AUTUMN – GATHERING INWARD
by Monica Linford
Over thousands of years the ancient Chinese observed that the cycle of the seasons profoundly affected the environment, weather, plants, crops and mental wellbeing. They worked out that each season had its own unique energy that impacted all aspects of life. It is a continuous process of decaying and becoming.
They believed these seasonal changes were primarily influenced by the shift between the yin and yang energies, and within each there is the seed of the other – as one expands, the other contracts. They conceptualised that within the yin and yang opposing forces lays the secret to regulation and balance. Energetically, this translates in autumn as the season for discerning, discarding, winding down, letting go, reduction and contraction. As far as yin and yang are concerned, in autumn, the yang energy contracts and draws in as the yin energy rises and expands. Yin is defined as cold, still, silent, dark, empty, internal, winter and death.
Autumn and the metal element
As yin rises, nature retreats to conserve its energy in preparation for the long cold winter months ahead. Animals and plants arrest their activity and growth. Sap withdraws from the leaves and branches and returns to the root of the plant as the life cycle completes itself. Autumn is a time to complete the harvest, and then store only what’s needed to ensure nourishment during the months that nature rests.
As the days become short and the nights long, we too are supposed to reap the benefits of our hard work, finish and refine projects and then surrender to inner mental activities such as quiet reflection, reading and writing. This reflective period facilitates achieving clarity of mind, so that we may come closer to knowing our true purpose in life. The metal element represents the ability to let go of anything that is superfluous to requirements and retain what serves us best.
In autumn, we eliminate the accumulation of summer excesses. A cleansed body and a clear mind guide
our sense of ‘doing the right thing’ and of what to keep and what to throw out. The purpose of this season is to eradicate anything that may be disruptive or challenging and to clear the way for contemplation, self-nourishment and renewal. It is also a time to dispense with mental chaos and confusion. Autumn is not a time to initiate new goals or ambitious plans.
The archetype for the metal element is ‘The Alchemist’. The Alchemist sorts the pure from the impure and strives to bring perfection within form and structure. The Alchemist discerns and judges issues within a chaotic situation and moulds people and circumstances so that the task can be implemented with elegant precision.
Gathering in and letting go
Physical alchemy occurs through the lungs (yin) and large intestine (yang) partnership. As governors of respiration, the skin, membranes, sinuses and sense of smell, the role of the lungs and large intestine is exchange and elimination. Emotionally, these organs are associated with grief and the act of letting go. When healthy and balanced we are organised, have good judgement, mental clarity, and embrace change with a sense of adventure. Imbalances show up as negativity, confusion, melancholy and holding onto grudges, ideas, behaviours and relationships that are no longer appropriate or useful to us. Suppressing and burying grief or disappointment only creates a monster within which drains our energy and dampens our emotions and enthusiasm for life. Eventually, emotional alchemy distils grief into resolve which moves us towards a more positive outlook and a life much valued. The gift of the metal element is the realisation that ‘what didn’t kill us, just made us stronger’!
The lungs defend the body from the invasion of viruses that manifest as colds, flu and respiratory illnesses. The role of the lungs is to ensure balance in the body and justice among all the organs through the fair and equal distribution of oxygen and then the expelling of carbon dioxide.
Illness is nature’s way of enforcing balance. Although manifesting in the nose, throat and head, a common cold is, from a Chinese medicine perspective, related to poor elimination of wastes from the body via the large intestine. The often heard line ‘I caught this cold because everyone at work has one’ is founded on myth. The truth of the matter is that a perfect environment has been created for the virus to take residence. Viruses cannot invade a healthy body. According to Chinese medicine a cold or flu is a sign of a lowered immune system and often the outcome of sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, mental and emotional stress and a lack of regular exercise. Heaviness in the head, fever and lethargy will keep us in bed, lying quietly, for as long as it takes to re-charge and re-gather our strength. Instead of using cold suppressants and eating rich heavy food, support the body with plenty of rest and sleep and reduce emotional stress as a natural remedy to recovery and solution to retaining good health. As the lungs do not like damp or cold, dressing appropriately for the season (the neck is most vulnerable as the autumn chill moves in) is one simple way we can protect the immune system during autumn and winter.
Not only do fried, processed or preserved foods cause toxicity in the liver, the overconsumption of these foods also has a mucus-forming and damp-inducing effect in both the lungs and large intestine as does dairy, refined sugar, meat, pasta and white bread. Chronic and acute congestion commonly leads to loss of tone and displacement in the large intestine. Bloating of the large intestine is often the
cause of low-mid back pain.
