Autumn has arrived in all its perfect glory this year. The cool crisp air, the rolling hills of apple orchards and pumpkins, the kite flying breeze and the brilliant reds, yellows and oranges of our trees here in Massachusetts. The harvest season has peaked and as we turn the corner we see the hints of winter-to-come—the slowing of activity and life and the waning of light and heat. In Chinese Medicine your body is viewed as being a microcosm of the macrocosm around you. When you yield to and follow the wisdom and limits of your body and its surrounding environment, including the seasons, you achieve optimal health and slow the aging process.
Autumn is associated with our Lungs and immune system and it is associated with the emotion of grief. Imbalances of the Lungs often include an unyielding disposition, sadness and depression, fatigue, allergies, asthma, coughs, colds and flus.
Here are tips, that I’ve observed as an acupuncturist in my practice in Concord, Massachusetts, that can help you align your body and mind with the autumn season so that you can stay healthy and enjoy this season to its fullest.
Go to bed early. As the days get shorter your body needs more sleep. Make it a priority to go to bed early. You can’t expect your body to go, go, go like it did at the peak of summer. That is what we should have been doing with our long summer days—living life to its fullest and most active. But autumn is a season where our energy begins to move inward. It needs to keep active but also needs some extra rest and internal reflection. Go with it and hit the hay early. Maybe do some guided relaxation, meditation or journaling before bed to give yourself some “you time” and help calm and clarify your mind and body before retiring for the night.
Protect your immune system. This is the best season for attending to imbalances in your immune system. Make sure you take a regular vitamin D or cod liver oil supplement, which is high in vitamin D and eat foods that are also high in vitamin D. (See our 6 Ways to Stay Healthy this Winter article for more details on vitamin D). Acupuncture and immune boosting herbs such as the classic Chinese herbal formula Yu Ping Fang San or Host Defense’s Stamets 7 mushroom capsules can do wonders for those that struggle with allergies or frequent colds throughout this season. Custom herbal formulas are often needed for those with more complex and serious lung problems, such as asthma. Also if you run on the cold side and don’t have a hearty immune system made of steel, then bundle up when you go outside. Wear a hat and scarf in order to keep warm so your body doesn’t need to work so hard to stay warm and fight off colds.
Eat homemade soup broths. Your body benefits from eating soup on a daily basis, no matter what the season, even summer! But if soup is not your thing in the summer time, it is an absolute must in autumn. Homemade soup broth is not only more delicious but it is full of nutrients and immune boosting nourishment. So fill your house with the simmering smells of our Immune Boosting Chicken Broth and sip it as a tea or use it to cook up your favorite soup for lunch or dinner each day.
Breathe deeply. The season of the Lungs mandates some additional attention to your breathing. Most of us use only use 50% of our total lung capacity. Make it a point to spend time each day exercising your lungs and practicing some deep belly breathing outside in fresh air and sunshine. This will boost your qi or energy, calm your mind and help dissolve sadness and depression. There are many ways to practice deep breathing. Exercise naturally deepens your breath and improves your lung capacity. Whether you walk, run or practice yoga, the cool dry air and beautiful fall landscape make it a perfect season to take your exercise routine outdoors. Another great way to practice deep breathing is to just start paying attention to your breath. Sit comfortably and notice what your body feels like as you inhale and exhale. Don’t change anything, just become aware. Does the air feel cold or warm going into and out of your nose? Does your belly rise and fall with each breath or are your ribs and chest just expanding to accommodate your breath? If your mind wanders, don’t worry, just catch it and go back to paying attention to your breathing. As you pay attention, your body will relax and your breath with naturally deepen.
Quit smoking. There is no better time than now to kick this habit. Although there is no magic bullet for overcoming addiction of any sort, a strong will combined with various supports, such as acupuncture, can help you succeed this time around. Make sure you take breaks from your work, get outside and breathe deeply. Having been a smoker in the past, I noticed that regular breaks, deep inhalation and exhalation and social camaraderie are often some of the “benefits” that smokers enjoy. However, you don’t need to smoke cigarettes to breathe deeply, take a break and strike up conversation with your coworkers. Set an alarm or schedule your breaks right into your computer calendar. Give yourself the permission to stop, breathe fresh clean air and enjoy some down time and conversation just for its own sake. Remember to breathe through the cravings and uncomfortable sensations. Just breathe right into them—don’t wish them away, but connect with the sensations instead—and keep breathing. Overtime this practice will dissolve your craving.
Practice gratitude. Make it a daily practice to name and think about the small and large things that you are grateful for in your life. It may be as small as your morning cup of coffee, or the driver that stopped to let you pull out it traffic or it may be larger things like your health, the health of your family, the presence of your children or your beautiful home. Only when you accept and are grateful for the present moment—no matter how difficult or peaceful that moment is—can you find true balance, peace and health. There is no better season than autumn to practice focusing on what is good in your life and challenge your mind’s natural tendency toward negativity. If you are feeling pretty depressed and find it impossible to do this exercise, then you may need some help treating your depression. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can help reduce stress, dissolve your brain fog, get you unstuck and give you a boost out of that rut. We harvest the seeds we plant. Be certain to continually plant the right seeds in your mind so you can reap the full potential of your life in this season and in all seasons to come.