Seasonal living for better health
Nature’s cycle of seasons offers a model for living your best life, one that is filled with energy, vitality and resilience. By using nature as your guide, you can learn how to attune your body to the seasons for optimal health.
The natural world is always changing. It’s either growing or diminishing, expanding or declining, ebbing or flowing, but it never remains still. Over the course of days, months and years, Mother Nature displays a dependable set of rhythms and patterns. The sun and moon follow drought and seasons come and go. Life depends upon this rise and set, tides roll in and out, storms create a continuous process of transformation; birth is followed by growth, then maturity, decline, death and eventually a return to the earth.
One of the keys to good health is the ability to adapt to change and “go with the flow”. Plants and animals instinctively know to do this. Growing and flourishing in the warmer months, then storing up and settling into the cold of winter, they find a way to endure and live through upheaval.
When you can experience vitality and energetic connection no matter what is happening around you — when you can thrive amid change — you can experience true wellbeing. The best way to do this is to live seasonally, to go as nature goes and follow the cues and solutions that it prescribes. The foods you eat, exercise and activities you do, and even your daily thoughts and intentions all play a role in harmonising your health with the seasons.
The theme of spring is birth and renewal. As the first hints of warmth arrive, delicate flower buds emerge. Spring calls for letting go of the old and welcoming new ideas and possibilities.
The primary health focus for the season is to keep things moving and allow qi to flow. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is the energetic force present in all living things — it represents your lifeblood and essential vitality. When your qi is strong and circulating smoothly through your body, your physiological systems have the fuel needed to function in prime condition and fire on all cylinders.
To encourage the flow of qi, eat seasonally available foods like leafy green vegetables, herbs and members of the garlic and onion family. These spring foods provide a mildly cleansing and detoxifying effect or a “spring cleaning” of sorts for the body. Physical activities like stretching, massage and bodywork help to remove any points where qi is blocked in your body and keep your muscles loose and limber. Staying flexible and open-minded in your emotional and psychological life is also important for encouraging the flow of new energies in spring.
Summer is characterised by heat, motion and activity. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) calls this energy yang, and this time of year represents the peak of yang in the cycle of seasons.
Fuelled by abundant sunshine and warmth, plants and trees grow and flourish rapidly. It is a time for working hard and playing hard. To balance the frenetic pace and fiery yang of summer, use yin foods and activities to cool and refresh your body. Keep activities light and your body agile, and avoid overworking or overexerting yourself.
The ideal antidotes for hot, yang days are seasonal summer fruits and vegetables like juicy tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon. You can also eat more frequent light meals and raw foods during this season. Doing yin-nourishing and mindfulness-based activities like yoga, meditation and progressive relaxation will help to calm your mind and maintain your emotional balance.
In the middle of the seasonal cycle is Indian summer. At this time of year temperate weather and long days of sunlight give way to still and peaceful nights. TCM considers this fifth season to be the balance point and transition between the warm, bright yang of spring and summer to the cool, dark yin of autumn and winter. Indian summer is like the middle-aged prime of your life — you’ve developed a mature and stable foundation and you’re satisfied with what you’ve accomplished, but there is more to fulfil.
The focus of Indian summer is to build energetic qi and a grounded connection to the earth. Eating whole grains, complex carbohydrates and naturally sweet foods like corn and sweet potatoes provides a lasting source of energy that is ideal for the season. Fresh air and sunshine are also natural sources of qi, and spending time outdoors is a great way to connect to that energy and the healing power of nature. In terms of exercise, emphasising postural alignment and core strength not only builds the physical foundation of your body, but also helps to cultivate self-awareness and confidence.
As autumn begins and the air turns crisp and cool, the leaves display a last burst of vivid colour before dropping to the ground and nature starts its move toward yin. It is the harvest season, a time for taking stock of the year’s gains and gathering and storing for the upcoming winter.
For autumn, the health focus is to keep the body warm and dry, and strengthen and bolster immunity. The best foods for this time of year include seasonal squashes, pumpkins and mushrooms, along with warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Slow-cooked dishes and baked casseroles are especially warming and comforting. As the days get shorter and the skies greyer, the mood of autumn can tend toward feelings of heaviness. To counteract this, keep moving and stay active with aerobic exercise and group activities. One way to express gratitude and align with the spirit of the season is to volunteer your time and resources and engage with your community.
Winter is a period of peace, reflection and rest. The pace of life slows down, signalling a quiet decline and nature’s deep withdrawal into yin. After making their final preparations, animals retreat into the warmth of their dens to wait out the harsh winter cold.
This season, the main focus is to keep your body warm and protected from the elements and stave off any seasonal doldrums. Since it is the period of peak yin, it’s important to create balance by developing and nourishing yang. Eat warming meals like simmered soups and hearty stews that include rich meats and seasonal root vegetables. Although winter moves at a much slower and more deliberate pace, you can keep a yang energy alive through your thoughts, plans and imagination. That life fire continues, waiting to resurface and transform into a new energy in the spring, when the cycle of seasons begins once again.
