The school term starts in Autumn, and so my Shiatsu course each year started at this time too. We learnt each element of the 5 element theory according to the time of year, so each year started with the Metal Element, and the message Letting Go; and I didn’t get it! By the 3rd year I was starting to realise the power of this message, I was finding my own Shiatsu practise had an affinity with this element. It could be that it’s in my nature, my Chinese zodiac is a Golden Pig (meaning i'm born in a metal year) or it could be that due to the loss of my dad only a year or so before starting the studies that this energetic was strong within me as Metal is linked to Grief. I don’t know which it is or whether it even matters, but this is a powerful time of year and I thought I would talk about it in this month’s Shiatsu Blog: Autumn, The Metal Element and Embracing Letting Go.
Autumn, The Metal Element and Embracing Letting Go
Just before the trees drop their leaves they put on a beautiful display. Such rich colours that arboretums are best visited at this time of the year for the stunning finale of a tree’s year before it goes into hibernation. Maybe this is how we can see ourselves, the culmination of this year’s experiences to be reflected on and learnt from, before we let go, our own display of how this year has been to us. This may seem like a melancholy approach to what can be a very full on and energetically packed couple of months but we sometimes lose the message of the season’s energetics under the stresses of imposed westernised living.
The Metal element in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is associated with autumn and carries with it a profound wisdom centred around the concept of letting go. To understand why this is the case we need to explore the Metal element, its connection to autumn, and the valuable lessons it imparts on us through the energetics of understanding how letting go is imperative to our health and happiness in the long term.
The Metal Element in Traditional Chinese Medicine
In TCM, the Metal element, represented by the Lung and Large Intestine meridians, is associated with qualities such as clarity, precision, organization, and strength. Just as metal can be moulded and refined into various shapes, the Metal element represents your capacity for self-discipline and personal growth. However, one of the most significant aspects of the Metal element is its connection to the concept of "letting go."
Letting go is the path to wisdom - Lao Tzu
Autumn is the season of release with its falling leaves and the gradual decline of daylight, serving as a powerful metaphor for the process of letting go. The trees shed their leaves, releasing what is no longer needed, preparing for the stillness of winter and the renewal of spring. In our own lives, autumn reminds us of the importance of releasing what no longer serves us, whether it be physical possessions, outdated beliefs, or emotional baggage.
The Metal element's association with the Lungs and Large Intestine is symbolic of the necessity to release what is stagnant or toxic. Just as the Large Intestine eliminates waste from the body, we must clear out our mental and emotional clutter to create space for growth and renewal.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.- Lao Tzu
The Energetics of Letting Go
Letting go is not a passive act; it requires conscious effort and mindfulness. I find in my shiatsu practice that this is what most clients need help with. In the most physical sense it is letting go of tension, but what does that mean in terms of how you feel physically and emotionally?
Tension in the physical sense is muscle fibres that haven’t released. On tensing your muscles, fibres contract, and you’re very good at tensing. If you think about most physical activities you get stuck in, whether it’s exercise, DIY or gardening you put those muscles to work hard and fast; but do you consciously release afterwards? Do you have a cooling down period with stretching and keeping the muscles warm? Most likely not, most likely those muscles will cool down still being in a partially tensed state.
Then there is the emotional letting go, this maybe even harder than the physical one! Any situation that leaves you with feelings that you can’t release, forgive, forget or be at peace with will cause tension in your body. Some of it is in the muscles, some in your organs and a lot of it in your fascia. This is why shiatsu is beautiful, it can help you release this in a very sympathetic way. It can help you to release what is held in your body and what’s held in your body is thoughts and emotions that you haven’t let go of.
Over the last 20 years I’ve come to greatly respect the power of letting go, and just how beneficial this is for your health, happiness and longevity.
The spiritual element of letting go can be heard in popular prayers like the Lords Prayer: “ forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us” (sin has replaced trepass in the modern version). I bet you’ve heard this line a thousand times or more but have you really thought about what it’s asking you to do? It’s asking you to let go of the things you’d forgive others for but you’re not doing so for yourself. It’s asking you to let go of beating yourself up, let go of guilt, let go of all the trivial things that tie your body up physically and cause the tension, pain or sleepless nights you’re experiencing.
The power of letting go is not for others, but for yourself, these traditional words of wisdom from Christianity to Buddhism are telling you that if you don’t let go, you will get ill.
The energetics of letting go associated with the Metal element
There are many things you can do at home and in everyday life that help you let go. You can be feeling emotions from constricted to lost, grieving to loss of what might have been. There are so many emotional elements tied up in you right now, brought on by the events of this year and now is the time to start working through those things that it is time to release. This isn’t everything, it may not be time for anything major that has happened recently, but there is plenty of other smaller emotional episodes that may still be cluttering up your psyche and body, stopping you from feeling at your best.
Here are a couple of ideas that you can employ to help you release at home in your own time:
The Lung's role in respiration emphasizes the importance of conscious breathing. Deep, intentional breaths can help release tension and clear the mind, allowing you to let go of stress and calm anxiety responses in the body
Just as autumn prompts us to clear our physical environment, it's an ideal time for decluttering our living spaces. This act of tidying up can have a profound impact on your mental clarity and emotional well-being. Taking metal to the extreme can look like minimalism, and weak metal can turn into hoarding, it’s about finding a happy medium. Clearing a space in a certain part of the house is just the thing to do when you find you can’t concentrate or calm down. In my old house it was the spare bedroom, in my home now it’s the kitchen sink area! You’ll find your natural place, that once cleared you find you can calm down and concentrate again. If you struggle then there are books now to help you declutter and find your spark of joy!
