Here followeth some old time wisdom on following the natural seasonality of our planet and our bodies to enhance your health and energy levels and improve your ability to fight off illness. Since we have fellow readers in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, I will focus on the Fall and Spring seasons in these next couple posts.
I never ceased to be amazed at the tremendous healing powers that reside within our bodies and minds.
Before the advent of the modern pharmaceutical age, people in all societies, ancient and more modern, sought to promote and support these internal powers with natural methods: natural herbs, foods, exercise and – most of all – natural breathing.
We’ve become somewhat separated or disjointed from our own natural, inborn abilities to propagate robust health, as well as counter and eliminate illness. One of the easiest ways to begin to get in touch with your body is to recognize its rhythms.
We each have hourly, daily, monthly and yearly rhythms. But you may not actively leverage these rhythms in your own fitness and health program. In fact, you may often work against these rhythms, making you more susceptible to illnesses, injuries, weight gain, and so forth.
Ancient health practices from around the world, as well as existent traditional societies (which are becoming increasingly rare), apply seasonality to the treatment and prevention of disease, as well as the promotion of robust health.
Let’s discuss Autumn from the perspective of exercise and nutrition.
Autumn – Exercise
In ancient Chinese, Japanese and Korean medicine, Autumn (or Fall) is associated with the lungs. Although all of our internal organs and systems are interdependent, the lungs get the most attention at this time of year.
This makes a lot of sense from a pragmatic point of view. Think about it: in the Fall, the hot, stale, often polluted air of summer gives way to the refreshingly cool and clean air of Fall. In many areas, nature also provides us with a wonderful display of colors and scenery.
Fall is an excellent time to exercise and practice your qigong and breathing outdoors. Proper breathing in the fresh air has a cleansing effect on your lungs. Your Qigong can also prepare you for, and build your resilience and adaptability to, the changing energies associated with this season. For example, performing the Lung / Metal exercise from the Wu Xing / Five Elements Daoyin form, is especially important this time of year.
One potential problem to be aware of: in mid to late Fall, as temperatures become cooler and precipitation increases, there is the potential for dampness. The air is heavier and it can be more difficult to breathe. Dampness can invade your lungs and airways, and manifest in the body as excess mucus and phlegm.
In addition, the kids are back in school and many of us adults are spending more time in our closed, often polluted offices. The potential for catching a cold or flu is higher if you are not taking care of yourself. A proper regimen of exercise, as well as good healthy eating, can help you avoid this.
Autumn – Nutrition
Generally speaking, late Summer and early Fall are associated with a building phase. Late Summer is associated with the Spleen and Stomach / Earth element. Spleen is associated with building the blood and the muscles or flesh. And Spleen and Stomach are responsible for transforming the food we eat and liquids we drink as their initial part of the digestive process.
During this time, the body wants to build itself up and add muscle. It also wants to lay down some extra fat to prepare for the winter. It wants to extract more nutrition from food. You may find yourself craving more food, especially protein and the fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables that are readily available.
Here’s an interesting but little-known fact about our bodies. We often associate the winter months with weight gain, because we tend to be relatively less active. From an evolutionary standpoint, however, our bodies are programmed to eat more and lay on fat during the late summer and fall months – preparing our bodies for the lean winter months.
In fact, it is thought that, in earlier times, humans ate so many fruits and vegetables during this time that their blood sugar was at the diabetic or pre-diabetic level. Why is this important? Well, sugar in the blood acts as a sort of antifreeze for the body, and helps it better cope with colder temperatures. (I don’t recommend this, but if you were to taste the antifreeze in your car, it would taste a little sweet.)
At any rate, if you find yourself really craving a good steak, or you can’t get enough fruit or seasonal vegetables– don’t worry. Honor what your body is trying to tell you.
In the late Fall, it’s important to take nutritional measures that help prevent or mitigate dampness in the lungs and sinuses. Drinking warm liquids, such as green and herbal teas, and eating hot soups is an excellent way to keep your sinuses open and clear. Using spices in your cooking, such as cumin, turmeric, chiles, Tabasco and cinnamon, can also help keep your sinuses and airways clear and your body warm.
Synchronizing your physical activity and nutrition to the seasonal changes of body, mind and earth, is a powerful way to promote excellent health and help avoid illness and disease.
We’ll talk about Spring in the next post.
You Can Do It!