I love summer – I love the heat, the brightness of the sun, the chirping of the cicadas and crickets, the warmer evenings when I can get around in shorts and a singlet top and the extra hours of daylight in the evening where I relish spending time in my garden. It truly is a joyous time of the year.
This joy and brightness of spirit is a true expression of the Fire element in Traditional Chinese Medicine, a full expression of Yang energy.
Fire is unique amongst the Chinese 5 elements system in that there are 4 meridians associated with Fire as opposed to 2 for every other element.
In the body, Fire’s main yin organ is the heart. It contains our Shen (spirit and consciousness) and is responsible for our joy in life, physically manifested in our cardiovascular system. The associated yang organ is the small intestine, which separates the pure from impure in our food, assimilating the pure. The secondary yin meridian is the pericardium or heart protector. Physically the pericardium is the fibrous sack surrounding our heart (hence the name “heart protector”), but as a meridian it controls our endocrine system and supervises the process of circulating our life force. This is balanced by the triple heater meridian which is responsible for harmonising the three main phases of our Chi (distribution, extraction and elimination/storage/transformation).
These 4 meridian lines are found in the arm and shoulder blades. Our heart meridian travels down the inside of the arm on the little finger side and pericardium down the centre of the inner arm. The small intestine meridian starts on the outside of the little finger and travels up the back of the arm, zig-zagging its way across the shoulder blade to the jaw and ear. The pericardium meridian also travels up the back of the arm, starting at the 4th finger and ending at the lateral (outside) end of the eyebrow.
Fire is bright and radiant, giving us enthusiasm for life and an intuition to guide us on the right path. It affects the health of our cardiovascular system, our blood, our endocrine system and our ability to communicate. When our fire element is well balanced we are compassionate, joyful, patient, loving, enthusiastic and forgiving.
But fire needs to be contained and when our fire energy is out of control it can manifest as hysteria, nervousness, difficulty sleeping and scattered shen. Or if the fire is extinguished we lose faith in ourselves, lack enthusiasm and direction in life, have difficulty connecting with others and can become thoughtless and cynical.
In the Chinese 24 hour clock, the heart meridian governs the middle of the day (11am – 1pm), a perfect time to connect with our friends with a nourishing lunch. Our agni (digestive fire) is also at its strongest in the middle of the day, so this is the best time to have your main meal or any harder to digest foods. The small intestine then comes into action between 1pm – 3pm, assimilating and circulating what we have digested (physically and emotionally) at lunch. Later in the evening, between 7 and 9pm, is pericardium time when we unwind from the day spending time with loved ones or activities that calm the shen, preparing for bedtime. Our triple heater meridian then takes over from 9pm until 11pm, harmonising our chi as we settle into slumber.
So how can we balance our Fire element? Engage in activities that calm the shen like yoga, qi gong and meditation and make it fun! Be mindful of slowing speech down if you are over-excited, moderate hot and spicy foods and instead eat more cooling foods (leafy greens, cucumber, celery) and salads. Yoga postures such as garudasana (eagle) give a beautiful stretch across the shoulder blades, stimulating our small intestine meridian, and gomukhasana (cow face) stimulates the heart meridian.
We can also use the following acupressure points to calm the shen:
- Pericardium 8 in the centre of the palm
- Heart 7 located in the hollow on the little finger side of the wrist
- Heart 3 on the medial end (little finger side) of the elbow crease
Let your fire element shine brightly this summer, illuminating your path and bringing joy to your life.
“The Zen of Touch” – Gwyn Williams, PI Productions Photography (2011)
“Five Elements Six Conditions: A Taoist Approach to Emotional Healing, Psychology, and Internal Alchemy” – Giles Marin, North Atlantic Books (2006)
Zenthai Shiatsu Training Manual 2017 – Gwyn Williams