Summer, Mt. Hood, Portland, Oregon

Warmth and Sun: the Fire Element in Portland, Oh Joy!

For a few fleeting weeks in July and August, the climate in Portland, Oregon, is transformed. Shifting from dreary, drizzly damp to sunny, dry warmth, Summer and the Fire Element in Portland has magically appeared!

The shift to Summer and the Fire Element in Portland is often abrupt but typically welcome, as the rain disappears. Most Portlanders are happy, at last, to have a chance to soak up sunshine and dry out. In our all-too-short and usually mild Summer season, we tend to cram in a lot of activities that benefit from a dry day: outdoor weddings, picnics and concerts; swimming, boating and other sports; or simply a sunny stroll downtown.

Summer’s lease hath all to short a date…” in Shakespeare’s England and in Portland, Oregon. How do we respond in body, mind and spirit to the fleeting warmth the season brings?

Five Element Acupuncture and the Fire Element

In Five Element acupuncture, the Fire Element embodies the energy of Summer. Fire brings warmth, joy and love, both within us and around us. Sunlight is the ultimate source of Fire, and the giver of all life. From photosynthesis, on up the food chain, we all take in the sun’s energy.

Summer and the Fire Element also feeds our inner Fire. It’s much easier to feel good when the sun is out. We feel more open and relaxed, able to extend that warmth to others. The Fire Element within is the spirit of the Heart, or shen, in Chinese. It gives us our ability to take in and give unconditional love. When we are in touch with the Fire Element, it brings warmth to every part of our being.

A healthy Fire Element gives us the capacity for warmth and joy, and Summer is definitely the time for vacations, socializing and play. The hard work of Spring (planting seeds and beginning new projects) has been done. Summer is the time to slow down, enjoy the weather and kick back while the plants mature. Nothing is needed except a little watering and weeding.

Health Benefits of Sunshine: Is Portland Missing Out?

In exceptionally cool years, Summer and the Fire Element in Portland may seem to be entirely missing. The Pacific Northwest climate tends to be deficient in Fire energy. On a physical level, we lack sun exposure.

What are the physiological benefits of sunshine, and are we missing out?

Vitamin D and Strong Bones

The best-known benefit of sunlight is the ability to boost Vitamin D synthesis, which in turn enhances many other metabolic functions. Importantly, this includes bone formation. Getting out in the sunshine helps children grow strong bones, and prevents bone loss in the elderly.

Of course, sometimes sunshine just isn’t enough, so be sure to get extra Vitamin D from dietary sources, especially fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, tuna) or a cod liver oil supplement.

Better Sleep and Better Moods: Serotonin and Melatonin

Sunlight also benefits sleep, hormones and moods. Exposure to bright sunlight in the morning regulates melatonin production, helping you to sleep better at night. High levels of serotonin, a precursor of melatonin, are linked to longer exposure to sunlight. Serotonin is a “feel good” chemical and high levels result in positive mental outlook and better moods. No wonder we feel better on sunny days!

Cancer, Immune Health, and Chronic Illness

Many people know that too much sun exposure can be a cause of skin cancer. But did you know that some sun exposure may be protective against other cancers? Epidemiological research shows links between sun exposure and lower rates of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as breast, ovarian, colon, prostate and other cancers.

Sunshine may also have protective effects against chronic diseases, including multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, autoimmune conditions and infectious diseases.  Sun exposure can be used to treat psoriasis.

Balance is Key

In nature, everything must be given in proper measure for life to flourish. Too much Fire can scorch and destroy life. Plants will wither and die. Not enough warmth and light, and plants will fail to bloom or set fruit.

Likewise, the inner Fire must have boundaries. The gateway to the Heart spirit, or shen, needs to open and shut properly. The person with no barriers is left emotionally vulnerable. On the other hand, if the barrier is constantly shut, the person can’t take in love from outside.

On a physiological level, how much sun exposure is optimal? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. It varies depending on age, skin pigmentation and lifestyle factors. Some Vitamin D synthesis occurs even when the person is wearing sun block, although at a reduced level.  Use moderation.

Remember: Balance is key.