Living seasonally – Tune into Summer

Read how to adapt your lifestyle, diet and yoga practice to tune into Yang energy of the Summer season.

Summer fields

In all countries that experience the seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, there’s a very different energy depending upon which time of year you find yourself in. Look outside in Winter, and the trees look nothing like they would at the height of Summer. Look outside in Spring, and the lime-green leaves, rainbows of flowers and blossoming plants you might be able to see are nowhere to be seen when Autumn arrives. Just as nature changes and morphs from month-to-month, so do we, because we’re all part of nature too!

As you may have read in my Tune Into Spring article, humans have evolved with an intimate connection to nature, wrapped up in it and aligned with the changing seasons. However, around 12,000 years ago when humans shifted from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer style of living to a more agricultural farming lifestyle, we began to slowly disconnect from nature. Today, research shows that most adults in the UK and USA spend 90% of the day indoors, and less than 5 hours per week in nature – whether that’s a local park, forest or nature reserve.  

Remember that the foods we eat, the amount of sunlight we’re exposed to, the types of movements we engage in and the hours of sleep we get are all ‘information’, telling our bodies what season it is and what time of day it is, thus impacting everything on a physical, mental and emotional level. Eating seasonally (and locally if possible) provides our bodies with the exact nutrients we need in order to thrive in that particular season. When we align our lifestyle with the length of day too – waking early in Summer and a little later in Winter, for example – we also give our body the signals it needs to feel well year-round.

Want to tune into Summer and the powerful energy this season has? Read on!

Summer – The peak of ‘Yang’ energy

If Spring is all about making plans and gradually emerging from Winter hibernation, Summer is the time when we put those plans into action, feeling motivated and full of energy. Whilst the darkness of Winter is conducive to a ‘Yin’ lifestyle of lots of rest and introversion, the height of Summer is also the height of extroversion, and the time to embrace all that life has to offer. Summer is the time to say ‘yes’ to invitations, to get stuck into projects and passions, to travel and explore, and infuse as much fun into your day as possible.

Take a moment to reflect upon how much ‘fun’ you include in your life – when was the last time you did something purely for the joy of it? When was the last time you had fun? If it’s been a while, try writing a list of 10 things that you consider fun, and that you really enjoy, then commit to engaging with at least one of these activities each day throughout Summer. 

In his book The 4 Season Solution, Dallas Hartwig links each season to a certain hormone within us too, and Summer is seen as the ‘dopamine’ hormone; think pleasure, joy, bursts of happiness and motivation, and excitability. Engage with the activities that make you feel excited and joyful, take part in games, fun-runs, and anything that brings you joy.

In order to participate in all the action and excitement of Summer, it’s important to have given yourself enough rest and rejuvenation in Autumn and Winter. So if the idea of jumping head-first into this season sounds exhausting, it’s probably a sign that you need to slow down in the more ‘yin’ seasons of Autumn and Winter. With enough rest and time to re-set, you’ll be ready to Spring back into life as the energy shifts again.        

Low-intensity movement 

With longer days and more sunlight, we’ve evolved to be active for long periods of time throughout Summer days, when we’d naturally be foraging, traveling and socially connecting from sunrise to sunset. The key aspect when it comes to movement in Summer however, is that it’s low-intensity. A hardcore high-intensity workout in the middle of a hot Summer’s day can be damaging and exhausting for the body. Instead, opt for long walks, hiking, swimming, or sports games with friends as your form of non-yoga movement this season.

To balance the intensity of heat and humidity in Summer, Ayurvedic texts like the Ashtanga Hridayam advise spending the hottest part of the day ‘Happily in the company of friends engaged in pleasant games, pastimes and storytelling, in forests or gardens which have cool breeze from south direction, with plenty of reservoirs of water all around’. We can adopt this advice by spending this time in shady woodland, in the garden or near water, and engaging in activities that are light-hearted and playful. 

Sunshine – Boost your mood

One of the biggest and often overlooked aspects of health, is having a well-balanced body clock. When our own body clock or ‘circadian rhythms’ are aligned with the rhythms of the day, we’re much more likely to experience good energy levels and optimal sleep, healthy digestion, and healthy hormones. There are four big players when it comes to setting the body clock: light, food, movement and social interaction.

Summer is the season when we can make the most of the morning sunlight to get our internal rhythms back on track, which has a huge impact on getting good quality sleep too. When we step outside in the morning, light receptors in our eyes absorb the natural ‘blue’ lightwaves that are more prevalent from sunrise to around 11am. These lightwaves send a message to the brain that it’s daytime. When the brain gets this message, it’s a little like turning the key in an engine; our digestive system starts to rev up, we can focus more, we feel more energised and ready for the day.

Remember I mentioned before that Summer is linked to the ‘pleasure’ hormone dopamine? Well, it turns out that when we get this dose of morning sunlight, it triggers a dopamine release into the body, giving us a natural mood boost to start the day. Dopamine isn’t just about pleasure however, it’s a neurotransmitter responsible for motivation too. With a morning dose of dopamine, we’re more motivated to approach the day with energy, vibrancy, and enthusiasm. We’re also more likely to feel motivated to repeat the positive action of getting outside in the morning that made us feel so good! Studies show that the later this light exposure happens, (if we sleep in or stay indoors for long periods of time) the more likely we are to feel depressed and lethargic, unmotivated and sluggish throughout the rest of the day.

Ancient yogis knew the power of morning sunlight, and some of the earliest forms of Surya Namaskar or the ‘Sun Salutation’ didn’t involve movement, but focused instead on sun-gazing – looking towards the sky at sunrise and sunset. (If you practice this, be sure to never look directly at the sun!). 

To make the most of morning Summer sunlight, try stepping outside within 30 minutes of waking. It only takes around 5 to 10 minutes for the light to have a positive and awakening effect on the body, so you could move through a few rounds of Sun salutations, sip your morning coffee, or practice a pranayama technique whilst you’re there. 

Summer foods and herbs

With more movement and activity throughout Summer, there also comes a little more oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the natural reaction of cells and tissue breaking down when we move and exercise, and spend time in lots of sunlight. Whilst it might sound scary, this reaction happens all the time; tissues break down, repair and become stronger again.

In order to prevent oxidative stress from becoming damaging when we’re engaging in a more ‘yang’ lifestyle in the Summer, it’s useful to consume more foods high in antioxidants. Of course, nature knows this, and so many of the foods in season during Summer are rich in them! Opt for strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries and blackcurrants, beetroot, broccoli, and peppers, which are all high in antioxidants and vitamin C. 

If you love juicy fruits like melon and papaya, or sweet bananas and pineapple, this is the season to indulge in them. If you’re living seasonally, moving regularly throughout the day and getting enough sunlight exposure, your body is more likely to digest carbohydrates and fruits well, and you may notice these are the foods you’re craving right now. While a traditional hunter-gatherer Winter meal might be heavier in fats and protein, Summer is the time to eat as many of the colourful fruits and vegetables in season as you can. You’ll be providing your body with antioxidants, as well as giving yourself the vitamins required to build a strong immune system as we head towards Autumn. 

In terms of herbs and spices, choose those that will help calm and cool you. According to Ayurveda, Summer is the season of high ‘Pitta’ energy, which when excessive, can make us feel overly hot, irritable, inflamed and acidic. To remedy and prevent this, add fresh herbs like mint, basil, dill, coriander, and parsley to your salads, and dry herbs like fennel and chamomile in tea. For those who enjoy foraging and can do so safely, search for in-season wild onion, nettle, watercress, and seaweeds like sea rocket, sea purslane, and kelp. To reduce excessive heat and Pitta energy, favour the tastes of naturally sweet, bitter and astringent foods. (Think fruits, leafy greens, broccoli, sprouts and courgette). 

Socialising – It’s party season

Due to the various restrictions across the world over the past year, it’s been difficult to socialise in the way we usually might. As the world opens up, it’s down to personal preference as to how much time we spend with others. Generally however, Summer is the time when humans have evolved to be at their most social, making friends and interacting with new acquaintances. A stark contrast to Winter’s energy of hibernation, cosiness and family time, Summer is about extroversion, exploration, and adventure. To tap into your more adventurous side, perhaps plan a trip somewhere new, or join in with an activity you’ve never tried before like paddle-boarding, dance classes, or a local park run. 

Organs to care for in Summer

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the heart is considered to be one of the organs we need to focus on caring for during Summer. The heart represents happiness, excitement, love, passion, and movement, and in order to ‘feed’ this organ, we benefit from engaging in fun and enjoyable activities. TCM advises waking early, seeking out activities that are fun and bring you into a flow state, to nourish creative projects, and embrace childlike play more often.

The colour green also balances heart energy, so surround yourself with the natural green shades of nature, green foods, and even green clothing. Try acting and speaking from your heart more this season too. Very often we push aside what our heart really needs in favour of what our head is telling us we should do. So the next time you have to make a decision, try placing your hand on your heart and feeling into what you really need. What is your heart saying you need today?

Yoga postures for Summer

Postures that gently open the heart and lungs, create a sense of spaciousness and relax the nervous system are all a wonderful way to remedy hot, humid and busy Summer days. To balance out all the activity and excitement of Summer, practice Yin postures like Sphinx and Seal, restorative backbends supported by a bolster, and Viparita Karani, or ‘legs up the wall’ pose if your legs are feeling heavy or swollen after a long day in the sun. Remember to make the most of that morning Summer sunlight if you can with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar before it gets too hot!

Try a Cooling Yin Yoga class with Esther Ekhart to balance out some of that Yang Summer energy

Pranayama for Summer

We can use pranayama practices to help boost energy levels at the beginning of the day – especially when paired with a morning dopamine dose from sunshine – but also to calm and cool off, and prevent ‘burnout’. In the early hours, practice a few rounds of Surya Bhedana, also known as ‘Sun Activating Breath’ or simply ‘Right Nostril Breathing’.

Studies show that when we breathe through either the left or right nostril, this can have a profound impact on brain activity. Breathing through the right nostril is linked to increased focus, logical thinking and digestive power, stimulating energy within the Pingala Nadi, a subtle energy channel related to our more fiery and traditionally ‘masculine’ aspects. When you need to cool off, practice Sitali breath by curling the tongue and ‘sucking’ air in, as you would with a straw. Hold the breath for a moment, then exhale slowly through the nose and repeat two more times. 

If these tips have inspired you to live more seasonally this Summer, start by aligning your personal rhythms with the rhythms of nature. Get outside in the morning, add a little more fun to your day, and perhaps say ‘yes’ to life a little more this season.

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Emma NewlynEmma is a 500hr registered yoga teacher, writer and holistic therapist based in Sussex, UK. With a passion for yoga philosophy and Ayurveda, she loves bringing these ancient methods to the modern world in an accessible and easy-to-implement way through her writing and courses. Emma leads the Yoga, Ayurveda & Holistic Health course based in the UK, giving students tools and techniques to enhance their health and wellbeing, and to help others do the same. www.emmanewlynyoga.com