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I grew up in the Midwest, so I associate summer with hot sticky afternoons, melting ice cream cones and hearing the buzz of the cicadas at night. Now that I live in San Francisco, summer means I need to pull out my winter jacket to warm myself against the chilly fog that rolls in off the ocean.

But it’s all still summertime, the daylight hours are longer, and regardless of how hot or cool your summer experience is, it can be helpful to know that in Traditional Chinese Medicine, summertime is associated with the heart. So summer is a great time to think about things associated with the heart:

  • passions: dedicate yourself to your favorite hobby or sign up for that Spanish class you’ve been wanting to take for a long time
  • intuition: “follow your heart”
  • relationships: nurture your friendships and laugh with your friends and beloveds

Summer is also associated with the fire element, and the time to bask in the sun (with a good sunscreen lotion) and exercise and sweat. In other words, time to play and have fun.

Don’t forget to drink water to stay hydrated, and eat light, by enjoying the abundant summer fruits and veggies.

Ah, Spring Time. A time of new beginnings and of renewal.  

Movement is a theme of Spring and its associated Wood Element, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

redwoodImagine a sapling sending roots into the earth as it starts its journey of growth into a majestic redwood, or a grand leafy oak tree.  Movement.  Growth. Twisting and turning to keep moving toward the sun. 

Planning and vision–of the eyes and of the mind–are also woody qualities.  The emotions associated with this Element are frustration and anger.  This happens when things don’t go the way you planned; the way you envisioned.  How can you grow around the obstacle?  Find your way through a block?

It’s a time to dance and flex those joints.  Wear something green .  Try something new.

  • What is new for you this spring? 
  • What can be refreshed with a renewed perspective? 

A couple of weeks ago I was in New York City and went to see the National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The former home of Andrew Carnegie (actually a mansion that’s worth the visit) was full of cool design items and ideas. I loved learning about sustainability-minded products/projects from Christopher Douglas (collapsible table) and Natalie Jeremijenko (feral robotic dog project).

Most interesting from a “coping with pain” perspective was the work on a 3D virtual reality “game” to help burn patients cope better with their extremely painful treatments. This work by Hunter Hoffman and his University of Washington colleagues lures patients into a virtual environment. Hoffman says:

“Pain requires conscious attention, so by taking the user’s attention away from the pain…there is less attention available for the person to process the pain signals. The more the patient feels like he or she is in SnowWorld, the greater the pain reduction.”

Hopefully, most of us will not have to deal with such deep pain, but we can consider how applying this principle of deflecting attention might help with the headache or back ache.

What mental image/visualization can help you deal with discomfort? Think about colors and cues from nature that will help. It’s no coincidence that the “coolness” of an icy environment and animals and people associated with a snowy world was created for burn victims.

For example, for a headache where so much attention is at the top of you body, in your head, a visualization like this might help cool and diffuse the tension down:

  • Imagine standing in a cool green forest, surrounded by tall majestic trees that are firmly rooted in the ground; then imagine you are the tree, with your feet firmly in the ground.

There are many people who are far more skilled in guided imagery and visualization than I. I will research some good sources, and welcome recommendations. In the meantime, try it out yourself. One way to start is to pull out some old photos or search online for pictures of places that make you feel good.  Look at them, then close your eyes and imagine them.  Practice conjuring up those images.

I love to learn about the healing value of food. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, plants and foods are an important healing source in the form of herbal medicines, and in teaching us about what foods can help us get back into balance. The basic tenet of eating healthy is to go with the flow of nature.

And I believe that is the essence of what Michael Pollan writes of in an article for the New York Times that begins, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

A helpful blog posting on inspired protagonist has paraphrased Pollan’s rules.

  1. Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  2. Avoid food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best.
  3. Never eat food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, or more than five in number. Or that contain high-fructose corn syrup. These are all signs that the food has been heavily processed.
  4. Do as little of your shopping at the supermarket as possible. Farmers Markets are much better food sources.
  5. Pay more, eat less. It’s a lot healthier to eat less high quality (i.e. expensive) food than it is to eat a larger quantity of poor quality food. It’s like beer. Better to drink one really great craft-brewed ale than a whole six pack of swill that costs less than that single bottle.
  6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. People who eat by the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t healthy, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around.
  8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it.
  9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases.

To the last point, I would add, eat like a rainbow-eater. Eat the (natural) spectrum of food colors.

I received a beautiful and playful gift over the holidays, a solar-powered rainbow maker. You stick it on a window, and when sun rays shine on it, little rainbows dance around the room.  It’s delightful.  (And it’s powered by the sun!  How cool is that!)

It reminds me of the colors associated with the Five Elements, a holistic way of the looking at the world.  There are seasons,  colors, emotions, smells, tastes and even times of day associated with each of the Five Elements: earth, metal, water, wood and fire. 

The colors associated with the Five Elements are yellow, white, black/dark blue, green and red.  I won’t go into all the theory of it here, but suffice it to say that we each have all  the elements in us.  In other words, from a color perspective, we each have a rainbow inside.

But often one or two colors in the rainbow are stronger than others.  So what might we learn from that?  For example, when I was a kid, navy blue was my favorite color. I was born in wintertime and was quiet and introverted.  More recently, however, I’ve been salsa dancing and playing latin music.  Coincidentally, I am much more drawn to the color red; it shows up much more in my wardrobe.  I think it reflects a greater expression of my passionate self, and red if definitely a color of passion.

How about you?  What can you learn from paying attention to colors in your life?

  • What’s the most popular color in your closet? 
  • Does your mood change depending on the color of your shirt? 
  • When you’re shopping for clothes, do you gravitate toward a particular color?
  • Is there a color you hate and would never wear? 
  • Has your favorite color changed over the years?

Celebrate the colors that are (and aren’t in your life.)  And see if you might want to bring some more balance.  For example, an all-red wardrobe could be too hot and dry.  Cool it down and introduce some moisture with blues and greens. 

Be inspired by the rainbow.