Your seasonal body type
Everything has its season. When your health is aligned with nature, your body follows the same patterns and rhythms as the natural cycle of seasons. You are a direct reflection and extension of your surrounding environment, and your body displays the same characteristics as the changing seasons: hot and cold, damp and dry and yin and yang. Your body should embody characteristics of the five different seasons throughout the year, feeling warm and energetic in the summer and cool and calm in the winter. However, when your body gets out of sync with nature, you may feel “stuck” in one season.
A seasonal body type is a health pattern in which you exhibit the characteristics of a single season throughout the year, instead of transitioning with the seasons.
The five seasonal body types: spring, summer, Indian summer, autumn and winter, represent imbalances or dominant patterns of one or more elements. For instance, if you usually feel warm, active and energetic and have a red complexion, high blood pressure, diabetes, physical pain or emotional frustration — you are probably more dominant in the heat and yang associated with spring and summer body types.
On the other hand, if you tend to have cold hands and feet, a pale complexion, a calm demeanour and a slower, more sluggish energy, with health conditions like infertility or low thyroid function — you more resemble the colder, yin characteristics of autumn and winter body types.
Indian summer body types typically have a more neutral character that lies between yin and yang, along with feelings of lethargy and a weakened immune system. Each seasonal body type is associated with a set of physical symptoms, characteristics and healing principles that relate to the elements of that season. Although your seasonal body type pattern stems from your genes and inherent constitution, your diet, lifestyle and environmental factors also play a role.
In order to heal your seasonal body type, follow nature’s themes and principles by eating the foods and doing the activities that are appropriate for your season. Choose foods and activities that balance your general nature through the use of opposites; use yin to balance yang, cold to balance heat and moisture to balance dryness.
For warmer spring and summer body types who are more dominant in yang, cooling foods and activities that emphasise yin are essential. The juicy fruits, fresh vegetables and leafy greens available in the spring and summer are the foods that are most ideal for cooling and refreshing the body, and keeping it light and active during these seasons. Mindful, meditative forms of exercise and regular massage can also help you to release stress and relax.
For cooler autumn and winter body types, warm and hearty foods provide the energy that the body requires to sustain it through the cold. Think of well-cooked soups and stews, seasonal root vegetables and heartier fare like meat and potatoes. High-intensity activities like aerobic exercise and interval training are also beneficial for revving up the body’s metabolism and yang in these seasons.
If you are an Indian summer body type, you will benefit from eating whole grains, complex carbohydrates and naturally sweet foods, like corn, squash and sweet potatoes. Not only are these foods seasonally available during that time of year, they are also helpful for building energy and bolstering immunity.
The ABCs of living seasonally
- Align with the seasons
Follow nature’s cues as the seasons change through the year. In the warmer seasons, eat the refreshing fruits and vegetables that nature offers and keep your body light and active. In the cooler seasons, eat seasonally available root vegetables and hearty fare to warm and energise your body.
- Balance your body type
Go to whatsyourseason.com/quiz to discover your seasonal body type. Correct any imbalance by using the healing principles appropriate for your type. If you resemble the warmer seasonal body types, cool and refresh your body with yin foods and activities. If you gravitate toward the cooler body types, balance your body with warming, yang foods and activities.
- Choose what your body needs on a daily basis
Adapt to your current health condition and select your meals and activities based on how you are feeling each day. If you are feeling hot and bothered, or stressed and overworked, cool and relax your body with yin and other summer healing principles. If you are feeling sick or low in energy, choose Indian summer foods and activities which help to build qi. If you are feeling cold and have the blues, warm up your body and enliven your spirit with hearty foods and yang activities.
Once you have restored balance to your seasonal body type, you can follow nature’s guide and align with the seasons: eat from the bounty of each season and embrace the theme and activities appropriate for that time of year. You may also find it helpful to fine-tune your diet and activities on a daily basis, depending on your health condition and any temporary imbalances that you may be experiencing.
Use your intuition to support your individual needs and adjust accordingly; be conscious of how you are feeling and what your body is craving. No matter what your body type or general predisposition is, you can apply the seasonal healing principles toward your food and lifestyle choices and improve your health each day.
The most sustainable approach to optimal health is one that is tailored to you and informed by nature. Nature’s wisdom is embodied in its cycles and universal rhythms, and its restorative power and resilience. Keep moving and growing, changing and adapting and going with the flow, just as the natural world does.
When you are able to flow and yield like water, and to let nature run its full and variable course, that is when you achieve a life of ease, wellbeing and balance. Regardless of the circumstances and challenges you may encounter, nature’s lessons hold the promise of energy and vitality, and teach you how to flourish and thrive in any season.