How to Harmonize Your Mind, Body and Life With Autumn

Eating seasonally was one of those ancient traditions that fell to the wayside when modern conveniences came about. It certainly wasn’t a thing when I was growing up on Long Island in the ‘80s. As a fifth grader, I thought English muffin pizzas with Polly-O mozzarella (microwaved) were a delicious snack. Uhhh…yum?

Local, in-season eating has been resuscitated as a movement recently by everyone from health experts and celebrity chefs to parents and urbane locavore foodies. Yes, in-season food is more delicious and nutritious, but living in tune with the seasons also supports health in a big way, as the classic integrative nutrition guide Staying Healthy With the Seasons by Elson M. Haas, MD, illustrated when it was published in 1981. Recently revised for the new millennium and newly available as an ebook, it’s based on the Five Element Theory from traditional Chinese medicine which posits that seasonal changes influence the complex relationship between energies, organs, materials or “elements,” moods, and foods that balance the body and mind.

It makes perfect sense when I think about how I feel during spring and summer—energized, inspired to try new things, practically chomping at the bit for adventure. Whereas in fall and winter I’m more reserved, craving precious, precious sleep, an all-out homebody mesmerized the burning Yule log video. Right now, we’re moving into autumn, a time of year when our energy should be more grounded and inward, according to Haas. It’s the point in the seasonal cycle when we harvest all the growth (food, mentality and energy-wise) that took place during the spring and summer, and we prepare for the rest we need in winter.

So, if this feeling seems familiar to you, here are some tips that will support your well-being during the brisk weather:

Harvest and Nest
Autumn is when we harvest the growth from work, projects, relationships and health. It’s a time for turning within, creating structure, devoting time to ourselves and our families. It’s a great time to nest at home, cultivate inner wisdom and nurture developing ideas and self-expression.

Express Yourself
Contemplation, journaling or creative writing and reading are great activities right now. Take a singing lesson or public speaking class to express yourself. Any home projects like fall house cleaning or DIY crafts are good, too. Make your home a warm, cozy sanctuary. I just recently repainted my bedroom and can’t tell you how satisfying it felt! Why not “put a bird on it” like the Portlandia folks?

Exercise and Exfoliate
Yoga, meditating, dancing, strolling outside, tai chi or other solo exercises mesh well with autumn energy. Even just slow, mindful, quiet breathing is beneficial—pay attention to the breath you take in and put out. Stimulate the clearing of toxins by exfoliating your skin and rinsing with cold water after a shower to close the pores. This improves circulation and prevents heat loss that leads to susceptibility to colds.

Nourish and Balance
In Chinese medicine, the lungs and large intestine are the organs associated with this season, so it’s important to nourish them. The skin is a reflection of their condition. Things like eczema and rashes are a manifestation of an imbalance in the Metal element in our bodies, which represents the minerals and salts of the earth. An imbalance can also be detected by an extreme craving or extreme distaste of pungent, spicy flavors. Coughing, back stiffness, congestion in the morning, sluggishness and headaches are also signs, which can come from a back-up of the large intestine.

Spice It Up
So, how do we keep balanced with foods? Pungent and spicy flavors are the way to go. Not “hot” spicy, but “fall” spices like cloves, cinnamon, fennel seed, anise and nutmeg. These flavors will support the lungs and intestine, keeping them strong and supported.

Choosing natural white foods (d’oh, not refined foods!) are an easy way to eat what’s in season right now. Radish (especially daikon), turnips, tofu, white fish, pears, apples, grapes and cauliflower are on the list. Garlic, ginger, onion, horseradish, wasabi and mustard greens are pungent and help disperse dampness, sluggishness and coldness within our bodies. To keep the large intestine decongested and the energy circulating, try juicing:

3 apples
3 pears
1 inch of peeled ginger

What foods and activities help you feel supported during the fall?

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Books by Elson M. Haas, MD
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