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Seasonal Attunement- Autumn

September 13th, 2021

Autumn is the most difficult transition for our bodies and the one most likely to cause illness or malaise. Learn about dietary and lifestyle recommendations for this seasonal transition.

The essence of food is received through the sense of smell, which is related to the Metal element and lungs. The appetite is stimulated by the warm fragrance of baked and sautéed food- concentrated foods and roots thicken the blood for cooler weather.

Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods

Transition from Summer

As we transition into Autumn 2021, let’s take a moment to reflect on the summer season we are transitioning from. Firstly, because the better we align our diet and lifestyle to the changing seasons and local climate which surround us, the better we will feel and can adapt, even when the weather is extreme. Secondly, our inner environment is greatly influenced by the outer environment so if we are attuned to the cyclical patterns of nature we can adjust accordingly.

This past summer of 2021 was hot! Sweltering, baking, smoking hot! It was the first time many of us had ever heard of the term “heat dome” (dictionary.com defines this as a “weather phenomenon in which an area experiences stifling heat when a system of high pressure pushes very warm air downward and keeps it trapped as if in a bubble”). The heat dome stuck around for about five days, settling over western Canada and the north-western US, spiking temperatures to the high 30’s and 40’s celsius. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has officially declared July 2021 as the hottest on record since 142 years of record-keeping! 1

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, this kind of extreme heat calls for even greater awareness of seasonal attunement. This is because we cannot control the outside temperatures and weather events, but we can focus on the best ways to live in accordance with them. Summer heat is a condition in TCM, symptoms of which can be:

  • fever
  • dizziness
  • heavy limbs
  • thirst with a strong desire to drink
  • parched mouth and throat
  • heart palpitations
  • headache
  • constipation

Combine the summer heat with some dampness and symptoms can manifest as:

  • vomit
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • foggy thinking
  • tightness in the chest
  • low appetite
  • fatigue

Watermelons, cucumbers, mint, and mung beans are a few examples of high moisture, cooling foods that are beneficial at combating the effects of summer heat along with other methods that I write about in my article on summer seasonal attunement.

Autumn attunement

Autumn is associated with the Metal Element in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Metal Element represents the organs of the Lung and Large Intestines. With the shorter days and cooler weather, we may soon find ourselves digging deep into dresser drawers searching for thermal socks! This year, in particular, we will welcome the rains to help replenish the parched, and in some places, scorched earth around us.

People who have asthma or any lung issues may notice that symptoms are worse at this time of the year. This is due to the effect of summer changing into autumn. It is the most difficult seasonal transition and the one I suggest paying attention to the most- particularly this year with the continued circulation of the COVID 19 virus. When our qi is weak or imbalanced we may find that we are vulnerable to respiratory infections (colds, flu, sinus, cough, tonsilitis, etc.). TCM has closely watched the rhythms in nature and our response to them for thousands of years. Incorporating the health rituals listed below will establish the habits that will set the foundation to gather and fortify your qi for wintertime.

Lifestyle

In the three months of autumn all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen and harvesting occurs.

This is the changing or pivoting point when the Yang, or active, phase turns into its opposite, the Yin, or passive, phase.

Maoshing Ni, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, p.6

Sleep

7-8 hours has been researched to be necessary for optimal cognitive function. More sleep than that was just as detrimental as not enough sleep. 2 It would be advisable to aim for at least 7 hours, even we think we can get by on less since we don’t yet fully understand what bodily and brain benefits occur during sleep. We may be missing out on a lot of health benefits, including the prevention of dementia as we age. 3

Lung health

Deep breathing exercises will help to enhance Lung qi. Deficient Lung qi can manifest as:

  • weak immune system/easily catching colds and flus
  • sponaneous sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • weak voice
  • chronic cough
  • fatigue

In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes, “Be aware of your breathing as often as you are able, whenever you remember. Do that for one year, and it will be more powerfully transformative than attending all of these [spiritual] courses. And it’s free.”

Releasing and resolving grief, the emotion of the Lungs is beneficial to Lung qi.

Because the Lungs are internally connected to the Large Intestine, when we breathe properly and have the energy to do so, the diaphragm is pulled down and up thus helping with peristalsis and proper elimination.

