Summer is many peoples' favorite season.
Generally, summer makes us feel better because it allows for spending more time outside. Being outdoors increases our exposure to the sun, which synthesizes Vitamin D in our body (which is good for our bones), and boosts our serotonin (the “happiness hormone”) levels because we tend to move more.
However, summer also brings a risk of getting over-stimulated by our enthusiasm to do too much, stay in the sun too long, and drink too many iced coffees or alcoholic cocktails. This may lead to feelings of irritation and agitation, which will impede your summer joy and make you long for winter.
Those agitated feelings are easy to prevent, however, when you know how to balance the Fire Element in you. Once you do this, your summer will become even more enjoyable.
In a previous post, I outlined the Five-Phase Theory: the notion that there are five elements in nature that cycle in phases through the seasons and our organs. These elements are Earth, Water, Wood, Metal and Fire.
Fire is the element of passion and connection, and is associated with summer. It directs us to find a balance between spending too much time alone (withdrawal and isolation) and being overly outgoing and losing ourselves (embracing and merging). The fire element helps us to direct our focus.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the heart and small intestines are considered to have the same energetic qualities and seen as a pair, and are connected to the fire element. The heart stores our Shen (or spirit) and anchors our mind. According to TCM, the heart rules our blood and blood vessels, and regulates our blood flow, heartbeat, and pulse. The heart blood embraces the heart spirit to allow it to peacefully disconnect from the world into sleep. When Fire is quenched it may lead to anxiety, heart palpitations and insomnia.
A healthy chi flow will nourish Fire. If the flow of chi through the heart and small intestines is deficient, we will feel disconnected, lost, and depressed. Conversely, if there is excessive chi, we may act excitable, superficial, and seductive.
When heart chi is healthy, we live in a state of balanced joy. We are able to communicate clearly and effectively, and be in touch with our intuition. We sense a passion for life; we are optimistic, enthusiastic, and devoted. Smooth-flowing heart chi allows us to manifest our dreams.
We can nourish the fire element with movement and dance, listening to music, practicing chest-opening yoga poses, and self-expression through writing, painting, singing, etc. The Heart meridian runs (roughly) from the inside of the little fingers up the inside of the arms through the shoulders into the chest and heart. Yoga postures and movements that open the chest and stretch the inner shoulders and arms will stimulate healthy chi flow through the heart.
When there is an excess of chi and the fire element is over-stimulated, as can easily happen in summer, we are best supported by a grounding, slow yoga practice and contemplative writing, or walks in the early morning when it is cool(er). The opposite is true whenever there is a chi deficiency in the heart. During such times, especially in the winter, more invigorating yoga poses or workouts are appropriate.
Finally, a word about nutrition: caffeine and alcohol increase the fire in our system. If you are already feeling (over)heated or irritated, you will benefit more from drinking decaffeinated (iced) coffee and non-alcoholic beverages in order to feel balanced. Enhancing your dishes with cooling herbs like mint and basil is more fitting than eating spicy foods. And did you know that room temperature water is better for your digestion than ice water?
A great breathing practice to stay cool during the summer — or any time you feel overheated or irritated — is Sheetali (or Sitkari) Pranayama: the Cooling Breath.
Here's how to practice it:
- Sit with an elongated spine.
- Extend your tongue and curl it like a tube (Sheetali). If your tongue doesn’t curl (it is genetic; you either can or you can’t!) bring your teeth together and let your tongue float behind your teeth (Sitkari).
- Inhale slowly through your curled tongue, or teeth (the mouth opens a little).
- Hold your breath for a moment as you touch the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
- Exhale smoothly through your nose.
- Repeat for up to 10 rounds, finding an easy, steady rhythm.
- Return to your regular breath and notice any effects from this cooling breath.
You can also watch a video of this practice via our virtual studio.
May you stay balanced and even-tempered this summer!
Guest post by studio BE Senior Facilitator Marije Paternotte
Marije Paternotte, E-RYT 500, offers a unique approach to yoga; balancing movement and breathing practices of traditional Hatha and Tibetan Yoga with the stillness of the Taoist Yin Yoga, awareness of Chi flow, and an emphasize on mindfulness and the Buddha Dharma. Her teaching style is understated and compassionate. She has the ability to present complex concepts, and an in-depth knowledge of yogic anatomy and philosophy, in a simple and approachable way, for which she is loved by beginning and advanced practitioners alike.
Marije was born and raised in Amsterdam where, after her training to be a professional ballet dancer, she studied law and worked as a corporate lawyer. A yoga retreat in Bali led her to the United States where she took her first yoga teacher training. She currently lives in a small beach town in New Jersey with her husband, and teaches yoga workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings around the world, as well as locally. Marije is also a guest teacher at the renowned Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts and the Mandali Retreat Center in Italy.
Marije received both her foundational and professional level yoga teacher certification at the Kripalu Center, and is certified to teach Yin Yoga and Mindfulness by Sarah Powers’ Insight Yoga Institute.
Feature image by Wayhome Studio/Adobe Stock