Most of what I list below comes from my understanding of seasonal energy as expressed in the previous article, informed by actual suggestions from Classical texts, the teachings of some of my professors at NCNM and one contemporary text, Paul Pitchford’s Healing With Whole Foods.
One thing you will notice is that each season relies on proper behavior in the prior season. So, if one behaves inappropriately in the summer, one won’t have the necessary energy to do the appropriate behaviors in the fall and so on. However, this is not a hopeless situation.
I recommend following these suggestions most carefully, expanding and contracting them based on your situation, knowledge and experience. If you do feel that your energy is currently taxed, seeing a qualified Chinese medicine physician will help to rectify your energy perhaps setting you on an even playing field. I will try to keep the suggestions brief, for ease of reading, elaborating if anyone asks me to do so in the comments. I would also be most grateful if the practitioners among you could add any commentary, or correct any erroneous suggestions I present.
Food and drink: Because of the potential for damage to Lung Qi – one should eat foods that help to protect this vital substance. Most sources indicate that pungent flavor belongs to metal, in a sense this is correct. The Neijing, Chapter 4 – does list a table of correspondences that indicates that pungency resonates with metal. This makes sense insofar that pungent brings things to the surface, and the pores and body hairs are governed by Lung, thus metal, energy. However, in Yiyin’s Decoction Classic (伊尹湯液經), sour belongs to metal and we are told to use sour to tonify, or to use tonification of the mother (Earth, with sweet) to boost its energy. I have used pungent flavors in years past to try to come into harmony with the Fall season, but this year I am going to try using sweet and sour flavors. It is important to note that one shouldn’t use any of the flavors to excess, and for the majority of Americans their first thoughts about using flavors are usually to excess! For instance, one shouldn’t go out and drink a quart of lemon juice and eat five donuts in order to tonify with sweet and sour. Below are some suggestions of local, seasonal foods that emphasize both sweet and sour flavors in a gentle, yet potentially effective manner.
1. Pears cooked with Yi Yi Ren (coix, Job’s tears) : This is a classic dietary formula for counteracting dryness of the Lung as in a hacking cough. However, it can be used to tonify the Lung even when no illness is present.
To create this recipe you need:
- 6-8 firm pears, not too ripe (sweet and sour flavor)
- about a cup of Yi Yi Ren (you may be able to find in a local Chinese grocery or natural foods/herb store as Job’s tears or Yiyi Ren – it is related to common barley)
- 1-2 cups warm water
- perhaps a little honey or agave nectar
Simply core the pears, leaving a small portion of the core on the bottom if possible to create a kind of pear container. Grind the Yi Yi Ren in a coffee grinder or other machine until you create a coarse powder. Mix the ground seeds with warm water and the honey or agave nectar if you choose, enough to create a thick liquid about the consistency of half and half.
I have simmered this mixture over low heat until all pieces feel soft and the mixture has a smooth consistency, but this is not necessary. Preheat your oven to about 375 and place the pears in a casserole dish in a vertical direction so the hole points up. Drizzle the Yi Yi Ren mixture all over the pears, filling each up equally. Cover the pears with a sheet of tin foil or a lid if it will fit. Cook for 40 or so minutes until the pears are soft. Eat warm. It’s a great light dessert, a good supplement for other herbal formulas when you have a cough, and fine to eat anytime.
2. Simple Fall Tonification stir fry
To create this recipe you need:
- 4-5 cloves of garlic (sweet, pungent, affinity for the Lung)
- half an onion
- 5-6 carrots (sweet, neutral, affinity for the Lung)
- .5 – 1 pounds mushrooms (oyster or shitakke are especially appreciated, generally sweet, affinity for Spleen/Stomach)
- 2-3 parsnips (white, sweet)
- collard greens or other deep leafy green (mostly bitter, but just great for health)
- 1 pound tofu (white, resonant with metal energy)
- sesame and/or olive oil for sauteeing
- rice or balsamic vinegar (sour)
- shoyu, Braggs or other soy-sauce like liquid (soy sauce is too strong, so use less if this is your only choice)
Cut the carrots and parsnips into similar sizes, leaving the carrots slightly larger. Quarter the mushrooms (if they are large, halve them if they are smaller in size). Chop the onion roughly. Dice or crush the garlic. Remove tough stems from the greens, wash thoroughly, and roughly chop the leaves and tender stems. Chop the tofu into cubes about 1 inch by 1 inch.
