A Chinese Medicine Guide to Autumn

According to Chinese medicine, the best way to live is in alignment with the seasons. Taking a sympathetic relationship to the rhythms of the weather requires us to adjust basic lifestyle factors, like what we eat or how we exercise, in accordance with these changing cycles. As daily existence becomes increasingly mediated by technology and busier by the second, many of us have lost touch with this integration of the natural world. The arrival of autumn is an opportune time to look to the external environment for cues on how we can cultivate inner-peace and wellbeing.

Autumn brings with it bright, crisp days and cool, clear nights. Deciduous trees begin to shed their leaves, but not before going up in a triumphant blaze of red and yellow. With this shift comes a change in body and mind. We move away from the expansive, energetic feeling of summer into a more down-tempo and sombre state. We naturally retreat inward, embracing introspection and beginning to subconsciously harvest and store our energy reserves for the dark months that lay ahead.

Here are some Chinese medicine-inspired tips for making the most of the season.

Food

In summer we craved a light diet of fresh salads, juices, smoothies, and raw fruit and vegetables. In autumn we can switch to a more warming diet to aid digestion, using slow and considered cooking methods like stewing, baking, and roasting. Soups and stews reign supreme. Casseroles, remember those? You might make a comforting barley porridge for breakfast, and enjoy taking a languid Sunday afternoon over the stove to prepare a big batch of meals for the week ahead. Add bone broth as a base to pasta and rice, or enjoy a rich and warming cup on its own. Opt for root vegetables; anything that grows under the ground. Here, nourishment is the name of the game.

In Chinese medicine, the flavour of autumn is ‘pungent’ and should be tempered with ‘sour’. Look out for produce that is in season and grown locally. Try the below as a guide of what to eat in autumn:

Vegetables: pumpkin, beetroot, cauliflower, eggplant, mushroom, leek, sweet potato, parsnip, carrot, spinach, avocado, cabbage, turnip, fennel
Fruits: apple, grapes, fig, plum, persimmon, pear, lemon, cumquat
Grains: oats, rice
Herbs: bay leaves, caraway seeds, cardamom, chives, cinnamon, cloves, dill, oregano, nutmeg, rosemary, thyme, watercress, pepper

As autumn is also associated with dryness, make sure you stay hydrated, aiming for 10 glasses of water per day. Herbals teas are good hacks to hydration, too.

Fitness

Autumn is suspended between the high-octane yang of summer and the more reclusive yin of winter, so we can start to ease off on high-intensity work-outs and opt for deep stretching and yin yoga, as well as brisk walks of a morning or evening. Gentle movement keeps circulation flowing and the body warm, ready for winter. Wind is a key element of autumn, so it can be beneficial to practice balancing breath work.

Self-care

Autumn is synonymous with the large intestine and lung meridian. The latter is associated with the emotion of sadness, grief, and letting go, so autumn can be a challenging time for mental health. A repression of grief, or grief that goes unchecked for long periods of time, can cause the lungs to contract and interfere with the immune system leading to coughs, colds, and congestion. It can also manifest as depression, so it’s important to be soft and gentle with yourself this season. Just as the trees lose their leaves, what can you too let go of?

Summer’s long days and late nights called for exploration, adventure, and spending time outdoors. Now autumn asks for recalibration, nesting at home, slowing down, and being alone. Journalling and meditation can be useful tools to aid this process of going inward, while the drop in temperature makes for the perfect excuse to put your phone on flight mode and pore over the pages of a book.

Relationships

Many of us find ourselves burned out after summer’s social events. Autumn offers us the chance to pare back on these commitments and hone in on the relationships we really want to invest energy into. We can take it as an offering to spend one-on-one time with friends rather than opting for bigger group occasions, and really focus on our lovers without outside distractions. Think cosy nights in, and mid-morning strolls with crisp laves underfoot. The sounds of summer begin to come to a halt, so this means we too can embrace being quiet and calm, speaking with intention rather than to merely fill a space.

Sleep

According to Chinese medicine, we should adjust our sleeping patterns with the seasons. The days are shorter in autumn, providing a convenient rationale to go to bed earlier than we ordinarily would and catch up on sleep. Sleep plays a vital role in protecting the immune system as we progress towards winter, so try retiring an hour earlier than usual while still rising with the morning sun.

Photography and words by Really Well.

Cheat sheet

  • Season: Autumn
  • Element: Metal
  • Yin Organ: Lungs
  • Yang Organ: Large intestine
  • Emotion: Sadness and grief
  • Sound: Crying
  • Colour: White
  • Healing sound: Sssssss
  • Mantra: Nest, nurture, nourish

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