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Caring for ourselves as Autumn approaches

by Brooke Moen, MS, L.Ac.

"The trees are confused!" proclaimed my brother in Iowa. But it seems the trees are telling us; Autumn is approaching. According to the Chinese calendar, the last push of growth has happened and the fall harvest is upon us. A couple weeks ago I saw some trees teasing with a few yellowish leaves. I thought the same thing; "no, the trees must be confused! Perhaps this short summer and the brief cool spell just sped things up a bit too much." This might be true. But in the cycle of things (patterns of "qi," which are cyclical and calculable), there is no confusion, it's time; to retire exhausted yang, and welcome the slow growth of little yin. What exactly does this mean?

An easy way to get a sense of this is to tune-in to what you've been feeling lately. The cooler nights, the impulse to push forward, married with the inability to do so, as well as you might have a month ago. The middle of the summer was the "yang" time of year; full of energy and vitality. Now this is declining, and as it descends, we also begin a sort of ascending to the peak of yin; toward the dark, quiet time of year, the time of cultivation, instead of action.

Yang and Yin describe relative aspects of things; yang is motion and mechanism, or function, yin is material, the "stuff." To understand the yang side of things, think about a teenager; lots of fire, energy, like the sun. So then yin would be more like grandma; less forward motion, or output, but more quiet wisdom, like the moon.

So how does the declining of yang and beginning building of yin at this time of year inform us about how to live? The beauty of nature is that we ​are ​it, so we actually don't have to ​do ​anything, its already happening. This time of year we go back to school, spend less time running around outside, perhaps start to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. So to get a sense of this, just notice what is happening naturally.

If you are interested in becoming more attuned to these cycles, there are some basic recommendations. We can thank the Chinese for this;  thousands of years of living according to these cycles. And why would we want to do this? Simply put, less struggle. Less struggle means less resistance, less resistance means less disease.

Here are five recommendations for an easy transition from summer to fall, to keep you healthy, and give you more qi (energy) all year around:

1. Do less
As kids go back to school and we all feel the end of summer vacation, this can be a tough one; culturally, we seem to be encouraged to do ​more. ​But we can begin to at least practice, in tiny increments even, what its like to let things happen on their own; to allow, rather than to push.

​2. Eat and go to bed earlier
As the sun fades a bit sooner, we can eat dinner a little earlier so as to head toward sleep earlier too. Though we've all been indoctrinated to "8 hours of sleep," people throughout time (with no electricity) have lived by the sun; more sleep in the winter, less in the summer.

​3. Love your lungs and liver=less allergies
Autumn is the time of the lungs, and the mirror season to the liver (Spring), which is a common pattern of disharmony resulting in allergies. If you react to ragweed, or leaf mold, or just springtime blooms, getting support in the fall and spring will result in less symptoms all year around. Acupuncture, herbs, and certain dietary modifications are enormously helpful. But you can also think about the emotions of grief (lung) and anger (liver); welcoming the nostalgia of fall, feeling and facing grief, so it doesn't need to turn into anger and resentment later.

​4. Less cold food, more liquid
Its time to shift from less salads and raw fruits and vegetables to more easily digested cooked foods. At the height of the summer, when our qi is abundant, we can afford to "fire up the digestive oven" to internally cook our food. But as qi lessens, we want to conserve, so cooking our food makes it easier for the body to break it down. Also, if you think about preserving food for the winter, its the same for our internal liquids; we want to cultivate enough to make it through the winter, so beginning to add more soups and broths to the menu.

​5. Enjoying discernment
One of my favorite offerings of Autumn is that of "deciding what stays and what goes." Its the time of metal, and the paired organ to the lung, which is the large intestine; the grand organ of what stays (assimilating nutrients) and what goes (waste). Though the wide-open summer of "yes yes to everything!" was so fun, the chance to become more discriminating is welcomed now. This can be big like cleaning out closets, or small like saying no a bit more often. We are making room to store all that nurtures us over the winter, so when spring comes again, we have something of value to offer, to ourselves and others.

Enjoy this transition and don't hesitate to let me know how I can help!