What a gift Fire has been to humankind! The first expression of Fire here on Earth was produced by lightning strikes and volcanic eruptions. It was a major turning point when hundreds of thousands of years ago it was discovered that a naturally occurring Fire could be preserved and used for warmth and cooking.
Fast forward to the here and now, and we are still learning about Fire in nature and how to contain it. For example, we are limited in our ability to extinguish a raging forest fire. The lightning-fast expression of Fire can easily get the upper hand and do a lot of damage before it is “under control.” This is one way Fire expresses itself externally in nature. This symbolism is used as a teaching tool to explain the qualities of the Fire Element as it relates to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and how it affects us as individuals.
We can consider how the energy of Fire expresses itself in the human body. Too much heat/Fire leads to hyperactivity, insomnia, high blood pressure, and painful inflammation of the joints. Too little heat/Fire causes chills, fatigue, anxiousness, impaired circulation of the blood and bodily fluids, low blood pressure, and feeling broken-hearted.
Ideally, we strive to bring that precious balance between deficiency and excess into harmony. Acupuncture treatments and practicing Qigong can certainly help in this regard by discharging stagnation and promoting the circulation of Qi in our internal channels.
According to the Five Element Theory the season of summer is associated with the Fire element. Fire is double yang, meaning it is a time of high and active energy. It is an exciting time of year filled with warm days, sultry nights, red-hot setting suns, vacation time, and fireworks rising up in celebration to burst forth with color and a big boom! A Qigong practice can mirror this higher state of energy by being more dynamic and movement-oriented during the summer months.
The organs in the body associated with the Fire Element are the heart and small intestine. Fire is unique in that it also includes the Pericardium and the Triple Heater.
Emotionally, a balanced sense of Fire Energy is all about passion and joy and ‘Summer Love.’ Out of balance Fire shows up as anxiousness (heart palpitations), restlessness, over-excitement, or hysterical behavior.
The heart works tirelessly from the earliest stages of life to pump and oxygenate blood and nutrients throughout the body with its rhythmic beat. In the view of Chinese Medicine, the heart governs all body organs including the mind and has a direct effect on consciousness and mental health.
The Small Intestine is known as the ‘Fire of Digestion’ because it is the part of the intestinal tract that is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food to nourish the body. The healing color for the Fire element is red, so eating red fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, berries, cherries, and tomatoes help to support heart health. The sense organ for Fire is the tongue, so bitter foods such as rainbow chard, radicchio, and red wine in moderation will stimulate digestive Fire.
The Triple Heater keeps bodily fluids (lymph, blood, and water) moving and works to protect the body from over-heating in hot weather. That is why it is especially important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of room temperature water (not cold, because Chinese philosophy believes cold is shocking to a hot body and can put unnecessary strain on the heart).
The Pericardium protects the heart from physical injury such as a blow to the chest or even shocking news. When trauma happens, it is the heart that is most deeply affected and thus bears the emotional stress imparted by difficult occurrences.
Over the course of a lifetime, the heart deals with many distressing situations. Stressful events play out through the Five Elements as the worry of the stomach, the grief of the lungs, the fear of the kidneys, the anger of the liver, and the panic of the heart. The heart as the emperor will dictate which of these emotions it is going to express and which it is going to suppress. We are learning that on the low side, the heart carries a heavy load. It is no wonder that heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women.
In our ongoing attempts to keep life in balance, we want to keep the high side of emotional intelligence in clear view, because the positive virtues of the elements are nourishing towards the heart. This is revealed through the poise of the stomach, the courage of the lungs, the wisdom of the kidneys, the kindness of the liver, and the love/joy of the heart.
Summer is an ideal time to become more in tune with the virtues of a healthy sense of Fire within ourselves and all around us. Listening to the songs of birds as they sweetly sing with simple happiness are the joyful sounds of balanced Fire energy in nature. Gathering with friends and enjoying laughter (the best medicine) quite naturally mimics the healing sound of “ha-ha-ha” that is attributed to Fire.
A campfire to sit around soothes the heart because it is just the right amount of Fire (love). A fire struggling to stay lit is too anxious to burn (anxiety/panic), while a forest fire is excessive and out of control (hysteria/mania).
We want to keep the essence of Fire within us burning steady and at a healthy level. This is where we find love and joy that happens naturally. We practice Qigong for the Fire Element at this time of year to tend to our own sense of Fire, spark creativity, and experience simple happiness and love of life.
A healthy heart beats with love, joy, and passion. We feel best when the healthy expression of Fire brings its warmth, love, and light into our hearts and into our lives. Just as Fire can spread and light the way, may the healing gifts of Qigong enlighten the hearts of all who come to embrace it.