Saturday, Sept 22nd at 8:54 pm CST marked the first day of fall for us in the northern hemisphere. On the day of the fall equinox, the sun’s path shifts from above the equator to directly over the equator, ready to descend below the equator line, leading us to the cooler months.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m a fall baby or I live in a hot climate with little cold weather, but fall is my favorite season. I love the colors, the sights, the smells, the holidays, and the flavors. The imagery of sitting by a warm fire with a nice cup of chai tea, wearing a cozy soft sweater, maybe listening to the sounds of soft rain, gives me such a lovely feeling.
Fall is the time of year when we begin slowing down our schedule in favor of more nourishing and introspective activities. It is when we harvest the summer’s bounty, utilizing and storing what is needed and eliminating what is unnecessary. The outward energy of summer growth and abundance turns inward, leading us to have a more inward focus. Nature goes inward too as the weather begins getting cooler. The leaves change color and fall, animals begin storing food for the winter, and the days begin getting shorter.
Autumn in Chinese Medicine is ruled by the Lungs and Large Intestine, governed by the Metal Element. The Lungs are in charge of taking in the new and pure, while the Large Intestine is in charge of letting go of waste. If the Lungs and/or Large Intestine are not balanced, we may experience the emotions of grief, sadness, and the inability to let go. Some people may feel wistful or sad during the fall season, with difficulty saying goodbye to the active days of summer. The Lungs also rule the immune system, which is why fall is the season of colds and flus.
To start gearing up for the cold and flu season. Chinese Medicine actually has several strategies aimed at prevention. Think of it as an alternative to a flu shot!
Here are 5 tips for staying well and preventing illness:
Wear a scarf. Cover up when it is windy and/or cold outside. The back of the head and neck are particularly vulnerable to pathogenic invasion.
Drink plenty of hot tea and eat warming foods. Avoid caffeine, heavy food, and cold food/liquid. In Chinese Medicine, cold and heavy food/drinks are taxing for the digestive system which can eventually deplete the immune system. For more dietary info, see these posts.
The flavor of the Metal Element is spicy, so include pungent foods such as garlic, onions, and radishes in your diet. Hot peppers and traditionally spicy foods should be avoided.
The color of the Metal Element is white, so also include white foods such as cauliflower and turnip.
The Earth Element supports the Metal Element, so it is also important to eat foods that assist the Earth Element (or Spleen). These are warming foods and spices such as onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and clove. Yellow/orange foods such as sweet potato, squash, carrots, and pumpkin also support the Spleen. Lastly, root vegetables such as beets, rutabaga, turnip, and parsnip also support the Earth Element.
Chicken soup or bone broth is wonderful for the fall season. Add ginger, green onion, turnip, and sweet potato for a Five Element soup that will help prevent the flu.
Sipping on ginger or decaf chai tea will also help boost the immune system, by supporting the Spleen.
Reduce stress and get more sleep. Now that the days are becoming shorter, the body wants to rest more, slow down, and recharge in anticipation for the winter months. Consider substituting strenuous exercise with more gentle forms, such as yoga or qigong.
Incorporate more introspective and nourishing activities into your day to accommodate the transition toward the inward flow of fall This is a great time for quiet activities such as meditation, qigong, cooking, making art, making music, curling up with a good book, etc.
Organize and declutter your life and living space. Go through closets, desks, shelves, and drawers, getting rid of what is no longer needed. If you haven’t touched it or used it in a year, get rid of it!
The same process can be applied to your life. Are there any attitudes, habits, beliefs, or emotions that no longer serve you? Now is a great time to start fresh, getting rid of old habits or thoughts, and starting new ones.
For example, maybe you want to feel better in the morning, which is usually a stressful time. Start a new habit of waking up 15 minutes earlier so that you can spend 15 minutes journaling or listening to relaxing music or meditating, before rushing off to work.