The Gifts of Summer

The official beginning of summer this year is June 21. We are rapidly approaching the end of spring blooms and the temperature is beginning to creep upward. To help us prepare for this season, this post wraps up a five-part series about the Five Phases recognized in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM uses Five Phases, also known as Wu Xing or the Cosmic Dance of the Seasons, as a way of explaining both the inner and outer worlds that we inhabit. The Five Phases were developed after many years of observation and cultivating health by adhering to the cycles of nature.

Each season, or phase,corresponds to a specific element and personality archetype.

    • Element. Summer relates to Fire. As an element, Fire blossoms, opens, and manifests. Like summer, Fire is expansive, radiant, outgoing and warm. It symbolizes wakefulness and the development of wisdom and compassion. Whereas Winter/Water embodies “seed and root,” Summer is the time for “flower and fruit.”
    • Personality archetype. Fire types are the Wizards, or those who are lively, communicative, charismatic and enthusiastic. (Here is a link to a quiz to find out “your” phase.)

The themes associated with Summer or Fire are connection and transformation. Summer is about manifesting your dreams and sharing your unique gifts with the world.

In TCM, the Heart is the seat of both the emotions and the mind. Summer is not only about truly connecting with others through our emotions and feelings, but also about living out your vision or purpose. Starting in Winter, or Water phase, we are resting, dreaming, reflecting and rejuvenating. In the Spring, or Wood phase, we work on developing our vision, making plans to manifest it, and getting things done. In Summer, or the Fire phase, our moment has arrived and it’s time to relax and enjoy it. This current cycle doesn’t have to be about your whole life’s achievement. But whatever big or small cycle we’re in, we’re at the peak.


Gail Reichstein, author of Wood Becomes Water, writes:

“Summer flowers explode from buds, embodying Fire energy in their brightness, their expansion, and their delirious proliferation. Insects dart and buzz continually until the air itself seems to be in motion, while butterflies duck and rise like flames. Through it all, light and heat bear down with an intensity that sears the senses….

Fire on an emotional level corresponds to joy and excitement. In its proper measure, joy warms, activates, and enlivens the body. Joy brings light to the eyes and an animated energy to movement; it opens the heart, and inspires people to connect in warm ways with friends, colleagues, and lovers. Joy also spreads – smiles and laughter are contagious, and people who are happy enjoy spreading happiness to others.”

The gifts of Summer or Fire phase include:

  • Peaceful contentedness.
  • Taking pleasure in who we are and what we have to offer.
  • Being able to receive and acknowledge what others have to offer.
  • Healthy vulnerability that leads to genuine heart-felt connection with others.

How do you know if you are experiencing a full expression of the Fire phase? (imagine a warm, crackling campfire)

  • Are living in alignment with your purpose.
  • Feel mature and comfortable in one’s state of being.
  • Make effortless connection with others.
  • Have heart-felt, positive relationships.
  • Are confident in your gifts and able to express them openly.
  • Have an open heart – are able to trust and surrender to life.

How can you tell if you are under expressing Fire? (imagine a tiny little flame as your campfire)

  • May easily startle, or feel sensitive, lost, or panicky.
  • Protect your heart/have difficulty relating intimately to other people.
  • Try to control other people.
  • Lack Shen – or a “sparkle in your eye.”
  • Have nervous laughter.

How can you tell if you are over expressing Fire? (imagine a very hot, roaring bonfire)

  • Are manic, excitable, or garrulous – scattered, wild, excited energy.
  • Are stuck in “play” mode.
  • Have big, booming laughter (out of place).
  • Can be hypersensitive or overly anxious.
  • Have an outsized presence that may be intimidating.
  • Suffer from insomnia (due to too much excitement).
  • Have many superficial relationships, or one dysfunctional one.

Helpful practices to balance Fire include:

  • Play!
  • Be spontaneous.
  • Find someone to confide in.
  • Laugh!
  • Hugging (good touches only!).
  • Massage (body work) or healing touch (energy work).
  • Mind-mapping or art to find out what you’re passionate about.

Herbs are also an effective remedy for bringing someone back into balance. The specific herbs to take to balance Fire depend on whether you are exhibiting excess or deficient conditions, and on your constitution. In general, herbs that are the most helpful will be nervines to address anxiety, depression, or mania as well as bitters and diaphoretics, or herbs that get things moving and dispersing.

Under-expressed: People who are having trouble kindling their Fire could benefit from herbs that are warming and facilitate movement of the circulatory and/or digestive systems. A good example is cinnamon, which has an affinity for the heart and circulatory system. It’s warming, anti-inflammatory, and helps regulate blood sugar. Cinnamon can easily be added to the diet, whether by sprinkling on food, as a tea, or added to honey or nut butter.

Over-expressed: While Fire tends to be excessive in Summer, it can also become over-expressed any time of the year due to stress, overwork (burnout) or illness. For people who can’t seem to tone the Fire down, bitter-tasting herbs can help. Relaxing diaphoretics like linden dilate the skin’s pores to release heat and tension and mildly stimulate the capillaries. The overall effect is cooling and relaxing.

Mama Nature provides exactly what we need at this time of year (and at every time of year) to assist our bodies in moving from one season to the next. Many colorful foods are rich in flavonoids and tend to be anti-inflammatory and a bit bitter. Try colorful squashes, in-season fruits, and all berries to achieve balance.

If you feel like you have a good-sized campfire going and just want to maintain that, rose is the signature plant for this season. Indulge in rose honey or rose petal jelly or use rose hydrosol. Rose has had a direct connection to our hearts throughout the ages, and TCM associates the Heart system with the Fire phase. With its exquisitely-scented petals and thorny stems, the rose, says herbalist Larken Bunce, “has a great balance between vulnerability and protection.” And that is exactly what we are striving for in the full expression of Summer.

Are you ready to shine in Summer? Do you have a safe place for your spirit to dwell? Can you feel settled and content in your own radiance and open your heart to surrender to life and truly connect with others? Focus on no longer striving, but just arriving to truly embody this season.


  1. Beinfield, Harriet and Korngold, Efrem. Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. Print.
  2. Reichstein, Gail. Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life, New York: Kodansha USA, Inc, 1998. Print.
  3. Larken Bunce. Five Phases: The Nature of Your Health. Nov. 2015. Webinar.