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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Sky

Nourish Yourself in Summer

Yangsheng: Nourishing Life

As a practitioner of Chinese medicine for several decades, I especially love that at the core of this ancient holistic medicine is the principle of Yangsheng —nourishing life. This is rooted in a paradigm that views humans and all life as part of the natural world; expressions of the dynamic interplay between heaven and earth, yin and yang.

One of the primary themes of this ancient holistic medicine that’s been developing continuously for around ten thousand years is living in harmony with our inner nature, with the Tao, and with the natural world. In other words, the focus of Chinese medicine is really about a way of living that promotes well-being and health on a daily basis. 

The ancient Chinese Taoist sages lived in harmony with the seasons and preserved their well-being. Chopping wood and carrying water was their daily life so they needed to keep healthy, strong and to live in accordance with their surroundings and the changing seasons to thrive. Their observations are recorded in ancient medical texts such as the Nei Jing, which gives us explicit advice to nourish our well-being during each season.

Yangsheng, nourishing life,  philosophy and practice was discussed in manuscripts discovered in a lacquer box at one of the Mawangdui burial sites in 1973. These manuscripts, dated to 168 BC, written on silk and bamboo, outline specific practices to cultivate health and longevity and to strengthen the body. These include therapeutic movement (Dao Yin and Qi Gong), diet, massage, adjusting the Qi, meditation, breath work, and other practices still being used today worldwide.

Nourishing Life in Summer

Chinese lore says that during summer the heavenly energy descends and the earthly energy rises and their merging energies creates the abundance of flowers, fruits, and young animals. In summer, our Yang Qi (outgoing, rising energy) is exuberant and reaches its peak. Chinese sages advise us to arise early and to stay physically active to prevent our Qi(vital energy) from stagnating. 

Emotionally, we are advised to refrain from anger or from holding grudges; to be happy and easygoing so our energy can flow freely and communicate between the external and internal layers. This helps us to avert illness in the fall. 

 Summer Earth Element: Nourishment and Digestion

Each energetic system of Chinese medicine has an affinity with an organ system, a season, an element, and other factors. Summer is correlated with both the Fire and Earth elements. The Fire element, which includes the Heart and Small intestine systems will be the topic of another article. 

The Earth element is the energetic axis of the Spleen and Stomach systems and digestive functions. They relate to nourishment, transformation, and creativity on all levels. Emotional/mental states that deplete the Earth energetic system include over-thinking, worry, excessive study, being over-focused, or over empathetic.

The positive aspects of the Earth element include groundedness, sincerity, contemplation, acceptance, compassion, and balanced meditation. When we’re grounded we can tend ourselves, one another, and the earth in a balanced manner without depleting ourselves. 

Summer Foods: Enjoy a Rainbow Abundance of Plant Foods and Herbs

“First, regulate diet and lifestyle.” Sun Simiao, 7th century hermit and physician

Sunshine, warm days, flowers, and tending my garden beckon me outside in spring and summer. In spring I’m busy weeding like crazy along with creating my summer garden.. I tend my blueberries and raspberries and plant vegetable seeds and starts to provide food I’ll enjoy all summer. I love it when the light arrives early in the morning and days are longer. It’s lovely to step outside and harvest fresh greens, cucumbers, eggplant, yellow crookneck squash, nasturtium flowers, and other veggies to create a delicious meal.

In the Chinese lunar calendar, summer begins much earlier than the Solstice which is actually the peak of the Yang summer energy.

Summer is a great time to lighten up on foods and enjoy an abundance of plant foods as they come into season in your garden or local farmer’s market. Preparing more water-cooked vegetables (such as steamed or in soups) and eat way less oil-cooked (sautéed or fried) foods enhances nutrient intake and eases the burden on the digestive system, liver, gall bladder, and lymph system all of which play a role in processing fats and oils. It also increase our water intake and hydration in the hot weather.  

Plant foods — vegetables and fruits, herbs, and kitchen spices —  provide the foundation of a healthy diet. These are nature’s most nutrient-dense foods packed with essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and innumerable phytonutrients (nutrients unique to plants) vital for the health of our body. These valuable phytonutrients provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions and nutrients that enhance cellular health, signaling, and activity. Our cellular health is the foundation of well-being for all the organs, tissues, and systems of the body.

Humans and plants have co-evolved over millennia and they have always provided us with an abundance of nutritious food and profound medicine. Plant foods and herbs provide living foods closest in the food chain to sunlight.  Plants  carry the life force (Qi) in the greatest abundance, converting sunlight to nutrients that directly nourish us. Increase your daily intake of these amazing plant foods whether or not you are vegetarian. Enjoy their natural variety and abundance. Include several servings a day of vegetables and fruits to enhance your natural vitality and well-being. 

Use kitchen spices liberally on your foods and grow some in your garden to enjoy fresh. Drink a variety of herbal teas throughout your day. (We’ll discuss herbal teas for summer in another article.) 

The hot summer months are a great time to  enjoy freshly-prepared vegetables and freshly-pressed vegetable juices that are  nutrient-dense foods and provide a powerhouse of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant compounds.

Creative Summer Salads

While Chinese medicine generally recommends cooked foods to enhance healthy metabolism and digestion, in summer we can enjoy more salads and raw vegetables. Load up your salads with a colorful bounty of vegetables including radishes, raddiccio, roasted red pepper, fennel, cucumber, artichoke hearts, carrots, cucumbers to complement the lettuce and add nutrient diversity.

Include a touch of fruits such as sliced figs, blood orange slices, dried cranberries for a burst of flavor. Complement your salads with a variety of fresh steamed vegetables and a warm, cooked protein like fish, meat, tempeh, or tofu.

Herbs and Edible Flowers

Add handfuls of chopped fresh garden herbs to your salads and cooked meals. Fresh basil, cilantro, chives, parsley, and mint add dynamic energy to meals. 

For a real treat, include edible flowers from your garden for color and flavor.

You can add purple lavender flowers to herbal teas, salads, and cooked meals. Yellow calendula flowers, tricolor purple Johnny-Jump-Ups, lavender-colored chive flowers, blue borage flowers and yellow/red/orange nasturtium flowers are delicious in salads. 

You can easily grow these herbs and flowers in containers on your patio or plant them throughout your garden. 

Make every meal a rainbow of colors!

Listen to your body

What foods feel nourishing? What foods sustain you? Which ones drain you? Observe and listen. 

“Pay attention to your body. The point is everybody is different. You have to figure out what works for you.” - Andrew Weil


Get Outdoors and Have Fun!

As if we needed it, there’s a plethora of research showing the benefits of being outside in nature on a regular basis. You can walk, hike, river raft, garden, picnic, backpack, or just sit quietly by a river or under the trees in the forest and enjoy! 

 Slow down and engage your senses. Take time to relax, listen to the sounds, feel the air and breezes on your skin, smell the forest or or the ocean, and notice how you feel in your body and psyche. Spending time outdoors restores our connection with nature, revitalizes us, and profoundly restores our energy and positive outlook on life.

from my heart to yours,



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