Can you feel the energetic pull as we descend into Autumn? The yang energy of the sun has been decreasing since the summer solstice in June. It continues to go down as we traverse Autumn and slide toward the Winter solstice. Yin energy therefore becomes greater and we feel the need to slow down, to stay inside more, to reflect on the past, to appreciate what we have in our life now, and to honor the simple moments that make life so sweet. In Autumn, self-care should be a priority.
Prevent Imbalances With Autumn Self-Care According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
I LOVE this time of year and all that it usually brings up for me. But for some of us, this transition is not so pleasant. If we refuse to listen to the call of nature to adjust our lifestyle with the season, we are more prone to energetic disharmonies that then manifest as physical illness.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Lung and Large Intestine organs are associated with Autumn and disharmonies tend to arise in these organs and the channels that flow through them when our Qi (vital energy) is depleted or stuck. This can result in a breakdown of immune function and make us more prone to infection.
A couple of my friends were already sick with pneumonia in September. And I’ve noticed with myself that unchecked stress can lead to a tight neck (around Large Intestine acupoints) and constipation. Lung and large intestine disharmony can also show up on the skin with conditions such as acne, rashes, or dryness.
Tonifying Lung qi and dispersing Large Intestine qi is something that we can all focus on this season. Here are 5 Autumn self-care rituals that help us address these imbalances.
Autumn Self-Care Rituals
1. Nadi Shodana breathing practice
The Large Intestine meridian runs bilaterally from the radial side of the index finger, along the lateral elbow crease, up to the top of the shoulder, along the side of the neck and crosses the face to end at the opposite nostril. This is one reason why keeping the nose clear is energetically important for staying healthy this season. Also, the lungs are intimately connected with the throat and nostrils since they are the entryway for breath in respiration.
Nadi Shodana is a wonderful way to keep the channel clear while also strengthening the lungs. It’s also a very calming breath practice and one I choose to do when my mind is racing and it’s too difficult to just meditate on the moment. So it’s a great preparation for meditation. Here’s a peaceful video to show you how, or keep reading below for my instructions.
Nadi Shodana is translated as “nadi cleansing”, with nadis being the energetic tributaries (synonymous with the meridians in TCM) that contain and mobilize Prana (vital energy in yoga, synonymous with Qi).
Instructions for Nadi Shodana
To begin, come into a comfortable seated position with your spine erect.
Allow your left hand to rest in your lap. With the right hand, lightly place the thumb on the right nostril and the ring and pinky fingers on the left nostril. The index and middle fingers can rest in between the eyes or you can tuck them into your hand.
Close the right nostril and exhale completely out the left.
The cycle starts with the next breath, inhaling through the left nostril. Close the left, open the right and exhale. Inhale through the right. Close the right and exhale through the left. That is the end of the cycle.
I try to do at least 10 cycles and then sit for a brief period of meditation.
2. Meditative Yin yoga
Yin Yoga is a fabulous way to indulge in Autumn self-care. We described the channel flow for the Large Intestine with Nadi Shodana breathing, above. The Lung meridian is the Yin partner to the Yang Large Intestine. The Lung channel runs bilaterally from the lung to the inner side of the upper arm, through the elbow crease, along the radius of the forearm, ending at the outer edge of the thumb nail.
Whenever we mindfully bear weight on the arms or stretch the chest and arms, we are mobilizing Prana/Qi and blood through the Lung & Large Intestine meridians.
Try holding the shapes below for 2-5 minutes with slow, deep breaths. With each inhalation, imagine that you’re dilating the meridians and nourishing each cell in the whole body. With the exhalation we are letting go of tension, stress, old ideas/habits, and anything that does not serve our wellbeing and that of others.
3. Eat Autumn fruits and vegetables
Acupuncture and herbs can resolve just about any disharmony, but only in conjunction with a balanced diet. Most of us should be eating larger portions of organic vegetables and some fruits, preferably grown on a local farm.
In TCM, we also consider the character and taste of the food to balance our systems. Dryness in any form (dry skin, a dry cough, dry intestines, etc.) is common in Autumn, and once again related to an imbalance of Lung/Large Intestine energy. The following vegetables and fruits are in season now (or soon) and benefit the lungs and large intestine by adding moisture and clearing heat & dryness (from Maoshing Ni’s The Tao of Nutrition):
- Bok choy
- Daikon radish
- Pumpkin (all winter squash)
4. Move your bowels every morning
What? Not an easy suggestion for you? TCM has mapped out the hours of the day where Qi moving through the organs and meridians is most plentiful. For the Large Intestine, the hours are 5-7am. If you are hydrated, if you are eating a balanced diet, if you are going to bed before 10pm and rising with the sun, and if you are emotionally and energetically balanced, then you will typically have a bowel movement at this time of the day.
Here are some other suggestions to help regulate your bowels:
- Massage your abdomen in the evening, then again in the morning if your bowel movement is not timely. Massaging the sacrum in a downward movement can also encourage bowel movements. Try this acupressure sequence to relieve constipation.
- Use essential oils such as tangerine and doTERRA’s DigestZen in a carrier oil for the abdominal and sacral massage. Using castor oil as the carrier has a much stronger action on the bowels (use caution when pregnant).
- Practice forward bends, gentle twists, and stretch/massage to let go of any shoulder and neck tension at night before bed (which will help with your sleep too!)
- Supplement with probiotics and eat fermented foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, etc.)
- Drink a large glass of water upon waking and meditate, focusing your energy down. (Do not start the morning with reading potentially stressful emails or going onto social media – a habit that I’m trying to break too!)
5. Light outdoor exercise
Of course getting outdoor exercise is a good suggestion for anytime of the year. But it is especially important as the days get shorter to help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorders. If you are prone to seasonal depression, any amount of sunlight can help pull you up and out. And stimulating Lung Qi with brisk walks, cycling, kayaking on a lake or anything where you can exercise and also appreciate nature can help you deal with feelings of grief and regret that often come up this time of year.
I need to emphasize that the exercise should be light. Overdoing it will lead to exhaustion of your Qi & fluids.
Hopefully you can adopt at least a few of these practices to help you with Autumn self-care. If you’d like more advice, here is an article I wrote in my old yogic parenting blog on Communing with Nature that might help you appreciate outside time from a TCM perspective. And while I’m at it, here’s an old piece on Autumn Reflection that can help as well.