The raspberry canes in our backyard patch are withering and the heirloom tomato plants gave up the ghost long ago. While I love tending our little garden, the truth is, most of my life is pretty far removed from the agrarian rhythms of the seasonal calendar. That’s why when I feel a pull toward baking spiced pumpkin bread or carefully putting the garden to bed at this time of year, it’s encouraging to think that in some way I’m still connected to nature’s shift from summer to autumn. Many Eastern traditions recognize this time of year as an opportunity to fortify our minds and bodies for the change of the seasons.
The perspective of three kinds of practices — Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and yoga — offer ideas on things anyone can do to move through autumn more thoughtfully, rather than letting this unique time of year pass us by in a blended blur of yard work and holidays.
“Fall and winter are a time when things become cooler, lighter and drier,” explains Keri Mangis, certified Ayurvedic practitioner and owner of Elements Ayurveda in Linden Hills. “What’s happening outside is also happening in our minds and bodies, and we may notice that in the form of forgetfulness, fear and anxiety, stiffness, constipation or dry skin.”
The practice of Ayurveda uses natural remedies in harmony with people’s individual constitutions to help bring the body’s elements, known as doshas, back into balance. For example, in the autumn, people can look for ways to bring more warming, moist energies into their lives. “Staying hydrated is especially important in fall,” Keri says. “It’s also a great time to start eating more warm, moist foods, like whole grains and root vegetable soups.” Staying grounded by creating steady routines is also helpful; Keri suggests taking reflective walks in nature.
“Fall is also a time to practice letting go, forgiveness and surrender,” Keri notes. “Just like the trees are letting go of their leaves, the season supports us in letting go of the things that no longer serve us.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and licensed acupuncturist Christopher Hafner, owner of Cloud River Mindfulness Centered Healthcare & Traditional Chinese Medicine in Uptown, agrees. “One of the fundamental messages of Chinese Medicine is how everything is in a constant state of change,” he explains. “Our health and well-being depend on how well we navigate those changes.”
While acupuncture is one of the most well known components of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Christopher says that mindfulness and awareness are actually its cornerstones. “The number one most important thing you can do for your health is cultivate a calm mind,” he advises. Especially during the transition time of fall, there’s a lot of change happening at one time. Like having too many juggling balls up in the air, if we aren’t mindful of what’s going on around and within us, it is all too easy to drop one of the balls. That’s part of the reason people often experience more colds and sickness during seasonal changes than at other times of the year.
They key, Christopher says, is to strive to be more in harmony with what the season brings and choose how we will respond during these times of change. “We’ve kind of removed ourselves from natural settings and are less aware of seasonal changes than we used to be,” he says. “We can now eat fruit salad in the middle of winter, for example, even though that might not be the healthiest thing for us at that time of year.” His recommendations mirror Keri’s in advocating for calming practices, such as setting a little time aside each day for meditation, and eating more hearty foods and warming spices including cinnamon, ginger, garlic and chilies.
Reflective practices are also at the heart of Margaret Schloegel’s philosophy as a certified yoga instructor and owner of Invisible Bee Yoga in the Armatage neighborhood. “There’s a big connection between fall and a sense of getting rid of what we don’t need, getting down to the raw essentials of life,” she explains. “It’s true across nature — and in our own lives. It’s kind of fun, but can also leave us feeling excited or almost jumpy. Yoga practice can help us slow down, breathe and stretch into particular parts of our bodies.”
Margaret says that in autumn, people may also notice more tightness in their hips. “So in fall, we focus on gentle twisting, forward folding and backward bending poses,” she says. The studio also offers guided relaxation, movement and meditation practices like the Yoga of Gratitude workshop coming up on Nov. 18, that not only open up tight physical places, but also help students open their hearts and cultivate thankfulness.
The benefits of yoga are accessible to anyone, anytime, Margaret says. “Taking time out to do a restorative pose can be as simple as putting your feet up on the couch and breathing deeply for a few minutes,” Margaret says. “When we slow down enough, we can let go of what we don’t need and rest our bodies deeply.”
While the disciplines of yoga, Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda may be different, it’s reassuring and grounding to discover that they share common ways of welcoming fall and easing the transition to a new season. Warming, nourishing foods; taking time to reflect and calm the mind; and slowing down the body to be more in step with what’s happening in nature are ways we can all reconnect with the benefits this special time of year has to offer.