“Pay attention to the seasons of the year and what affects they have on our health.” These words are attributed to Hippocrates, often called the “Father of Western Medicine,” and ideally, we do pay attention to the times of seasonal change and look ahead to adapt to this ongoing cycle that has been around since the beginning of life as we know it.
Writing about the Seasons and their influence on our personal health has been a part of my healing message for most of my 40 plus years as an integrative physician. Connecting to Nature and our own true nature is a key to good health, learning and evolving, as we become more self aware and also sensitive to all life on this planet, and our future.
This is the subject of my book Staying Healthy with the Seasons, which explores the philosophy and practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in relation to Western Integrative Medicine, through the alignment of the Seasons of the year and the 5 Chinese elements. This an overall natural approach to health that offers practical guidance on how to attune our personal health plan to the changing energy of the yearly cycle.
With the Autumnal Equinox (September 23 this year) we have entered a new season and Nature is rich and full, with apples and corn and harvests galore. This is an important period of preparation and readiness for the work ahead and the darker, colder and often wetter half of the year. It is also good time to review our lifestyle choices and habits. Autumn is the Getting Ready Season! It’s also a challenging time of the year to Stay Healthy. The shift to shorter days and cooler nights can make this the toughest yearly transition for many of us. So September. October and even into November are good times for dietary discrimination and detox – taking a break from our habitual consumption patterns. Plus, we all have temptations with the indulges of the sugar and party times of the year from Halloween through New Year’s.
Here are some of the TCM healing correspondences associated with Autumn from Staying Healthy with the Seasons.
The Metal Element
In the Chinese five element theory Metal is associated with Autumn and represents the mineral ores and salts of the earth which relate to structure and communication. The associations of metal are very similar to the aspects of Air in Western astrology. Both air and metal are expressed in the inner workings and activities of the mind, in developing ideas, writing and speaking.
The Metal element is associated with the lungs and the large intestine. These are two of the largest organs in the body and both have to do with the exchange of outer and inner worlds as does the idea of communication. In the case of these two organs it is about assimilation and elimination; air for the lungs and food/nourishment for the intestines. Keeping both these organs clean and clear is crucial to our vitality. The connection between them is also seen when an upset “stomach” causes a foggy mind, or when a stressed mind disturbs our digestion.
The lungs are vulnerable to cold and dark climates, which can set the scene for colds and lung infections, so we need to pay particular attention to this organ during this season. The nose is one opening to the lungs and is in turn the sense organ of the element, smell being the associated sense. Mucus is the fluid of the metal element and keeping the nose and sinuses clean by occasional rinsing with salt water may help rid excess mucus and congestion.
Our daily nutrition is the key to the health of our digestive tract, which really is the foundation of our health as a whole. The good news is that we have a great deal of control over what we put into our body and so our health can be very much in our own hands if we want to it to be.
Less day/sunlight and colder times can often lead to low energy, moods and depression. You’ll notice that the emotions corresponding to this season in TCM are worry and grief. I suggest getting some sun when we can and doing regular exercises to stay fit and relaxed. Making sure we have developed some indoor fitness programs is important during these shorter Autumn days.
Mental well-being involves a positive self image and taking responsibility for our own happiness (and health). Clear thinking, openness to new ideas and the ability to relax are all important mental virtues to cultivate. You may accomplish these by allowing yourself to experience the quiet directed mind that is found in Eastern cultures through the practice of meditation. Here the importance of the lungs returns as breathing is one key to meditation and calming/centering the mind/body.
In conclusion, Staying Healthy in Autumn can be challenging, often with many people getting sick around us. Yet, keeping the body warm and well nourished will help protect us. Remember: “Healthy bodies don’t get sick very easily.” That means following the above guidelines in 5 areas of our lives – Nutrition, Exercise, Stress, Sleep and Attitude – what I call the 5 Keys to Staying Healthy – these are a few simple steps to maintaining our good health.