Summer is a time of exuberance, expansion, and connection, but the heat can burn you out and aggravate you if you don’t know how to keep yourself balanced.
This summer wellness guide will teach you:
- The qualities of summer
- Signs and symptoms of summertime imbalance
- Foods and flavors to favor
- Foods and flavors to avoid
- Summer wellness lifestyle tips to help you thrive
- Herbs to keep you cool and calm throughout the summer
- How to personalize this information for your unique constitution and climate
- Book recommendations in case you want to learn more
Please note that these are general guidelines, and individual needs will inevitably vary. Please check in with your primary care physician before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle, especially if you have a preexisting condition, are pregnant or nursing, or are on medication.
Watch the Instagram Live workshop I did on holistic summer wellness from summer solstice 2023, 6/21/23.
The Qualities of Summer
In both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, summer is associated with the Fire element. The reasons the ancient sages and medicine people made this association are obvious. Summer is hot and fire is hot, but there’s more to it than that.
In order to really understand summer, it’s helpful to begin by meditating on the qualities of fire.
Fire’s energy moves up and out. It is fast-moving and often unpredictable. It expands easily when uncontrolled.
Fire is also where people gather and connect with each other. In Chinese medicine, Fire is first and foremost associated with the Heart, which is considered to be the seat of consciousness, and is equated to the quiet emperor who rules from behind imperial walls. The Heart is also the seat of love and communication.
Fire is also needed to cook food and make it more digestible.
This is also why another name for digestive capability is “Stomach Fire”. Too little Stomach Fire, and you may find yourself with slow, sluggish, sub-par digestion. Too much Stomach Fire, on the other hand, can lead to signs and symptoms that also show up when summer heat becomes too much.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Fire and Water are both dominant and likely to cause imbalance in summer, and this is certainly true when you live in a place that tend to be humid. But dampness eventually evaporates and dries up when heat becomes too strong, so the dominant focus should still be on keeping yourself cool and calm in the summer, whereas the amount of dryness or hydration you emphasize will depend on your circumstances.
Signs and Symptoms of Imbalance
We are all affected by our environment. People with a cooler constitution might feel better as the weather warms up, but if you dread the summer sun, there’s a good chance you already have too much heat in your system. Either way, the fast moving nature of Fire means that summer heat can quickly overwhelm your system if you’re not careful.
Keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms so you can quell your Fire before it blazes out of control:
Foods, Flavors, and Qualities to Favor for Summer Wellness
To counteract the summer heat, you want to emphasize cooling, hydrating foods. If you live in a particularly humid environment, however, you also want to include drying/astringent foods like chickpeas, cranberries, and chard in your meal-plan to balance out the elements around you.
Luckily, nature tends to provide the exact types of foods that help you stay balanced, so it’s almost always a safe bet to go to the farmer’s market and fill up on what’s seasonally available.
The flavors that you’re going to find that are going to help you neutralize the impact of summer heat the most include bitter and naturally sweet foods.
Bitter might not be your favorite flavor, but bitter foods are cooling and detoxifying which are indispensable qualities to keep you thriving in the summer. If you start incorporating more bitter foods into your diet more, you might even find yourself craving them as the weather gets hot!
Naturally sweet foods are nourishing, harmonizing, and grounding. Sweet is the first flavor that is craved by babies for a reason, because it indicates safety when found in nature. Of course, you don’t want to go overboard eating any flavor, and artificially sweetened foods are going to throw your system out of balance pretty quickly. But because of their gentle, nourishing quality, naturally sweet foods are a great foundation for your diet throughout the year.
Spicy foods can also be used in moderation because they help to open the pores and promote sweating. However, you want to be very cautious using spicy foods because the heat can easily tip you over the edge, especially if you have a naturally hot constitution to begin with.
Here are some foods to favor in the summer:
- Brown rice (preferably pre-soaked and sprouted)
- Quinoa (preferably white, because it’s more cooling)
- Wheat (if you live in a dry climate)
- White basmati or jasmine rice
- Beet greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Cucumbers (with the skin on)
- Red potatoes (skin on)
- White beans
- Mung beans
- White fish & meat
Culinary Herbs & Spices:
- Lemon balm
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
Foods, Flavors, and Qualities to Avoid for Summer Wellness:
To keep yourself balanced and thriving in the summer heat, you want to avoid spicy, sour, and excessively salty flavors, which can all add too much heat to the system.
Foods that are most likely to throw your system off include vinegar and other fermented foods, alcohol, peppers, galangal, oranges, raw tomatoes (I know, this one’s hard for me too!), sour dairy products, red meat, egg yolks, raw alliums, coffee, iced foods and beverages, heavy or greasy foods, and baked goods.
Why coffee? Because it’s roasted, which adds extra heat to your system.
