Chinese medicine advises us to respect and be aware of the different times of the day and the seasons.
In line with the qi or chi cycle, the first 2hour cycles of our day are devoted to our Large Intestine and Stomach. In this first stage (5-7am) we benefit from rising early and engaging in some form of physical discipline such as walking, yoga and/or qigong as well as quiet meditation. The mind is calmed and energised for the day and the light exercise and conscious breathing massages our internal organs which facilitates our bowels and helps detoxification.
From 7-9am a warm nutritious breakfast is recommended-eg oats with cinnamon and cooked pears – which ignites the digestive fire of stomach and spleen. Cold and raw foods and drinks at this time (early morning and approaching winter) make the stomach work hard to warm its contents before digestion can start. This can result in a sluggish and problematic digestion over time.
In the middle of the Autumn season there is less activity but more emphasis on substance, nurturing, supporting and building our organs, fluids and blood, which are the foundations of everything we are and do. As the temperature drops it is time to warm the body against the extremes of weather. As well it is sensible to retire to bed earlier than in the summer- a good 2 hours at least before midnight is ideal on most nights of the week. This will keep our Yin healthy and strong as well our wei qi. Wei qi is a yang form of energy, warm and protective and guards the perimeter of our body (between our skin and muscle) from external invasion of pathogens (particularly from the cold). The Lungs are our main organ connected to the season of Autumn and the strength of the lungs dictates how effective our immune system or wei qi is working. The lungs mix qi from food essence sent up by the spleen, and qi from the air to form our defence or our wei qi system. It is this mechanism that protects the skin, nose and mouth (and therefore the lungs) from external attack by germs- viruses and bacteria.
During the day wei qi circulates near the skin, ready to defend us against germs, opening and closing pores to allow us to sweat. It is closest to our skin at noon each day, so our immunity is strongest at this (most Yang) time of the day. At night it moves to the inner core and into our internal organs so it is important to dress very warmly when we go out at night.
Autumn foods to keep us strong:
To nourish the blood include figs, pears and pumpkin, sesame oil, walnuts. Root vegetables such as parsnip, potato and beetroot help nourish blood for the colder weather. Chicken and lamb particularly nourish blood and tonify qi. Pork is the most moistening meat in this dry season and is very nutritious, enriching our yin. Fresh ginger is warm and encourages sweating/ dry ginger is warming but does not induce sweating. If your wei qi is weak, try eating fresh ginger at the start of a cold to expel the illness from the body via sweating. Add dry ginger to dishes between colds to build wei qi and assist digestion. Fewer salads now and more soups and casseroles-longer cooking times mean ingredients are easy to digest and the watery juices nurture yin. Eat plenty of spinach and cabbage to keep the liver happy/healthy for winter and spring and liver qi flowing. A stagnant liver can lead to depression, irritabililty and impatience. Avoid this by keeping up your green leafy vegetables daily, moving the body often and not procrastinating but following through with plans. An early morning regime as outlined above will set you up for the day with renewed clarity, energy and purpose- in itself a positive step towards a strong wei qi.
Aim for balance in tune with the changing seasons and different energies of day and night. This ensures that we stay strong and healthy for the shorter days and the coming cold months; while respecting and working with these different flows allow us to feel into how we are connected to nature and the greater whole.
Anne-Maree Hone, TCM prac/acupuncturist SNT