According to the Chinese calendar, Autumn begins on the 7th of August, when after the Summer Solstice (23 of June) the light of the day gradually starts to decrease and the first cool weather appear. Proceeding towards the Autumn Equinox 23rd of September when daylight and night are equal it then moves gradually to its end on the 7th of November, Li Dong, 立冬 or start of Winter. In Yin Yang terms, this period of the year marks the end of the expansion of Yang, which marks the beginning of the contraction of Yin.
During this journey, Autumn passes through the following phases:
- Heat Limit Chù Shǔ 处暑 (23rd of August), when heat recedes and the climate becomes more temperate
- White Dew Bái Lù 白露 (8th of September), when heat gives way to cooler days and nights
- Autumn Equinox Qiū Fēn 秋分 (23rd of September), when daylight and night are equal
- Cold Dew Hán Lù 寒露 (8th of October), when the first dew, a sign of colder night, appears in the fields
- Frost Descends Shuāng Jiàng 霜降(23rd of October), when frost makes its first appearance
- Start of Winter lì dōng 立冬 (7th of November), when darkness sets gradually increasing to reach its peak by the Winter Solstice, the longest night in the year.
In the above chart, each date marks the starting of each small autumnal season.
How does Autumn affect the human being ?
According to the principle that 'Heaven and human beings are one 天人合一' , human physiology follows and responds to the rhythms of nature. Being aware of the subtle changes happening in nature allows us to understand our inner processes and tune in consciously with the energy of the season.
Descending and retreating is the natural motion of this time: Yang's 'decline' means that upward and expansive movements are weak. Thus the lymph can no longer be move to the top of the tree and returns to the roots. The fruits and the leaves fall to the ground, and trees remain bare. In human physiology, the decline of the Yang signals the moment when also human activity should gradually be reduced in order to prevent its waste and abuse. This is a time of retreating, slowing down and shifting our gaze from the external world to our inner world. Unfortunately, in Western societies, retreating and resting are not met with favour, as they oppose the modern view of the world that one always should keep on going, doing, achieving, and reaching targets.
When welcomes as natural processes of life, increased retreat and silence provide a space where it is possible to meet our inner world and look at our inner knots. Looking inside may make us aware of what we no longer need. This in turns, may foster a sense of loss and grief. These days, many call this 'depression' and seek medical help to 'overcome' it, instead of surrendering to it.
Yet,this is a time of releasing and purging, both in nature and in human life. Becoming aware of what does not serve us any longer and learning to let go of it, can create an emptiness which allows the new to come.
How to cope with the autumn blues
What happens if we do not accept this autumnal condition and try to get out of it by 'lifting' the Yang?
Encouraging the Yang to expand and rise would be like hitting an exhausted donkey to make it move. This would only exhaust it further and possibly make it die.What is required now is to help the person to connect with a quiet, inner power. As without Autumn and Winter the new Yang cannot be strong enough to surge with power in Spring in order to generate a new cycle of life, so without declining the Yang of any human being cannot support the time of activity when it propels us into new actions, a new day, a new season, a new cycle of life.
By understanding the reason why Autumn is so important for health, we educate ourselves to develop an appreciation for the qualities of Autumn, the approaching Yin. We, then, acquire an appreciation for rest, intimacy, silence, connection with the heart. To remain observant of this process can yield greater self-knowledge. No need to rush into therapy, then!
Autumn and the human organs
In Chinese Medicine, the organs connected with Autumn are the Lungs 肺 and the Large Intestine大腸.
The Lungs take in 'heaven, tian 天' i.e. all the intangible stimulation of the senses, the frequencies of nature, its subtle changes, the oxygen we breathe in and out. The Lungs take all this in and unites it to the material, tangible body. With the out breath, the Lungs also discharge debris and impurities. A cleansing task, very similar to that of the Large Intestine.
When Chinese Medicine talks about Lungs and Large Intestine, it does not only refer to them as physical organ. In Chinese Medicine, when we say "Lungs " or "Large Intestine", we connect with an array of meanings pointing to more or less tangible manifestation, all pertaining to the discrete spectrum of the 'Lungs' / 'Large Intestine' qualities that express the Element/Phase Metal.
Metal narrates the tale of a season (Autumn) of retreat, of a time of Yang being curbed and contained, of nature letting go, of sadness and, may be, grieving. It narrates the tale of mellow light setting in after the blaze of summer. Close your eyes: can you see, feel, smell, hear the Autumn? That is Metal! And now can you try to feel it in you? It is your skin and body hair, it is the acrid taste you may want to add to your food, it is that sense of melancholy you can feel at times, when you feel nostalgic or miss, simply miss. Metal is with you when you let go, because you want more quality, and cleaner situations and inner states. Metal is with you when you connect with higher values and with the life giving power of Po 魄, who animates your flesh and endows it with the ability to feel, think, move, aspire and be grateful for life.
Simple advice for a smooth autumn transition
What can be done to handle this time of the year in the best possible way?
General (the advice of the bible of Chinese Medicine, the "Huangdi Neijing - Suwen, (2:48) (1)
"Go to bed early and rise early, let the mind be peaceful and tranquil, collect the spirit qi and cause the autumn qi to be balanced, do not direct your mind to the outside and cause the lung qi to be clear. This is correspondence with the qi of Autumn and it is the Way to nourish gathering".
It is important to exercise in Autumn, avoiding anything too strenuous that favours perspiration. Walking in nature, yoga, gentle qigong, meditation are all forms of exercise recommended for this time of the year, especially when they are performed in the morning, the time when Yang is active.
In general evening training is not advisable. Why? Because the 24 hours in the day also follow the rhythms of rising and falling of the sun. When the sun rises, Yang naturally starts moving, ready to support the activities of the day. When the sun sets, Yang naturally recedes to its storing place deep into the body, to rest and be refuelled. Whereas using Yang moderately on Autumn mornings respects the natural laws, using it in the evening, contradicts them and can cause illness.
In general the principle we should follow to be well in every season and resonate with nature is suggested by the Huangdi Neijing Suwen, ch2. when it says:
" The human being should conform to earth, earth to heaven, heaven to dao and dao? To whatever is natural (to itself), 人法地， 地法天天法道， 到大自然". (2)
- cereals : rice (all kinds ) and oats are the main staple food
- meats: chicken and fish, foods high in proteins
- vegetables: pumpkin, sweet potatoes and all vegetables in season
- fruit: fruits in season, acid, sweet and slightly pungent i.e. grapes that help the descending of Yang Qi into storage, figs, ginger, onions, coriander.
Advice for practitioners
What to do with pathological manifestation appearing in Autumn ?
Underneath the cluster of symptoms and signs (colour, pulses, tongue etc) presented by the patient together with the main complaint and the syndrome (s) they signify, we need to look for what is wrong in the cycle of Yang Growing /Yang Declining and what is the root pathogen that underpins it.
Principles of treatment
- In herbal medicine, it is recommended to prescribe herbs that help the Yang descend and leave the surface and, at the same time, herbs that strengthen the Yang storage
- In acupuncture, as in herbal treatment, we should aim at prohibiting the rise of Yang by helping it to return to the 'root'.
(1) "Huang Di Nei Jing - Suwen: An Annotated. Translation of Huang Di’s Inner Classic - Basic Questions" Vol I C 2 by Paul U. Unschuld, H. Tessenow with J.Zheng ed. University of California Press, S Berkeley Los Angeles, 2003, pg 48.
(2) Laozi, ch25 ( find it online at : https://ctext.org/dao-de-jing