Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Autumn: letting go and freeing space

Autumn has arrived. In a classic sense we know it to be the time of letting go, for the leaves to fall, to shed the old and prepare for colder weather. Lest we forget one important aspect it is also a time to create space for new energy to come in.

Autumn in context of the Metal/Air Elemental Phase
Metal stretch pt. 1: inhale
In Chinese medical theory the element associated with Autumn is Metal/Air, its organ association is the Lung Network (Lung is the yin organ and Large Intestine is the yang bowel).
You did read that correctly, Metal and Air are considered the same elemental phase.

We commonly associate metal with consistent structure. It conducts electricity, vibration and temperature while maintaining it's form, but metal it is a state of matter that transforms. With enough heat it evaporates water and eventually melts. Enough cold makes metal retain water and harden. In the presence of specific other molecules it rusts or corrodes and changes it's primary nature.

In much the same way air transforms according to environment. Like metal, air evaporates water when warm and condenses water when cool. Though air may seem less solid than metal, it provides an immediate structure for our reality. The first breath of air is our initial interaction with life, and the last breath is positive indication that a person has left this world. With every breath we transform the air around us. Air conducts constant molecular exchanges among animate and inanimate beings.

So in our bodies the Lungs and Large Intestines provide the inhale/exhale, intake/output functions that begin at birth and continue until death. It is a perpetual exchange with the world around us, transforming substance through our natural living processes. Much like the season of Autumn, through the Metal/Air aspects of our bodies we draw the environment in, transform it, and then return what is no longer of use to us.

Metal stretch pt 2: exhale
Ways to maximize the seasonal energy: balance climate & support organs
In the Chinese medicine flow, we transform our inner environment throughout the year. The climate associated with the Lung Network is dryness. This balance is achieved with spicy, pungent flavors.
Our bodies will naturally crave flavors that support dryness in Autumn. The preceding season, Doyo, is the season of dampness. The Doyo flavor is sweetness which nourishes and supports digestion. If sweetness has been overdone dampness gathers causing sluggishness and stasis. Signs that the body has become "damp" are nasal congestion, excessive mucous, swelling in the joints and constipation.

Autumn flavors stimulate and dry the internal environment. Spicy herbs that provide this function include capsicum, pepper, rosemary, thyme and ginger. Drying allows the natural cleansing of digestive organs that have been dampened. Spicy/pungent foods such as onion, scallion, garlic, leak and radish are also effective for this function.

Conversely, if the body has not gathered enough dampness it may be too dry. This causes nasal membranes and skin to crack and bleed. Constipation is often a dry heat condition, which may be due to insufficient cell hydration. In these instances we may naturally move toward sweet and moisturizing foods such as red dates, beans, grains, and oily foods. Also look for electrolyte/mineral-rich beverages and purified water rather than sugary and caffeinated drinks to rebalance the Large Intestine.
A simple external solution for nasal congestion is nasal irrigation. And of course there's the good old fashioned coffee enema for more persistent clogs.

Metal stretch pt 3: inhale
The most common way to support the Lung and Large Intestine in Autumn is a colon cleanse. Cleansing agents may be as simple as high fiber additions to the diet or as complex as two- to three-week cleansing routines.

The simplest seasonal cleanse is slight modification of the diet. Large portions of cooked leafy green vegetables or adding ground flaxseed to hot cereal and baking mixes provide ample roughage for this purpose. This is a great way to keep the bowels flowing as colder weather changes the hours spent in outdoor activities.

Tea made from plants with purgative properties are more thorough yet still gentle. Some time-tested natural laxative herbs are cascara sagrada and senna, both common remedies for constipation. These are helpful for a deeper clean than dietary fiber can offer and are useful for a 7 - 14 day cleansing routine. Pre-made laxative or detoxifying tea blends will take the guess work out of finding the right mixture for this type of cleanse.

For even more thorough cleansing, use substances that absorb moisture and toxins such as a combination of psyllium and bentonite clay. This approach leaches dross from the inner gut lining and stimulates deep intestinal contraction to expel waste. My favorite pre-blended product is Perfect 7 which I find effective as a general Autumn cleanse. This product will involve a slight alteration in the timing of meals and requires increased water consumption for optimal results. It is recommended for a two week intestinal scour and may be repeated every other or every three months. 

For those who are new to intestinal cleansing or shy away from potentially intense experiences a gentle laxative tea may be the best start.

The whole picture: mental and emotional release and renewal
Metal stretch pt 4: exhale
Back to the pages of Chinese tradition we are advised to make use of the external season to support balance in our internal experience. The energy of transformation is high in the outer world. We can take the example of natural beings and allow our own Metal/Air element to balance. The psychological and emotional correspondences are attachment/release and grieving respectively.

Much like the physical functions of the Lung and Large Intestine, our minds naturally take input from the outside world and synthesize the useful parts into our existing structure. In an ideal world we release anything that does not serve us and carry on. In the real world we most likely take in the useful and hang on to the extra material just in case we need it later. If you don't think that applies to you, you may be the only clutter-free person on the planet! Our tendency to "hold on" mentally can be seen in the stacks of miscellaneous notes, buckets of small hardware or piles of clothes we haven't worn for years. Are there better places for these spare parts than in your personal space?

Emotionally we focus on allowing grief to flow through us. When this occurs in its natural timing our Lungs and Large Intestines move along with the same releasing energy and space is freed for new experiences. In the real world our grieving may be inconvenient or somehow stigmatized, so it becomes suppressed. The energy of stored grief closes down our lungs. After all, if someone who denies his or her grief takes a full, deep breath it just might stimulate tears. As anyone who has faced deeply suppressed grieving knows the spirit of courageousness is a companion to the energy of grieving. When loss is fully expressed and released a sensation of lightness comes into a person's life. It is as if he/she is taking the first breath of fresh air in years!

Grief is not the only emotion that clogs up our Metal/Air space. Holding frustration, anxiety, fear or sadness causes thickening in our bodies. Though it is emotional energy, it may cause physical symptoms of constipation and accumulation in the mucous passages. A combination of physical and emotional clearing can release stagnant emotional baggage, but earnest interest in moving on is also necessary to completely pass this type of stagnation.

On both mental and emotional levels, when we only attach to what serves our lives we effortlessly release what would congest our space. The Autumn season provides energy to clear out those unneeded bits of physical and emotional stuff in our lives. Though it seems daunting at the start, every time a person does the work of clearing out old, stale matter it frees the space for new opportunity to arrive.

For external physical support, I recommend the gentle and thorough practice of body work therapy.
Please feel free to schedule with me for Shiatsu therapy during my Boulder, CO, office hours:
Spruce Street: Tuesday and Thursday, 10 - 2pm
Iris Avenue: Tuesday, 4 - 8pm
Contact the Spruce Street studio at 303-440-1992, and the Iris Avenue center at 303-413-1992.

Best wishes for a clear and healthy Autumn!

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