We have arrived into what is definitely my favourite season of the year... Autumn (or 'fall' for my northern hemisphere subscribers).
There's so much to love about this season, from the gorgeous colours of the leaves to the return of slow cooked delicious meals that nourish the body (and stomach)... there truly is plenty abound to make this a wonderful time of the year.
Energetically, Autumn is a time of transition. It's the time to transition from the outward energy of summer where we are drawn to physical activity, outdoor activities and socialising, and begin to move toward the more inward, introspective energy of winter. It is often described as a "pivot" season because of the transition between Yang (Summer) and Yin (Winter). Because of that pivoting inward movement in the environment, it's also a perfect time for reflection and contemplation. The inwardly focused spirit of Autumn, gives us the opportunity to look back at summer, acknowledging what we have produced or achieved over the past year and recognise ourselves in the process (with a little bit of self-love).
The season of autumn is represented by the metal element which is associated with the Lungs (Yin organ) and its yang pair the Large Intestines. Metal is related to the skin and pores so this time of year some people can become more sensitive to temperature change and have dry skin or hair (you may have already noticed this dryness in your nasal cavity or the feeling of dryness in your skin). From a Chinese medicine perspective there are many associations with each season; the emotion of autumn is grief because of its link to the lungs, the taste is pungent as this is the flavour to open the skin and help the body to sweat, the sound of autumn is crying (related to grief), the sensory organ is the nose, and the colour for this time of year is white.
Foods to eat more of during the season of Autumn
Onions, beetroot, potato, sweet potato, carrots, radishes, parsnips... autumn is all about the root vegetables, especially if they are orange in colour. If it grows underground it's most definitely an autumn food. Load up on these nutrient dense vegetables that are all in season at this time of the year.
Root vegetables help to create strength, tonify the digestive (earth) centre of the body and aid in easeful elimination. Vegetables like sweet potatoes help to benefit the Spleen and Stomach and help balance the Earth element because of the naturally sweet flavour they contain. The smell associated with Autumn is Pungent, so pungent veggies like onions and turnips are a must as they help to remove damp from the body as well as their health benefits for both the Lungs & Large Intestines.
Eat lots, and eat them warm. Perfect by themselves or loaded into a big pot of veggie soup.
Nuts & Seeds
Whilst you need to keep your intake to no more than a handful a day, these dense little gems are ideal for eating in autumn. Make up our own mix of walnuts, pecans, almonds and cashews along with some sunflower seeds for a snack mix when you're on the go. The natural oils in nuts and seeds can help to keep things moving well in the digestive tract, as the dryness of Autumn can definitely create dryness in the stools and make them difficult to pass. Drinking enough water is of course always important, but of all the times of the year to make sure you are getting enough healthy oils and fats in your body, it is Autumn.
It's time to stock up the fruit bowl with an abundance of seasonal produce, pears in particular are definitely one to consume a lot of as they are incredibly beneficial to the lungs (and are delicious poached for a warming dessert!). Other fruits to eat more of include apples, grapes and figs. A good rule of thumb is to stay connected to what is in season, and if you can, try and buy fruits that have not travelled long overseas distances to get to you. Where are your local farmers markets? What are they stocking? Chances are, they are the perfect fruits to be consuming at this time of the year.
With the weather cooling down, mushrooms begin to return to season during autumn and they do wonders for both the lungs and the kidneys.
Jamie Oliver has a brilliant recipe for vegetarian mushroom stroganoff which is a great alternative to this dinner favourite and a great way to increase your mushroom intake using lots of different mushroom varieties.
Other foods to include are all types of pumpkin and squash, legumes (perfect to be added to stews, soups and casseroles) as well as ginger.
Add in some Bone Broths
And for my meat eating subscribers, Autumn is a great time to start consuming bone broths. It's super simple to make and the health benefits are extraordinary thanks to the high amounts of collagen (the building blocks of our tissues), calcium, phosphorus and magnesium for bone density as well as being super-rich in gelatine which supports gut health.
