost her husband.
Living in the Present
Many great spiritual teachers believe the answer to everything is to just “be here now,” and that our suffering and emotional distress would end if we simply stopped resisting the present moment.
One weekend as I sat on the couch with a full-body cold: a splitting headache, body chills and a nonstop runny nose, I thought about this principle. And, as I watched the things I was missing fly out the window — my friend’s birthday party, my son’s piano recital — I connected to my breath and felt myself arrive in the present moment. I sensed my resistance begin to dissipate and a feeling of peace slowly settled over me. I temporarily suspended my desire for things to be different and I embraced that on the couch, with a cold, was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Three of my immediate family members died unexpectedly between my twenty-sixth and thirty-fourth birthdays. For years I let those losses dictate how much and how often, I could experience joy. Anytime I started to feel light, free, or happy, the old feeling of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” would creep in.
Can you only be happy if things are going your way and all the stars are aligned in your favor?
I believe we’re born with the innate capacity to experience emotional well-being and joy; it’s our birthright to feel good. Happiness comes from within; we’re wired for it. We just have to remember to choose this moment to moment.
It’s easy to forget who we really are. To lose sight of what really matters. To fall asleep and not remember how interconnected we all are and that we’re fully human and, at the same time, divine.
A regular spiritual practice — whether that’s daily prayer or meditation, being in a spiritual community, or singing— serves to anchor us. It grounds us and helps us navigate the challenges we face from just being human. It helps us stay awake.
So ultimately, we can begin to let go, trust the rhythm and flow of life and relax into the beauty of our true nature.
Austin-based life balance coach/speaker Renée Peterson Trudeau is president of Career Strategists and the author of the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. Thousands of women in ten countries are participating in Personal Renewal Groups based on her first book, the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Visit her online at www.ReneeTrudeau.com
AOMA director of community relations, Sarah Sires Bentley talks about qi (pronounced "chi") and the practice of qigong, specifically Sheng Zhen Qigong, and its benefits. In addition to the physical fitness benefits of most exercise routines (improved circulation, weight loss, etc.) Sheng Zhen Qigong also offers mental and spiritual benefits such as stress relief, a calm mind, and an ability to handle stressful or painful situations. Similar to meditation, yoga, or stillness techniques, qigong offers many benefits to the mind, body and spirit.
AOMA also offers this class and similar classes to the public in addition to its regular graduate coursework.
Sarah Sires Bentley talks about qi (pronounced "chi") and the practice of qigong, specifically Sheng Zhen Qigong, and its benefits. In addition to the physical fitness benefits of most exercise routines (improved circulation, weight loss, etc.) Sheng Zhen Qigong also offers mental and spiritual benefits such as stress relief, a calm mind, and an ability to handle stressful or painful situations.
Learn the simple qigong movement called "Gathering Healing Qi from the Universe" that you can do from your home. These exercises will help you relieve stress and escape from the busy, hectic lives we often lead. Similar to meditation, yoga, or stillness techniques, qigong offers many benefits to the mind, body and spirit. AOMA also offers this class and similar classes for free in addition to its regular graduate coursework.