The five elements and your horse - Part 4 Fire
Guest post series by Sam MacLean of Red Dog Ranch
This month continues part four of a five-part blog series* on the Five Elements of Chinese Medicine featuring Sam MacLean, owner of Red Dog Ranch, an equine acupressure/myofascial release/energy practitioner who specializes in special/unusual cases, horses that perplex western veterinary care and end-of-life palliative care.
Please visit: www.rdrequine.com for more information.
You can also find Red Dog Ranch on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
Sam can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like a refresher on the Five Elements and the essence of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I’d encourage you to re-read the first three blog posts:
Part 1 on the Metal Element (Autumn): http://www.insightfulequine.com/the-five-elements-your-horse-part-1-metal/
Part 2 on the Water Element (Winter): https://www.insightfulequine.com/the-five-elements-and-your-horse-part-2-water/
Part 3 on the Wood Element(Spring): https://www.insightfulequine.com/the-five-elements-and-your-horse-part-3-the-wood-element/
*Please note that this post nor any post that you find here at Insightful Equine are intended to provide or replace veterinary advice. If your horse needs medical attention please seek a veterinarian.
Part 4 - The Fire Element
It is finally summer! Did it seem like it took forever to get here or is that just me? We certainly experienced an unusual spring with COVID-19 as most of us endured extended “stay-at-home” orders. Even though the world seemed (and still seems) out of synch and chaotic, if you paid attention to nature, she continued on as usual. The rains came, the trees leafed out, the flowers bloomed, the grass turned green and the birds migrated. The natural cycles continued and, I might add, beautifully so. During the lock-down the natural world became my focus; it grounded me and centered me every single day. Even now as the energy of spring (Wood) has expanded into the full potential of summer (Fire) being present in and observant of the natural world sustains my hope and optimism in the midst of our ongoing human chaos. The flowers have exploded in vibrancy, the grasses have reached their peak, the tree canopy is dense and lush and everything feels warm to the touch. Summer, the Fire Element, is here.
The Fire Element expresses in the physical body through the organ systems of the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Triple Heater (sometimes referred to as the Triple Warmer or San Jiao). For this blog post we will be focusing on the Heart system, which is considered the Ruler of the entire body in Chinese Medicine. It is said that the Heart delegates to all the other systems and at the same time relies on the other systems to maintain all aspects of life, which is why in the Fire Element there are three additional organ systems to protect the heart. The Heart system rules the body’s blood flow and pulse. It also houses the “shen” or spirit of the animal or person, which can be seen as the sparkle in the eyes. When the Heart system is in harmony there is a sense of joi de vivre (joy of life) to the being, the person or horse sleeps well, expresses compassion toward others, and has deep connections with others/herd mates. When the Heart is out of balance the symptoms may include: anxiety, depression, volatility, mania, shoulder issues, nervous system disorders, excessive sweating, a swollen tongue and cardiovascular issues.
As we progress through the seasons, the dreams we held in winter and envisioned, planned for in spring, now need to flourish. Summer represents coming into our fullness, reaching for the peak expansion of our true self, in Chinese Medicine it is the life phase of maturity. “Only in the fullness of maturity do we have the inner abundance and self-sufficiency to truly share with others.” ¹ We build our inner Fire by fully being and expressing ourselves and then sharing from our inner abundance. This is mirrored in the natural world, too. The plants must come into their fullest expression in order to then be able to grow the fruit to be harvested in the fall.
The experience that perfectly illuminates the energy of the Fire Element is the traditional summer campfire. Picture a memory you may have of sitting around the campfire or firepit on a warm summer evening. Sitting in a circle you are connecting with friends or family through stories, laughter, perhaps some singing. You share good food and drink and the feeling of openhearted warmth gives way to not having a care in the world. There is no effort, no pushing, no resisting…just going with the flow, which ultimately expresses as joy. This is the Chinese concept of wuwei: effortless effort; when we align ourselves with the natural flow (inner/outer) of the world, life just flows.
This is also the state many people are constantly searching for with their horse(s). The state of ease, when there is an ebb and flow with our horse, whether in-hand or in the saddle, can be felt, sensed and witnessed. We know it when it happens. Unfortunately, in our desperate seeking for it we may become controlling of the horse, which will create anxiety and resistance in our horse. The key to wuwei is openhearted surrender, being present with our horse and releasing the outcome. Enjoying the moment. Have you noticed how often I have mentioned joy…it is the emotion of the Fire Element and wuwei is the experience of the heart in harmony.
