The days are growing shorter, yet there is still light. The air is cooler in the morning and evening, yet it warms up in the afternoon. We are harvesting food from the gardens while we watch and wait for some foods to ripen later. And the kids are getting ready to go back to school.  It’s not Summer anymore, yet it’s not really Fall either – we are drifting into Late Summer.

Most of us have heard of Indian or Late Summer, a warm glowing time before Autumn takes hold.  In Asian medicine (Chinese medicine) this is a special season all its own.  In truth, the season encompasses four particular times of year, not just Late Summer.  Late Summer or ‘Dojo’, as it is called by the Japanese, is the buffer between each of the four main seasons. It is a time of balancing and stabilizing as we shift from one season to the next.  This time of year is all about centering, grounding and balance and it provides us some excellent opportunities to nourish our bodies, especially the digestive system.

Why the seasons matter

In Asian medicine’s 5 Element Theory each season (Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn and Winter) possess their own energetic dynamics and movement of Qi (energy). They ebb and flow from one to another.  Understanding the energetic nature of each season helps us to adapt so we move gracefully from phase to another.  For example – knowing that Spring’s climate is wind, helps those that are susceptible to wind conditions such as epilepsy, headaches, anger and allergies to take appropriate precautions to be less affected by the seasonal shift. Winter encourages us to rest and be introspective, to consider our deepest selves – whereas, Summer invites us to expand  and be active.  We need not hunker down or fear each season, rather having awareness of their natures and climates can help us become flexible and adaptive. We can embrace and benefit from the virtue and blessings each season rather than fight them and make ourselves miserable.

The Energetics of Late Summer

Ruled by the Earth element, Late Summer (yeah, it’s called that even if it’s the Spring equinox) represents the core of the body, balance and neutrality.  It’s the Goldy Locks season, where we don’t want extremes – nothing too hot or too cold – but just right with a little cooling or heating as needed. Maybe a little sour, pungent, salty, or bitter as needed.  The season governs the Stomach and Spleen (and Pancreas) and rules our digestive vitality.  Think of it as the kitchen or center of the home in your body.  These organs that are responsible for transforming food and drink into what what will become the Qi, Blood and Fluids and Essences the body needs for all bodily functions.  When the Earth Element is in virtue (or in balance) we are able to nourish ourselves and those around us in a supportive manner. We give and receive appropriately. In balance, the Earth element gives us strong muscles, vibrant energy and the ability to think and study clearly. Out of balance the body is weak, the muscles become flaccid and soft, there is often obesity and disharmonies of the digestive tract. Western patterns include candida, diabetes, MS, fibromyalgia, IBS, prolapse and failure to grow and thrive in children. When Earth is out of balance, we may become ingratiating, cloying and overly nourishing to the point of smothering – sticky, sticky gooey….

Late Summer Correspondences

Season Late Summer and the transition from one seasons (solstices and equinoxes)
Element Earth
Color Yellow – golden like wheat ripening
Sound Singing
Climate Damp
State of growth Transition and beginning harvest
Odor Sweet, Fragrant
Flavor Sweet
Yin organ & time Spleen: 9-11 am
Yang organ & time Stomach: 7-9 am
Body tissue Muscles and flesh
Sense organ Mouth, lips
Emotion Worry and pensiveness
Soul Yi-thought
Virtue Integrity in form and action, appropriate nourishment
Vice Overly cloying and smothering

Let’s look a little closer

Season – Late Summer and the transition of all season, equinoxes and solstices.

Element – Earth. We look to Earth to be solid and stable and have integrity with subtle stable shifts over time. There may, however, be times when it moves suddenly like an earthquake.

Color – Yellow, golds, oranges and browns.  Many of the Earth nourishing foods have warm and inviting tones and round shapes.  Think of the flesh of winter squashes and whole grains like millet. Make sure these foods are abundant in your diet to bring in the benefits of the element.

Sound- Singing. Those with Earth as a dominant element will have a lyrical voice and often end their sentences on a lifting note.  Out of balance they will tend to have an ingratiating tone or a syrupy voice.

Climate – Dampness. Each Element is prone to a certain climatic condition and Earth loathes Dampness. Dampness bogs us down making us slow and sluggish and unable to focus. It promotes excess weight gain, digestive and sugar imbalances. It softens the muscles, threatening the very integrity of our structure. Dampness exists on a continuum.  Slight dampness might appear as water retention. On the other end of the spectrum it has pooled and congealed long enough to become phlegm and masses. Damp patterns include edema, cough with phlegm, rheumatic conditions, yeast, sinus infections, diabetes, ADD, ADHD  and many chronic pain conditions, cysts and any pattern with lumps and masses. The biggest cause of dampness in most Americans is diet related – excess refined carbohydrates, sugar, chemicals and too many raw, cold foods and irregular eating habits including yoyo or inappropriate dieting.

State of growth – Transition. This season represents the shift from one season to the next.  Summer was the phase when foods and plants were growing the most, by Late Summer we begin harvesting and the shift from Summer to Autumn begins the sowing process of the fields.

plum tree

Odor – Sweet.  People with Earth out of balance often have a sweet, yeasty smell to them. In balance, they scent is softly fragrant, more like sweet flowers, yet not too strong.

