Labor Day marks the end of summer in the US. It also marks for most of us the “resumption of activities” – back to school, back to getting serious at work, a slew of holidays to stress about starting with Halloween followed by Thanksgiving and then straight into the gift-giving frenzy of the December holidays. After all that activity 70% of us every year will make health related resolutions in January. But by then it might be too late.
The reality is that our fall frenzy coincides with a period that is supposed to be marked by increasing restoration and introspection – a slowing down. Ancient Chinese medical science evolved from a keen observation of nature and an understanding that we in many ways mirrored the same subtle and not so subtle energetic patterns of nature around us. We can observe that in opposition to the blooming and exuberance of the spring and summer, fall is marked by a contraction in life energies not only to prepare for the winter but to conserve and build strength for the next spring and summer bloom.
When it comes to our health we reap more if we follow suit. Attuning ourselves to the seasons is a necessary step to find our way and begin the journey towards attaining and maintaining true health. And in Chinese Medicine it is well understood that it is the things you do in the preceding seasons that determine how well you’ll weather the future ones.
Unfortunately, we tend to wait until the early days of spring (early January) to set our health “resolutions” after we’ve taxed our adrenals and spent our reserves and then we wonder why we feel exhausted in the dead of winter and sputter soon after. By then it is essentially too late to rally forces. So it is time that we set those resolutions in late summer early fall and kick the New Year health resolutions to the curb. We won’t be needing them if we pay attention earlier.
Here are 5 things you could be doing to align with the fall energies to not only better prepare for the the winter, but to also be better equipped to enjoy the following spring and summer exuberance:
- Pay Attention to Your Metal Element In ancient Chinese philosophy the element that resonates most directly with fall is the metal element. In its natural state metal contracts and is hard. When heated, it can be shaped and molded to make shields, swords, and armor. Thus it evokes a protective function. With respect to health the metal element needs to be as strong as much as it needs to be flexible. The organs most directly related to the metal element are your lungs, your skin, your large intestine — all organs that have the most direct contact with the outside and serve the function of mediating between your internal terrain and outside environmental factors. It is understood that anything you do to injure the interior landscape of the body in autumn — poor diet, digestion, sleep; insufficient or excessive exercise, and stress will easily damage these organs and their physiological functions particularly at this time of year. In addition these will be more susceptible to the predominant environmental factors of the season. For instance lung function is easily damaged by external environmental factors especially dryness, wind, and cold – all of which are prominent in the fall. Protecting the lungs from external wind and dryness is a first line of defense against catching colds. If you haven’t already it’s time to pull out the scarves! In addition focus on keeping the lungs moist and warm. When the dry weather of fall affects the mucus membranes of the nasal passages, lungs, and eyes it is much easier for the viruses that cause colds to attach and get into the blood stream. That is why the most common kitchen medicine in China in fall are pears! Pears are cooling and moistening and they have a viscous quality that helps moisten the lungs. Especially the Asian pears which are already at your local NY fruit stands!
- Ramp-up your Skincare Regimen — Skincare is very important in the fall for the same reasons we must pay special attention to the lungs. Your skin is your largest protective organ. The dryness in the air and winds that start to turn cold can be very drying to the skin. Develop a moisturizing skin regimen that works for you and be more deliberate about and consistent with it in the fall. Again, not only will you protect your skin in the season where it is most vulnerable but it will pay off with more radiant skin in the summer as well!
- Move with Pleasure. Don’t wait until spring/summer to hit the gym in a desperate effort to lose those pounds. Fall is the best time to pick the right exercise regimen that is right for you. Swimsuit season is not until months from now so no stressing here. Any exercise regimen that you can maintain through the winter has a better chance of becoming a minimal stress routine that you can stick to. Your exercise routine should be challenging but not exhausting. A more meditative regimen like yoga and tai-chi is a great challenge to take on in the fall. Your exercise regimen can change with the seasons as well. Listen to what your body needs and perhaps most important of all – enjoys.
- Let Go of Toxic Emotions The metal organs also teach us important lessons on the mental/emotional level, namely the process of letting go. When we take a breath it nourishes us with needed oxygen that our body immediately utilizes, but hold the breath too long and it will become toxic. The body utilizes what it needs and lets go (in the form of carbon dioxide) to make room for more. Similarly the large intestine needs to let go of what it is holding so we can eliminate what we don’t need. Just as your metal organs moderate what you take in and direct what needs to go out to maintain homeostasis in the body, on a spiritual/emotional level this process is equally as important. You must clear the mind and learn to let go of toxic emotions that may be holding you back in order to maintain emotional balance.
- Incorporate Mindful Practices – In order to properly turn inward to nurture the self it is helpful to incorporate some type of mindful/meditative practice in your daily routine. Even if you think meditation is not “for you” mindful practices are essential to support the process of introspection necessary to finding balance this time of year. Begin where you are at and find a practice that resonates with you. Your mindful practice for the season might be just making sure to sit at the table in the morning to have your breakfast with no distractions. If that is more than what you used to do before then that is your start to a more mindful health maintenance regimen. In addition, make sure to bring mindfulness particularly with respect to the holiday frenzy. Perhaps you might think of making your end-of-year holiday gift list now and every week take a bite at it. Think of creative ways to avoid the last minute stress spikes as much as you can.
- Less Light, More Sleep –Fall contraction is most evident in the lengthening of darkness over sunlight. That is our cue to sleep more and earlier. More and more modern research is revealing how failure to follow our internal circadian rhythmic cues has a direct correlation with the chronic illnesses plaguing our society. The fall is the best time to start paying more attention to your bedtime practices. Sleep is what helps us to restore and harness our healing capabilities. If you have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep seek the help of your health practitioner to help you develop drug-free steady habits to improve your sleep.
- Eat the Rainbow – In the fall a plant’s energies begin to contract retreating to its core/roots. The trees let go of their leaves and the earth lets go of its bounty for the harvest. There is no better time than the fall to enjoy nature’s exuberant harvest at your local farmer’s markets. Nature gives us some of the best variety of foods to nourish our bodies during this season. Eating all the colors of the rainbow means stocking our bodies with the phyto-nutrients it needs to nourish us for the year ahead.
So what will you do this fall to make your spring and summer more exuberant? What will be YOUR Fall Resolutions?
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