This week marked the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. We ushered in the official beginning of summer, and so we begin our Five-Phase discussion with the Fire phase. Summer is the season of Fire, the Phase of fullest expression, activity and outward movement.
A quick note: what we typically mean by the English term “fiery,” as applied to people, is actually often closer to the Wood phase in Chinese medicine (and sometimes unbalanced, unhealthy Wood phase).
In Five Phase theory, fire is rather about a social, gregarious, empathetic temperament. Physically, the heart and circulation are closely linked with Fire. Each Phase also has its own sound, smell and color, among other attributes: Fire’s sound is laughter, its smell is charred, and it actually has two colors, both red and ashen white/gray. Imagination, dreaming and intuition are also associated with fire.
The attributes of the Fire Phase as well as Fire Type people, along with some of their inherent strengths, weaknesses and tendencies, can be grouped into a few categories. Think of an actual fire: it is warm, bright, moves upward and outward, and stays in constant motion. Fire is a social phase: its warmth attracts others, and the summer season is perfect for gatherings, functions and festivals outdoors. The whole world seems in bloom and ripe for relaxation and fun. But that is, of course, not the whole story.
Fire offers a variety of challenges, whether you are a fire type or if you have to live or work with a fire type. As basic categories of dysfunction, a fire type may either burn too brightly or burn out. Add to these another challenge inherent to fire: partly because they are so empathetic, a Fire Type person may have difficulty establishing proper boundaries- like a fire constantly flitting and flickering, a Fire Type may either over-identify with others or close off entirely.
When fire burns too brightly, the overall effects tend to be heat and dryness. These generalities can apply to any characteristic of the Fire phase. Joy over-expressed becomes mania, warmth becomes searing heat (either physically or emotionally), and a need for interaction and movement can become exhausting to friends, family and coworkers. On the other hand, when fire burns out, a Fire Type can become entirely withdrawn, morose and hypersensitive. Rather than empathetic and warm, a depleted Fire Type may become distant and cold, anxious or even panicky. Physical symptoms of Fire Phase imbalance include sensations of heat, reflux, inflammation, anemia, and quick exhaustion from excitement.
Fire Type people can live in ways that help keep them balanced, and during the summer everyone needs to make adjustments to stay balanced during the Fire Phase season. The basic idea is to live appropriately in tune with the warm, active energy of Fire, without letting it burn out of control or burn out completely. So, if you’re a Fire Type, consider these as more general rules to live by (with adjustments as necessary, of course), and if you primarily relate with one of the other Phases, consider these as adjustments for the summer months.
Interaction and activity both peak in the Fire phase, so be sure to spend plenty of relaxed social time outdoors and involve yourself in activities that encourage physical motion. This could include exercise, dance, travel or sightseeing; anything that keeps you moving and engaging with the world.
To eat in accordance with the seasons, Chinese Medicine goes above and beyond fresh and local. The spicy flavor corresponds with Fire, so during summer, experiment with adding a little heat to your diet. Be careful, though: observe how your digestive system reacts to the foods you eat. For those with a warmer constitution, a little spice can be a good thing while too much can cause heartburn and other digestive discomfort. In fact, although the general rule of thumb in Chinese Medicine is NOT to consume raw or cold foods or drinks, the Fire season is an exception. During summer, Fire’s warm, expansive, active energy can easily cause overheating, so at this time it may be helpful even for those with cooler constitutions to balance the environment by eating a salad or drinking a fruit smoothie. People with Fire constitutions may find that they feel better with some raw vegetables and fruits as a part of their regular diet, and in summer they may need an even greater proportion of cool foods and drinks- but once again, be careful and pay attention to how you feel. While raw fruits and vegetables contain the most nutrients, that’s a moot point if your digestive system is unable to efficiently extract nutrients from your foods. As a general rule, brightly colored foods, lighter foods with more spice and less oil, prepared with quicker cooking methods, and with less starch and carbohydrates proportionally, are the best dietary combinations for the Fire Phase.
Enjoy the summer, and make the most of the Fire!