Late Summer: The Fifth Season

Late Summer: The Fifth Season

🌎 Late Summer: The Earth Season

Late Summer is the 5th season recognized by Chinese Medicine. It takes place at the end of Summer and just before Autumn. This is when Summer with its extreme Yang energy, intense brightness, and heat, yields and softens to the beginning of Autumn, when the cooler Yin energy just starts to creep in. Often, even though the cooler Autumn Qi is beginning to emerge, the weather can feel even hotter than in early Summer. This has to do with the intense humidity (dampness) of Late Summer holding on to the heat of the long days. 

This is the most humid and damp time of year. This moisture holds on to heat much more readily than dry weather. Have you ever noticed how even long after the sun has gone down on a summer night, the swimming pool is still warm? Water is great at retaining heat. This is true inside the body and externally in nature. 

Late Summer in Chinese medicine is associated with the Earth element, which is just one of the five Chinese medicine elements that also include: Metal, Water, Wood and Fire – each associated with one of the seasons of the year. The Earth element is in charge of the Spleen and Stomach organs, which of course have everything to do with our ability to digest and distribute nutrients throughout our systems. The Stomach’s job is simple, to receive and churn our food into a nutrient rich slurry that the spleen further refines into the basic nutrient building blocks needed for blood and body fluid. We say that the Spleen’s main job is to “transform and transport” which means it takes the nutrients from our food and transforms them into the vital Yin fluids of the body: Blood and body fluids. 

🩸 What exactly does a Spleen DO?

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, the Spleen takes these building block nutrients from the stomach and builds nutrient-dense blood and body fluids. From a Western perspective, the Spleen regulates the amount of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in the bloodstream. From both perspectives, a weak Spleen can result in blood deficiency, fatigue and blood chemistry imbalances like anemia.

The Spleen is also in charge of a healthy lymphatic system and lymph movement. You can think of the Spleen as the Commander of the lymph nodes to make sure lymph can move properly through the system. It also produces White Blood Cells, which are in charge of fighting intruding pathogens that make their way into the body, as well as cleaning up inflammation. An unhappy Spleen will allow dampness and inflammation to accumulate in the body, creating mucus and stagnation. This unbalanced environment is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, yeast, viruses, and all manner of unwanted pathogens to thrive, which no one wants.

On a mental and emotional level, the Earth element is in charge of ‘digesting’ your thoughts and cultivating your mindset. In balance, a strong Spleen/Stomach can give us clear, balanced thinking, learning, and digesting of information. A soggy, tired, or cold Spleen/Stomach can leave us with brain fog, feeling creatively stuck or bogged down, and can leave us stuck in terrible thought loops or worry/rumination patterns. Pay attention to your mindset and take the steps you can to break habits of worry while also strengthening the physical Spleen/Stomach Qi too for a clear mind!

The Earth Element is all about the Center. In Chinese Medicine when talking about warming digestion and increasing blood flow to the GI organs we will often use the phrase “warm the center.” We think of the Earth Element as being our center, our mid-point, our grounding and coming back to Self. This is a good time of year to pull on practices that support this goal of aligning with our own center. What practices can you think of that will support you in that? Mindfulness practices come to mind for me; things like guided meditation, yoga, breath work, Qi Gong, simply listening to my body and spirit to take inventory of my needs that otherwise get drown out in the chatter of daily chaos. Focusing on practices that help you break the “thought loop” that can so often just play in the background, or worse yet in the foreground of our minds. This ruminating thought pattern costs us SO MUCH vital Spleen/Stomach qi. Let’s save that energy for digesting food and stop letting it get siphoned away by unhelpful worry!

🧡 What does a Spleen really want?

The Spleen is very particular about the environment that it prefers to exist in. The Spleen hates to be too damp and it hates to be too cold. It gets soggy very easily and finds it difficult to get moving on its Transforming and Transporting. You know by now that what happens in our environment is often mirrored in our bodies, so during this time of year when it's super humid and damp out, the Spleen also happens to be receiving the most Qi that it gets all year. That’s not a coincidence, right? In order to do the job well, the Spleen needs an extra boost to work through this muggy weather. Makes sense, I think we all kind of feel that way, yeah?

In terms of cold, we don’t have to worry about freezing out the Spleen too much in Late Summer because of the weather, but as modern humans with access to air conditioning and ice cubes, we DO tend to make things difficult on our poor Spleen. Because there are no tiny Spleen sweaters that I am currently aware of on the market, we need to make sure to keep the internal AC at a reasonable Spleen-friendly temp if we want it to be able to work. 

There are certain things we can do to really help out the Spleen in the Late Summer, all of them centered around the idea that we need to make its job easier, and do as much work for it as we can so it doesn’t wear itself out slogging through the internal swamp that is Late Summer. Every part of the digestive process costs a little bit of Qi (energy) to complete. This starts with the Stomach’s churning and breaking down, and extends to the Spleen’s sorting and distributing. We want to keep habits right now that get this Qi cost as low as possible so that we get the final result as easily and completely as we can. What’s the final result? Healthy, comfortable digestion, nutrient absorption, healthy fluid balance and distribution, good lymphatic movement, healthy soft tissue, good energy and overall health! Ok, that’s a lot of good stuff. So what can we do to help?

🙌 Practices to Align with the Earth Element and strengthen Stomach/Spleen Qi

❧Drink warm liquids, or at least room temp. Avoid excessive ice!

Avoid raw foods. Raw foods take a lot of Qi to break down into their nutrient-building-blocks, and if the Stomach and Spleen are in any way impaired, you are doing more harm than good with that salad. 

❧Eat yellow and orange foods. The Spleen loves this color, it would definitely choose a yellow sweater if it could….

❧Eat naturally sweet foods, especially foods that have a yellow or orange color palette. Try sweet potatoes, winter squash, cooked whole grains like rice, oats, millet etc. 

Avoid dairy products. Dairy is hard to break down and costs a lot of Qi to do so.

Get moving! Our spleen controls the soft tissue/muscle layer of the body. This is a great time to do gentle walking and stretching to keep our bodies in motion. Less of the more aggressive and sweaty exercising of the Summer (sorry Heart, your season is wrapping up but we still love you!) and more of the yoga, walking, stretching kind of exercise that really helps circulation to the soft tissue.

Break the worry-cycle. Don’t let yourself indulge in rumination and worry. We’re all human, and if you love anything, you’ll worry about it sometimes, but don’t let this become a predominant mindset. Excessive worrying is the fastest way to deprive your Spleen and Stomach of the vital Qi they need.

Ground yourself in the earth- This season is all about the Earth Element, after all. Take off your shoes, walk around on the earth, get dirty, get earthy, get outside and immerse yourself in Earth Qi.

😖 How to tell if your Spleen is unhappy

So what are the physical imbalances that show up during Late Summer? It’s all about digestion and moisture balance.  This time of year we want to keep an eye out for signs that our bodies are moving fluid appropriately and not accumulating too much stagnant dampness.  Because the Spleen and Stomach are all about digesting, we most often will see the first signs of excess dampness show up in the gut. 

Let's talk about the top 3 most common Spleen/Stomach imbalance patterns, plus the herbal formulas and nutritional therapy recommendations which will get that soggy Spleen back in business!

🧊Problem #1: Cold + Damp

If you have too much cold dampness in your body you might notice some of these symptoms, but not necessarily all of them:

‣Loose stool with undigested food
‣Food sensitivities
‣Fatigue after eating
‣Water retention or feeling puffy
‣Low appetite
‣Foggy head
‣Feeling heavy
‣Weakness or soreness in the muscles
‣Excess worry
‣Cold hands and feet

If this sounds like you, we want to warm your Spleen and Stomach and dry up dampness!

Herbal Medicine
Nourish Chinese Herbal Formula
Chaga Chai
Turmeric Turmeric Tulsi Chai
Recharge Chinese Herbal Formula

Warming foods and drinks (in addition to the things we’ve already mentioned)
‣Hot tea and water
‣Hot, cooked foods only
‣Bone broth
‣Avoid ice and raw foods
‣Avoid processed foods and added sugars
‣Avoid dairy products

🥵Problem #2: Hot + Damp

If you have too much hot dampness in your body you might notice some of these symptoms, but not necessarily all of them:

‣Diarrhea, loose stool or IBS
‣Pressure around the center of your ribcage or diaphragm
‣Acid reflux
‣Uncomfortably warm or sweaty hands and feet
‣Night sweats
‣Bad breath or funny taste in mouth
‣Vivid dreams or restless sleep
‣Hard time focusing and calming the mind
‣Feeling water retention or puffy
‣Chronic inflammation

If this sounds like you, we want to drain the excess dampness and inflammatory heat, and restore healthy blood and Qi flow to the Spleen and Stomach.

Herbal Medicine
Digest Chinese Herbal Formula
Clear Headed Chinese Herbal Formula
Turmeric Tulsi Chai

Warming foods and drinks that help to drain dampness! (We still don’t want to eat cold things, that will just make it harder for the Spleen to work!)
‣Melons (cantelope, watermelon, honeydew)
Still avoid ice and raw foods!
‣Room temp or warm water with lemon
‣Cooked whole grains or whole grain porridge, congee
‣Job’s tears/ Coix (This is a delicious GF whole grain that really strongly helps to drain dampness from the body and the spleen LOVES it. Buy it HERE.)

😰Problem #3: Tension in the Spleen

If you have too much tension in your Spleen, you might notice these symptoms, but not necessarily all of them:

‣Constipation with dry or “rabbit pellet” type stool
‣Excessive worry and rumination
‣Bloating in the abdomen and feeling full
‣Frequent urination
‣Tendency to feel cool or have cool hands and feet
‣Feeling puffy or retaining fluid

(Have you ever used the expression "my stomach is in knots" to describe the way nervousness manifests in your body? It's a real thing! Tension and worry have a BIG impact on these organs. Read a more detailed explanation of this pattern here.)

If this sounds like you, we want to hydrate, lubricate, and soften the abdominal tissues.

Herbal Medicine
Eliminate Chinese Herbal Formula
Chaga Chai
Turmeric Tulsi Chai

Warming foods and drinks (in addition to the things we’ve already mentioned)
‣Hot tea and water
‣Hot, cooked foods only
‣Bone broth
‣Avoid ice and raw foods
‣Avoid processed foods and added sugars
‣Avoid dairy products

Remember, our bodies dance to the rhythms of the seasons, and nurturing these vital organs can lead to a harmonious sway through life. May your Spleen and Stomach find their groove, and may your well-being thrive with every mindful bite and sip. Here's to a Late Summer full of wisdom, nourishment, and a joyful belly!

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