Living Seasonally – Tune Into Autumn

Support your wellbeing this Autumn with seasonal advice from yoga, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Autumn Woodland

As the bright, hot days of Summer are lulled into the cooler, shorter days of Autumn, we’re able to witness perhaps one of the best examples of a true seasonal transition. Each season holds a particular energy, and whilst Summer is the peak of extroverted ‘yang’, Autumn sees us moving deeper into a quieter, more contemplative state of ‘yin’. 

In our previous seasonal articles, Tune Into Spring revealed that humans have been living in alignment with the seasons for thousands of years, and our minds, bodies and emotions require different types of nourishment throughout the year. In Tune Into Summer article, we looked at how the types of movement, social interactions, and even the way we plan our projects and work commitments benefit from aligning with the energy of the season.

Remember that just because we spend most of our lives in insulated houses, surrounded by screens, artificial lighting and foods from across the globe, we once had an intimate relationship with nature that meant we had to live very differently depending upon which season we found ourselves in. When we consume seasonal foods, we give ourselves the exact vitamins and minerals we need at that moment, and when we allow ourselves to rest in the ‘yin’ phases of the year, we’re more able to spring back into life when the warmer ‘yang’ months arrive.

Whether you’re interested in the best foods, movement practices, sleeping patterns or specific organs to care for according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, read on for your guide to tuning into Autumn.

Growing Yin energy

Whilst Summer was all about putting plans into action, taking on challenges and adopting a more adventurous way of living, Autumn invites us to start slowing down. As the amount of ‘yin’ energy in nature grows, this is a time to think about how we can live with more of a ‘yin’ approach to each day too. Rather than planning new projects, this is the time to gradually conclude what we’ve been working on for the last several months. Think about tying up loose ends at work or with your home projects, and perhaps choose just one thing to focus your attention on in Autumn. 

Summer energy might have meant we could juggle multiple demands, but Autumn is definitely the time to harness our attention and direct it to one single thing that matters. Perhaps it’s working on renovating your home, diving into an online course, or sticking to a regular yoga practice. Yoga’s sister science of Ayurveda tells us that Autumn is governed by the Vata dosha, characterised by coldness, dryness, irregularity and lightness. These qualities of lightness and irregularity mean we’re more likely to feel scattered and anxious if our attention is distributed towards too many things, so take a moment to pause and consider what really matters to you right now and needs to be in your life – and what doesn’t.

Autumn movement practices

According to Dallas Hartwig, author of The 4 Season Solution, Autumn is the ‘pivot’ point, at which we need to move out of an expansive, dopamine-driven, go-go-go Summer lifestyle, and towards a different way of being. ‘As the leaves change colour and the colder weather approaches, we’ll naturally begin spending less time outdoors, and thus doing less general movement. Our whole world, literally and figuratively, should contract during these months as we spend more time resting and nesting at home’.

Despite transitioning to this ‘rest and nest’ lifestyle, Dallas reminds us that it’s important not to simply become sedentary until Spring arrives again. Summer encourages us to move outdoors for long periods of time; low-impact movements like walking, foraging, hiking, cycling or swimming, but during Autumn, ‘We should vary our movements, substituting longer, easier workouts with shorter, harder, interval-based or sprint-based training.’ In other words, prioritise cultivating a balance between how much you move and how much you rest; find those endorphin-releasing classes or yoga practices that help you feel strong, uplifted and energised, but rest often, which will nourish both the nervous system and immune system.

Optimise your light exposure (and release expectations)

Especially if you suffer from Seasonal Annual Depression (or SAD), you may associate the shift into Autumn with dark nights, gloomy days and low mood levels. As we enter into this new season however, it’s vital to optimise the amount of sunlight you’re getting each day. When we step outside in the morning and the sunlight hits our eyes, the brain releases dopamine – a hormone responsible not only for pleasure, but also for motivation and drive. Studies show that the later we experience this initial hit of mood-boosting light, the more likely we are to feel low and lethargic. Aim to get between 10 and 30 minutes of sunlight in the morning, and if the majority of your day is spent working indoors, try using a light box with at least 10,000 lux of brightness, as this can provide you with enough brightness to keep energy and mood levels balanced when you can’t get outdoors. The key is in trying not to expect to feel low when Autumn arrives, and instead of linking this season to a state of sadness, try to engage in all the positives Autumn offers – like the beautiful colours in nature, the harvest foods, and the opportunity to nurture yourself with restorative yoga practices.

