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  • Ivy Chen

Boosting Your Immune System with Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Summer Months

"The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine" is the earliest medical classic in China and a summary of traditional Chinese medicine. The concepts and theories of health preservation within the book are ancient yet timeless, worthy of our careful study and exploration. The book discusses health preservation extensively, with the core idea being "unity of man and nature," suggesting that humans and the natural world are an integrated whole, closely related to each other. Just as there are four seasons in nature—spring, summer, autumn, and winter—humans experience a range of emotions and desires. As nature goes through cycles of birth, growth, harvest, and storage, humans have their own rhythms of activity and rest. Humans must follow nature, adapt to it, and be governed by it. Therefore, the "Discussion on the Adaptation of the Four Seasons to Nourish the Spirit" in the "Yellow Emperor's Classic" states: "Yin and Yang and the four seasons are the beginning and the end of all things, the basis of life and death. Going against this natural order leads to disaster, while following it ensures that minor illnesses do not arise; this is called obtaining the Dao." Thus, the "Classic" proposes the famous health preservation theory of "nurturing life in spring, growth in summer, harvest in autumn, and storage in winter," and "nurturing yang in spring and summer, and yin in autumn and winter," achieving unity between humans and nature through the way of nature.


In the three months of summer, as described in the 'Yellow Emperor's Classic,' this is the time of flourishing growth. The energies of heaven and earth intersect, and all things are lush and fruitful. One should sleep late and rise early, not resent the heat of the day, keep one's will free of anger, allow one's splendor to flourish, and let one's energy be vented as if one's passions lie outside. This is the method of nurturing growth in harmony with the summer energy. To act contrary to this injures the heart, leading to illness in autumn and serious disease by winter." This means that in summer, when the weather descends and the earth's energy rises, the energies of heaven and earth intersect, and the climate is hot. The natural world is full of vitality, plants are thriving, and all things are fruitful. We should sleep late and rise early, not despise the summer days, not get angry, be cheerful and relaxed, engage in outdoor activities, and let the body's impure energy be released without suppressing sweat.


Three issues are discussed here:


1. In terms of daily living and diet, one should sleep late and rise early to adapt to the natural changes of abundant yang and deficient yin. At noon, when the heat is at its peak, one should take a nap to avoid the extreme heat and to nourish the heart and calm the spirit. Since humans correspond with nature, during the height of summer, the skin relaxes, pores open, and the body sweats, releasing impure energy while also letting out yang energy, making it easy for yang to become deficient. As sweat is expelled by the power of yang energy, the more one sweats, the more yang energy is consumed, and the higher the temperature, the more yang energy is damaged. When energy follows fluids and is lost, the resulting energy deficiency makes it difficult to propel blood circulation, leading to stagnation and blood stasis, which can cause cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases. However, in terms of living habits, even though the hot weather makes it difficult to sleep, one should avoid sleeping directly in front of a fan, on the ground, on a cool bed, or in an overly air-conditioned environment, or sleeping shirtless without cover. Also it is the general modern problem, in the summer, people consume cold drinks and fruits, which can further damage yang energy, especially if one stays in an air-conditioned environment for too long, preventing the body's impure energy from being released and causing it to stagnate and turn into latent pathogens, leading to illness in autumn and winter. These practices go against the principles of summer health preservation and natural laws. People should follow the energetic growth of summer, maintain regular eating habits without overindulging, be cautious with cold drinks, have a regular routine, not lie on damp ground, not overexert themselves, protect the yang energy of the organs, and keep the body strong enough to resist external pathogens without falling ill.


2. Calming the spirit and adjusting oneself: one should not resent the day, keep one's will free of anger, allow one's splendor to flourish, as if one's passions lie outside. Specifically, one should adapt to the characteristic of abundant yang energy in summer, which can cause irritability. Therefore, we should lift our spirits, not grow weary of the hot weather, and let the impure and stagnant energy be released. It's important to adjust one's emotions, not to become impatient or angry over busy matters, to avoid frustration, and to prevent yang from rising violently and damaging the vital energy. Maintaining an optimistic and open-minded mood, keeping the spirit peaceful and the temperament relaxed, and regularly participating in sports activities can help ensure that there is no internal frustration, allowing energy to be released peacefully and joyfully, as if one's passions are freely expressed outside.


3. Dietary nourishment: summer is a time of heavy dampness, which can easily burden the spleen, so in addition to choosing cool foods, it's also important to focus on dampness transformation and spleen strengthening. The foods and medicines used not only have the effect of relieving summer heat but also stimulate appetite and strengthen the spleen. These include corn, coix seed, mung beans, watermelon, cucumber, loofah, winter melon, eggplant, etc. Medicinal herbs include American ginseng, lotus seeds, eucommia bark, honeysuckle, poria, etc. On the other hand, may be young and middle-aged people often eat raw and cold foods and ice cream in summer, but the elderly should not follow suit. Elderly people or who has diarrhea symptoms should not indulge their appetites and damage the spleen and stomach. Such practices are not suitable for the elderly and can lead to illness if not avoided.


Any way, all aspects of daily living and diet in summer should focus on preserving yang energy. For example, if one sweats a lot in summer, yang energy is lost with the sweat, so we should avoid dryness and nourish yang, not sweat profusely; nor should we overly indulge in coolness, keeping the air conditioning on day and night, which can cause the skin to close up and retain latent pathogens. Enjoying cold drinks and cool foods can harm the stomach's yang energy. When yang energy is insufficient, resistance is low, making one susceptible to the common cold, chronic gastroenteritis, malaria, and dysentery, which are common gastrointestinal diseases that can arise in autumn.


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