The Secret To Keeping Your Cool Isn't What You Think It Is
The typical reaction to summer heat looks a little bit like this: ice in our coffees, AC on blast, fruit for breakfast, salads (and ice cream) on the daily, and eating / wearing / drinking virtually anything we can that will keep us cool. But still, summer colds are all too common, and they may be caused by more than late nights and the seasonal intake of daily rosé. Likewise, how we treat our body in the summer may have something to do with why wintertime leaves us more weak, sick and fatigued...
On a superficial level, cold gets rid of hot, right? Fans and AC do stop us from sweating in the same way as if we were to throw ice on a flame, and it will extinguish. But that’s exactly it. Cold extinguishes hot, often in such an extreme way that it poses a danger to our health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the idea of ‘yang’ is a hot, firey, masculine energy that is just as crucial to our existence as its counterpart, ‘yin’. So when the heat of summer is telling us to be more yang, we shouldn’t be obstructing this seasonal flow, but rather, working with it.
There’s a reason we see populations in some of the hottest climates, such as India, drinking tea all day. In a city like New York, every barista assumes you want your coffee on ice this time during the warm months, because it would be insane otherwise, right? We Westerners are actually getting it wrong. Back to that ice extinguishing a flame image: if your stomach is your internal fire — digesting and metabolizing everything you eat — why would you want to switch it off? Contrary to what you may want to hear, iced drinks, cold water and frozen smoothies are possibly the worst thing you could be consuming in the summer time (or ever, for that matter…). TCM (as well as Ayurveda!) believes these cold extremities to be the culprit of weak digestion, weight gain, impaired immunity, nutrient absorption and circulation and disturbed bowel function. So please, take your drinks warm (or at least room temperature), as it will actually cool you down! Ice triggers the body to use energy to compensate for the change in body temperature, therefore heating you up more!
The same goes for food. Since the stomach is most active each morning between 7-9am according to the TCM 24 hour clock, skip the refrigerated fruit bowls and start your day with something more warming like rice, toast or sweet potato. Ginger is your best friend on summer mornings, when yang energy is at its peak. Evening is the time when you can finally indulge in cooler foods that nourish your ‘yin’ energy. Chinese theory recommends cooler foods like daikon radish as the sun goes down, to follow the cooling of the day.
And as for the important part that nobody wants to hear: turn the AC down. This may sound completely crazy to any New Yorker in a sticky month like August and even the 90 degree day in September, but this artificially cold air is incredibly damaging to health. The all too frequent and quick transitions we make from stifling hot outdoor air to blasting air conditioning poses a shock to the body in many ways. Our blood vessels begin to constrict at lightening speed, causing a strain on the heart — the organ that rules in the summertime (heart-attacks have commonly occurred for this reason). The lungs suffer from the contrasting air temperature they are breathing in, which eventually leads to the notorious ‘summer cold’, especially when paired with immune-suppressing quantities of alcohol and summer partying. Finally, when the warm weather is opening your pores and making you sweat, stepping into an air-conditioned cold room will simply block your pores and lock in cold energy into your body. Sweating is natural and good for us, it means the body is detoxifying. No need to lock these toxins into your body unnecessarily.
If we use natural healing as a tool and assessment of the human body by avoiding any obstruction of summer yang energy, the body benefits year round. The transition into fall — the season ruling the lungs and respiratory system in TCM — won’t leave you feeling so sniffly and depleted, and winter will also give you a chance to thrive, and we deserve to feel sexy while doing it.