The leaves are turning golden and falling, the nights are drawing in, and there’s an ever-growing chill in the air. Autumn has undeniably arrived.
As we hurtle towards winter, you may feel an energetic shift within your body and feel more drawn to staying indoors and eating hearty, warming foods. It is important to pay attention to this, as adjusting your behaviour in accordance with the seasons is crucial to maintaining health. At least, that’s what ancient healing systems like traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) say.
One of the cornerstones of TCM is a concept known as yangsheng, which loosely translates as “nourishing life.” It advocates healthy eating, moderate exercise, balancing activity with rest, and living in harmony with nature.
This article explores the latter and the specific measures you can take to look after your health throughout the autumn and beyond.
One of the fundamental theories underpinning TCM is the idea that everything in nature exists in a state of balance. However, this state is not static and is constantly fluctuating between two poles, known as yin and yang.
Yin represents the feminine, nighttime, softness, and stillness, while yang represents the masculine, daytime, hardness, and activity. In terms of the seasons, the winter solstice is seen as the peak of yin, while the summer solstice is the peak of yang.
The months between these two points are viewed as a time of increasing yin, and the classics recommend resting more, going to bed early, and keeping warm as you approach the winter. In reality, this can be a challenge as most of us still need to maintain our daily responsibilities, regardless of the time of year.
However, there are other steps you can take to stay healthy throughout the autumn. We will discuss some practical ways to incorporate autumn yangsheng into your daily routine below.
In TCM, every season is associated with an organ, and autumn is associated with the Lungs. In this case, the word “Lungs” is written with a capital “L” to distinguish it from the Western medical idea of the lungs, which is quite different.
Although both paradigms acknowledge that the lungs are responsible for inhaling oxygen into the body and expelling carbon dioxide, the TCM version of the Lungs is far more complex. In addition to their physical function, the Lungs are associated with the emotion of grief.
In the Western world, many people view grief as a negative emotion, but this is not the case in TCM. Instead, it is seen as the essential process of letting go of what is no longer needed to make way for the new. This is much like the trees shedding their leaves in autumn to nourish the soil and conserve their energy during the winter months before blossoming again in spring.
In TCM terms, an imbalance in the Lungs could lead to physical symptoms, such as breathing difficulties or frequent infections. It could also cause emotional challenges, such as an inability to let go of the past or open up to future possibilities.
It is possible to balance the Lungs using Chinese herbal medicine or acupuncture, but there are some valuable self-care practices that may also help. Since the Lungs are associated with autumn, this is the best season to incorporate them into your routine. We explore three of the simplest methods below.
In TCM, the Lungs are associated with the colour white. The Lungs also like to be kept moist to help them function effectively. Therefore, moist, white foods are said to be best for nourishing the Lungs.
Interestingly, many of the best foods for nourishing the Lungs are coming into season with the autumn months. They include juicy pears, spicy radishes, and earthy mushrooms. You can try incorporating some of these foods into your daily diet for as a basic autumn yangsheng technique.
If it is not practical to do this, you could always try a dietary supplement instead. Mushroom products like Amanita muscaria gummies are currently all the rage and can be found in various locations online.
Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice that exercises the body and calms the mind. It involves performing repetitive movements in a specific sequence while coordinating them with your breathing. Matching these gentle motions with the breath is seen as one of the most effective ways to balance the Lungs.
Qigong is often considered a form of “moving meditation” and is great for relieving stress and improving mental health. It has other benefits too, such as improving lower-body strength, balance, and coordination.
Look for a qigong class in your local area if you would like to practice with others, or find a video online for a more private session.
Tea is another vital element of yangsheng, and chai tea is ideal for the autumn months. It contains warming spices, including ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom, that benefit the Lungs and will make you feel all snuggly from the inside out.
Brewing up a cup of chai will also give you the perfect excuse to take a few minutes out of your day to relax and recharge. You could even incorporate some mindfulness techniques into your tea break by watching as the water changes colour, breathing in the delectable aroma of the spices, and feeling the comfort of a warm cup in your hands.
What a perfect way to embrace the autumn and stay healthy throughout the colder months!
Read more: Is private healthcare worth it?
Keep up with the top stories from Reader’s Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.
Loading up next...