The Balancing Act of Autumn: One Breath at a Time

Such a balancing act, lifting a cup that’s full to the brim.

My father often poured milk into his coffee til it nearly over-flowed. High drama when he’d lift it, ever so slowly and steadily. Sometimes he’d pour so much it would bulge above the edge of the cup. He’d lean back to admire that, then lean down to slurp a first sip without touching the cup.

This time of year reminds me of my Dad and his balancing act.

Over-fullness on the edge of spilling over – this shows up every way we turn. In vegetable gardens gone jungly, gems show up under fading leaves. In our refrigerators and pantries, closets and drawers, garages and empty lots. Also in our schedules, our agendas, our to-do lists.

Come Autumn, we reach the tipping point where plenty suddenly spills over into too much.

Now’s the time to tune up our balance if we want to stay in good health through the Winter. Not hard to do if we just follow our nose.

Our nose tips us off to this particular change of seasons. Ripe fragrant scents of Late Summer are gone. The air is clearer, drier and getting chillier, especially in the early morning. With faint whiffs of drying leaves.

In Asian Healing Arts we say our nose is key to the functions we tune up right now. Through the nose we draw breath into our lungs, the organs most affected by Autumn. Our skin and colon help our lungs expel what we don’t need to clear space for what we do.

How It Works

Take a minute to notice how your lungs work. Breathe in and your chest muscles stretch to expand your ribs so your lungs fill. Breathe out and everything lets go and draws inward.

Letting go and drawing inward is precisely what we see happening in the natural world right now. Trees, most noticeably. As their sap draws inward, they let go of this year’s leaves. The green of Spring fades, leaving colors that can take our breath away.

But brilliant as it may be, drawing in and letting go are not always our favorite moves! Culturally, we tend to favor expansion over contraction. And Autumn comes with challenges. If we’re not prepared for them, we can easily get chilled, sick, depressed.

Autumn is all about letting go. Which can land hard if we try to do it all at once. Or it come gently, like a sigh. The poignance of, ‘That was then, this is now.’ Letting go can happen with grace and elegance if we do it a just little bit at a time. One breath at a time, in fact.

Take another look at how our lungs do this. Try leaning back as if you’re admiring an impossibly full cup of coffee – or some other accomplishment you’re proud of. Now lean in, curling forward, like you might to sip from a cup on the table. Notice how much the size of your chest changes when you do this? Your lungs occupy whatever space you make for them.

Now try this: Exhale as you curl in. Pause at the end of the exhale then let yourself exhale a little more. Now inhale as you lean back, letting your arms hang loosely from your shoulders. Pause, and inhale just a bit more.

Congratulations! You’ve just boosted the ‘tidal flow’ of your lungs significantly! Do this a few more times and you’ll have measurably more oxygen in your bloodstream.

Autumn’s Invitation

This is what Autumn invites – and requires – us to do. Recovering our full lung capacity is our best defense against illness. After all, our lungs (along with our colon and skin) are our first line of defense against infection. They clear out all kinds of thing that would otherwise sicken or poison us.

Restoring our lungs to their full capacity on a physical level can improve this function on mental and spiritual levels as well. As our days get shorter, we’re more likely to regret activities that seems a waste of us and our time. Clutter we’ve been working around becomes intolerable. We know we need to let go (‘blow off’) whatever wastes us. Or else we risk missing what we we’re really here for. The only way to let go what doesn’t serve, without worrying we might ‘throw out the baby with the bath,’ is one breath at a time.

We don’t exhale just for the sake of making space, after all. We say our lungs are like a sacred minister whose role is to bless what is valuable and vital. And to make space for what we don’t want to miss!

This may involve sacrifice, that is letting go of something of value for something of greater value. It often requires forgiveness – for ourselves and/or others. Anyone looking for help with this, I highly recommend Desmond Tutu’s ‘Book of Forgiving,’ written out of his experience with reconciliation in S. Africa following apartheid.

Sacrifice and forgiveness are rituals we don’t practice a lot in this culture. Both serve to restore dignity where it has been lost or taken away. These are wounds that especially need the posture-straightening breath of fresh air that comes with Autumn.

Trying Times

Have you ever noticed how people telling their life stories recall times of loss and contraction with profound appreciation? The times that try our souls also reveal our souls. They inspire us to make tough choices and profoundly shape our lives.

Oddly, we often resist letting go of what pains us because we are trying to avoid pain. We hold onto painful patterns or coping habits that often hurt way more than than our actual injuries. Acknowledging them creates space for them to heal and the ‘grip’ of pain invariably lessens. Especially with traumatic injuries, the initial clench we experience to protect ourselves can grow into a straitjacket far more painful than the injury itself.

‘Let go or be dragged.’ How’s that for a bumper sticker?

In Asian Healing Arts we call this letting go/Autumn energy ‘Metal.’ As in precious metals refined from much ore. Like the sound of the single cymbal I bought last year. The gong from a light tap cuts through any noise, whether inside or outside my head. It calls me to this-is-it attention. In ancient China, sacred ceremonies as well as trading in a market would open and close with a tone like this. It clearly punctuates the end of whatever was and the start of what will be.

So one breath at a time, we recalibrate the rhythms of our lives. One breath at a time, we weave our losses and injuries into our lives, however breath-taking they may be. One breath at a time, we choose how to spend these shorter days of Autumn.

We find and lose and find our balance as we fill and empty and fill up again. It helps to lean back and admire our accomplishments along the way. Then we can lean in for another sip.



Cynthia Zanti Jabs, L.Ac., has practiced Acupuncture and Medical Qi Gong for two decades. She can be reached at her Ruscombe Mansion office by calling 443-226- 6626

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