Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re just entering into the fall, but in the calendar of Chinese medicine, fall has already been here for a month. The autumnal equinox that we celebrate as fall’s beginning is the midpoint of the season in Chinese thought which observes that while we only now see fall manifest in the world around us, our bodies have been preparing for this change for quite a while. The shift can be subtle; perhaps we find ourselves getting sleepy a little earlier in the evenings as the days shorten, or it can be dramatic; like a sudden unexpected cold or flu. How we treat ourselves through the tides of the seasons is often the deciding factor in how we weather the changing weather.
Fortunately, the classic text of Chinese medicine, Huang Di Nei Jing, has advice for us on how to manage:
These three months of autumn are called ‘flourishing and balance’. The atmosphere is tense and the air of the earth is bright. Retire early and rise early, as the chickens do. Make the thoughts calm and tranquil, to slow the punishments of the autumn. Exercise restraint of the mind in balance with the season’s spirit. Don't race outside, but make the breath clear. This is how to apply [oneself to] the air of autumn. Going against [these principles] will wound the lung. The winter will be draining and little will be stored.
-Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 2
This period can be punishing, as the light becomes shorter and the nights get colder. It's the beginning of flu season and it's easy for us to overdo it and open ourselves up to what the Nei Jing calls the “robber winds” of the fall. This is the time to begin the conservation that will get us through the lean months of winter. Turning in a bit earlier, relaxing in our free time, and allowing our minds to become calm; we can prepare for the season to come. We still rise early, and we still work hard. We aren't yet in hibernation, but we are treating ourselves gently. Racing about and working late will only tax our resilience and leave us vulnerable, so we breathe easy and we take time to nourish ourselves. The autumn requires balance. The heat and vibrancy of summer have past, but the long dark of winter hasn't yet set in. This is also the harvest period, when we enjoy what we’ve grown. We eat warmly and well, we take our time, and we settle in. Conscientious, in thought and in action, we avoid spending the reserves we’ll need in the next few months. We luxuriate in the flourishing harvest, but we store up for the coming cold.
- Brad Hamiln LAc, MAcOM.