In ancient China the four seasons were looked upon as the result of the interaction of the two opposing forces, Yin and Yang. These two forces represented all opposites: hot and cold, day and night, light and dark, up and down, contraction and expansion, masculine and feminine, dryness and humidity and so on. Yin and Yang were easily recognized in nature and over time they became known in the human body as well. This view was developed in Chinese Medicine until the nature of the human body and its inner workings became seen as a microcosm of the universe itself. This mirrored view is reflected in the beliefs of many cultures and systems of thought. As a primarily agricultural society at the time it was only natural for the ancient Chinese to understand the world around them through their relationship with seasons. Through this lens growing and cultivating were important when the season supported this action. The time for activity was during the summer, the brightest, most expansive Yang time of the year. On the other hand, gathering the harvest was important during the fall when crops are at their fullest maturity and as the environment’s energy begins to pivot toward winter. During the winter crops must be stored and nature will embody the characteristics of Yin: inactive, dark, and contracted.
It is at this pivot, this seasonal transition, that we find ourselves now: The Autumn Equinox.
In Chinese Medicine, we actually recognize a 5th season that is often called Late Summer. This season, technically nestled within summer itself, marks the beginning of this transition time. Occupying the last month of Summer, Late Summer is precisely the middle of the Lunar Year which begins in February. This is important because according to the foundational Classical Chinese Medical text, Huang Di Nei Jing, it represents the key to maintaining health during this shift from Yang to Yin.
Transitions are hard on everyone, and in American culture we are often so far removed from the rhythms of nature that we can miss their effect on us. This can leave us struggling physically, mentally, or emotionally without context or the ability to remedy the struggle. The Huang Di Nei Jing helps us out. It reminds us that transitions and pivots are all about balance, inner stillness, and moderation. It goes on to recommend that to best support our vibrancy right now we should turn away from rigid or chaotic situations and mind-sets. That if we find ourselves in a place of rigidity or chaos we should seek to transform and soften that energy or feeling with centering, grounding practices. Here are some methods that I find useful in this situation:
taking time throughout the day to do a minute or so of deep belly breathing
Yoga or gentle stretching
slow, meandering walks- paying attention to each step, each breath, observing the scenery around you, and observing the landscape within you without judgement, just acknowledging where you’re at and letting it be
time with friends and family in pleasant, loving conversation
qi gong, meditation, prayer, or other practices that cultivate inner stillness and peace
relaxing baths, using essential oils that bring on feelings of spaciousness and calm for you (my favorites are lavender, chamomile, ylang ylang, and frankincense)
a cup your favorite of hot tea, really making the space to breathe it in, feel it expand your senses, warm your belly
give yourself more time than you “need” for each of your tasks, loosen up your schedule a little bit where you can to avoid rushing
simplify your routine, cut out what you can, make simple meals, adopt a minimalistic mindset, more is not always better
practice patience with yourself, your family and those you interact with- lighten your expectations
eat clean, nutrient dense whole foods with few ingredients- try foods that support the energy of the spleen and stomach- these will be bland or mildly sweet in flavor, yellow or orange in color, warming in nature
What are you doing that embodies these principles? What could you do? Leave your ideas in the comments below, we love the inspiration!
The Huang Di Nei Jing tells us to retire early at night and rise in the morning with the crowing rooster. In my case, this is the hungry cat, but in any case she’s pretty attuned with the sunrise. We should begin pulling our energy inward, toward ourselves this time of year. This means disentangling a bit from the outside world where you can. Taking less responsibilities, asking for help, choosing to put more of your energy inward rather than outward into the world- to store up for winter so to speak. Crossing the Autumn Equinox with these intentions can set us up to feel our best as the weather shifts around us. Imagine entering into Autumn and Winter feeling full and strong as opposed to worn out and strung out from holding the pace of Summer until the last bit of warmth disappears. How might it effect your body to do things differently this year? Your immune system? Your energy levels?
The Nei Jing tells us that to live in harmony with the energy of late summer moving into fall will prevent illness of the lungs and large intestine in winter. This means that by returning our energy to ourselves and cultivating balance in our routines now we can make sure that our Yang Ming system (lung and large intestine organs) have the energy they need when they need it the most. Winter is the time of the least Yang in our environment, it is dark and cold. Yang directly translates to energy in the body, and when we lack that support from our environment- if we haven’t stored it up internally we often get sick. When the lungs lack energy we are prone to respiratory infections and all the fun of winter funk. When the large intestine and GI tract lacks energy, we experience indigestion and difficulty breaking down food and nutrients. Both situations start a negative cycle of losing more energy and feeling worse as winter goes on. We can break that cycle now! Let’s use this wisdom to be proactive in our health this fall. Start by choosing one or two of the suggestions listed above and incorporating them into your day. Then do it again tomorrow. Let’s see how things feel after a week or two of living in accordance with the seasons.
Late summer is strongly connected with the energy of Earth in the Chinese Medicine 5 element system. Earth energy controls the stomach and spleen organ systems, and as such eating the right foods is another important way we can support our health at this time. This is a list of whole foods that you can incorporate into your diet to help your system find balance within this transition:
Naturally Bland or Sweet Flavors
Yellow or Orange Colors
Warming Temperature or Properties
Sweet potato or yam
Cooked, not raw foods
Whole grains: rice, millet, barley, quinoa, oats
Spices: (think chai) cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove
Crock pot meals/stews/ soups/chili
What are your favorite meals that embody these qualities? Leave in the comments below, we love to hear your ideas!
Drawing a blank on recipe ideas? Here are some great Late Summer recipes from Chef Kelly to give you a place to start!
Are you concerned that your energy needs even more support to align with the seasonal transition? That’s ok, sometimes life just does that to us despite our best efforts. Estuary herbs has a few products that can help you find attunement with Late Summer’s energy. Check these out and see if you recognize yourself in their descriptions: