by Brendan Kelly, L Ac, M Ac, Herbalist
Jade Mountain Wellness
For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has understood that a fundamental source of our well being is living in balance with the natural world. Just as the seasons change, our activity levels, sleep patterns and diet should change if we are to live a balanced, harmonious life. The assumptions that we would live the same way in September (when it is still relatively warm and sunny) as we would in January (when it is cold and dark and snowy) is to miss the opportunities for lasting health provided by being aware of the lessons Nature offers us.
Based on the five element tradition of Chinese medicine, the late summer is the fifth season and corresponds to the harvest, running from mid-August through mid-September. Here in Vermont, it corresponds to the abundance of the local gardens and farms, where corn, melons and squash are being harvested. Not surprisingly, these crops are all yellow or orange and sweet, as these colors and tastes correspond to the Earth element.
What has allowed this abundance to occur is the cooling weather and the declining sunshine, which signifies the transition between summer and late summer. Without this transition, the plants would continue to grow upward and outward, rather than concentrate their energy into the fruit and vegetables that we eat.
Similarly, if we are to live a balanced life, we too should allow our energy and activity levels to begin to decline. In our overly busy, sometimes hectic lives, this can seem antithetical to being “productive” or “efficient” or “in shape”. We have many messages encouraging us to keep busy physically and mentally at home and at work, regardless of what is happening in the natural world around us. We are often encouraged to assume that more is better, hat being busy is better than resting, that action is better than stillness.
However, especially at this time of the year, more is not necessarily better. In fact, there can be an inverse relationship between activity level and a balanced and healthy life: more activity can create less well being. This is particularly true during the late summer as the tendency in the natural world is for plants and animals to being slowing down. And despite many of the messages we get from our culture, we are similarly affected by these forces. By not understanding and listening to these messages, we are not going with the flow of Nature, and are separating ourselves from a fundamental, deep, source of well being.
One wonderful way of connecting to the change of season is through eating local food. As mentioned, here in Vermont we have an abundant variety of local food to choose from at this time of year. By eating locally, we are not only reducing our environmental impact by limiting the distance food travels, we are naturally eating a more seasonally balanced diet. There is a grand intelligence to the food a place provides each season—much of the cultivated food that is now easily available provides the kind of nourishment most beneficial for the season.
While spring and summer naturally encourage us to be out in the world with their increasing and peaking yearly warmth and sunshine, late summer is the beginning of the decline of this energy. Just as this decline allows gardens and farms to reap this season’s harvest, personally slowing down at this time of year provides us an opportunity to reap a harvest in our own lives as well. This harvest, which can happen on any level of who we are– body, mind, spirit– provides nourishment to sustain us for the rest of the year, and for the cold and dark months of winter in particular. If we neglect this slowing down process, and the connected possibility of our own internal harvest, this season and even the rest of the year can feel barren. By understanding what each season is saying, and listening to its suggestions, we can live a more balanced, healthier life.
Brendan Kelly practices acupuncture and Chinese and western herbal medicine at his family practice Jade Mountain Wellness in Burlington, VT. He works with a wide range of patients—front toddlers to seniors—addressing a wide range of physical, mental and emotional conditions. A significant part of his clinical practice also includes preventing disease and promoting long-lasting health.
Copyright by Brendan Kelly, 2014