Transitioning into the Autumn season can be hard for all of us, and especially those of us living in the Pacific Northwest. The rain falls harder, the days get dramatically darker and colder, and the balmy evenings of seductive summer seem like a lifetime away. In many ways, our culture has drifted away from the knowledge that every seasonal change affects the body, mind, and spirit in dramatic ways – and if we don’t respond to these changes by altering our rhythm and lifestyle, we will feel off-kilter. It is not unusual during the transition into Autumn and then Winter for people to experience depression, low energy, and sickness. I see a lot of individuals in my practice who do not know to integrate seasonal changes, and that’s exactly what this post is for! When we listen to the wisdom of our bodies, we struggle less with ill health-mental, emotional or physical. In Five Element Theory, Autumn is associated with the element of Metal. Metal contracts in from all angles, gathering in. It is associated with the Lung and Large Intestine meridians. When we have balanced and strong Metal Qi we feel organized, courageous, dignified, with inner strength and discernment of what serves our best and highest selves. Out of balance we might feel despondent, sad, overly critical or judgemental of ourselves or others. We might have trouble letting go of old grudges, or literally letting go of bodily waste (ie constipation).
Embracing seasonal changes is part of staying healthy and balanced. But what does that really mean?
First of all, it means changing your energetic patterns. While summer is all about expansive, assertive energy (think going out, being active every day, waking up early and going to sleep late, maybe partying a bit too much!), Autumn is all about taking that energy, and harvesting it for storage during the coming Winter months. We move into a natural contractive, quiet energy – the opposite of our summer lifestyle. If summer is about being extroverted, winter is all about being introverted. In Traditional Chinese medicine, summer is ruled by Yang (male) energy which represents outward action, and winter is ruled by Yin, (female) energy, representing receiving, contemplation, and calm. Autumn is the transition. Summer harvest is over, and we are making sure we have reserves to get through the dark, cold winter months ahead.
Below you will find a few tips for moving through seasonal transitions gracefully and with vibrant health: food, hydrotherapy, and essential oils.
It may seem obvious that your diet should shift seasonally, but for many people this change is not intuitive. The body needs to stay warm (right around 98.6 degrees) in order to function optimally, and when the temperatures outside drop, we need to make sure we are giving the body enough warmth to stay well. Regarding food, this means avoiding cold food and drinks as much as possible. Raw green juice may be perfect for Summer, but think steamed greens in broth with ginger and garlic now (Recipe HERE). Even the water you drink in winter (which should be plenty, as always!) is best warm or room-temperature, not iced. Or consider getting most of your fluids from broths or herbal teas. My Super Tonic Chia tea has warming spices and immune supporting herbs. Check out my favorite tea drinking vessels HERE and HERE. Eating seasonally is not just about using the plants and animals that naturally are around us in winter, but supporting your immune system. Here are my favorite ideas for warming foods throughout the day:
Breakfast: eggs and veggies scrambled, warm oatmeal or porridge, and congee (Chinese chicken and rice porridge)
Lunch: Butternut squash and elk stew, warm quinoa with herbs and mushrooms, hot soups. Slow cooked meats, braised with broth or water. Sweet potato cashew dip with ginger, garlic and turmeric for veggies
Dinner: baked sweet potatoes and grass-fed beef steak, oven-roasted root vegetables with ghee. Plenty of steamed or braised hearty greens such as kale, collards, beet greens.
Here are three foundational guidelines for eating in the fall and winter months:
- Avoid cold foods.
- Incorporate warming (and immune-boosting) herbs: ginger, turmeric, curry, chilies, garlic, mushrooms of all kinds
- Broth! Bone broth is ideal for the extra nutrients it provides (collagen, gelatin, calcium, vitamins K, D, and A), but if you are vegan or vegetarian, a veggie broth is fine. Be sure to add extra minerals in the form of seaweed/kelp or mineral salt.(sign up for my newsletter and) Get my SuperCharged Bone Broth Recipe HERE.