Life feels very stressful lately, even more than typical. This stress causes us to feel worry, anxiety and frustration and these emotions impair the way we live and interact with people and our horses. These emotions are also examples of the Fire Element being out of balance. However, when we focus on and express love, appreciation and gratitude we can live and connect with others at an optimal level, when the Fire Element is in harmony. Coherence is when our heart, mind and emotions are in alignment and working together in harmony. According to Heartmath, “When we are generating a coherent heart rhythm, the activity in the two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System is synchronized and the body’s systems operate with increased efficiency and harmony.”
The Heartmath Institute, (heartmath.org) is a nonprofit organization that has developed reliable, scientifically validated tools since 1991 to help people bring their physical, mental and emotional systems into balanced alignment with their heart’s intuitive guidance. Through their research they have discovered that one of the most effective ways to reduce stress is to access the vast intelligence of the heart by working with the rhythm of the heart-beats, or Heart Rate Variability (HRV). A low HRV is reflective of health issues. But by increasing our HRV we enter into coherence, which leads to psychological resilience, the ability to handle stress and change, and improvements in mental performance.
Heartmath sponsored research by Ellen Kaye Gehrke, Ph.D found that horses naturally tend to be in a state of coherence most of the time where people tend to be in a state of incoherence most of the time. They also found that human emotions do impact horses and that horses will mirror our emotional states. So the next time you go out to visit your horse, consider taking some time to enter a coherent state. I’ve included a guided exercise below to help you do just that.
Supporting More Harmony
As guardian of your horse(s) what can you do to support more harmony during the Fire phase of summer?
- The flavor attributed to the Fire phase is bitter, so incorporating this taste into the diet** is good for the organ systems of the Fire Element. Examples of bitter foods that are appropriate for horses during summer include: celery, mint, zucchini, and lettuce.
- Ensure that your horse has access to clean and fresh water is critical in the summer.
- Ensure that your horse has access to shade or shelter during the peak hours of sunlight/heat.
- Since joy is the emotion of Fire, seek out ways for your horse to have fun and feel joy. This will also deepen your connection.
- Sharing acupressure*** with your horse is a great way to help him/her maintain harmony and strengthen your bond. Check out this point combo for the Fire Element: https://youtu.be/6hs77oZVhoQ
Finally, summer is a great time to fully express yourself and share your abundance with others. Connecting with your Heart will not only support you and your health, it will also benefit you horse. Here are a few ideas to implement this summer:
- Practice this “Quick Coherence” method from the HeartMath Institute to reduce stress, improve your physiological state, and help you create resonance with your horse(s): https://youtu.be/AQxIbEYcRlg
- Play! What makes you feel joy? What makes you laugh? What makes you feel connected to friends and family? Do more of that!
- What are you passionate about? Do more of that! If you are unsure or have never thought about it, just follow your joy and it will likely lead you in the right direction to fully express your true self.
If you have questions or would like more information on Chinese Medicine or the Fire Element, please send me an email. If I can help your horse(s) this summer (or any time of year) please reach out.
The final element in our series will arrive later this summer with the element of Earth. So, until then…
Be in harmony,
*Please note that this post (nor any post that you find here at Insightful Equine) does not provide or replace veterinary medical advice. If your horse needs medical attention please seek a licensed veterinarian.
**Please consult your veterinarian prior to making changes to your horse’s diet and/or incorporating integrative care into your horse’s health care.
***Always consult your veterinarian prior to initiating an integrative care for your horse. Always follow proper veterinary medical care and recommendations.
Five Element Archetypal Qigong and Jungian Psychotherapy: A Synthesis, Gold, Peter Meyer. Pacifica Graduate Institute, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2016.
Between Heaven and Earth, Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, Ballantine Books, NY, 1991.
Wood Becomes Water, Gail Reichstein. Kodansha USA, Inc., 1998.
Elemental Acupressure https://www.elementalacupressure.com
Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute https://www.animalacupressure.com
1 Neil Gumenick, The Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture