Put the Ahhhh, Back in Autumn
Suggestions for optimal health, wellbeing and relaxation during fall
Autumn: a time when the days grow shorter, the harvest is ripe for picking, beautiful foliage show their autumnal colors, the air is crisper, cooler and drier. Fall is an important transitional time from the expansive heat of summer into the contractile cool of winter. It is during this time that we should begin the shift from expansion to contraction, from cooling the body, to warming the body. There are many excellent and simple practices we can begin including in our daily health regimens in order to flourish through fall.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the organ system most closely related to the autumn season is the respiratory system (the Lung). The lung in turn, is closely related to the immune system. The lungs are responsible for wei qi, protective qi, which circulates through the skin and around the nose and mouth. Wei qi protects the body against external pathogens, and thus is important to nourish during the fall. Autumn is a time of “ping bu,” peaceful tonify and “run zhao,” moisten dryness. It is therefore important during the fall to nourish the lung/respiratory system/immune system with daily practices like cardiovascular focused exercises, nourishing foods, deep breathing exercises/meditation, acupuncture and herbal medicine, essential oil diffusion, proper hydration, and household organization.
Fall is the perfect time to incorporate soups, dark green and orange foods, root veggies and more. It is a time to begin limiting raw/uncooked foods and cold beverages in favor of cooked and stewed foods and room temperature or warm/hot beverages. Beneficial flavors include pungent, sour and bland. It is an excellent time to nourish the lungs, yin, and immune system. It is important to trade your morning smoothie for a warming cup of broth and a bowl of oatmeal, and lunch/dinner salads and raw foods for cooked veggies and soups during the fall and winter months. These practices will nourish your digestive and immune system.
"The lungs depend on nourishment from the spleen (Fei ji yang yu pi)"
-To properly nourish the lungs and metal element, it is important to also nourish the qi of the spleen/digestive system.
"Cold body [and] chilled drinks lead to damage of the lungs (Ti han yin leng ze shang fei)"
Beneficial foods to include during autumn:
· Shan yao (Chinese Yam)
· Bai he (lilly bulb)
· Shitake Mushroom
· Yi yi ren (coix seed)
· Broth made of mushroom or chicken or pork bones
· Dark leafy greens
· Sesame seed
· White onion
· Sourdough bread
· Adzuki bean
· Green beans
Beneficial herbs and spices to include during autumn:
· Huang Qi (astragalus)
· Bay leaves
· Caraway seeds
· Rose hip
· Bai mu er (white mushroom)
· Yi yi ren (coix)
· Lotus seed
A Few Recommended Recipes for Autumn:
Augmenting Asparagus Soup
This recipe, (which can be easily modified to accommodate vegan/veggie diets) and many more, can be found in this highly recommended cookbook:
Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes for Health, Healing and Long Life
By Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir and Mika Ono
· 1 heaping TBSP (10 g) dried lilly bulb (bai he)
· 5 C chicken or hearty vegetable broth (you may use the broth recommended in the next recipe if desired)
· ½ C rice wine or white wine
· ½ C enoki mushrooms
· 1 heaping TBSP (10 g) goji berries (gou qi zi)
· 1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
· 1 small bunch (3/4 LB) asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces, separating the heartier stalks from the more delicate tips (these will cook separately in the recipe) and discarding the hard bottom ends of stalk
· ½ LB crab meat or shelled shrimp (optional)
· ¼ TSP salt (or to taste, optional)
· 1 TBSP soy sauce (or miso or tamari for gluten sensitivities)
· ¼ C chopped fresh cilantro (optional) for garnish
1. Soak the lilly bulb (bai he) in warm water for 30 min. Drain
2. In a medium sized pot, bring the broth and wine to a boil, then add the lily bulb, enoki mushrooms, goji berries, ginger, and garlic.
3. Bring the soup back to a boil, once boiling, lower the heat to simmer, covered, with the lid slightly ajar, for about 25 min.
4. Next, add the asparagus stalks and crab meat/shrimp and cook for about one minute. Then add the asparagus tips and cook an additional four to five minutes, until the asparagus is tender.
5. Add salt, if desired, and/or soy sauce/tamari/miso to taste and garnish with cilantro before serving
"The root of a quiet body must be supplied by food (An shen zhi ben, bi zi yu shi)"
-According to Sun Si-Miao, the root of good health depends on proper diet.
