This information is kindly brought to you by an interview with Kathy Jensen, Clinical Herbalist and Licensed Massage Therapist at Mind & Body Connection in Sioux City.
In the rolling hills and plains of the Midwest, we have both the profound benefit and challenge of experiencing each one of the earthly seasons (sometimes, all in one week. Or day.). The most radical shifts in season occur during spring and fall. For example, in Iowa, we experience a reasonably steep transition from the warm, circulatory-stimulating, and fiery outward expression of summer months to the calm, introspection of autumn, as cool and solid as metal. Because of this sharp shift, ancient and holistic medicine treats autumn as one of the most essential times to cleanse and support the body’s systems. The term “cleanse” does not necessarily mean drinking only lemon juice and apple cider vinegar for a week to “lose weight.” A cleanse can simply be a way to tune in to our Earthly surroundings and take steps to harmonize with them.
A simple but pure way to tune into the Earthly seasons is to observe and interact with our natural surroundings. For many of us, this means we must start by putting down the smart phones, tablets, favorite shows, and games. Once we have put away the devices, we can start to discover and develop personalized ways to absorb this season of Autumn. This could look like simply taking a walk among the yellows and oranges of shifting ash trees, or the deep reds and purples of fire bushes and maple trees. Also, foraging through native grasses and herbs assists in imprinting the Earth’s autumn through our senses into our nervous systems. However, one of the most potent ways we can commune with the season is by consuming the medicinal herbs and food made available during autumn.
In many ancient medicinal practices such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), not only is the medicine of the earth highly connected with the present season, but it is also associated with an element of the earth and a set of organs of the body. This association may sound quite the stretch but let us take a closer look.
For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine associates autumn with the earthly element of metal and the bodily organs of the lungs and large intestine. The ancients understood metal to govern organization, order, communication, the mind, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. These are all interpretive characteristics: solid, cool, metal particles tightly packed together, neatly organized, and contained. Thus, autumn supports the finishing of projects from spring, harvest, hard work, transition inward, and the practice of letting go. This season of leaves falling and the foliage curling inward for a long sleep supports us in releasing old belief systems so that we may find peace of mind.
Working with the elements helped the ancients uncover the deep connection humans have with the earth, as they found metal to be perfectly reflected in the human form in the lungs and large intestine, which, again, may seem an off-the-wall connection. However, even in anatomy and physiology, the structure of an organ or tissue is fully synchronic with its function. For example, the lungs act as a container with a light and balloon-like structure, quite fit for pulling essential and life-supporting oxygen into the body while ridding it of toxic carbon dioxide. In a similar way, the energy of the lungs is synchronic with its function, which is that of clarity and peace with respect to the emotion and process of grief. The hard work that comes with fully processing death of any form (be it a loved one who has passed on, an old belief system even self-doubt) leads to a deep peace with oneself and impermanence.
Navigating the deep, cool waters of grief and release as the winds of autumn begin to invade can most assuredly be some of our most challenging moments in this life. As a way to not simply remove our suffering, but to grow through it, the earth provides nourishment for us as we process. Autumn is a time to warm the inside of the body to prepare and protect it against what the ancients called “wind invasion,” which can lead to illness, cold, or flu. Luckily, there is a class of herbs that act as both a carminative and a pyretic. This means they assist in digestive processes and help warm the body, which is toning for the lungs and prepares them for the cold autumn winds:
Cinnamon, sweet and warm, acts as a prebiotic that stimulates digestion while easing discomfort associated with this process. It also has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties which is ideal for the upper respiratory system during cooler months.
Ginger is even more warming than cinnamon and shares similar yet deeper healing properties. Ginger can treat nausea and is very warming, almost spicy, which gives it its antimicrobial properties.
Cardamom is another common and intuitive fall herb with warming effects that can assist with digestive discomfort, heartburn, and constipation.
Another class of herbs that provides great armor against wind invasion is the adaptogens. These herbs have properties that, when combined, provide potent medicine for helping the body adapt to seasonal shifts and commonly come in the form of fungus:
Shiitake mushrooms have a trifecta of superpowers; their ability to balance the gut fauna and flora also boosts the immune system and helps reduce the inflammation associated with excessive stress. These are all well-needed helpers during the cool, metal season of fall so that the immune system can function efficiently without overworking.
Chaga is another fungus with properties that help combat the harmful effects of oxidation in the blood. Oxidative stress can be the cause for many illnesses and harmful symptoms such as inflammation and even cancer.
There are so many other bits of medicine that the season holds, so in order to help you connect the many dots between earthly season, body, element, and herb, please take the following grounding and Autumnal meditation:
Sink your awareness down into your feet or whatever part of your body is touching the ground, even if you find yourself seated or lying down in a chair or sofa. These are simply ways to bring the ground up to meet you. Feel the Earth beneath wherever you are and connect with her support. Notice her solidity and strength while you let go of a long, slow exhale. Keep that grounded feeling as you inhale and then see if you can observe a slight buoyancy through your spine. Keep that sense of lightness as you exhale back into the ground beneath you and lean again into support, solidity, and strength. This time envision the sharp, coolness of metal that exists in the earth, giving it this sturdy form. Iron, magnesium, zinc, and many other forms of metal sing solidity all the way through to the core of the earth. These are all also necessary elements to your human form, though in small amounts. Even so, feel into the clean and clear strength that exists within you just physically in the form of the metals that swim in your bloodstream. Sit and breathe with this feeling so that you can absorb it and bring it with you into your awareness, your day, your week, and take it with you through your Autumn season.
By Emily Larson, Licensed Massage Therapist, Private Yoga Instructor, Bachelor of Science Kinesiology & Human Performance, Instructor of Anatomy and Pathology for massage therapy students at the Bio Chi Institute, mother to Noah.