Summer Tips for Happy Lymph
It’s natural to have a few goals for the summer. The fiery element will help us to accomplish these goals. But don’t leave your body in the lurch!
I live very close to a fitness club. From 5:30am on each day, I hear the pacing of cars headed to and from workouts. Many times it’s racing rather than pacing. It doesn’t matter that the street leads to a dead end. That it intersects with a pedestrian path. Or that the neighborhood is residential. When I first moved here I thought to myself that if people pushed themselves as much by foot or by bicycle, there would be little need for the gym in the first place.
We all know what it’s like to be late and have to push to get some place. But the racing bee-line for the gym triggers an ironic reflection. Is it possible that in our fixation to be fit and get to our workout that we are missing the point? That point having something to do with our well-being. Sure we like the belonging of membership, attending group classes, the social interaction with like-minded people. But are we fully showing up when we are always rushing after, no matter where our destination may be?
What does this have to do with lymphatic health? What does this have to do with summer? The lymphatic system is like the yellow Slow Down sign on the side of the road that everyone ignores. The signs we tend to regard are the Green light and the Red light. Yellow lights always get interpreted as an indicator to speed up, rather than slow down. The analogy here is that when we are speeding along in our cars, we are also usually doing the same in our bodies.
The lymphatic system relies on movement and diaphragmatic breathing as a pump. So exercise and movement is a good thing, right? The lymph loves this, right? Yes. It does. However the lymphatic system is slow moving. And all too often in an effort to reach our destination, whether it’s to a meeting, a class, or the end of the lap, the breath gets dropped out of the equation. When we are rushing, often our breath shallows and shortens, which kicks our sympathetic nervous system (our fight-or-flight response) into gear. When this happens our body gets flooded with stress hormones that will burden the lymphatic system (whose job includes filtration of excess hormone and metabolic waste from the bloodstream).
It’s easy to become addicted to stress. It’s easy to become attached to workouts. It’s easy to get fixated on desired results. Especially in the summer! Is all this just about looking good in our summer shorts? If the days are longer, shouldn’t we have more time to enjoy our routines instead of zooming around like hornets?
Actually the summer heat itself has a hand in increasing these energies. The increase of natural light and heat increases the activity of molecules in all of nature, including us. In Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, summer is governed by the element of fire. Fire has qualities of heat, intensity, mobility, metabolism, transformation, lightness, intellilgence, passion. It’s a beautiful and quick energy that peaks in the summer. Who doesn’t enjoy these qualities? But as in all things in nature, too much of anything can lead to imbalance. Too much heat can lead to inflammation, fixation, frustration, rashes and burns on the skin, energetic depletion and burnout, anger, irritability, impatience, increased stress levels, hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, etc. And some of us approach the summer seasons with these extremes already at large! How do we balance these energies?
In traditional healing, we balance things by adding the opposite, and reducing exposure to the cause. It’s very simple. If you are hot, get out of the sun, avoid spicy or heating foods and focus on ingesting cooling ingredients.
intention: to slow down, soften the gaze, and relax/ground each day.
cooling breath: a) simply inhale by sucking air through closed teeth, and exhale out the nose. be sure to pause at the end of each inhale and exhale. b) close the right nostril and inhale and exhale slowly with full belly breaths, be sure to pause gently at the end of each inhale and exhale.
tastes, aromas & herbs: peppermint, hibiscus, cilantro, rose, white sage, sandalwood. (remember that citrus essential oils are photosensitive, not to be used topically before going into the sun) fresh fruits and vegetables. prefer poultry if you eat meat, or freshwater fish. (avoid spicy, sour, fermented, salty tastes). most importantly, keep hydrated!
activities: playful and non-competitive, restorative, listening. this is also a good time to accomplish tasks because the energy and focus can be strong. take breaks, don’t skip meals, don’t overdo. watch the moods to know when it’s time to balance activity with rest, intensity with humor, and so on.
siesta & routines: when our fire is allowed to run free, the result is often a wild fire which leaves the body fatigued and burned out. when the fire is contained, it can be an inspiring lamp and metabolizing factor in our bodies. sticking to a routine and unplugging from media and output is an excellent way to keep this pilot light in check.
It’s natural to have a few goals for the summer. The fiery element will help us to accomplish these goals. But don’t leave your body in the lurch. It’s easy to overestimate our energy ratio and underestimate our need to repair and rebuild. The body can push through it, but ultimately this habit is unsustainable and will lead to burnout, a taxed lymphatic system and compromised immunity as we start heading towards winter. Give yourself permission to lighten your load and enjoy a less-is-more approach as much as possible.