Immunity Boosting Stock/Bone Broth
(Vegan Modifications Included)
· 1 (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, cut into 1/8-inch slices (roughly the width of a quarter)
· 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
· 1 medium-sized leek, washed well and cut into 3-inch pieces
· 1 LB chicken bones (for vegans and vegetarians, please skip to the modification offered under shitake ingredient)
· 4 dried or fresh shitake mushrooms, rinsed
(Vegan/Veggie Modification: substitute chicken bones by using a total of 12 dried or fresh shitake mushrooms)
· 6 medium sized pieces (approximately 20g) astragalus (huang qi)
· 6 dried and seeded Chinese red dates (hong zao)
· 1 large-sized carrot
· 1 medium-sized yam
· ½ C diced white onion
· A pinch of salt (optional)
· Spices to taste (listed above under “beneficial spices to include during autumn”
· 12 C water
1. Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. If using chicken bones, be sure to skim off the fat that floats to the surface of the broth as necessary.
2. Lower the heat and simmer gently, covered, for 2 hours.
3. Strain the broth through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer to remove the bones and herbs.
4. You may enjoy your stock immediately. For the remainder, it is recommended to store in the refrigerator in a glass container with a tightly fitted lid. Refrigerated broth should be consumed within a week, longer storage can be achieved by storing in the freezer if needed.
Note: This stock can be used to make a quick and easy soup. Just add your favorite autumn veggies, rice noodles and soy sauce/miso/tamari and enjoy!
During fall, any practice that incorporates deep breathing is essential for optimal health: Vinyasa style (breath tied to movement) yoga, Pranayama, brisk walking or jogging outdoors, and deep breathing meditation.
"Movement of the body gladdens the spirit (Dong xing yi shen)"
-A moderate amount of physical exercise is good for the spirit and relaxation.
For an excellent resource for meditation, please download this free app on your smart phone: Insight Timer. It is an app that provides a vast, searchable network of free meditations. You can either opt to complete your own practice using the app’s timer (gentle gongs included) or opt for a guided practice of your choosing. This app allows you to search a myriad of key words related to meditation. During fall, search for meditations related to deep breathing and letting go.
At least 15-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise is recommended, especially during the autumn months. This type of exercise strengthens the lungs and immune system. If running or brisk-walking outdoors, please be sure to wear clothing that keeps your warm while also wicking away moisture (no jogging in tank tops and shorts, opt for light-weight long sleeves and leggings instead).
Wear a scarf. In TCM, the “pathogen” that is the most likely to tax the immune system is “wind.” One of the most vulnerable areas of the body in this regard is the neck. A simple preventative fix is to ensure that you always have a scarf with you to protect this vulnerable area of the body, it’s stylish and practical!
"Wind is the chief of the hundred diseases (Feng wei bai bing zhi zhang)"
-Of all the external pathogens, wind is the most likely to cause disease.
Soak your feet. Doing foot soaks is excellent year-round, but during the autumn and winter seasons, it is essential. A simple 15-20 minute soak before bed will boost your immune system, ease the parasympathetic nervous system, circulate qi and ease you into a restful night’s sleep.
Recipe for Basic Evening Foot Soak
· A deep bucket or basin that allows both feet to be comfortably submerged up to the bottom of the calves
· Hot water (as warm as you can stand it without it being too hot, keep a kettle near by so that you can add more warm water as it cools).
· ½ C Epsom salt
· Optional: 2-3 drops essential oil of choice (please see recommended EOs in the next section)
1. Heat enough water to fill your bucket so that the water level comes to the base of your calves. We want the water to be warm enough to have you break a sweat, but not so hot that it scalds you.
Note: Those with diabetes should be especially careful when heating their water. Be sure to test the temperature with a thermometer as to avoid any burns due to decreased sensitivity as related to peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes.
2. Mix the hot water with Epsom salt, and, if desired, your chosen essential oil, and stir.
3. Insert feet into basin/bucket. Soak until you break a sweat or reach 20 minutes (whichever comes first).
4. Once soaking is completed, dry feet and take rest. Elevating the feet while you are lying down post-soak is also beneficial. It is important to take rest after soaking, which is why it is ideal to perform the soak before bed.
Spiritual and Emotional Practices
Autumn is a time for organization, letting go, inward movement and grief-work. In TCM, the organ systems of fall, the lung (yin organ) and large intestine (paired yang organ), not only have physical considerations, but also emotional and spiritual correlations.
