A woman stretches in a side triangle yoga pose outdoors along a park pathway in NE Portland, dressed in gray athletic wear.

Thinking Preventatively: How Treatment During the Summer Can Create a Healthy Winter

Summer is nearly here in Portland, and generally everyone is feeling better for it. Spring and Summer are predominantly Yang phases of the year, as opposed to Fall and Winter which are predominantly Yin phases. Yang is outward, expansive, warmth, light, movement, daytime, awake, motivated, get things done energy. Yin is anything yang is not; inward, contraction, cool, dark, stillness, night time, sleep, rest and recuperation.

Nature reflects this energy. In Spring, young shoots appear, reaching for the faint sun. By the time the sun reaches it’s peak, the mature plants are bearing fruit and vegetables in abundance. Come Fall, plants are beginning to wither and die, shedding their tired leaves, and when Winter comes around, nature takes a rest to sleep.

This interplay of Yin and Yang is reflected in our daily rhythm; we wake as the sun comes up and are active during the day (Yang), and as night falls, we have the opportunity to rest (Yin). Yin and Yang wax and wane and are both equally necessary. Chinese Medicine Practitioners are aware of the seasonal and circadian changes in Yin and Yang and how our bodies follow suit, and we work closely with this energy in our treatment approaches, considering your constitution and the time of year as part of the picture. The real power and ability of Chinese Medicine lies in prevention. According to Chinese Medicine theory, the best time to treat symptoms that are exacerbated by cold damp weather in Winter, is during the Summer months. The best time to treat symptoms that flare in Fall, is during the Springtime, and so on.

 Two conditions that come to mind that are generally exacerbated during the cold, dark, damp winter months, are Arthritis and Asthma. During this Yin time of year, our Yang energy has retreated within, just as it is does at night time, which in the daily circadian rhythm is equivalent to Winter. The best thing to balance the periods of cold, dark, damp is healthy Yang energy at our core. And when is that Yang energy awake? Summer! That is when we can best access and support Yang energy because it’s out to play. If we can support Yang energy with needles, moxibustion and herbs during summer, when it is strong and receptive, you will have better health and feel more balanced in Winter. If you always seem to get bronchitis, lingering coughs or joint pain during the winter, see your Chinese Medicine Practitioner regularly during the summer months.

You could think of it as follows; is it more productive to have a conversation with someone when they are awake or asleep? If I wanted to get in touch with you about the next day, would I call you at 3am? No, I would call you during the day when you are awake and receptive. If we want your Yang energy to support you during the winter months, we communicate with it during the summer. This is thinking ahead, proactively, with prevention in mind.

A great teacher of mine, Dr Jun Zhang, recommended the following for the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, the peak of Yang energy: “Take lamb (the “hottest” meat) and cook it with Fuzi (the most warming herb in the Chinese Pharmacopeia) to make a stew. Eat it, and also burn moxa (a herb that sends heat deep into the channels) over ST36 (a specific acupuncture point on the Yang Brightness channel), and you will suffer less in winter”. According to Dr Zhang eating hot stew with warming herbs and performing Yang tonifying warming treatments at the peak of Summer, which might sound counter intuitive, was what would help us most during the winter months.

Your Chinese Medicine Practitioner can apply these principles to your treatments and herbal formulas. On a practical level this advice can be as simple as putting on layers as the evening chills and eating enough warm cooked food and drinking ginger tea to balance the ice cream and cooling salads of the season. Our Yang energy does not like cold and it is easy to mistreat it in the warm Summer months, leaning towards cold food and iced drinks, and then wonder why Winter is miserable. Our Yang energy keeps us healthy, our blood warm and protects us from colds and flu. The strength of our internal Yang during the winter months is much dependent on how it is treated in Summer when it is most accessible. Waiting till winter when Yang is relatively dormant is not the optimum time to support it.

As the Nei Jing Su Wen, the 3000 year old Classical Text of Chinese Medicine tells us “In the old days the sages treated disease by preventing illness before it began, just as a good government or emperor was able to take the necessary steps to avert war. Treating an illness after it has begun is like suppressing revolt after it has broken out. If someone digs a well when thirsty, or forges weapons after becoming engaged in battle, one cannot help but ask: Are not these actions too late?”

So while you might be enjoying improved health, vitality and mood during the Summer months, remember that Winter is just around the corner.