Fry the tofu first in a mixture of sesame and olive oil. I use about a medium-high heat. Allow the tofu to brown, which requires that you do not turn it too often. It won’t be perfect, don’t worry. Once the tofu is browned, add the garlic and onions, cook until the onion is translucent. At the same time, add vinegar liberally (about 1/8 cup) along with about half as much shoyu or other seasoning liquid and a dash of salt and pepper.
Add the carrots and parsnips, cook until the parsnip is tender – about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and watch them – they will release liquid about 3-4 minutes into cooking – continue to cook until this liquid is mostly absorbed again. Finally add the greens and cook the entire mixture, adding salt and pepper along with splashes of vinegar until the taste of the tofu is to your liking. Focusing on the taste of the tofu is important as it has been cooking the longest and has absorbed the greatest number of different flavors.
3. Eat ample fall fruits, such as:
1. Persimmons (sweet)
2. Peaches (sweet and sour)
3. Apples (sweet, sour)
I have created a simple fruit salad using these fruits and white grapes with a simple dressing of water, agave nectar, ground almonds and dried cranberries. This is a great Lung tonic dish and a wonderful dessert.
4. Other good fall foods include:
1. Sourdough bread
2. Aduki beans
5. Almonds (sweet, neutral, Lung)
Include these foods in greater amounts in your fall diet – but of course keep to a balanced whole foods diet in general.
5. In general, cook with more heat (baking, sauteeing) and begin to introduce more hearty root vegetables (sweet potatoes and parsnips are good choices). This will impart an increasing inward and warming energy to your diet, preparing you for the long months of winter.
Physical and social activity
In general, excessive activity should be ramped down in autumn.
“This is the time to gather one’s spirit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild,” the Neijing says.
While physical (including sexual) activity is still important, you should reduce the strenuousness of all of your activities. So, if you are used to jogging – perhaps intersperse short runs with long walks. It is unfortunate that so many competitive sports begin play in the Fall season – people involved in this kind of activity need to take special care to keep their energy boosted by visiting a Chinese medicine physician frequently during the season.
- Simple Qigong exercises for the autumn: To replace some of your more rigorous activity, try some simple breathing based QiGong exercises. Any breathwork will do – but I do have a basic movement based practice I can suggest. However, writing it out would be cumbersome so I will be experimenting with some video formats to post and when I do, I will link to it here. I can’t promise the video quality will be perfect, but it will be fun!
The Neijing also says that one should now pattern one’s cycle of rest around the sun. While this is simply impossible for many of us, I have a few suggestions.
1. Do your very best to avoid staying up very late or waking up very early. This may mean reducing social activities or early morning exercise, but as mentioned above, both of these things should be reduced in the Fall and Winter anyway.
2. Consider investing in an alarm system that wakes you up in a natural way with slow introduction of sound and light.
3. Try to reduce caffeine intake overall to avoid any unnecessary late nights. Insomnia is bad any time of the year, but in the fall and winter when less energy is available it could be much worse.
Though this point would be easy to dismiss, I don’t think it should be. Most of us have just become used to living the exact same way year round – we work hard, play hard regardless of the season. This is a grave error, in my estimation. Although we may not be able to alter our school and work schedules significantly, we can control what we do outside of that. Though it may be hard to say no to many social activities, hard to forgo our favorite television shows or movies the advice of the ancients is clear. Reduce your activity as the Yin of the seasons arrives and you will be rewarded with less illness and greater longevity.
III. Mental/spiritual activity
Just as we need to be careful to conserve our physical energy, we must watch out for taxing ourselves mentally. This is particularly important for students! I think it is a shame that when we should be calming down into a simple contemplative state we are asked to achieve at a high level intellectually. Self cultivation is even more important for people who cannot calm their level of mental activity. Attending closely to your self cultivation will serve the dual purpose of healing yourself from excessive mental work and settling you into the deeply contemplative nature of the Yin part of our year.
On an emotional level, the Neijing mentions that it is especially important to avoid great grief. This is an interesting point, since this is also the season of death. In fact, the experience of death in the Fall season is one I am acutely aware of – perhaps it was the insight of the Neijing authors to remind us not to be caught in grief even when we are losing loved ones.
The avoidance of grief is important to take care of the vulnerable Lung Qi. However, I do think that the Autumn is a good time to begin deep contemplation. As we head into the deep winter, going deeper inside is important. For this reason, meditation should become an increasing part of your daily routine. I’ve already discussed some of the benefits for students of meditation. But this activity should be a pillar for everyone’s life.
In general, Autumn is a season for quieting down, enjoying the fruits of your labors and protecting your Yang Qi by keeping warm, protected and calm.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of Deepest Health. When I'm not writing here, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Community Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.