You can make a bone broth with any kind of bones you have access to, and generally you should be able to get them quite cheap from your local butcher. You could use chicken or lamb, but I like to go for a grass-fed beef where I can - Oxtail is generally my go to.
To make, simply roast the bones in the oven for around 30 minutes or until golden, if you like you can splash a bit of apple cider vinegar over the bones as they roast as this is said to help pull out the healthy minerals. Next step is to add them to a big stockpot (a slow cooker will also work perfectly) and add in your go-to veggie stock favourites. I like to include onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns and some fresh parsley, and then fill it with water. Simmer for around 6 hours, discard all the solids and there you have your own bone broth.
I like to make big batches and freeze it (ice cube trays are perfect for this) or you can even buy it in powder form if you're short on time. Bone broths are greats as a hot drink in lieu of your daily cup of tea or coffee, or you could use it as a base for stews, soups and casseroles to increase your nutrient intake.
Avoid eating cold or raw food
If you've been following me for a while, then this next suggestion won't be anything new, but it is even more relevant as we transition from the seasons of summer into winter (yang into yin). Chinese medicine is uncompromising on this point, try to avoid eating cold or raw foods at any time of the year. We are always looking to keep the body in balance, and one of the easiest ways that we can do this is by not introducing too much cold or heat into our bodies through our diet. So this would include cold beer/wine, ice-cream, anything cold straight from the fridge, cold yoghurts, smoothies made with ice and frozen berries, or ice cold water.
Be inspired (and encouraged) by the slightly chillier autumnal air to steam more of your veggies, put away the frozen berry smoothie and to really embrace the soup pot.
I go into more detail about avoiding eating cold food in this video which you might find interesting.
The Emotion of the lungs
In Chinese Medicine, all the different organs are connected to certain emotions, or a contrasting pair of emotions, narrowed down to five basic feelings: anger (liver), joy (heart), sadness/grief (lungs), worry/ruminating thoughts (spleen) and fear (kidneys).
The lungs are connected to sadness and grief. For each of the organs of the body there will be an emotion that if we over indulge in, is said to tax the energy of that organ, and another emotion that is said to help build the qi of the organ.
Using the lungs for example, the emotion of inspiration is said to build the energy of the lungs, whilst the emotions of grief and sadness are said to tax the energy of the lungs. Both of these emotions; inspiration and sadness are healthy experiences that we all flow in and out of. However if we find ourselves in prolonged period of grief (and we will all have this at some stage) because a loved one has died or a relationship has ended for example, we may find that we are exisiting in a constant state of sadness for a long period of time.
Signs and symptoms of lung qi deficiency can include: exhaustion, an aversion to talking, difficulty breathing, constant sighing, dry skin and hair, withdrawing from connections, and having trouble regulating body temperature. If you think about the last time you had a day of big emotional release, how tired were you the next day? Imagine how tiring it is for the body to sustain you when there is a 6 month period of grief, or longer! I also know that the grieving cannot be rushed. Grief often rises up ready to be expressed at the most inopportune times: at work, waiting in line at the supermarket, when somebody is extra nice to you, and you feel it rise up like a power vomit. She cannot be stopped in her tracks, and it is kind of a good thing, because if grief did not rise up and fling out like that, we would probably just push her down, bottle her up, and shut the door.
If there has been a big outpouring of grief, or a long internal grieving hibernation, there will be some nourishing and rebuilding of qi, spirit and body required.
What inspires you? Or what has inspired you in the past?
What kind of feeling arises in your body when you are inspired?
Can you help this to grow like an old garden that has been ignored but if watered, is so ready to flourish?
Can you start to introduce a small breathing practice into your morning to remind the lungs of their purpose?
Even just going for a walk and making yourself get into your breath can be a powerful way to shift emotions from one energy state to another. Small moments of quiet joy can be such wonderful therapy for a heart that is broken and grieving.
