In ancient days people lived in harmony with the elements of nature. They lived according to the seasons, in balance with the ebbs and flows.
The ancients new that we are not separate from our environment but are intrinsically linked with it.
The patterns that were seen in the natural world were reflected within their own bodies and minds, and therefore seasonal changes had a profound effect on them.
In our modern day ways of thinking we tend not to think about or even consider our environment and our connection to it, man has almost put himself above it, disconnected, unaware and as a result has forgotten its powerful truths and links into our own health & wellbeing.
“We can marvel at the separate cells that make up the body of a bird, but only in their union do we see the beauty of a life.”
David M Bell
As Chinese medicine is an ancient and old world medical practice, it still encompasses these treasures of ancient knowledge and understanding. The theory of the seasonal changes, climates, recognising and working with the nature of the five elements, yin and yang, and the reflection of these in the natural world mirror our lives and bodies. These are not only key diagnostic tools but are foundational practices in balancing and harmonising our wellbeing and lives.
So how can we realistically apply this understanding into our modern day lives?
How can this knowledge and awareness benefit us and make us healthy and balanced.
One way is to firstly notice what season you’re in and gain some awareness of its nature, energy and patterns.
The ancients would adjust their lifestyle according to what season it was. They would exercise and eat accordingly, even adjusting their moods and temperament to suit the season they were in.
For example trying not to get too angry in the spring or over excited in the summer, they felt this would have a profound effect on their health in the following seasons to come.
For us in the 21st century this may seem very profound and strange, adjusting our temperaments, but we can follow simple patterns as they did to help us lead healthier and more balanced lives.
So I have decided to put together some simple bits of advice rooted in ancient Chinese medicine to be able to help us through the seasons starting with the one we are in – Autumn.
Autumn is a time of change, the trees and plants slowly start to dry out, their nurturing sap returns to the roots and is drawn away from the leaves which turn into a beautiful array of colourful oranges and reds, and will eventually be released and let go of, back into the earth.
The temperature dips and we can feel that nip in the air, a small sign that winter is coming.
Fruits and vegetables are in abundance and we can see that squashes and pumpkins have become plentiful.
Animals start to collect nuts and prepare to harvest for the winter to come. It is a time when the energy of the seasons start to move inwards and downwards changing from yang into yin. The daylight lessens and the nights draw in.
It is a time for inward cleansing, reflection and of letting go.
We can move along with this season working in harmony with its energy so as to balance our bodies and minds and prepare us to receive the next season, Winter, a time of maximum yin, rest and hibernation.
In this season it is a good time to finish projects that have been started in the spring and summer. To flow with the season we too can turn our energy inwards to home orientated projects and our close families. Activities like contemplation, writing, reading and nurturing your family prepare us for the winter to come, these activities will make the transition into winter easier.
The organs that are associated with this time of year are the lungs and large intestine. The lungs are the yin organ, and its partnered organ the Large intestine is yang.
The lungs are responsible for us breathing in pure revitalising energy and getting rid of toxic waste.
They are a great qi /energy provider of the whole body and a direct connection to the outside world. The element associated with this season is metal.
At this time of year we can focus on ways to help strengthen the lungs by deepening our breathing through working on the breath. We can practice health exercises like qi gong and yoga, which link breath and movements together.
Practicing meditation also works in harmony with this season it helps to calm and clarify the mind as attention is brought to the breath. Breathing is an important aspect of meditation. Focusing on this will help you to center yourself and gain greater self-awareness and realization. Allowing you to experience the moment and be present in it.
One aspect of the practice is that the process allows for a deep state of rest and relaxation along with opening our heart and mind to possibilities, gaining the wisdom and awareness of our true nature.
We have to remind ourselves that meditation is not a goal but a process, not something you have to try to do, but instead a process you can allow to happen. You must merely give yourself time for the experience. This awareness is an important step in finding peace and joy in the world, which will eventually spread to all aspects of your life.
Did you know that how and what you think affects and creates the world around you?
Mentally in this season we can adopt an attitude of stillness, slowing down and mindfully letting go of unwanted negative thoughts. Like the trees, we too can let go of the old so we can start afresh, we too can let go of negativity, old habits, thought patterns, mental, physical and emotional clearing to make way for the new.
At this time of physical cleansing we can also make sure to bathe daily, brushing away dead unwanted skin with a loofa, this makes way for new cells and rids the body of toxins.
Exercise with a good sweat is also a great way to help rid the body of these toxins.
With regard to exercise in this season, the focus can move into developing strength and stamina.
