We can all relate to Autumn as the season of gathering in and harvesting crops. We can also apply this movement of energy to ourselves. It is a time to start to slow down from the busy-ness of summer and gather in our energy ready for the “hibernation” of the winter. This is the energetic movement of contraction (Yin) or gathering in to create form as described by the Chinese. Using ancient eastern concepts today might seem a little odd when we feel less dependent on seasonal change: however there is still wisdom in these old ideas which we can use to support our well-being.
Our culture tends to over value Yang, or “day” energy. We tend to value expansion, being busy, long days and short nights and now we have the means to do this with the possibility, through electricity, to stay up as long as and when we want to! This is fine as long as we balance it. If we don’t, we may end up feeling worn out by the end of the winter and desperate for the change of light and spring time. If we can be more accepting of the changes autumn brings we can use the energy of this time of year to its full potential.
Yin is the energy of night time, rest, renewal and replenishment: the basis for its opposite – Yang the energy of day expansion, summer. Without a strong Yin supporting the Yang, the Yang is not as balanced or strong.
Yin and Yang, night and day is expressed in the annual energy of the seasons with summer being the most Yang, longest days, and winter being the most Yin, shortest days. Spring and autumn are times of transition.
In Chinese medicine autumn relates to the metal energy; the energy of drawing in to create form: metal, rocks and crystals. In the body this relates to the organs of the Lung and the Large Intestine.
Lung is of course about breath; both the out (Yin, contraction) and in (Yang, expansion) but it is about more than that. Think about a new born baby: what is the first thing it needs to do? Breathe of course. And we breathe through our nose and skin, not just our lungs. But what does the breath symbolise? So much. The separation from the mother and establishment of one’s own identity. Along with this goes one’s basic sense of self worth and sense of borders and boundaries. One has to learn to function independently of one’s mother. Of course, the mother needs to support her baby in this process of transition and if the energies of the baby are not met then these energies may be weakened.
Large Intestine is of course about letting go of what we no longer want in our body; whether on a physical or emotional level.
What can we do to support our metal energy?
Autumn is a time to slow down, to take stock of where we are at. We can look at our life, see what we no longer need and be prepared to let it go. We don’t want to go into the season of winter with unnecessary clutter, either emotional or physical. It is a great time to declutter our cupboards, to throw out what we no longer want. It is a good time also to look at our relationships and consider letting go of relationships which are no longer supporting and nourishing us, whether friends or colleagues.
It is time to focus on what kind of exercise we do. In autumn/winter we are forced to be more indoors and to slow down so we might want to do more yoga, qi kung and stretches. As it relates to Lung and breath we will want to especially focus on good deep breathing exercises as Air, along with Food, is the source of our daily energy .
We can focus on the Lung and Large Intestine meridian stretch. This can even be done while we are pregnant! Here are two pictures of the two phases of the exercise. I describe it fully in my “Shiatsu for Midwives” book.
Transitions are always good time to receive some kind of body work. As autumn/metal relates to the skin then anything which directly stimulates the skin is helpful. Simply brushing the skin all over is great but some form of massage is wonderful. Of course, I would always suggest shiatsu and massage but other forms of work such as osteopathy, cranial sacral work, structural integration can all support us.
Diet is important: each season and element has a food which supports it. Metal relates to Pungent taste. This includes foods such as:
Rice, Navy and Soya beans, Almonds, Asparagus, Broccoli, Celery, Cucumber, Mustard Greens, Onion, Radish, Apricot, Banana, Pear
Foods which are not so good for the Lung and Large intestine are eggs
Love to hear your comments on this. If anything is not clear please let me know. Any recipe tips or other exercise ideas welcome
I like this article!
I would just like to add one more important practical issue:Air cons & vents!
Most people get used to the help of artificial cool air in the summer, yet the dry (and dirty) wind weakens our lung’s energy (especially the protective energy, “Wei Qi”) and causing unpleasant sicknesses. We should moderate our use of ventilators/ Air-conditioners especially at night in order to let our lung’s energy to develop and get stronger!
Regarding dietary matters: The consumption of Ginger, black pepper etc. may help to alleviate symptoms of sickness for they help stimulate the sweat glands to sweat and cleans our bodies from external pathogens!
I love the simple version of the 5 element chi gung for lung: starting with my hands level with my chest as if I am hugging a huge tree trunk, I open my arms wide as I breathe in, and slowly close them again as I exhale. I can feel my own personal space as well as my communication with the air around me and the other people in the wider world 🙂
With the harvest, we enter the time of reckoning. We count up our harvest, in the hope that we have been blessed with the abundance we need to carry us through the Winter. There is no time to plant another row of corn, that will have to wait until the Spring. What we have is what we have. Even though this reality has long shifted due to our global marketplace, and the modern grocery, there still remains this deep metaphor for our lives within the energy of the Autumn season. Blessings of a good harvest to you all.
Thank you for these thoughts. Yes, metaphorically, we can not plant another row of corn. I find it interesting that in many societies autumn is now the time of starting a new year at school! This goes against the ancient timings and I wonder if it is why so many children get coughs and colds. It is a lot to demand to take in new things at this time of year. Maybe a cause of additional stress? So our children need lots of support at this time of year
Thanks! Also during our Do-In classes we notice everytime the difference in the effect certain stretches have in certain seasons. Somehow the lung meridian stretch which you show above does feel different in autumn time physically and emotionally.
Great to have that feedback. Yes, as doing the exercises at different times of day we experience them differently. so doing them during different seasons. They are a wonderful way to get to know our bodies…