Although Autumn can be a huge trigger for sadness and longing, there is so much beauty in this season to witness and take in as medicine for the emotions: the sunrises, the way the light changes to a magnificent golden colour, the hot air balloons in the sky, watching the leaves flutter to the ground, seeing everyone put on their sexy warm coats and boots,... Take a walk, take a look, let yourself smile a little.....
5 Lifestyle Tips for Autumn
1. Mindful deep breathing 🫁
Autumn is represented by the lungs, so we are looking for ways to nourish this vital organ in the body at this time of the year.
Where can you find five minutes every day to give your full attention to your breath?
This could be before you get out of bed after the alarm has gone off, maybe it's sitting in the car before the keys come out of the ignition... look for moments in your everyday life where you can be still, and give your full attention and be with your breath.
A nice uncomplicated practice is the good old 4 x 4 breath: breathe in for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4...... 5 minutes will be over before you know it (full permission to do this practice for 10 minutes if it is feeling good).
2. The delicate art of letting things go 🙏
Within each breath is a beautiful mascot of an act this is sometimes painful and challenging: In order for us to be able to breathe in fresh new air, we first have to clear the old air out of the body and let it go. We must make space for new and wonderful (life-giving) experiences to enter, by clearing out what is no longer valuable or of service to us.
If you have a particular life situation that this applies to and you are overwhelmed at the thought of "letting something go", let your daily inhales and exhales help to provide you with the gentle encouragement you need to step ever closer to the shedding that your heart and intuition are nudging you towards.
Autumn is all about reflection as we begin to turn inwards for the winter so use this time to look back on the past twelve months to see what might no longer be providing you value and service. Sometimes we hold on to things a long time after their role has played out, as we are nostalgic for a particular time and place that we would prefer stand still, rather than flow into the new and unknown.
This could be very literal! You might be holding on to old jeans, and clothes that you know you are never going to wear again (when was the last time you wore those pants really?) or books that are never going to be picked up again, glassware... you name it!
Perhaps Autumn might be a great time for you to have a huge clean out of the house. Or maybe it's time to do a soft audit of your relationships or work place?
We generally know what we need to let go of, but it is not always easy, so be gentle with yourself as you find the courage and readiness to release that which is no longer of benefit, with thanks and with love.
3. Hit the pavement 🥾
This one is definitely going to give you two birds for the one stone.
Nourish both your lungs and your eyes by venturing out on long autumnal walks.
Relish breathing in that slightly cooler and crisper air as you walk through your local park or garden, or even something more adventurous like a hike.
Let the air and gorgeous colours of the season do wonders for your soul before it gets too cold to embark during the winter.
For me personally, I've always loved the sound of drying leaves crackling underneath my feet as I walk.
4. Sort it out 👖
Any eager green thumb will tell you that Autumn is the ideal time for pruning, cutting off dead foliage and ridding the garden of the old to prepare for the new.
Well it's not just advice for the garden. Autumn is the season of the year where we too should be clearing things out. Find time to go through your kitchen cupboards, get the home office back into shape, and go through the wardrobe to work out what things are no longer serving you and are ready to be loved by somebody else.
5. Rug up 🧣
In Chinese Medicine, we're always looking for ways to defend ourselves from the wind, as it's seen to be one of the carriers of external disease, bringing it into our bodies... and there's no time of year quite like autumn for windy weather.
When heading outside or being exposed to the elements, be sure to cover up any exposed areas but particularly the neck region as this is a well known trouble spot. Dig out the scarf and gloves from the wardrobe and if you want to know more about how the wind has an impact on our health, I go into more detail in this video:
Autumn Yin & Traditional Chinese Medicine Masterclass
My Autumn Yin & Chinese Medicine Masterclass is available to rent for $7.99 for 72 hours.
It includes a presentation on all of the seasonal considerations of Autumn from a Chinese Medicine perspective, followed by a full length Yin class incorporating the themes for the presentation.
Images supplied by Canva.