As we wave goodbye to the great British summer we welcome autumn in all its colourful glory. With the days getting shorter, the temperature cooling and deciduous trees shedding their leaves, we approach a beautiful, transitional time of year.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it teaches us to observe nature, the seasonal changes and learn ways of living in harmony with these. When we do so, we allow our bodies to be in harmony with nature which in turn helps us become in harmony within ourselves. It teaches us to live according to the season which means eating produce that grows in season, changing the way we prepare our foods, when we should wake up, when we should sleep and how much activity we need throughout the day. Traditionally, autumn is the harvest season and all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen and the harvesting of the seasons last crops occurs. It is also the time for our bodies to gather and harvest energy in order to nurture ourselves for the colder months ahead. If there is any excess heat in the body from the summer months, then autumn is the season for clearing it. After that we can then start to warm our body in preparation for the colder months ahead
During autumn we head towards the start of what traditional Chinese medicine calls the “Yin” cycle. This represents a declining phase in order for life to start over again. Just as mother-nature starts to withdraw, taking her energies and retreating back to the roots of her being, we too do the same. We will find ourselves going into a quieter, more focused and reflective time turning more inward to our work, families and lives. There is also a sense of gathering in, stocking up, combined with a sense of sadness and letting go that is starting to happen not only in nature but inside of us too. We may start to notice changes in our bodies and energy levels too and should therefore respond by nourishing our yin energy with warming foods, allow ourselves more time to sleep and relax and focus on our internal lives.
(Image courtesy of www.wallpaperhi.com)
Autumn associations in Chinese Medicine
Element – Metal
Colour – White
Nature – Yin
Direction – West
Energy Flow – Downward
Emotion – Grief
Organs – Lung and Stomach
Taste – Spicy
The metal of autumn
In Chinese medicine, autumn is associated with the metal element. This element reflects our core issues and is a time for organising your life for the winter season ahead. Finishing projects that you may have started in the spring/summer or even beginning a new one, it is the time for expansion, contraction and transformation of physical, emotional and spiritual levels. It brings a desire to want to come more inside your body and mind reflecting on your life and the direction that you’d like it to go. Taking time to think about these things can lead to greater clarity and purity in your life.
The organs of autumn
The organs that share the power of this season are the energetic organs – the large intestine and the lungs. The Qi (energy) of the large intestine is to do with letting go of the old and what we no longer need whilst the lungs are to do with letting in new energy through the breath. A healthy balance between the lungs and the large intestine will allow you to focus on core tasks whilst being aware of what is essential in your life and then letting go of things that no longer are. By balancing the Qi (energy) of these organs, we are allowing the energy to take its course and for our bodies to begin the healing process enabling us to move forward. The lungs are also closely connected with the body’s immune system as they draw in and refine the Qi (energy) sending it down to nourish our roots. Although the lungs protect against external invasion, they can be easily damaged by external environmental factors especially dryness, pollution and cold. A weakness in the lungs can lead to a weakness in the Qi (energy) making you prone to frequent colds and coughs. Autumn is the time to take extra care of your lungs and protect them.
The emotions of autumn
The emotion of autumn is sadness and grief and this is housed in the lungs. At this time of year we have to make the adjustment of having long sunny days to shorter dark ones whilst seeing the summer blooms wilt and the trees begin to shed their leaves in preparation for the colder winter months ahead. With these changes comes a feeling of natural sadness and if this sadness festers, then over time it will weaken the lungs capacity to draw in sufficient energy from the air and distribute it around the body. If this energy stagnates, it could lead to slow blood circulation or blood stagnation which can lead on to serious health issues. In order to avoid this we need to manage our emotions through deep breathing, yoga, meditation or by simply doing things that make us happy.
Using this Traditional Chinese medicine approach, here are some tips to staying fit and healthy through the autumn:
Breathe deeply – One of the best ways to strengthen your lungs is to breathe deeply, something most of us do not do. The lungs like clean and fresh air so go for a walk and fill your lungs with an abundance of Qi (energy). If you live in a city with bad pollution it might not be a bad idea to put on a mask.
Practice breathing exercises – As well as strengthening the lungs it increases energy, calms the mind and lifts the spirits. Just what we need at this time of year.
Have a good clean out – De-clutter and reorganise your home/work space. This should help with the emotional factors associated with the metal element. Out with the old and in with the new!
Dress for the weather – Without proper protection your body is at risk. Even a simple thing like wearing a scarf can help ward off the cold.
Keep hydrated – The autumn air can be very dry so make sure you stay hydrated. Drink room temperature water, teas, soup stocks and fermented drinks.
Make sure you get enough sleep – Sleep is regenerative and keeps the immune system strong.
Exercise regularly – Not only will it help to strengthen the lungs, it will also help to relax your mind, energise your body and keep your mood stable.
Decrease the stress in your life – Stress depletes your immune system so try removing it where you can. Take up meditating, going for a walk, try some yoga or spend time with those who simply make you laugh and feel happy.
Drink Green tea, white tea or Rooibos tea – They are an excellent source of antioxidants.
Cleanse the system – Start the day with hot water and lemon. This contains large amounts of nutrients such as Vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and calcium and will help to cleanse your system. You could even try adding some honey.
Keep germs at bay – Wash hands regularly with organic hand washes that contain natural antibacterial essential oils such as tea tree and lavender. These are kinder to the skin and won’t strip them of their natural oils.
Listen to your body – When you feel like you’re coming down with something, don’t fight it. Listen to your body and rest. There’s an old Chinese saying: “When you are sick, don’t look for a cure – instead find your centre and you will heal.”
Eat right and eat your autumn colours– Our diets have a strong influence on our emotional and physical health and autumn’s abundant food is perfectly suited to help our body’s Qi (energy) move inward. Eat hearty soups and stews which will help support the digestive system. They usually contain seasonal meats and vegetables and are packed full of nutrients. Eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kim chi, miso, kombucha, rejuvelac, fermented soda, yogurt, or kefir will help to support your immune function. You can also supplement with probiotics such as acidophilus. Here is a list of vegetable, fruits, meats and fish to embrace this autumn:-
Vegetables – Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Collard Greens, Italian Parsley, Fennel, Jerusalem Artichokes, Kale, Parsnips, Onions, Leeks, Peppers, Pumpkins, Potatoes, Turnips, Winter Squash, Yams and Shelling Beans.
Fruits – Apples, Grapes, Figs, Cranberries, Blackberries, Rhubarb and Pears (considered particularly healthy for the lungs as they eliminate heat and phlegm, soothe dryness, and strengthen the Lungs).
Meats – Duck, Rabbit, Venison, Turkey, Pheasant and Goose.
Fish – Atlantic Mackerel, Crab, Lemon Sole, Scallops, Mullet, Cod, Monk Fish, Sea Bass, Haddock, Lobster, Halibut, Oysters, Turbot and Red Snapper.
Why not try this delightful and delicious Spiced Pumpkin Soup recipe. It’s sure to warm you up and is packed full of nutrients. Pumpkins contain magnesium and potassium which our bodies need for good Qi (energy).
Autumn Recipe – Spiced Pumpkin Soup
(Image courtesy of me!)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon of dried chili flakes
1kg pumpkin, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
1 litre of stock (chicken or vegetable)
Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium/high heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes or until the onion has softened. Add the pumpkin. Stir occasionally for 5 minutes or so. Add the chili and coriander and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Add the stock, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium/low and simmer for 10-12 minutes until the pumpkin is tender. Set aside for 2 minutes to cool slightly.
Blend in batched until smooth. Return to pan over a low heat and cook until heated through. Season with pepper and a sprinkle of parsley or chives. Serve with a chunk of rye bread or bread of your choice.