Anchor the Yang: Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, and Moxibustion for the Summer
Then there are the seasons. In the case of the seasons, classic Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion are as important as herbal medicine. In the winter we prepare for the spring and summer with special acupuncture and moxibustion treatments. In the spring we use therapeutic bloodletting to prepare for summer. In summer we take advantage of the maximum Yang energy of nature to prepare for winter, especially with moxibustion therapy and for certain disorders like asthma, what is called "Plum Blossom Therapy." In this therapy certain areas of the body are tapped repeatedly with a device that opens up the skin so that pathological heat may escape from the lungs.
Of course in autumn we prepare for the winter, again with acupuncture and moxa. It is said in the classics that if you follow these procedures you will dramatically strengthen your immune system so that you rarely fall ill with infectious disease. I have found this to be absolutely true, especially when combined with the correct use of Chinese herbal medicine during cold and flu season.
Biorhythms in Disease and Health
Even during a single day there are transitions. Do you wake up happy and full of energy? Do you feel run down mid-day? (I, for one, believe midday naps are the ultimate in healthy living.) Do you have trouble winding down in the evening? This is the daily biorhythm and Chinese medicine associates different times of day with different organ systems and channels. For example, if someone with insomnia wakes up every night between 11 and 1 A.M., that suggests pathology in the Gall Bladder Qi, from 1 to 3 A.M. so we must look at the liver and the emotional states governed by it. For people that consistently wake up early in the morning, especially between 3 and 5 am, we look at Lung Qi and how it is damaged, especially by grief issues.
Summer is Maximum Yang Energy from the Outer Sun to the Inner Furnace
Now we are in early summer. Summer is the most Yang time of the year, when all of nature's Qi is in full flourish. Apricots are sweet, the butterflies are hatching on the passion fruit vines, the grapes are green and red and black, everyone's gardens is flowering.
Chinese Medicine asks, "How can we take advantage of the fact that in Summer our bodies' own Yang energies are beginning to peak?" Yang energy in the body provides first and foremost heat to the core and the periphery.
Many people, especially females, have cold hands and feet. This is an example of the Yang, manifesting as circulation of warm blood, failing to circulate to the periphery. We call this "yang reversal" in Chinese Medicine, and it can be due to various causes, the most common being stagnation—failure of circulation—due to the Qi collapsing in the center of the body, kind of like a collapsed nuclear power plant. The heat builds up in the center. Pathologically it does not circulate, leaving the limbs cold, but there is huge heat trapped inside, which can steam out pathologically or smolder, leading to autoimmune diseases.
In the summer, the Yang energy spreads, due to the natural seasonal influences, to the periphery. Due to the heat we tend to sweat much, much more.
The motive force for sweat is yang. It is because we have yang energy that we can mount a sweat as a cooling strategy in response to heat; it is the yang motive force that opens and closes the pores and sends the sweat out.
In the winter, when you are sick with a cold or flu, one of the ways you know you are all better is when you can return to normal exercise without any abnormal sweating. If the sweating is abnormal, it means you are still too weak to return to exercise, Specifically it is your yang that is too weak to control your sweating.
Sweating in particular is governed by the Heart Yang. What is important is that we can deplete the Heart Yang by too much sweating, and that, in turn, will weaken the overall yang of the body, leaving us depleted for winter.
Chinese medicine is always interested in moderating natural processes, preventing excesses, and ensuring smooth flow. It is natural to sweat more in summer. But what we want is to ensure that we:
So, for example, while it is normal to bleed during menstruation, it is undesirable to bleed to the point of weakness or anemia. It is normal to sweat in summer, but not desirable to sweat to the point of weakness.
Korean Use of Chicken with White Ginseng, Dates, and Sweet Rice
We can replenish what was lost from sweating (fluids and the Heart Yang that produces these specific fluids) with adequate supply of bright colored fruits and fluids. We can also do what the Koreans do, which is cook chicken with White Ginseng and Red Dates (Hong Zao) with ginger, sweet rice, and mochi.
This dish restores fluids and generate and lifts Qi and Blood, nourishes the fluids to restore the yin, and protects the digestion in a way that suits well the hot weather of summer.
Anchor the Yang with Chinese Herbal Medicine
There are certain herbal formulas, containing the herb Aconite/Fu Zi, such as Zhen Wu Tang/True Warrior Decoction, from the late Han dynasty text the Shang Han Lun/Treatise on Cold Disorders, that are taken by healthy people around the summer solstice for about a week, to anchor the yang and stoke the deep inner fire.
When the outer fire of the sun is at its maximum during the solstice, this is the best time to strengthen our inner sun, called the Ministerial Fire, which correlates quite nicely with the concept of Agni in Ayurveda. When these fires are strong, health ensues and we have the power to process the changes of living. Of course, the mental Agni is equally important in this regard, so cultivation of what Buddhism calls mental culture through mindfulness, meditation, and ethical living play an equal role. While summer is time of fire, joy, and play, the end of summer will return us back to the deeper meaning of living as the natural world withers and the sun's warm recedes.