Autumn foods

Autumn is the harvest season, when root vegetables, leafy greens like kale and spinach, and vitamin C rich foods like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage are abundant. If you enjoyed plenty of fruits and herbs over Summer, you will have provided your body with the natural sugars it needed in order to feel energised all day. As we move into Autumn, this is the time to enjoy seasonal and lower-sugar fruits like apples and blackberries, as well as using medicinal hedgerow berries like elderberry for immune-boosting tonics. 

Remember that Autumn is the season where that Vata energy of coldness, dryness, lightness and irregularity can push us out of balance, so we benefit from bringing in the qualities of ‘slow’, ‘grounded’, ‘warm’, ‘oily’, and ‘regularity’ to the day. This means (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere) choosing seasonal foods like beetroot, potatoes, pumpkins, leeks and butternut squash, cooking them with ghee or coconut oil, and adding warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, cumin and chili. Try to eat at regular times., instead of grabbing snacks on-the-go. 

Try making your own elderberry tonic, which can prevent and reduce colds and viruses:

Elderberry Tonic

  • Gather 4 handfuls of elderberries (usually found in hedgerows in early Autumn),
  • Add 1 cinnamon stick, a tsp whole cloves, and a tbsp dried thyme.
  • Cover with 1 litre of water and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Leave to cool, then strain into a jar and add 1 tbsp honey.
  • Take a tbsp of this each day to bolster your immune system, or 2 tbsp if you’re suffering with a cold.

Autumn sleep patterns and introversion

Hopefully you enjoyed lots of fun nights under the stars in Summer, perhaps camping or feasting with friends in the garden. As the sun sets a little earlier, in Autumn it’s time to start heading to bed a little earlier. Think of adapting your sleep according to the cycle of light and dark – when the nights are short, you might feel good on a little less sleep. When the nights are long and especially dark however, we need to make sure we’re getting enough deep, restful sleep, in order to feel our best.

As well as more sleep, this is a time to shift away from extroverted parties and outings with new friends, and to focus instead on strengthening the connections we already have. Invite close friends for an Autumnal dinner, call your relatives more often, and plan cosy nights in for the family.

Organs to care for in Autumn

Autumn is the time to care primarily for the lungs and large intestine, to promote healthy breathing ability, a strong immune system, and smooth digestion. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lungs are said to hold the emotion of grief, and if you feel like you’ve been holding your emotions in recently, allow yourself to let them go through a good cry. You could practice the Emotional Release Practice with Afke, or start a journaling practice to shift ‘stuck’ emotions and thoughts.

Yoga postures for Autumn

It’s time to start strengthening the digestive fire (or ‘agni’ as it’s known in Ayurveda), as well as including more grounding, calming postures in your yoga practice. Just as you might balance the amount of movement and rest you do in Autumn, try to create a balance between warming, stimulating asanas like Navasana (boat pose), Ardha-Navasana and twisting postures, and asanas that can deeply relax the nervous system like Viparita Karani (legs up the wall), and Balasana (child’s pose).

Pranayama for Autumn

This is the season to strengthen your lung energy, and as well as focusing on the yin practices and meridian lines that nourish this organ, we can use the way we breathe to strengthen the lungs too. As much as possible, try to breathe only through the nose (and not the mouth) throughout the day, which is your body’s first line of defence against pathogens. For a stimulating and warming pranayama practice, try Kappalabhati – which can work wonders for a stuffy nose – or the Wim Hof style of breathing as a way to strengthen the immune system too. For more calmness, opt for Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), or a simple Sama Vritti, by breathing in and out for an equal count.

I hope these tips have inspired you to live more seasonally this Autumn! If so, try to include more seasonal foods on your shopping list this week, think about the projects you can finish this season, and balance your movement and rest.

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Emma NewlynEmma is a 500hr registered yoga teacher, writer and holistic therapist based in Sussex, UK. With a passion for yoga philosophy and Ayurveda, she loves bringing these ancient methods to the modern world in an accessible and easy-to-implement way through her writing and courses. Emma leads the Yoga, Ayurveda & Holistic Health course based in the UK, giving students tools and techniques to enhance their health and wellbeing, and to help others do the same. www.emmanewlynyoga.com