The emotion of the lung is grief.
Any grief that remains unexpressed and balanced can greatly harm the lung (and by default the immune system). This is why fall is the essential time to check in with ourselves and see if we are carrying grief, sorrow, and/or depression in an unhealthy and unexpressed way. Grief that is not properly balanced with counseling, meditation, physical practice and spiritual practice, can greatly damage the immune system. Fall is a time to make sure you have the systems in place to work through grief and sorrow in a healthy way in order to release it, and move on.
Think of fall as your perfect opportunity to do an emotional inventory: take an honest look at where you are emotionally; put the systems into place to heal any emotional, psychological and spiritual imbalance; begin practicing with these systems in order to work through and let-go of depression, grief, sorrow and trauma.
This leads us to the large intestine. The yang-paired organ of the lung is the large intestine. The large intestine is all about letting go. Physically, this literally involves the “letting-go” of feces, byproducts our body does not need. So take care to “poop in style:” utilize tools like a toilet stool (like the Squatty Potty), gentle abdominal massage and heat therapy, bidet, adequate fiber intake, etc.
In a similar fashion, fall is an excellent time to practice letting-go emotionally as well. Do you find yourself still seething over that person that cut you off on the freeway earlier today? Are you hanging on to past regret or emotion surrounding a difficult situation? The memories we choose to carry surrounding emotional trauma can greatly affect our overall health and immune system. They also make it very difficult to move forward in life in a wholesome and healthy way. Practicing daily with meditations that emphasize letting-go, seeking out counseling, and engaging in conscious self-care are all excellent ways to practice letting go.
One of the ways I practice letting go is in the Native American practice of cleansing Inipi ceremony. This ceremony is centered on purification and letting go. Whatever your tools for letting-go and growth are, fall is the penultimate time to utilize them.
Fall is also the perfect time to take stock in your household items, organize, and discard unneeded/unwanted/unused things. I know, I know, the common adage “spring cleaning,” would have you believe that spring is the only time to do such things, but according to TCM, spring isn't the only time to clean and organize the home.
The energetics of fall and its associated organs (lung and large intestine), LOVE organizing and discarding. So, in actuality, fall is the perfect time to organize and discard in order to create enough space in the home so that we can comfortably contract, to get cozy and comfortable without impediment (versus spring which is a time of expansion, so we “spring clean” in order support our efforts to expand outward without “stuff” getting in the way). Let the organizational side of you flourish this fall. You will thank yourself come winter when you have an organized and comfortable home to settle into for the winter months.
Essential Oils (EOs):
The autumn months can be drying. This is why using a diffuser (which can also act like a small humidifier) with the proper essential oils is a great idea. In states where early autumn is dry (mainly West-coast and central and mid-West US states), diffusers and humidifiers during fall are essential. In states that are prone to early-autumnal-hurricanes (mainly East coast and South-Eastern states) you may not need a diffuser or humidifier until the moist, rainy season has abated. Below are some recommended EOs to include in your diffuser (typically 1-3 drops of one EO or a blend of several EOs is recommended).
Recommended EOs to diffuse for autumn:
· Anise seed
· Bay leaf
· Black pepper
· Clove bud
· Corriander seed
· Fennel seed
· Juniper berry
· Mandarin orange
· Roman Chamomile
Note: if you feel a cold coming on, 1-2 drops of a “Thieves Oil” style blend applied to the bottoms of the feet can be helpful in curbing the common cold.
You have lots of tools to use this autumn to ensure that your body and spirit are properly cared for. Remember, do what you can, and never beat yourself up over “not doing enough.” Take this article as a guideline, a resource for you to pick the self-care items that call out to you the most. You are worth it. As always, please be sure to coordinate your care with your chosen medical professional. For those with serious health concerns, please ensure that your primary care physician is involved in your healthcare choices.
Please check in with our blog regularly for more helpful articles and advice on how to achieve your best health!
"The superior doctor, doctors [when there is] no disease, the mediocre doctor, doctors [when one is] on the point of [being] diseased, and the inferior doctor, doctors [when there is] already disease (Shang yi yi wei bing, zhong yi yi yu bing, xia yi yi bing)."
-A superior doctor should prevent disease from arising, not just seek to eliminate it after it has taken hold; An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.