Activity

The summer season has abundant energy, however, autumn is a time of gathering energy to store it through the winter. We all have different requirements in regard to physical exercise. If we are exercising a lot and feeling tired and rundown this is a signal that we are doing too much. This may seem obvious but our western culture praises overexercising, even to the point of injury and pain. The thicker your eyebrows, the more you are inherently able to stress and exercise your body and recover well. This means people with thin eyebrows should focus on gentle exercises: yoga, pilates, dancing.

Letting go

Surrendering to what is. Letting go is an exhalation, a release of clinging to the impermanence of life. Holding onto old, unresolved grief, or outdated ways of being that no longer serve us, and believing and hanging on to thoughts that are not who we are will weigh us down. Nature is releasing all around us in preparation for the stillness and wintering that lays ahead. Take a moment to reflect on what you can let go of and not carry with you through winter.

Diet

Slowly increase your intake of cooked and warming foods, meals and drinks while decreasing raw, uncooked foods

Raw greens smoothies are very cooling and hard to digest- when our greens are slightly cooked we digest them easily and absorb more nutrients. Fruits such as watermelons, melons, and tropical fruits are very cold in thermal nature and too cooling for fall and winter. Shift into eating warmer breakfasts of oatmeal and high fiber pancakes and salads made with whole grains and lightly sauteed veggies or vegetable dals and rice for lunch. If you have strong digestion, a smaller amount of raw vegetables is alright; make sure to steam or cook them if you have any signs of weaker digestion: bloating, loose stools, pale face, or fatigue.

Some autumn favorite foods:

  • beets
  • bell peppers
  • bok choy
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • cranberry
  • figs
  • hazelnuts
  • leeks
  • plums
  • pumpkin
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • seeds (pumpkin, hemp, sesame, sunflower, etc.)
  • squash (butternut, acorn, spaghetti, etc.)
  • walnuts
  • all the foods listed below

Pungent and sour foods

Pungent foods are associated with the Lungs in TCM. They are beneficial at clearing phlegm from the lungs and are indicated at the first signs of a cold or the flu. To help balance pungency, the sour flavor preserves fluids (Yin) in the body. The sour flavor is astringing, which perfectly parallels the contracting essence of autumn as our energies go inwards to conserve it through winter. The recipe for apple muffins further down the page is a delicious balance of pungent and sour and makes a great snack-on-the-go.

Examples of pungent foods are:

  • cinnamon
  • fennel
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • green onions
  • kale
  • leeks
  • onions and scallions
  • pepper (black and white)
  • mustard greens

Examples of sour foods include:

  • apples
  • sauerkraut
  • vinegar
  • lemons
  • limes
  • yogurt
  • sourdough bread (make sure it is “true” sourdough- if yeast if listed as an ingredient is is not a “true” sourdough)
  • fermented dishes

Foods that nourish the Lungs

  • almonds
  • apples
  • apricots
  • grapes
  • pears
  • radishes
  • reishi mushroom

Vitamin D Supplementation

Vitamin D supplementation is not only important for bone and muscle health, but low levels show increased susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections.

Triple Apple Cinnamon muffins (Makes 12)

Apples nourish and help to moisten the Lungs and are a Yin and Qi tonic. They are a great source of fiber and Vitamin C and promote beneficial bacteria in the gut. Cinnamon is a pungent, hot, sweet, Yang tonic, and is warming to the Spleen and Stomach and aids the absorption of nutrients. Cinnamon is useful for treating diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, arthritis, and menstrual cramps.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups of flour (spelt, whole wheat, kamut)
  • 1 cup grated apple
  • 1 cups of diced apple
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup walnut oil
  • 2 eggs (or 2 tbsp ground flax seeds mixed with 6 tbsp water)
  • 1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 °F
  2. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon together.
  3. Beat the eggs or flax seeds, add in the maple syrup, applesauce, oil, yoghurt and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and incorporate.
  5. Fold in the grated and diced apple.
  6. Add to lined or butter or oil greased muffin tin.
  7. Bake for 13-16 minutes.
  1. https://www.noaa.gov/news/its-official-july-2021-was-earths-hottest-month-on-record
  2. Conor J Wild, Emily S Nichols, Michael E Battista, Bobby Stojanoski, Adrian M Owen. Dissociable effects of self-reported daily sleep duration on high-level cognitive abilitiesSleep, 2018
  3. JAMA Neurol. Published online August 30, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2021.2876