Using Seasonal Attunement To Stay Healthy Through The Transitions
The people of ancient China were on to something when they started documenting their healing practices into the now classic annals of Chinese medicine. Their ideas of wholeness healing originated with the Dao De Jing in an effort to restore balance and harmony to the body. Being aligned with nature and one’s environment were principles the Chinese adopted centuries ago. They regarded man as the unifying force or energy between heaven and earth, as a microcosm of the greater universe itself. They also believed that in order to maintain their health they must follow the paths of nature just as every other living organism does. Just as plants and animals bloom and grow in the spring, so should man expand and be more active. Just as nature prepares itself for winter by slowing down and going within in the autumn, so should man get quieter, reserve strength and store up for the cold season ahead. These same principles are still applied in Chinese medicine today, and are gaining momentum in the United States as a true medical paradigm that works for all types of disorders.
5 Elements and Nature
One of the early Chinese developments was a system of 5-element correspondences being wood, fire, earth, metal, and water as a way to describe the relationship of all things. For each of these elements there are unique correspondences to body organs, seasons, color, taste, emotions, sounds, elements, and even environmental influences. (Note: for more descriptions and information on this theory, I recommend reading Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold).
Autumn is the time of year for harvesting what has come into abundance by way of the rich spring and summer seasons. Cutting back our stalks so to speak, we are readying our roots for the long winter ahead by nestling deep into the ground and conserving our precious resources until the next spring. In 5-element theory, this season is associated with the metal element, or that which contracts, restrains, and preserves as opposed to the wood element of the spring that grows and expands. The autumn season also corresponds with the Lung organ and the Lung further corresponds with the Large Intestine, the skin, and the emotion grief. When one is not attuned with nature or in harmony with one’s environment, then imbalances can occur that will affect these organs and their correspondences. Perhaps this explains the increase in respiratory ailments such as asthma or bronchitis, allergies, sinus infections, as well as diarrhea, constipation and depression this time of year.
Using the pillars of Chinese medicine to stay in balance with the season
Following are some suggestions that I hope you will find helpful to get you through the rest of this season.
- Get acupuncture now. Getting acupuncture to stay balanced and reduce your vulnerability to sickness is great preventative medicine. Paraphrasing the classics, ‘when the Qi and blood are abundant and strong, then the 100 diseases will not happen’. By getting regular acupuncture treatments, you are building your “protective Qi” and blood and maintaining harmony in your body.
- Chinese herbs as preventative medicine. With over 1000 herbs in the Chinese pharmacopoeia, some are used for severe illness while others are used more as tonics to promote and maintain wellness. Most are food grade herbs, plants and similar substances. Today they come in a variety of pills, powders and teas. I recommend only taking herbs prescribed by a licensed acupuncturist who is board-certified in Chinese medicine.
- Eastern nutrition. The Chinese have a long history of using food as medicine. To stay attuned to this season, swap salads and cold, raw foods for soups and warm, cooked foods. Some suggested foods for this time of year are apples, pears, and other foods that protect the lung and colon. Pungent foods like onions or those in the same family like turnip, ginger, and horseradish are recommended as well as dark green and orange vegetables. (A great read for more nutritional information is Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford). Lastly regarding food, buy locally grown when possible and take more time to prepare your food by slow cooking soups, stews and produce.
- Activity and exercise. Incorporate some type of activity into your daily routine. Keep your Qi and blood moving by doing any type of exercise, walking, yoga, there are lots of options. Tai Qi or Qi Gong are great modalities using slow, languid movements incorporating breathing techniques that allow you to de-stress, improve circulation, gain self-awareness and improve your overall health. You can Google Tai Qi or Qi Gong to find inexpensive classes and teachers near you.
- Go to bed early and wake up early. Take nature’s lead of shorter days and longer nights by trying to get up with the sun and retire with the sun. At least try to use the night time for self-reflection and rest.
While exercise, diet, acupuncture, herbs, and bodywork all play an important role and have great therapeutic value, attitude is the key to good health and immunity. Since the Lung is the organ that governs grief, now is the time to stay positive. Once again, Chinese medicine plays an important role. Following these recommendations keeps your Qi and blood moving so stagnation and negativity doesn’t set in. Deep breathing exercises strengthen your lungs allowing Air, another form of Qi, to nourish all the cells in our body. Repressing our feelings, holding our breath, holding onto old grief and grievances will only cause us to stagnate and become blocked. Just for fun, imagine what it would be like if every fortune you picked out of a fortune cookie were true. Now you’re living. Enjoy it.