Autumn, time to welcome in the cooler weather. Learning how to adapt our yoga practice, lifestyle habits and diet can help us stay healthy and well, and may help prevent us from catching that niggling cold as the cooler months draw in. Read on to find out how.
According to Chinese Medicine, there are five elements (Metal, Earth, Water, Wood, Fire), all of which reside in nature and us.
Autumn is associated with the Metal Element which is characterised with the ability of being able to balance letting go of what is needed and what is surplus to requirements. We see this in nature when the trees let go of their leaves and absorb essential nutrients from the soil in preparation for the Winter and the new growth which will occur the following Spring.
Just like nature, we should be aiming for a balance between what we need and what we don’t need – both in a mental and physical capacity. This will keep our Metal happy and go a long way into helping us stay healthy during the winter months ahead.
Let’s look at this in more detail.
Metal and Our Bodies
On a physical level, Metal is linked with the organs of the lung and large intestine. The lungs (yin organ) is responsible taking in nourishment (i.e. oxygen) from the air. The large intestine (yang) organ is responsible for getting rid of our waste.
If we are a little out of balance we could suffer from problems associated with the lungs and large intestine (think respiration or elimination issues). Skin issues can also be an evident as skin is another organ of elimination (via sweat). The lungs are directly linked to our immune system which can explain why many of us can suffer from poorer health around this time of year and through the coming months.
Metal and Our Minds
On a mental level, Autumn is a time for reflection. Metal is linked to the emotion grief or sadness and governs our ability to cope with loss and change. When we are out of balance we may find that we struggle to let go of past disappointments or challenges, more then we normally would at other times of the year.
To keep our Metal element happy it is essential for us to find ways to navigate these strong emotions so we can feel happier and more fulfilled as the Winter draws in.
Supporting our Metal element
Making some simple changes to your yoga practice, lifestyle and diet and you will be well on your way to having a healthier Autumn
- Build a routine around your yoga practice; try to be consistent. This will really help you to find some grounding and sense of structure which will support the Metal element. I am a morning person so I do a short practice as soon as I wake up. It doesn’t need to be everyday though, just be consistent.
- Include poses which will support the lungs and large intestines. Add in some twists (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, Supine Twist, Revolved Triangle), side stretches (standing Crescent moon, Triangle), backbends (Camel, Bridge, Upward bow) and hip openers (Pigeon or supine Pigeon).
- Try some breath work (pranayama). Try Ujjayi or Alternative Nostril breathing. All will help support the health of the lungs and your immune system. Add breath work at the beginning or end of your session (or during, if you are using practising breathing tools like Ujjayi).
- Vinyasa flows are perfect for this time of year (breath and movement). Sun Salutations are great and you could easily add in some simple twists, side bends and back bends to make it a perfect all round practice. You can also create your own sequence by stringing together 2-3 poses. Complete the sequence on one side and then repeat on the other.
- Finally in the true spirit of Autumn steer clear from poses which are not helpful to you or your body. Instead welcome in poses which will actually nourish you and don’t be afraid of using props or assists to give you that little extra support.
- Try and eat regularly and at the same time each day.
- As with every season try to eat more seasonally available foods
- As a general rule of thumb (and as suggested in post on supporting the Earth element), because the weather is cooling down it is time to eat cooked, warming food again. Longer cooking times and heartier ingredients will nourish the body and support the immune system.
- Autumn is a dry season (think leaves falling off the tree) so make sure that you stay hydrated and eat moisturising foods – think soups and stews.
- Take advantage of Your Body’s natural Detoxification Process. Because nature is shedding and getting rid of what it does not need your body is doing the same. To help with the process take an honest look at your diet, and try and cut out food which will hinder the ‘detox’ process. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and chocolate is a good start. Ditch foods high in sugar, salt and flour and avoid acidic foods like nuts and seeds (especially around the last 2-3 weeks of September).
- Those who are more hard core can choose to do a juice cleanse around the Autumn Equinox (3 days around 21st September) but do remember to get medical advice or professional guidance if you are interested in this approach. Alternatively, Kicharee is a great dish to eat around the Autumn Equinox as it will naturally detox your body (see below for recipe) in a more gentle way.
- For some of us, reducing mucus forming foods are helpful (cold food, dairy and sweets) as this will help the bowel to work more efficiently.
- Try to include more pungent flavours like garlic, onions, ginger, fennel, ginger cinnamon, cloves, dill. All help to support the immune system.
LIFE STYLE AND MENTAL HEALTH
- Journal. I love journaling especially after meditation (if that is your thing). It really helps you to tap into your deep inner voice – the voice which always speaks your truth. Reflect upon what that voice is telling you. Take time to think about what you want out of life. Be open to new things and at the same time be honest about anything you need to let go of which is stopping you from moving on.
- Have a clear out! This is something on my ‘to do list’ for sure. I have a stack of old teaching resources that go way back from when I was still working in schools. I don’t need them anymore but was hanging onto them because of sentimental reasons. Not for much longer. Maybe you have something in your home which you know in your heart of hearts you need to get rid of. In the words of ‘Frozen’ – “let it go, let it go”
- The nights are getting longer now so try and get a full 8 hours sleep each night.
- Skin can get really dry so keep it happy by applying a nice skin oil or moisturiser.
- If you enjoy baths why not try an Epsom Salt bath. Good for helping to soothe and relax the body before bed and also is a detox aid.
- Stay Warm. This is the season where we are more susceptible to colds so a simple thing such as wearing a scarf can make a big difference. This will help keep your neck warm which is apparently where the cold is said to enter the most easily.
So there you have it, some simple ways to help you improve your health and wellbeing during the Autumn season. Just make some changes to your diet, lifestyle and yoga practice by following some (or all) of the tips above. Remember just go with what feels good for you and your body; nothing more, nothing less. Even if you just pick a couple of things from each ‘list’ you will be doing yourself some good.
Want a ready made yoga practice to try? Try my yoga flow to welcome in Autumn