Seasonal wellness – late summer shifts

My new book, Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living, takes a seasonal approach to well-being.  By making little shifts we can help keep ourselves in balance.  So each seasonal section gives dietary tips, specific yoga sequences (from yoga teacher Dainei Tracy) and emotional, spiritual and cognitive techniques and rituals.  Let’s have a look at where we are right now…

In the Chinese Five Element system late summer is considered a season all of its own.  It’s seen as the fulcrum of the year, a time of perfect balance which contains elements of all the seasons.  It’s an in-between period, when the fire of summer mellows into the balanced energy of earth.  Neither yin nor yang holds sway here.  Ayurveda also sees this is a pivotal time when all the elements of the body can be disturbed.

The element here is earth, central to all the other elements.  The colour is yellow – that of the sun and earth combined.  Its direction is the centre.  Earth holds sway over the stomach and the spleen (plus also the pancreas).  If you have unbalanced earth in your system, it’s highly likely your stomach will tell you all about it.

This is a particularly tricky seasonal shift and all ancient wisdom stresses how important it is to keep ourselves balanced and centred.

However it’s also an exciting time giving the possibilities of new beginnings, new thoughts, views, opinions.  Fire energy moving into earth gives the possibility to shake things up, to kick-start new ways of living.   Just watch out that your enthusiasm doesn’t tip over into obsession.  This transitional time can flag up any stubbornness or obsessiveness in your personality.  Keep an ear open to catch yourself becoming a tad dictatorial, insisting you’re right and everyone else is wrong.

On the physical front, imbalances in earth energy can cause issues with your menstrual cycle and your digestion.  The spleen, so often overlooked, comes into play now as well.  This organ supposedly governs memory, willpower and our ability to form opinions.  Any deficiency here can lead to poor decision-making, forgetfulness and possibly even anxiety.

Late summer can have a humid damp quality as autumn approaches.  It may even be a monsoon time depending on where you live.  As both the stomach and spleen are considered to be damp organs, keeping balance can be more tricky if there is a lot of water around. Any imbalance in the spleen can create cravings for sweet things and can lead to weight piling on.

It’s also supposedly a time of sympathy and empathy.  A motherly nurturing quality can emerge, so this is also a time to notice any imbalances between our own and other’s needs. Can we hold the space for both? Can we care for others without losing sight of our own needs?

Make sure you’re well-grounded and nourished, both physically and emotionally.  We need to feel the support of our planet Mother Earth, to accept that we all need to be held, no matter how strong we may think we are. It’s important to recognise the importance of support.  If we tune in, we will find the encouragement to strengthen our sense of self-worth and self-esteem – we find our own stability. Then, and only then, are we in a position to give support to others.

At this time of year it’s useful to spend time thinking how we can let our needs be met from within.

What really nourishes you?

What do you need in order to feel good?

Many of us think we have to go it alone; that being strong means that we mustn’t rely on other people for support.   Try to challenge that thought if it applies to you.  Try reaching out, in a way that feels safe and appropriate.  Find groups of like-minded people – often it can be easier to open up to strangers than to friends. Listening to other people helps us realise we’re not so alone, that our problems are not so shameful or uncommon as we might imagine.  Ancient cultures rarely leave people on their own to stew – they gather together to talk, to share, to figure out what’s going on. Sobonfu Somé, the great authority on African spirituality famously said: “There is a deep longing among people in the West to connect with something bigger — with community and spirit.”

Also start thinking about new approaches that will help you centre yourself.  Look at writing, painting, dancing as a way of balancing.

Just be aware that issues around self-esteem and trust can come up at this time of year.  You may notice a lack of strong identity and healthy psychological boundaries – it can become tough to be present with ourselves and easy to be overwhelmed by others.

Our yoga practice will help balance the key meridians and we’re also going to look at yoga for our hands, the wonderful art of mudras.

One of the best ways of keeping ourselves on an even keel is, I believe, switching our focus to others.  It’s all too easy in this crazy modern world to adopt a ‘fortress me’ mentality.  If we extend our practice out to other people, it has the curious effect of healing ourselves just as much as those we hope to help.  So I’m going to introduce you to two ancient practices, one from the Hawaiian tradition, one from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Image by Maggie Cole

Ancient Wisdom is now available online and in interesting stores IRL.