Why is it valuable to keep the Yang/fire of the body well anchored? First, let’s say that well rooted means the opposite of floating. When we are strong and grounded, our Yang is anchored. This is what we cultivate in martial arts, the stored energy in the Dan Tien below the navel is the tiger, the paragon of stored energy ready to spring when needed. But when this Yang leaves its source, it is like a dragon, and this is what we see with many pathologies involving heat floating to the head and skin, as in eczema, acne, insomnia, and menopausal flushing. If the Yang smolders, and is neither stored well/anchored, nor leaves its source like a dragon, you get the damp kind of heat and toxic heat that contributes to the development of auto-immune disorders such as are seen in rheumatology.
Pathologies involving the dragon of Yang inappropriately leaving its source are variable. When people are angry or emotionally upset and their cheeks flush, that is Yang leaving its source. Sweating is normal yang leaving its source, but abnormal sweating after the flu is unanchored yang pathologically leaving its source.
When we take Zhen Wu Tang/True Warrior Decoction during the summer solstice, this serves to "anchor the yang in its source" so that we don’t needlessly lose our yang. (Again, take this for 3 to 7 days, if you are healthy and this formula is not contraindicated for you. Please ask your licensed herbalist before taking this formula.) This is very important for health and longevity because loss of Yang over time leads to coldness, weakness, and death. Yang provides movement and life. When there is no Yang left, we die. It is as simple as that.
According to my teacher, when you take an herbal formulas formula such as the True Warrior Decoction at the summer solstice, it will keep you cool in summer, because it anchors the yang and keeps it away from the periphery when the periphery is already heated by the external climate, and warm in winter because as you conserved your Yang in summer by restraining it, you now have it available in winter to circulate to the periphery.
Moxibustion: Storing Yang for the Winter
The most Yang parts of our body are our hearts, heads, and spines. The front of the body is Yin and the back Yang. The spine is concentrated stored Yang in the bones and Yin in the cord and discs. As we age we lose our Yang. Also in the winter we need extra Yang. So we prepare for winter in summer by doing Moxibustion along the spine from the base of the neck to the base of the sacrum.
The most classical method is one I really enjoy. Note: You will need some training in acupuncture or moxibustion to do this safely and properly.
Moxibustion on the Spine with Ginger Paste
We start with a small enough amount of moxa so that we can guage the heat and warm without burning. This is critical. Be careful. Ask your acupuncturist if they can perform this classical technique on you, or show you how to safely do it at home with an assistant. Repeat this procedure up to 3 times or until you feel a pleasant deep warmth.
This is an excellent technique for the physically weak, for folk with chronic weak/cold type back pain, for people that succumb to colds and flu too easily, or even for a healthy person who wants to build and store Yang for the winter.
The Mind Leads the Qi: Anchor and Store Mental Yang
One of the ways we dissipate our Shen/Consciousness, or Mental Yang, is with an un-peaceful, restless, scattered mind. The kind of mind that cannot stop, that works when it doesn't need to. The best method I have yet found for remedying this problem is the mindfulness practice of Vipassana. Qi Gung and Tai Chi are also very valuable for learning how to guide the qi with your mind. Other kinds of practices like Feldenkrais train you in body movement awareness.
Dietary and Lifestyle Practices for Summer in a Nutshell
Aside from acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine, let me remind you that during the summer do not get a chill by exposing yourself to air-conditioning that is too cold. Don't place your air conditioner lower than you would keep the heat in winter. If you are hot all the time and crave the air conditioner, that is not normal. It means you have an imbalance that should be treated, otherwise you will lose all your yang much too quickly. Be careful about going from ocean swimming or surfing into air conditioning.
Don't drink iced beverages. Cold drinks and too much raw food, salad, ice cream, too much fruit, excess sugar, and heavy foods, causes stagnation in the gut, which is the root of much illness. Often people crave cold beverages because they have heat trapped in the stomach from food stagnation and bad digestion. This is very important to unblock, as this will be a causative factor in skin and, of course, digestive disorders.
Alternative to Iced Drinks: Juiced Watermelon with Lime, Ginger, and Salt
Yesterday was quite hot, I swam at the beach after walking down from the top of Torrey Pines, and got home overheated and thirsty. I could still feel the sun hot on my head, even though I wore a hat. I needed a lot of fluid.
An excellent alternative to iced beverages in hot conditions is juiced melon, especially watermelon. I juiced mine with fresh ginger root so as to protect my digestive fire/yang/agni from the naturally damaging cold of the juiced watermelon, especially because I used organic watermelon so I was able to juice the peel, which is full of minerals and phyto-nutrients, but is also energetically very cold, like cucumber but more so, almost like gypsum or aloe.
This is actually a great treatment for bladder infection. Once can also cook the peel and drink this juice.
In my case though, I added a little salt and lime, Mexican style. Essentially I made my own Gatorade: Potassium from the melon and sodium from the NaCl. And the salt and lime stimulate your digestive fire, too, balancing the extreme sweet of the melon.
Best wishes for a happy summer.
Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac., has been in private practice in San Diego since 1992. A Magna Cum Laude graduate of UCSD, he began his study of Yoga in 1972 with Kriya Yogi S. A. Ramaiah. The next 12 years involved intensive Yogic practice, including three years in India and Sri Lanka, where he also began his study of Ayurveda. Eyton became licensed in the practice of Chinese Medicine in 1992, and has been the owner of the BodyMind Wellness Center in San Diego since 1997. Eyton offers individual and group instruction in both meditation and progressive relaxation. He can be reached by email or at 619-296-7591.
© Eyton Shalom, San Diego, CA. All rights reserved. Use only with permission.
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