Sluggish digestion, poor elimination and susceptibility to colds and flu during this seasonal change can be signs of excessive build up of toxins. If elimination is poor, the body will find another way to excrete toxins and cleanse itself either through the skin as acne and abscesses or via the nose and sinuses as mucus. Internal cleanliness is essential for the lungs and large intestine to function at their best. Nature too has its own detox strategy. Just prior to the sap retreating, plants transport impurities to the leaves which are then discarded as the leaves detach and fall to the ground.
Prevention is the key to resilient health. Autumn provides a second annual opportunity for detoxification and cleansing. An early autumn cleansing process can be stimulated through consumption of fluids, particularly water, juices, teas and soups. Chinese medicine advises that extreme living and working tends to result in extreme health challenges. Moderation and balance is essential to supporting health and preventing illness along with a nutritionally rich diet, plenty of water and exercise and remaining emotionally calm.
The autumn appetite is stimulated by baked, roasted or sautéed foods that thicken the blood and provide us with additional heat and protection from the cold and damp. Overall, our diet needs to shift toward dishes that are richer in protein and include whole grains, more complex carbohydrates and fewer raw fruits. Nourishing soups full of beans and pulses are ideal at this time of year.
The taste that is associated with the metal element is pungent. Pungency disperses and stimulates energy and mimics the expansive action of fire which minimises cold and stagnation. Pungent foods penetrate the lungs and large intestine and can be both warming and cooling in nature, such as onions, garlic, turnip, parsnips, ginger, horseradish, cabbage, red and green peppers, chillies, cayenne pepper and white and black peppercorns. Other autumn-related foods are carrots, pumpkin, broccoli, spinach, parsley, kale, watercress, wheat grass, and according to a variety of recent studies they appear to protect both the lungs and large intestine (colon) against cancer. Warming herbs include sage, tamarind, rosemary, thyme, basil, cinnamon, marjoram, nutmeg and oregano. Fruits include apples, pears, blackberries, cranberries, figs, pomegranate, and plums. Peppermint, rosehip and camomile teas are ideal beverages to aid digestion and boost energy during autumn.
Nutritious wholesome food is autumn’s medicine. The traditional Chinese medicine view is that eating the correct food for the season contributes to a strong and resilient immune system.
Detach, slow down and gather your chi
Each season has a specific focus for enhancing physical health. Balancing the heavier diet with exercise is essential. The autumn exercise regime would ideally combine both cardiovascular exercise and weight training (yang) to maintain physical fitness and strength with two to three yoga, qi gong or tai chi classes (yin) a week to retain flexibility of the body and balance of the mind and emotions. Remaining stress free and mentally alert is the goal during this more contractive time of year. Quiet walks, more rest and personal pampering are called for in autumn.
Qi Gong (the ancestor and companion to martial arts) teaches that the true purpose of physical exercise is to regulate the body, the purpose of quality breathing is to regulate the mind and the purpose of meditation is to regulate the spirit.
Overall, vary your exercise regime to support mobility, flexibility, strength and cardiovascular fitness. The primary purpose of an autumn exercise regime is to retain internal warmth and boost the circulation of blood and chi.
A time for evaluation and discernment
Whereas spring is an expansive and energetic season, autumn contracts, winds down and draws inward. Autumn is the time of year to take stock and evaluate the year’s projects. The tyranny of the Western work ethic is the belief that one must push ahead with goals, plans and projects no matter what and then wonder why things are not working as they should. Depression and frustration is often the outcome. Autumn is the end of a cycle. The Nei Jing (ancient Chinese classic of medicine and Taoist theory) advises that the energy of autumn is a ‘killing energy’ – sharp, retracting and concluding. So, if we are to take advice from the Taoist masters, autumn is definitely not the time to launch new business ideas or proposals!
The time is better spent bringing structure and order to an idea, and through that process decisions are made about what to keep and what to discard. Through reflection and contemplation, a new strategy is formed, a structure put into place, or the solution to a business problem becomes clear along with the removal of systems and processes that are no longer useful. This element also rules the management of money – what to pay, what not to pay, which project to fund, which one to postpone until later. It guides our judgement and behaviour and gives us a sense of what is right.
The Metal Element is being expressed when a leader eliminates confusion and chaos in a business and replaces it with order and organisation. This can either support or destroy a business depending upon how thoughtfully it is done. When businesses are taken over and the new management offer redundancies to some while retaining others, the metal element is dominant. Good outcomes are assured when a decision is carried out with respect and regard for those concerned. The Metal energy organises and completes a project with final touches, adjustments and perfecting of details. It then removes anything that is no longer needed as the project becomes ready for launching in spring.
Monica is an author, speaker and consultant with a background in classical ballet, contemporary dance and yoga. She is the founder of The ChiBall Method™ and author of Awaken Your Body, Balance Your Mind and is
a former recipient of the Fitness Leader of the Year award and the UK’s Fitness Professionals Award of Excellence. For more information call 08 8331 3797.