Classical Chinese medicine has a strong reputation for its use in preventative healthcare and wellness, through living in tune with nature and the seasonal cycles. Modern life has become increasingly disconnected from these cycles – we live in a 24/7 society, in climate-controlled environments, eating non-seasonal foods but it is possible to live in closer harmony with the seasons through understanding the underlying energies associated with them. Autumn is strongly associated with the Metal Element, the essential nature of this Element relates to the balance of taking in and letting go.
In the West time is a linear concept in which autumn is seen as the beginning of the end of the year. Many patients talk of having a sense of impending dread through the autumn, a sense that they are looking into the abyss of winter with its long, dark days and lack of apparent vitality as they see dying leaves falling from cold, stark trees. Chinese philosophy has a more cyclical concept of time where autumn is seen as an essential component of the cycle of the seasons. The subtle energies of autumn encourage the trees to let go of their leaves in order to preserve life, so they can survive the winter with enough energy to flourish in the spring. It is a positive, cathartic process; the life-force of the tree turns inwards, the discarded leaves return to the earth to enrich it for the spring.
Many of us would benefit from taking notice of this seasonal energy, using it as a springboard to look to our own emotional clutter or clutter in our living environments. How many of us are holding onto things we no longer need, holding onto negative emotions? Hanging onto this unnecessary clutter is like a tree hanging onto old leaves; we need to let go of the waste in order to be receptive to the potential of new beginnings.
The other aspect of the Metal energy of autumn relates to taking in, specifically the taking in of the pure once all the detritus has been eliminated. This can be understood in relation to the sorting fruit for storage or for pickling; anything damaged or rotting is cut out or thrown out and only pure, healthy fruit is laid down for future use. It is necessary to be ruthless or the whole harvest may quietly rot in storage.
Grief is an emotion with a strong association to the Metal Element and an appropriate emotion to feel at a time of loss or separation. Moving through Grief is a twofold process, there comes a time when it is necessary to let go of negative emotions and hold onto pure, positive emotions, memories of warmth and of love. If there is an underlying imbalance in the Metal Element, it can be very difficult to go through this stage and it is easy to become overwhelmed by stagnating emotions.
Autumn is the season when the Metal Element is at its natural peak, which makes it very responsive to treatment by acupuncturists who can use needles to help rebalance and restore Metal energy. There are also small changes you can make to your routine which can help preserve, protect and strengthen your Metal energy:
Declutter! Go through your makeup drawer, your medicine cabinet, your garage or anywhere else that clutter builds up. Discard what you don’t need, recycle, donate, sell – decluttering is a great exercise to strengthen your Metal energy.
Build a daily breathing exercise into your routine - pause for a few moments to place a hand on your abdomen and take some slow, deep breaths. As you breathe in, try to direct the energy of the breath into your hand; as you breathe out, feel the release of negativity and tension in your body.
You can also strengthen the Elements through diet by including the following foods in your diet: onions, garlic, leeks, cauliflower, white beans, white fish, dill, fennel, horseradish, and thyme.
Alexandra O’Connor LicAc MBAcC