The season of autumn provides us a transition from the hot summer months into the cold, sometimes harsh winter. This is the time of year when we prepare our bodies for “hibernation” and, though we do not hibernate in the same sense that animals do, we are still slowing down and spending more time indoors.
During the summer we spend a lot of time outdoors, in the hot sun. We tend to focus on more refreshing foods like fruits, berries, cucumbers, and other ways to cool our bodies. As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, the chill in the air is driven into our bodies and we begin bundling to keep ourselves warmer. The food that we eat changes as well, as our diet begins taking on ingredients from the season’s harvest. We find ourselves eating warmer foods like soups and stews, and drinking more herbal teas and other hot beverages. In addition to warming our bodies internally, we’re also nourishing ourselves in preparation for the coming winter. Each season sees its own cycle, and nature provides us with the foods that our body needs at that time. By adding root vegetables and grains, and changing to more hearty fruits like apples and pears, you’re providing your body with the necessary nourishment to remain healthy throughout the winter and prevent potential illness.
There is more to this transition than diet, and in Traditional Chinese Medicine this time of year often directs our focus to the lungs. Those who deal with conditions concerning the lungs are certainly more aware of the challenges that the lower temperatures, damp air, and winds present. However everyone is affected by this change and even just a drastic difference from one day to the next can cause respiratory issues to arise. In addition to providing our body with oxygen, our lungs hold a deep energetic connection with our bodies.
“In the months of fall, all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen, and harvesting occurs. The Heavenly energy cools, as does the weather. The wind begins to stir. This is the changing or pivoting point when the active phase (yang) turns into its opposite, or passive phase (yin). One should retire with the sunset and arise with the dawn.
Just as the weather in fall turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful, refraining from excess sadness so that one can make the transition into winter smoothly. This is the time to gather one’s spirit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild. One must keep the Lung energy full, clean, and quiet. This means practicing breathing exercises to enhance Lung Qi. Also, one should refrain from grief, the emotion of the Lung. This will prevent Kidney or digestive problems during the winter. If this natural order is violated, damage will occur to the Lungs, resulting in diarrhea with undigested food during winter. This compromises the body’s ability to store in winter.”
The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine
Translated by Maoshing Ni
People tend to get a feeling of “heaviness” in the winter, and often feel sluggish and tired. This is usually due to diet, and eating heavy foods that our body struggles to digest. We eat these heavy foods and then bundle up on the couch, leaving our body to catch up and burn it off. We have to provide a little extra care during these months, and not overload ourselves physically or emotionally. By keeping our bodies warm, focusing on nourishing our systems with the right foods and beverages, and maintaining a peaceful and balanced energy throughout this time we can strengthen our bodies and prevent illness.