Chinese Medicine,  Summer,  Yangsheng

Prepare for Winter in the Summer

There is a saying in Chinese medicine: winter diseases are best treated in the summer “dong bing xia zhi” 冬病夏治. Traditional Chinese health practices are attentive to the interconnections between humans and the cycles of nature. Here, the notion is that disharmonies which tend to present themselves in the winter, especially in those who have a tendency towards yang deficiency, are best dealt with by taking preventative measures in the late summer, particularly a special period referred to as San Fu Tian 三伏天 (sometimes translated as the “dog days of summer”). San Fu Tian, which occurres in three phases that span around forty days, is the optimum time for growth during the summer and the best time to improve the body’s physiological functions. San Fu Tian is sometimes even called the Golden Treatment Period. 

This strategy takes advantage of the fact that yang qi is most prevalent in the environment as well as in our bodies in the spring and summer and is peaking towards the end of the summer. With vibrant yang qi flowing in our bodies, ample blood circulation, and the absence of any “cold invasion” from the environment, we can take advantage of these optimal circumstances and most easily expel chronic cold/yin disharmonies as well as bolster our defenses by easily storing yang energy in the body for the coming winter. Common ailments that can be prevented with this strategy include respiratory illness (including the common cold), digestive system issues, joint pain and arthritis, gynecological issues, as well as just common yang-deficiency symptoms such as fatigue and low immunity. 

Common techniques for achieving this goal include dietary therapy, moxibustion, foot baths and medicinal baths, cupping, acupuncture and herbal remedies. In terms of diet, it is important to avoid overly fatty or greasy foods that overload the spleen and stomach systems. In fact, since the objective here is to drive out “cold” and “damp” conditions in the body which are a well known enemy of the spleen, all general practices that promote healthy spleen and stomach functioning are important. Many people are prone to drinking cold drinks and eating frozen foods such as ice cream in the summer, however that turns out to be a great way to set oneself up for imbalances presenting themselves later in the year when the weather gets cold!

Featured image: Chrysanthemums by an unidentified Qing Dynasty artist. For the Chinese, the chrysanthemum is a symbol of late summer and early autumn as well as longevity.