Why iced foods and beverages? Because they quell Stomach Fire (aka they slow down digestion) and even though heat is dominant in the summer, you still want to make sure your system is strong and ready to handle the cold when it comes in the fall and winter.
Why baked goods? They are heated for a long time and tend to be quite drying, which are two qualities you want to avoid in the summer.
Most people don’t have to avoid these ingredients all together. I personally enjoy a cup of coffee most mornings, ice-cream is one of my greatest joys, and as an Italian-American, raw tomatoes are something I’m not yet willing to let go of entirely.
But if the summer symptoms of imbalance show up for you regularly (indicating you probably have a hot constitution,) or you notice them showing up, then make informed choices to bring your system back to a neutral and healthy baseline.
Summer Wellness Lifestyle Tips:
The most important quality to introduce into your life in the summer is moderation.
It can be tempting to go out and do all the things when the sun comes out and the weather is warm, and being associated with the Heart as summer is, it’s natural to want to be more social and foster connection with others as well as nature this time of year.
Just be careful not to go overboard and overstimulate your system. Yes, go out and enjoy a barbecue or dance party every once in a while. But also give yourself time to just chill on a porch in a rocking chair with a friend or a good book and a nice cup of peppermint tea.
Exercises to favor in the summer include:
- Swimming, water sports
- Hiking in nature
- Yoga classes
Other activities to keep you balanced in summer heat:
- Coconut oil massage, optionally with rose and/or lavender essential oils
- Cold immersion, cool baths and showers
- Sauna (because it helps to open the pores and promote sweating)
- Short afternoon naps
- Avoid midday sun
- Avoid spending too much time in a hot kitchen if possible
- Avoid vigorous exercise between 10-2 when the sun is highest in the sky
Herbs for Summer Wellness
The herbs that will support you the most during the summertime usually fall into the nervine category. Nervines are usually calming and cooling and help to support the nervous system, which is exactly what you need to counteract all the up-and-out yang energy of summer.
Most nervines work well as tea infusions, but some can also be taken in tincture form.
Set up an herbal consultation to find the herbal formulas that will be most effective for you.
Here are some nervine herbs that are generally considered safe for almost anyone when taken in moderation, including children:
- Lemon Balm
- Milky Oat
Other, slightly stronger nervine herbs you may want to explore include:
- Kava Kava
- St. John’s Wort
As with all dietary and lifestyle changes, please check with your healthcare provider before adding herbs into your routine, especially if you have preexisting conditions, are pregnant or nursing, or take medication.
How to Personalize This Information
Adjusting your diet and lifestyle to complement the elements of the season around you is one of the most powerful ways to promote health. Still, you don’t want to use this information thoughtlessly. Sometimes the climate you’re in doesn’t perfectly match the climate of the ancient medicine people who observed and developed these protocols, so their recommendations might not actually benefit you.
For example, if you live in a place where the summer is hot and dry, and you tend to present with hot and dry symptoms yourself, you’re want to incorporate more moistening elements into your summer diet and wellness routines than are recommended by Ayurveda.
Your individual circumstances might also be different. If you are a young mother, for example, and your child wakes you up in the night, it’s okay to take a nap in the springtime even if the “official” guidelines discourage an afternoon snooze.
You need to honor what your body is telling you it needs right now, whether or not the “experts” say to do it.
Another important thing to acknowledge is that given all the stressors and toxins we are exposed to in our modern lives, being healthy isn’t always as straight forward as we want it to be.
Each one of us is born with a unique constitution, which means that in some circumstances we are more likely to be thrown off balance than other people might be, and in other circumstances we are more likely to thrive. One of the best things you can do for yourself if you want to live a vibrant life is to learn about your own personal constitution and find out what strategies will be most powerful and effective for you given your unique circumstances.
One way to learn this info is to take classes and dive into textbooks to learn the underlying patterns that various physical and emotional signs and symptoms are pointing toward.
Or, assuming —as is the case for most people,— that you don’t have the time, energy, will, or money to structure your whole life around the study of holistic health, you can work with a holistic practitioner who can help you decode your own constitution and guide you, step by step, to make the adjustments that will have the biggest impact on your wellbeing.
If you would like to learn more about holistic and seasonal wellness, here are a few book recommendations for you to explore, (I recommend starting at the top):
- The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook by Kate O’Donnell
- Staying Healthy with the Seasons by Dr. Elon M. Haas
- Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine by Ellen Goldsmith
- Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
- A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari
- The Science of Self Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad
- Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom by Acharya Shunya
- Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth by Dr. Sharol M. Tilgner
Then click here to download your (free) copy of the Bliss Kit and learn 4 more life-changing strategies to help you cultivate more ease, joy, and inner peace in your everyday life.
I can’t wait to see where it takes you!