Flavor – Sweet.  The Sweet flavor is the most abundant, yet most abused flavor in our society.  Let me explain. Sweet exists on a continuum from empty sweet like sugar and refined carbohydrates to full sweets like pumpkin, whole grains, roots, lentils, legumes and meats. Sweet is abundant because it is the core food for the body.  However, Americans especially have become addicted to empty sweets like sugar and refined grains, which damage the Spleen and pancreas by spiking the blood sugar and providing little nutrition. A full sweet like lentils, roots and grains take far longer to breakdown, provide more nutrients, vitamins, minerals and are packed with fiber which helps stabilize blood sugar.  Whole fruits are toward the full sweet end of the spectrum, while fruit juices land somewhere in the middle of the continuum, being very sweet and often robbed of their fiber, their condensed sweet will trigger an insulin response, so use them cautiously, they are not a replacement for eating the whole food. Read more on Sweet.

Read more on Late Summer Foods.

The organs of the Earth element are bit unique–The Spleen as the Yin organ, actually has more Yang like functions (Transformation & Transportation, it likes to be warm, and is involved in Qi and energy) than any other Yin organ in the body.  The Stomach, though a Yang organ, has more Yin functions (processes food, likes to be moist and cooler) than any other Yang organ in the body.  It’s another balancing act.

Yin Organs – Spleen (& pancreas).  The Spleen is the controller of the digestive function, regulating, balancing and nourishing.

The Spleen governs “Transformation and Transportation of Qi and Fluids” let’s call it T & T.  It oversees that the food and drink we choose to ingest is transformed into Ku Qi (Qi of Grain).  The Spleen then sends the Ku Qi to the Lungs where it is mingled with the Ta Qi (refined Qi of Air), creating Nutrient Qi–which is the basis for all production of Qi, Blood, Fluids and Vital Essences in the body.  This separating directing process is crucial to easy and proper digestion.  If T & T is good, the appetite will be good the person will have normal absorption and regular bowel. They will have energy, immunity and vitality.  If the functioning is impaired there will be poor appetite, bad digestion, abdominal distention and loose stools and dampness and illness will arise.

The Spleen controls the muscles –  In health the muscles and flesh will be firm, strong healthy. The person will feel weak and weary. The state of the Spleen is the most important factor in determining the amount of physical energy a person feels.

The Spleen is the origin of Blood –  Proper T & T is essential for the generation of Blood.  Deficiency of in this area will appear as slight Blood deficiency to anemia.

The Spleen lifts and holds – especially along the midsection of the body keeping the organs in their places. If the Spleen is weak there will be prolapse in the body.

The Spleen loathes cold and dampness –  Too much raw, cold or damp forming foods chill the digestive fire and create heavy, thick and sticky body patterns like yeast, weight gain and edema.

Patterns of Spleen imbalances include:

Spleen Qi deficiency – exhaustion, fatigue, lack of appetite, undigested food in stools, loose stools.  Seen in patterns like MS, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

Spleen Yang deficiency – slow digestion, weight gain, prolapsing of organs.

Spleen Damp – aching muscles, exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, chronic infections, allergies, chronic fatigue pattern, and yeast.

Yang Organ – Stomach.  Under the control of the Spleen the Stomach is responsible for properly “rotting and ripening” our foods.   As the “origin of fluids”, the Stomach requires adequate Yin (fluids) in the form of enzymes and fluids to digest foods. It also dislikes being too hot and dry which happens when we eat too many hot, rich,  spicy foods or dried foods you may become dehydrated. However, don’t flood the Stomach with too much drink while eating meals, which will dilute out the enzymes that the Stomach is trying to churn with the food.   The Stomach is also damaged when we eat hurriedly or fail to properly chew our foods to mingle salivary amylase with our foods.  Slow down, chew and limit your fluids with meals to about 8 oz…it makes a huge difference.

Patterns of Stomach disharmony include

Stomach Yin deficiency—may appear as GERD, ulcers and heart burn.

Stomach Qi deficiency—slow digestion, gas, bloating, sensation of fullness in epigastrium.

To recap–the Stomach and the Spleen together are called the “Root of Post-heaven Qi” because they are the origin of Qi, Blood, Fluids and Essences produced after birth.  If you have digestive vitality, you have health.  Even in disease if we find a strong Stomach pulse the prognosis for recovery is good.

Tissue – The flesh and muscles.  When the Earth organs are strong we have firm muscles and lasting energy.  You can dance and bound up the stairs. When Earth is weak, the muscles will be flaccid, tire easily and prolapse of flesh and organs may arise–like a landslide, the form can’t be held.  It’s a two way street here.  When we support the Earth element with appropriate food it allows the muscles to stay strong or build, likewise physical activity is imperative to strengthen the muscle which will in turn strengthen the Stomach and Spleen.

Sense Organ – Lips and mouth. Any disharmony or condition of these lips and mouth usually reflects a pathology of Spleen and/or Stomach.

Emotion – Worry and rumination.  Appropriate worry creates action.  “Did I lock the door?” You turn and check to see if you did. Inappropriate worrying is worrying for the sake of worry. Yes, some people worry that they don’t have anything to worry about–certainly something must be wrong in this case…yes, it’s an addiction to an emotion.  Rumination is over thinking, constantly getting stuck in the process and never stepping into action. Add a little nervous Heart energy and we have anxiety or pensiveness.

Soul – Yi. Or thought. Yi gives us the capacity to study and have short term memory.  How well do you remember what you just read?

Virtue and Vice – Integrity and reciprocity are Earth’s virtues.  Allowing us to have strength and stability in body, mind and actions.  As well as, to be able to receive and give in meaningful, mutually beneficial ways.  Out of balance, one overly gives and might be cloying and ingratiating.  Gooey!

Here’s to your integrity,