Hydrotherapy for Autumn
While self-care is vital in every season to keep ourselves healthy, fall and winter are perhaps the most important seasons, during which self-care should be an absolute priority. For most of us this means keeping up immune health and warding off colds and flu. For many individuals as well, the winter months can exacerbate joint pain. We are designed biologically to go to bed when it gets dark! while that may not be realistic in some time zones, aim for early bedtimes and allow your body to sleep a full 8 or 9 hours if you can. Even those patients of mine who are active outdoors all summer we find are often deficient in Vitamin D (which we get from the sun). You might consider supplementing with vitamin D, or Cod Liver Oil (which has a good balance of vitamin D and A) during the darker months of the year. Colder temperatures mean that our body is working harder to stay warm and to function at full capacity, so it can be easier to become ill since energy in the body is being spent warming rather than fighting infections. Hydrotherapy is one of my favorite forms of self-care year round, in the Autumn season I recommend a routine of alternating hot and cold in the shower!
If you have ever visited my clinic, or been on my website, you probably know that hydrotherapy is a foundation of my practice and philosophy. Essentially, hydrotherapy just means therapeutic applications of hot and/or cold water on your body – this can be in a shower, in the office (Constitutional Hydrotherapy Treatment) or using a sauna and cold plunge (my favorite). Alternating hot and cold water on the surface of the body boosts circulation (both blood and lymph) dramatically, which is essential for good health. It infuses your skin (the largest organ in your body!) and organs with fresh blood- increasing your white blood cell (your immune defense) count and circulation!
One of the things I love most about hydrotherapy is that it is always available, and so easy to do.
How-to: One easy way to incorporated hydrotherapy into your daily life is in the shower. I recommend ending your shower by increasing the water temperature to a comfortable hot (without burning yourself, of course) and making sure to get your arms, legs, core, back, and head under the water for about 1 minute. Then, step out of the hot water and turn the temperature as far down as you can (it’s ok to start with a mild contrast- it’s still therapeutic, and you can gradually over time get used to colder and colder), waiting for it to get icy cold. Start by passing your hands, arms, feet, and legs through the cold water, and then jump in! Again, ensure that your core, back, and head all get covered. Stay in the cold for 1 minute, and take deep breaths while you do so. If one minute is too much for you, start with 25-30 seconds and build up to 1 minute. The full minute is ideal for maximum circulation boost. After 1 minute of cold, go back to hot water for 1 minute. Repeat this cycle 3 times, always ending on cold. If you don’t have time to go back and forth a few times, just end your hot shower with 1 minute of icy cold water.
It may seem counterintuitive to end on cold, since staying warm in winter is so important, but you will notice that when you get out of your shower and towel off that you are warmer, due to the increased blood circulation throughout your body. Your body will respond to the brief cold water application by INCREASING circulation to your periphery- believe me you will feel WARMER and MORE ALIVE! Also this has been studied and proven to reduce the number of colds by 50%, and reduce the duration of a cold if you do get sick.
Or come in to Rose Cabinet Medicine for a Sauna and Cold Plunge or the full Nature Cure Spa treatment!
I love using essential oils on a daily basis to prevent sickness, and to bring emotional balance to the day. A great oil that supports Autumn, the Lungs, and Metal Element is Siberian Fir. Siberian Fir comes from the twig and needles of the tree Abies Siberica of the pine family. It is non-sensitizing to the skin, fabulous smelling (great in the diffuser) and also can be taken internally 2-4 drops/day (only recommended with doTERRA CPTG grade oils). Siberian Fir can be useful for someone with low self confidence, mental or emotional fatigue or burn-out. It can be helpful as a muscle relaxant/analgesic for aches and pains and stiffness which might be getting worse as the cold damp sets in. It supports the Metal Element and can ease our transition into Fall. It warms, dries, and dispels damp from the lungs and from rheumatic/arthritic joints.
Use Siberian Fir in combination with
Lavender for a nervous system restorative and relaxant. Restore good sleep, reduce anxiety.
Roman Chamomile for intestinal spasms, IBS, colic.
Roman Chamomile and Marjoram for muscle pain, cramping, aches.
Cypress for cough, wheezing, sleep apnea, asthma
Ways to use these oils:
In a diffuser 3-6 drops of Siberian Fir or combination
Topically in a carrier oil for ease of application over aching joints
Footbath-4 -6 drops with epsom salt
Gel Cap-2-4 drops daily (great in combination with 2 drops each Frankincense and Copaiba)