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Daoist Diary: Summer

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 90 - July 2003

Party Time

When the warmth of the summer sun enlivens our beings we feel a real sense of joie de vivre – suddenly it feels like party time as we take advantage of the long light-filled days and nights to enjoy ourselves holidaying and socializing. According to the Daoist view, this is the season of the Fire Element – its direction is south and its related climate is, not surprisingly, one of heat.

As we saw in the last 'Daoist Diary', (See Positive Health Issue 87) the changing seasons present us with a fruitful opportunity to cultivate acceptance of the one thing that is certain – the ever present force of change. The Oriental approach is to help us accept rather than try to block change, as to do so would be very self destructive. Furthermore, those who follow the ancient Chinese philosophy of the Dao are confident that when we learn to observe and align ourselves with the changes inherent in nature and the seasons, we will be able to live a life that is in balance and is thus easier and healthier. However, although summer feels like a time to "go with the flow" and become much more active – feeling fully alive and joyful – we must also remember that Fire, out of control, can burn us up.

According to Daoist theory, there is the potential danger in the summer for the stimulated energies of the Fire Element to cause an over heating, not only of the physical body, but also of the emotions. This can give rise to over excitement and an out of control sense of happiness – the extreme of which is mania. It is thus very helpful and appropriate at this time to calm these Yang energies down. This can be done through Daoist approaches such as Chi Gung exercises, dietary changes, acupressure points and, whilst maintaining the happy enthusiasm provoked by summer, by keeping ourselves cool, calm and collected.

Opening the Chest. Rise up slowly on your toes with hands clasped behind your back. Exhale and return to standing position
Opening the Chest. Rise up slowly on your
toes with hands clasped behind your back.
Exhale and return to standing position

Connecting Calmly with the Heart

Summer can fire up our enthusiasm to chase after whatever it is that we think might make us happy, so perhaps we need to ask – what brings real happiness? Although summer feels like a time to bring our dreams to fruition – holidaying, partying – these dreams can turn into nightmares as we find ourselves sweating in a Bank Holiday traffic jam or hungover from one too many ouzos on a holiday beach! All this urge to activity is more in keeping with the Springtime and so, as we find we are chasing after the illusionary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, far from the chase making us happy, we end up worn out and discouraged. Instead we need to calm down the stimulating Yang energy of the summer – enjoy simple projects that relate to fruitful activity.

Use this time to cultivate the ability to connect with the Heart – the organ associated with the Fire Element and seat of a joy that is calm and centred. Lao Tzu speaks of the Heart centre as being "calm and quiet having great depth beneath it." From that clear and tranquil basis we are then able to accept life as it is in this moment and so access a real sense of steady guidance in our lives. In this way can see more clearly what will serve us best at this time.

The image of the sky is often used in oriental traditions to evoke a sense of the clarity, openness and tranquillity of the Heart. This season of the Fire Element is an ideal time to embark on practising Open Sky meditation, thus calming and grounding these exuberant Yang energies to bring quiet contentment into our lives.

Open Sky Meditation

Find a quiet outdoor spot in the shade of a leafy tree to try this 'Open Sky' meditation. On a really sunny day, sit with your back to the sun and, if the glare bothers you, pop on your sunglasses. As we experience the openness of the sky so we realize the openness and clarity of our true nature at the very depth of our being and so feel deeply relaxed, content and at peace.

Breathe steadily from the abdomen rather than the chest. Without moving your eyes, concentrate on the vastness and depth of the open sky. Feel that everything – all your patterns of behaviour, all your thoughts and feelings, all your suffering – has dissolved like clouds into the steady calm of the open sky. Relax, feel content, free from all limitations. In this way you can start to feel a confidence in the quiet stability of the Heart and begin to sense and have trust in an underlying and powerful source of happiness and well being.

The Nei Ching describes the Heart energy of the Fire element as that which can "guide the subjects in their joys and pleasures". As you learn to connect with the Heart through practising this meditation, you will feel an increased sense of purpose and inner guidance, bringing a contentment that allows you to be truly happy and at peace.

Dietary Changes

The Chinese see everything in terms of Yin and Yang balance and focus on different foods at different times of the year to reflect the changing balance of the seasons. Summer is the time of the Yang energies when everything ripens and comes to fruition – it is, therefore, a time to enjoy eating cool, calming Yin foods, such as tomato, apple, barley, bean curd, mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce, mango, mung beans, pear, spinach and strawberry. A classic cool meal would comprise crab meat – good to combat heat rashes – served with broad beans tossed in butter with a little mint. Duck is also considered a calming food – serve with cucumber to feel really chilled out! Pork with bean curd tonifies the blood, clears heat and is an excellent Yin dish. Colder foods are bamboo shoot, banana, watercress, watermelon and seaweed. A hot sunny day is the time to indulge in a cooling banana split with fruit sorbet, knowing you are doing your best to calm down all that fiery Yang!

Generally lamb and chicken are avoided in the summer as they are considered warming foods, whilst more fish and vegetables are included in the daily diet. Oily fatty foods are also avoided, as is alcohol which is considered heating.

Massage Meridian Points

In the Daoist system of medicine the acupuncture pathways correspond to organs and all of these – pathways and organs – have a field of energy. The main organ and meridian pathways associated with summer are those of the Heart – these are treated very gently and with great respect. In fact, in Japanese acupuncture texts, it is suggested that the Heart meridians and acupuncture points are too sacred to be touched.

Instead, to mark this time of all things coming to fruition, opening and flowering, regularly massage the points on the other important meridians of the Fire Element – those associated with the Pericardium or 'Heart Protector'. These points have the effect of releasing tensions in the neck and shoulders, melting the chest armouring and thus opening the Heart to experience a source of quiet joy. You can self massage or, in the true spirit of the Fire Element – reach out to affirm friendship by giving this gentle hand and wrist massage to another.

• Gently massage the entire hand paying particular attention to these points:
• Point Pericardium 6 – 'Inner Frontier Gate'. This point is found by measuring two acupuncture inches (one inch is equal to the width across the joint of the thumb) above the wrist between the tendons. Use moderate pressure and carefully massage.
• Pericardium 7 – 'Great Mound'. In the middle of the crease at the inside of the wrist, press between the tendons – again very mildly massage.
• Pericardium 8 – 'Palace of Weariness'. In the middle of the palm, press and massage gently between the third and fourth metacarpal bones.

Chi Gung

Chi Gung exercises are very helpful in calming down the stimulating Yang energy of the summer. Here is an exercise to particularly practise in the summertime and so encourage a quietening of Fire energy to cultivate a more tranquil sense of happiness and well being.

This exercise is based on one of the Chi Gung sequence known as the Eight Pieces of Brocade and is called 'Opening the Chest'. It is simple to practise and, in keeping with summer, it helps us to open our Heart energy centre to allow the chi to flow. If possible, practise this exercise out of doors in the shade.

Opening the Chest

Stand with feet shoulder width apart and parallel, with knees slightly bent. With spine erect and shoulders, abdomen and hips relaxed, clasp your hands behind by intertwining the fingers. While slowly inhaling, rise up slowly on your toes and raise your clasped hands upward behind your back but without bending the torso forward. The idea is to stretch the shoulders back as far as possible and so stretch the entire front of the chest. When your lungs are full, release the breath and exhale through the nose while slowly bringing the heels back to the ground and lowering the arms down at the back. Since there is not very much distance involved in these movements they should be done very slowly to keep them in tune with the breath.

When we mark the seasons by making positive, healthy changes to mind, body and spirit, we put back a sense of joy and wonder into our lives. Take this opportunity to practise Chi Gung and self massage of acupuncture points, change the type of foods eaten and spend some time in meditation daily. Most of all, remember at this time of summer sun to take time to develop peace and tranquillity by connecting to the deep calm and quiet of the Heart and so access a true and lasting sense of happiness.

Resources

Hill S. Reclaiming the Wisdom of the Body. Constable and Company. 1997.
Ody P. Practical Chinese Medicine. Godsfield Press Ltd. 2000.
Reid D. Chi Gung Harnessing the Power of the Universe. Simon Schuster. 1998.
Teeguarden I. The Joy of Feeling. Japan Publications Inc. 1984.

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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 is an ‘inside out’ way of thinking about and managing Post Polio Syndrome (PPS). Her practical strategies and holistic approach encourages even Type A polio survivors to slow down and listen to what their bodies, hearts - and even souls - are telling them: "Do for yourself as you have been doing for others." A Balanced Way Of Living is unusual because it includes dietary, natural and alternative therapies for PPS plus a unique Eastern view that outlines meditation, breathing and yoga as PPS treatments. The book is clearly and sympathetically written by a polio survivor who is also a acupuncture therapist and includes many case studies. By following McKenna's strategies, polio survivors cannot help but feel better, inside and out. To purchase A Balanced Way Of Living please visit  www.postpolioinfo.com/balanced_way.php  Vicki may be contacted via vickimckenna51@hotmail.co.uk    www.balancedway.simplesite.com/

 

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