In Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”), fall is associated with Metal, the element of structure.
At the beginning of fall, you may feel the need for routine in your life again. This is not only a logical reaction to a summertime energy which offers a more relaxed attitude towards work and obligations; it is actually an energetic predisposition.
When you consider animals in the wild, they do the same thing: "getting their affairs in order" by collecting seeds, nuts and other nutrition to be prepared for the winter.
As I have written previously about nourishing the Earth element in late summer, TCM is based on the Five-Phase Theory (sometimes called: Five-Element Theory). This theory suggests that there are five elements in nature that cycle in phases through the seasons and our organs: Earth, Water, Wood, Metal and Fire. The five elements represent energies that succeed each other in a continuous cycle.
Being aware of this cycle and recognizing the relationship between the elements is essential for maintaining (or creating) optimal balance in our physical body and cultivating mental and emotional health. In order to maintain this optimal health, we need to support an unobstructed flow of life force (Chi) through the energy channels (meridians) in our body, and keep a generative balance between the elements. This is why it is helpful to have an understanding of how the seasons and the elements are related.
Fall is a common time for people to get sick. It may therefore not surprise you that the lungs and large intestines are the organs associated with the metal element. Metal governs our respiration; the lungs “grasp” Chi from the heavens and draw it inward for our body to use. It also affects our immune system, which protects us from pathogens in the air. The lung meridian opens into the nose, which is the doorway into the lungs.
The characteristics of metal are hard, strong and precise. It is the metal in the earth that gives it its inner structure and value. Metal allows us to shine, to be brilliant, to inspire. Metal also has a component of flexibility, as it can be remolded many times. When metal gets too strong, however, it becomes rigid.
Balanced metal allows for healthy boundaries, an easy routine, and inspiring rituals, whereas too little metal will lead to sloppiness and numbness. When metal becomes overbearing, we will have difficulty with expressing ourselves, with intimacy and spontaneity. This can also result in issues with the respiratory system, the skin, elimination, and with the lymphatic and immune system. Constipation and an inability to breathe deeply are signs that the Metal element may be out of balance.
The emotion connected to the lungs and large intestines is grief. When we suffer a loss, this can affect our respiratory system; I’ve heard multiple stories of elderly people getting pneumonia right after their better half passed away.
Just like the trees in fall that let go of their leaves and draw nutrients from the earth to survive through winter, in order to keep metal balanced we need structure and routine equalized with an ability to let go and allow ourselves to be supported. We need to soften our boundaries to connect with others, to be social and spontaneous, and give ourselves the time to follow our passion.
A yoga practice with clear and precise instructions that includes many chest-opening poses will support the metal element. Outdoor activities are a good way to strengthen our immune system. Moreover, using essential oils* is an effective way to manage our emotions and wellbeing.
Cypress essential oil is especially helpful for those who are mentally or emotionally stuck, stiff, rigid, tense or have perfectionistic tendencies. The chemical compounds in this oil affect the brain to allow us to let go of control, embrace the flow of life, and be more adaptable.
Wild Orange essential oil supports a positive mood and invites us to live with a childlike sense of openness. These oils can be inhaled straight from the bottle or diffused in a diffuser. Rubbing a drop in your hand and inhaling is an effective use as well.
As is true in every season, when you understand how your system is affected by the seasonal changes, you will be better able to take care of yourself. Listening to your intuition is an important aspect thereof (so yes: get back into a routine!).
Combined with my suggestions above, you’ll be ready to embrace fall with open arms.
* Make sure to use Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade essential oil only.
Guest post by studio BE mindfulness teacher Marije Paternotte.
Marije Paternotte, E-RYT 500, offers a unique approach to yoga; balancing movement and breathing practices of traditional Hatha and Tibetan Yoga with the stillness of the Taoist Yin Yoga, awareness of Chi flow, and an emphasize on mindfulness and the Buddha Dharma. Her teaching style is understated and compassionate. She has the ability to present complex concepts, and an in-depth knowledge of yogic anatomy and philosophy, in a simple and approachable way, for which she is loved by beginning and advanced practitioners alike.
Marije was born and raised in Amsterdam where, after her training to be a professional ballet dancer, she studied law and worked as a corporate lawyer. A yoga retreat in Bali led her to the United States where she took her first yoga teacher training. She currently lives in a small beach town in New Jersey with her husband, and teaches yoga workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings around the world, as well as locally. Marije is also a guest teacher at the renowned Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts and the Mandali Retreat Center in Italy.
Marije received both her foundational and professional level yoga teacher certification at the Kripalu Center, and is certified to teach Yin Yoga and Mindfulness by Sarah Powers’ Insight Yoga Institute.
Feature photo by tata_cos/Adobe Stock