My training in Traditional Chinese Medicine taught me how we can adapt to the seasons to help maintain our physical and mental health. The autumn months are about slowing down the momentum of growth. It is a transition season and a time for reflection and gratitude. Chinese Medicine also associates each season with a different pair of yin/yang organs. The organs associated with autumn are the lungs and large intestine so many of the following suggestions focus on optimizing their function. I also share tips on slowing down, getting organized, and the importance of letting go.
Dress for the Season
The weather can be unpredictable as we make the transition from summer into autumn and it is important to dress accordingly. The mornings and evenings tend to be cooler, although the days are often hot. It is important to wear layers to keep your body warm and to keep the lungs and immune system healthy. Wear a scarf, hat, and extra layers to avoid getting chilled when you go outside. Save your lung energy by covering up your skin.
Autumn tends to be mostly cool and dry. Both the lungs and large intestine are susceptible to dryness. It is important to drink plenty of water to keep your lungs and large intestine working smoothly and optimally.
Eat Seasonal Foods
As well as eating white foods in the autumn season, we can also enjoy seasonal foods such as squash and pears. Pumpkin, winter squash, kale, and broccoli are vegetables that can help nourish the fluids of the body. Walnuts and hemp seeds nourish the fluids of both the large intestines and the lungs. Refined carbohydrates such as sugars and white flour clog the bowels and lead to constipation, so avoid them.
Slow down your exercise routine. If you like to run, run slower, do less intense cardio workouts. It is important to reduce sweating and to increase breath work. Yin yoga is a wonderful exercise to do in the autumn. Anything that really encourages deep breath work to make sure the air is moving through your lungs is going to be really beneficial for you in the autumn.
Organize Your Life
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, autumn is recognized as an ideal time to organize your life, and focus on what you have accomplished rather than fretting about all the work that remains to be done. Give yourself a task that you can finish in less than an hour, and then clip away at the mess and clutter one step at a time. Make a list if it helps you get organized. Congratulate yourself for finishing three or four items on the list. Don’t be hard on yourself if you get to the end of the day and you still have items on the list. If the thought of decluttering seems overwhelming to you set an alarm for 30 or 60 minutes. Work solidly until the alarm goes off. If you still want to keep working, set another alarm. Repeat until the task is done or you want to take a break. Go through your closet, desk, garage, medicine cabinet - any cluttered storage area - and discard what you no longer need. Then donate, sell, or otherwise circulate what might be of value to others.
Practice Letting Go
Autumn is the season to unburden ourselves of old hurts and resentments. A good exercise is to write down the hurts and resentments we feel lingering from the previous year. Write each incident or event on a separate piece of paper. Realize that each of these pieces of paper weighs you down, and that the old resentments prevent new energy and inspiration from coming in. Then tear or shred the papers and throw them in the bin, or put them in a fireplace and burn them, watching the smoke dissipate as you feel the weight of the previous year’s burden float away.
Create a Time for Meditation, Relaxation and Rest
There is never enough time in the day to get everything done, so … take a few minutes to do NOTHING. Traditional Chinese Medicine says that autumn is the time of year when spirit is more accessible. If you have learned a meditation technique, use it, possibly in the morning or at a time during the day when you can close the door and not be disturbed for 10 to 15 minutes to do your meditation. It makes a difference. If you have never learned to meditate, don’t worry, put on relaxing music, close your eyes and breathe, try not to get caught up in your thoughts, but watch them as if you were an outside observer. Sleep is another important aspect of staying healthy in autumn. However, if you can’t find enough hours for more sleep, at least try to make time for stretching, meditation, and relaxation.
Breathe and Smell the Scents of Nature
Breathing exercises, which strengthen the lungs, increase energy, still the mind, and lift the spirits, are particularly appropriate for this time of year. Take time each day to breathe slowly and deeply. As you inhale the clean autumn air, feel yourself energized and purified. Feel the old negativity, impurity, and pain leave your body and psyche. Then contemplate briefly who you are without these identifications.
Adjusting to the slower pace of autumn can bring awareness to our own energy and health. We may find ourselves a little more serious and less relaxed and carefree than in the summer months; and we might even experience more clarity of vision. Enjoy this transition season. In my upcoming part-two post, I’ll focus on foods and recipes that are especially nourishing and comforting in autumn.