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Daoist Diary - Late Summer

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 93 - October 2003

Going with the Flow

We have seen from this series of articles how the changing seasons present us with a fruitful opportunity to learn the Daoist art of 'going with the flow'. The different seasons – each represented by one of the five Elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water – can teach us to take an attitude that accepts change instead of fighting it. Those who follow the Dao know that, when we learn to observe and align ourselves with the changes inherent in nature and the seasons, we can live a life that is more at ease and thus healthier.

Spleen 6. "Three Yin Crossing". Rotate clockwise five times daily

Spleen 6. "Three Yin Crossing". Rotate clockwise five times daily

When Late Summer, season of the Earth element, arrives, we are presented with a major shift and transformation in seasonal energy moving from the yang nature of summer towards the yin of winter. Consequently, we are presented with an opportunity to cultivate the Earth qualities of stability and centredness within ourselves so that we may accept and flow, not only with this somewhat challenging time of change, but, indeed, with all the changes throughout our lives.

Traditionally the Earth element corresponds to the late stage of all the seasons – "Its influence manifests for eighteen days at the end of each of the four seasons" (Zhang Jie Bing). This end phase is one of great change and transformation – the moment when energies flow from one season and element to the next. In a way, the Earth element is thus the mother that gives birth to all the changing cycles of the seasons. As there is a greater energetic shift at Late Summer – when the flow is towards winter – than at any other time of year, so this time of year has come to be defined as a fifth season particularly associated with the Earth element – source of all changes.

Late Summer is a time to draw on and harvest the nourishing wisdom of the Dao as we face the move towards winter which, like all change, may provoke our inner uncertainties, throwing us into some confusion. By adjusting our diets, practising Chi Gung exercises, and by learning to massage certain acupuncture points, we can cultivate a sense of feeling grounded and stable in body, mind and spirit, and so encourage the attitude of calm acceptance so necessary to handle the change of season more effectively. Thus, we will find ourselves better prepared for the great energetic shift from summer towards the contraction of winter. Furthermore, we will be better prepared psychologically to handle the underlying uncertainty and vulnerability that is often a fundamental reaction to all the changes we face throughout our lives.

Calm, Regular Mealtimes

In Daoist thinking, the Earth element is seen as the centre of the body and is associated with the absorption and distribution of nutrients via the organs of the Stomach and Spleen. We need to respect this hub of activity by ensuring that we do not eat on the run or skip meals. At late summer, start to cultivate the habit of regular and routine mealtimes – eating irregularly upsets the balance of the Earth element. Digestion works best when we take in nourishment at very regular intervals throughout the day. Furthermore, to do otherwise can cause disruptions in blood sugar levels leading to symptoms of hypoglycaemia – shakiness, anxiety and fatigue.

Simple carbohydrates, particularly white sugar and white flour in cakes, sweets, pasta, bread and potatoes, can also cause disruptions in blood sugar levels and further disturb the balance of the Earth element. It is certainly a good idea to take the opportunity at this time of year to understand the body mind connection between the consumption of these foods and feeling off-centre and out of balance. When we eat simple carbohydrates, there is a release of sugar fairly rapidly into the bloodstream and this means that blood sugar levels may plummet later on giving rise to the hypoglycaemic symptoms mentioned above.

To stabilize blood sugar levels make sure you eat foods that give a slow and steady release of sugar into the bloodstream. Slow releasing carbohydrates, such as grains and pulses and fruit and vegetables, give your body energy that is sustainable. Protein-rich foods are excellent for maintaining blood sugar levels and for strengthening the Spleen. 'Go to work on an egg' is a good idea – eating protein at breakfast helps avoid these blood sugar swings. Try chicken stir fry at lunch and save your carbohydrates for your evening meal when you know you need to feel sleepy. In these ways we can strengthen the Earth element and feel more energized, stable and calm throughout the day.

At this time of late summer, start to leave aside the salads and raw foods of summer and begin to eat warm food – eating cooked food in soups and stir fries means the body will be able to absorb the energy from the food more easily. Traditionally, foods associated with Earth are millet, apricots and beef. But be reminded, according to Chinese Medicine, the Earth element is strengthened not simply by the type of foods eaten, but by the way we eat – regular meals eaten in a calm and unhurried manner are just as important as what we eat. In these ways, we cultivate the centredness that is so necessary to accept and flow with the change of season.

Balancing the Centre

At this time of seasonal change, take the opportunity to do the following Chi Gung exercise daily. Practising these movements regularly will help us to be more fully present, grounded and connected to handle this transition of Late Summer and all life's changes more easily.

• Stand in the basic Chi Gung position – feet parallel and shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, the lower back straight and the tail bone tucked in.
• Place your hands on the lower abdomen, breathe deeply and evenly, feeling the breath penetrating into the lower abdomen.
• Lift the forearms and allow the hands to form a circle – fingertips facing each other and palms facing towards the abdomen. Breathe naturally and, with eyes closed, hold the position for a few minutes.
• Now you are ready to harmonize and balance the energy of the Earth element by doing the following exercise.

Raising the Hands

• Stand again in the basic Chi Gung position.
• Raise your left hand above your head, rotating the arm so that the palm faces upwards, fingers pointing inwards. At the same time, lower your right hand with the palm facing downwards and the fingers pointing inwards. Inhale as you push up with your left hand and down with your right.
• Exhale as you return to the starting position.
• Do the same movement on the other side pushing upwards with your right hand and downwards with your left hand.
• Repeat five more times.

Acupressure Points

The Chi energy of the Earth element has two major pathways which correspond to the Stomach and the Spleen. The acupressure points on these pathways – Stomach 36 and Spleen 6 – can be massaged daily to strengthen and stimulate the Earth element and the energy of its associated organs.

• To find Spleen 6 'Three Yin Crossing': This point is found by measuring three acupuncture inches (one inch is equal to the width across the joint of the thumb) above the inner ankle bone and press into the back edge of the inner leg bone. Press in firmly and rotate clockwise 10 times on each leg.
• To find Stomach 36 'Leg Three Miles': At the top of and on the outer edge of the shin bone under the knee. Press in firmly and rotate clockwise 10 times on each leg.
• Acupressure these points daily, preferably between 7 and 11am when the Earth energies are at their peak.

Working with Uncertainty

At this time of Late Summer, we may be reminded of our basic insecurity as we journey on the spinning Earth through, not only this change of season, but all the changes of our lives. We can never control all the outcomes of our efforts, never make our time here into a safe little womb. However, the one thing we do have control over is our attitude towards our feelings of insecurity.

We do not know how things will turn out, but through the Dao we can cultivate ways to work positively with our anxious feelings. Daoist practices such as eating regularly and calmly, practising Chi Gung exercises and massaging acupressure points, will help us to ground, centre and stabilize our Earth energy so that we are more able to respond with a positive acceptance to whatever life presents us. Thus, we find the inner strength to work with and handle all our uncertainties, and find peace of mind – not only at this time of Late Summer but throughout the journey of our lives.


Hill S. Reclaiming the Wisdom of the Body. Constable and Company. 1997.
Teeguarden I. The Joy of Feeling. Japan Publications Inc. 1984.
Ody P. Practical Chinese Medicine. Godsfield Press Ltd. 2000.


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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


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