“I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” ~ Jeffrey McDaniel
Besides the warming scents and deep green presence of evergreens in most temperate forests, the woodland trees are beginning to shed this year’s leaf growth to the forest floor. This leaf cover not only builds the soil, it also protects the roots below ground. Similar to the trees, we can find ways to part with what is no longer serving us while keeping the roots, trunk and bark of our efforts intact and in place.
Looking to nature for cues on ways to stay in balance with our environment is a very old practice. Taoist masters contemplated the concept of “wu wei” or “non-doing” to tap into a natural way of behaving in the world. Yogic masters, shamans, healers, oracles, and astrologers all looked toward natural phenomena and the cosmos for guidance and perspective. In every community, these practitioners were instrumental in assuring the future health of the people they served. They also ensured that the relationship between people and nature remained balanced.
Tapping into the deep reservoir of knowledge in the inner and outer worlds of our living environment is a great way to exercise and strengthen the senses. Considering that the senses are the doorways to our own experiences and our own being, it becomes essential for us to refine these senses to strengthen our intuition and clarify instinctual messages. With these parts of us intact and sharpened, we can navigate the journey of life with more ease.
Fortunately and unfortunately, we are placed on a rather complex planet with much to observe, witness and experience. For those that live in a temperate region of the world, the four seasons are the perfect platform to witness and watch the folding in and unfolding and the building and the deconstructing nature of the natural environment. The wisdom of these seasonal shifts is what I like to call “Seasonal Intelligence.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a useful framework for understanding the nature of the seasons and our bodies’ responses to the shifts. Interest and application of this framework in the United States is on the rise, especially among alternative health practitioners that wish to offer health advice to clients based on whole systems thinking. With thousands of years under the metaphorical belt of TCM, it offers deep insight into the workings and nuances of the human body in relationship to the environment.
In TCM, there are five seasons, five elements, five tastes, and five pairs of corresponding organ systems. And now, shifting back to the beginning of this article, let’s talk about the Fall season. Fall is represented by the element of metal, the pungent taste, and the lungs and large intestine. Even though the metal element is not dependent on the Fall season to swing out of balance, it is a time to take more precaution.
Here are some ways to support and nurture the metal element during the Fall season:
· An imbalance of the metal element can cause rigidity, hoarding, an over-reliance on external structures of support, respiratory infections, and a lack of creativity. A balanced metal element results in a balanced approach to beginnings and endings, rites of passage, responsive immune system, ability to “go with the flow,” and emotional availability. To balance the metal element, one needs to stoke the fire element with prayer, spiritual practice, ritual, and the development of one’s own inner authority (or sovereignty) with healthy challenges.
· Take regular yoga, tai chi, or Qi Gong practice to invigorate the lungs while encouraging flexibility.
· Begin taking immune modulating herbs to increase innate immune system function and tonify the lungs. Herbs like astragalus root, reishi mushroom, and licorice root are key herbs for this. Take them in tea or tincture form. In the warmer climates, reishi is harvested this time of year and root herbs, such as licorice and astragalus are also harvested. These herbs, when considering Seasonal Intelligence (what nature offers up at certain points of the seasonal cycle for us to take into our bodies’), would be ideal to integrate during this season. Plantain is another wonderful herbal ally that comes back in the cooler months. Harvest the leaves to make teas for immune and lung support.
· Increase pungent and/or spicy foods to help with circulation of blood and unblocking any respiratory congestion: ginger, garlic, cayenne, black pepper, and cinnamon.
· Begin to shift away from raw foods or lightly cooked foods. Fall is a time to penetrate food with more warmth and heat by steaming, sautéing, simmering, or baking. Cooked foods help nourish the metal element while bringing more warmth/circulation into the body.
· Take some time to honor the ancestors. Across the globe, many cultures participate in observances around the end of October and the beginning of November, paying homage to elders, mentors, and ancestors.
· Carve out more time to slow down. Consider adding an extra hour to your sleep during the darker months or taking a nap if you are able.