New Yorkers tend to forget that they are a part of nature. We celebrate autumn by purchasing a mum plant at the florist and ordering a pumpkin spice latte. The healthy ones among us actually buy seasonal local vegetables at the green market, which is a great thing to do, because eating local seasonal food is a large part of staying in harmony with the season. But Chinese medicine is based on energy. Classical texts state that if you always get sick in winter it is because you were out of harmony in autumn. Winter is hard and to stay healthy we need to prepare.
Energetically summer is the time of expansion. Farmers work long hours because there is more daylight. We work on our environment by completing home projects. We push out into the world doing things like running and biking out of doors. It is also a time of enjoyment, expanding our horizons by traveling on vacation and reaching out to plan outings with loved ones. Winter, on the other hand, is a time of contraction. There are many obvious examples in nature - the energy of trees withdrawing, animals hibernating. We have less energy because our bodies are fighting the cold and our spirits are lower because the world is darker. Historically, people stayed indoors doing quiet activities, like weaving and sewing, and fisherman mending their nets. Winter was a time of rest, inward introspection, and staying in the cabin with immediate family.
During autumn, a time of transition, our energy is supposed to begin to contract. Winter is hard. Most of us celebrate the holidays and are exhausted by January 1, but we still have months of winter ahead of us. Like squirrels, we should be organizing our food supplies. Like gardeners, we should be pruning and cutting back.
Depending on our own energy and lifestyle we each react to autumn differently. Most people have a favorite season and a season they dislike, based on their constitution and history. For a few years I had difficulty every winter but when I began to try to live in harmony with the seasons my health improved. My pattern was to work too hard during the summer and then in fall realize that I hadn’t been to the ocean or been in nature all summer. I would feel cheated and start trying to enjoy life more, but then I wouldn’t prepare for winter. I would find myself carrying loads of provisions on icy streets in the dark, struggling in the cold. It was depressing. Or I would be dealing with household emergencies because I hadn’t taken the time to do seasonal maintenance. By February I would be exhausted, agitated, and get bronchitis.
Autumn’s focus should be organizing and getting ready to rest and hibernate in the winter. It’s good to to make a large order from Costco and load up on paper goods and foodstuffs, so that on the coldest winter nights meal can be organized without going out. Of coarse that means making room for provisions by throwing things out, which is like pruning away dead leaves. One strategy is to clean out the freezer and take trip to Trader Joe’s and load up on easy meals for cold nights. And get some frozen hors’ d’oeuvres for winter nesting with loved ones. Do finish up on household projects started during the summer, tying up loose ends, winding down all the activity for a winter’s rest. Develop some strategies to stay home more - order books and games, plan some uplifting quiet activities. Plan ahead so you can do whatever you need to do so you can enjoy resting some this winter!
A lot of living harmoniously with autumn means calming down and focussing more on yourself rather than the externals. It’s a great time to do a detox, which might mean limiting watching the news. Do what works for you - more yoga, meditation, start Tai Chi, come in for a treatment. But whatever you do, try to wind down some.
Foods good to eat are all locally grown fruits and vegetables - pears, apples (especially baked), nuts, pumpkin, winter squash, all root vegetables, mushrooms, legumes (don’t forget hummus!) Spices are good to have now - cinnamon, ginger, sage, rosemary, thyme.