Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a knack for poetically and empirically describing how our body, mind, and emotions are actually a microcosm of nature’s cyclic seasonal dance and the changing elemental emphasis, quality of energy, and directional focus. In other words, we need to make our own changes with each seasonal shift in order to be as healthy as we can be.
The seasonal health challenge is to harmonize our personal energy field with the larger energy field of nature. Seasonal changes in TCM represent shifts between yin and yang energies. In autumn, contracting yin energy replaces the expansive yang energy of summer.
Yin energy moves inward and downward in contrast to extroverted yang energy which moves outward and up. Each seasonal change requires an adjustment in our body, mind, and spirit so we can maintain health. The key to staying healthy through seasonal shifts and to maintain our balance is found via diet and lifestyle choices and routines.
The Inner and the Outer are Really One
From a western scientific perspective (think quantum physics and unified field theory), we are energetically one with nature and the seasonal cycle. As the summer is winding down and autumn is approaching, we are going through a similar internal energy shift.
From the perspective of TCM, elementally, autumn is the metal season. It’s when dryness, coolness and wind are dominant. Autumn brings to the forefront the energy meridians and organs connected to the lungs and the colon. The lungs take in our primary nourishment oxygen and chi (life force) and the colon eliminates waste.
Autumn is harvest time. The bounty of summer is collected and stored for use during the barren winter months. Food cellars, canning, and drying are time honored methods for preserving fresh food for later use. Autumn is the season for condensing, conserving, and concentrating the life force.
The seasonal message to humans is implied. It’s time to let go of the old the outdated, the broken, and the past in general. It’s a time to look inside not outside for one’s nourishment and to connect with the hidden roots of ones being. By merging with our energetic source, a new creation can take root via a restful hibernation period through the winter. The new buds will appear in the spring and the flowering or mature manifestation will bloom in summer.
Suggestions for Harmonizing with the Autumn Season
- Eliminate clutter in your home by discarding what you no longer need. Consider donating or selling your best and most useful unwanted items on Craigslist or Ebay.
- Start a journal. Review the previous year via attitudes, emotional patterns, values and goals. Create an Autumnal equinox letting-go fire ceremony. Ritually, write down on little pieces of paper specific issues and or limitations that you need to resolve but instead have been hanging on to by throwing each paper into the fire.
- Start a daily yogic breathing practice. Slowly breathe in (from the belly) healing energy and slowly breathe out emotional baggage and negativities via the nose. And there is alternate nostril breathing to calm the nervous system.
- Include saunas (for detox) as well as massages with warming qualities like unprocessed sesame oil or warming oils like: Vetiver, Sandalwood, Patchouli, or Clary Sage.
- Remove old energy blockages with acupuncture and/or a restorative yoga practice. Turn inward toward your source or center with a meditation practice.
Making the Right Dietary Choices for Autumn
Chinese medicine classifies food energetically according to taste: Sweet, bitter, pungent, astringent, salty and sour: according to temperature: cold, cool, warm and hot.
Bitter foods move energy to the lower or yin part of the body. Astringent foods are contracting, while sour and pungent foods are also advised during autumn.
Autumn energy is moving inward and downward (yin) toward the earth like the energy in root vegetables. For example, beets, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, and celeriac are widely available in the Fall. Spaghetti squash and braised fennel could be included. Cooked (organic) root vegetables are excellent autumn and winter foods.
In autumn eliminate raw, cool, and cold foods in favor of cooked, warm and deeply nourishing foods. Instead of ice cream, frozen foods, cooling vegetable or fruit juices and salads, move towards soups, stews, and warm beverages.
Seasonal fruits like apples and pears are favored, also cooked fruits like baked apples with cinnamon. Add some pungency to food with leeks, onions, garlic, ginger, and cumin which stimulate the lungs and help digestion by kindling the digestive fire and eliminating excess wind or gas.
In autumn it’s important to keep the lungs slightly moistened without creating mucous and the bowel moving regularly without constipation. Diet and lifestyle choices are the key to maintaining your health through the seasons.
There’s an old Chinese saying: “When you are sick don’t look for a cure; instead find your center and you will heal.”