Flexibility and other aspects of training still need to be maintained but are usually focused on in the long hot summer months. As the weather gets cooler we have to be more conscious to warm up for longer periods before we stretch and exercise, so as not to damage muscles and tendons. At this time it is thought beneficial to practice the more internal forms of exercise like the soft qi gongs; examples of these are the Ba duan jing and yi jin jing. (See links to these exercises below.)
CLICK HERE to watch Master Yanmin Chen 34th Shaolin Warrior demonstrating the Ba duan Jin.
In ancient wisdom it is thought that as the temperature starts to drop it is important that we keep vulnerable parts of our bodies warm, like the lower back, wrists and ankles and the nape of the neck, as these are easy points in which cold, wind and damp can penetrate into the body causing problems.
After training it is best if we dry off the sweat and close the pores with a dry paper towel, it is best not to go outdoors in the cold straight after sweating.
In ancient traditions, food was considered a medicine and was used to help balance, strengthen and harmonise the body.In western culture everyday food is not really thought of in this manor; it is more about what pleasures us, what we like to eat, not what is beneficial or suitable for us, or what balances us.
Every person has different qualities within their body; different balances and imbalances. Therefore each of us requires different types of foods to keep the body in harmony; for example if the body is very hot in nature, putting in heating foods like coffee, chocolate, garlic, ginger and chilli would not be appropriate. This would create more heat and disturb the body’s equilibrium further. We may like to consider cooler foods, which would be more beneficial.
Our bodies are also effected by the change in the seasons therefore we need to adjust our diet accordingly. Foods for the autumn season should be warming, hearty and rich. Therefore the perfect foods to support us during these months would be root vegetables. The roots travel deep into the earth and have an internal and deepening nature. Some examples would be:
Potatoes, yams, turnips, carrots, radish, ginger, garlic, and onions.
Foods that have a pungent quality can also be great for the health during this season. The pungent quality has a dispersing and stimulating effect, moving energy upward and outwards and also penetrating into the organs of this season the lungs and the large intestine.
During these months it is better to eat foods that are warm and cooked, foods that are raw or chilled are usually less freely used, these are more of a summer food.More meat, nuts, fish and oils are appropriate, using hotter cooking methods like roasting and baking.Hot soups and baked pumpkins and squashes are also wonderful foods for this time of year.
During this time of year the metal organs of this element the lungs and the large intestine can be easily affected hence causing lots of colds, chest infections and breathing problems. Depending on the nature of the cold the pungent foods can help to disperse the cold that may have entered the body. For example if feeling cold shivering and sneezing (wind –cold in Chinese medicine) you can make hot, ginger and lemon drink with a teaspoon of Manuka honey to help disperse and move the cold or pathogen up and out of the body, hence stimulating the sweating response. (See thyme tea recipe below.)
Sometimes the body can be too weak to absorb the nutrients from the food. In these cases herbs can be used as they have a stronger more powerful effect on the body.
Uses of Thyme Tea for Cough/Tonifying the lungs
You can drink thyme tea for relief from coughs, bronchitis, and common colds. (Combining thyme with lemon and honey improves the flavor.) Thyme has a profound effect on the respiratory system; in addition to fighting infections, it dries mucous membranes and relaxes spasms of the bronchial passages.
The ability of thyme to relax bronchial spasms makes it effective for coughs, bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Its drying effect makes it useful to reduce the abundant watering of the eyes and nose associated with hay fever and other allergies. And gargling with thyme tea can reduce swelling and pus formation in tonsillitis.
It is also effective for hooping cough in babies. The thyme can be put in the bath and the babies bathed in it.
Recipe for Thyme Tea
Take a hand full of fresh thyme, dried is better, cut finely and boil in a saucepan with water (approx. 3 mugs) for 15mins. After drain into a teacup it should be a brown colour, add half a fresh squeezed lemon and honey to taste. Manuka honey with a high factor is great if you have sore throat or throat infection.
Our bodies have a huge self-healing capacity and through self-awareness and understanding we can bring about a more balanced and harmonious attitude to ourselves and the environment in which we live.
What’s really important is to listen to yourself so that we don’t have to get ill in order to make changes in our lives. Keep the body and mind open and clear; this makes way for positive thoughts and actions. It clears the way for self-realization and an awareness of our true self and nature. This way we can become conscious of who we are, what we are doing here and to actually do it. There is nothing else, nowhere else, only here and now. So Enjoy and breathe in this moment.
Enjoy the transition into autumn.