Autumn is the opposite of Spring, a month of growth and expansion, Autumn is contraction, and energies that are triggered as introspection and reflection. The loss of light over September/ October also attributes to these feelings. We have to let go of light and warmth as much as many other things; which can make it a tough time for many people.
The positive of internal observation and reflection is your personal growth, question what serves you well, and what you can truly let go of, this leads to enlightenment and to a happier outlook. Although Autumn seems like a time of contraction this can be very useful for you personally to promote an internal change, rather than the Spring time which is more extrovert and expansive.
Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness - Thich Nhat Hanh
Grief and Loss can not be defined and dealt with in a matter of months, they follow their own timeline. As Metal is very much associated with the emotions of grief and loss Autumn can be a time to acknowledge and process these emotions, especially if they are still raw. Even years later there is a nostalgia and/or melancholy that is attached to this season; which makes it one of the more emotionally challenging times of the year for many.
Wisdom from Traditional Chinese Medicine for Metal
TCM offers us valuable insights into the Metal element's wisdom and its connection to autumn:
Metal may not seem like an element that fits in with Water, Earth and Fire, but it’s alter ego is Air, even Chinese coins have a cut-out in them to signify the air element. Therefore Metal can be rigidity or it can be a complete lack of structure if you’re of balance.
Creating Balance with Metal is always a challenge for certain birth signs in the Zodiac more than others, these are the Air signs (Aquarius, Gemini, Libra). They are prone to too much rigidity which can lead to stagnation, while too little structure can result in chaos. Finding the right balance in life is key to harmonizing the Metal element. You may not be one of these signs, or you maybe on the cusp of and you feel the push and pull between structure and lack of; which one are you drawn too?
Helping to achieve a good Metal balance in life can be done with any therapy that helps you to address what’s out of balance in your life. You may find group therapy or talking therapies right for you, and I know Shiatsu helps me find my balance. If you feel like your life is out of control then most likely your Metal needs some harmonising and Shiatsu is fantastic for this.
The Metal element teaches us to be like water, flowing with the changes of life. Just as metal can be shaped and reshaped, we too must adapt and embrace change with grace. If you struggle to adapt, if change throws you into chaos then your Metal need some tempering. Challenges and hardships can refine your character and make you stronger. If you struggle to embrace adversity and can’t see it as an opportunity for growth then reading about the 5 Elements in Chinese Medicine, or talking with a Shiatsu practitioner, or even just receiving the treatment can help you harmonise these emotions and calm your aversion to change.
White is the colour associated with the Metal Element. Known as the colour of purity it is also the colour of profound loss. If you tend to find you love white more than anyone around you then this would indicate your metal needs some nurturing.
Nourishment in the Metal Season of Autumn
Metal is linked to Autumn, it’s linked to the large intestine and the lungs and then there are food attachments too; the ones to include at this time of the year. White foods are considered nourishing for the lungs and luckily a couple of them expel bugs too. The action associated with Metal is to expunge and onions and garlic do this!
In the 5 Element theory there is a whole way of eating that suits the time of year and the type of person. You could be an earth person struggling with nourishment in Autum or a Metal person struggling with what to eat in Spring.
In Autumn though there is one way of eating that nourishes all – warm food. This may sound obvious but soe many people are living on salads especially at lunchtimes and this doesn’t suit anybody well, especially not in the seasons of Autumn and Winter.
Gently spiced is good, but not absurdly so. You don’t need to reach for chilli’s all the time, using a gentle blend of the Indian Garam Marsala, which is a preblend of the warming spices without being too hot. Ginger is a warming spice (which isn’t in Garam Marsala) but is fantastic for aiding circulation in your limbs so another one to be included.
Eat the vegetables and fruits of the season as these are the ones that will make you feel replenished and are packed full of nutrients to keep bugs at bay; but they should always be cooked. There’s a reason why everything from satsumas to squashes are harvested at this time of they year, all bright yellow/ orange produce is what we need. I’m a big fan of a homemade thick gently spiced butternut squash soup through this time of year.
The Strength of Autumn and Letting Go
As autumn leaves are released in their beauty, can you take time to reflect on what you can release from your life, allowing space for the new and the transformative?
Letting go is not a sign of weakness but an act of strength and wisdom. In the words of Lao Tzu, "The wise man does not resist the flow of events." Embracing the flow of autumn and the teachings of the Metal element, you can find inner peace, clarity, and the freedom to grow. This is the time of year to shed that which does not benefit you.
Just as autumn heralds the promise of a spring to come , letting go can pave the way for a happier future filled with renewed energy and purpose.
Shiatsu at this time of year can be a powerful support to you. Shiatsu is not just for fixing mechanical things, and it’s not just a nice to have type of massage; Shiatsu helps you on a deeper level. If you know you need some support but that either reflection or talking and other therapies don’t help you then Shiatsu most likely can.
Shiatsu incorporates the Chinese 5 Element system, your symptoms physical or emotional indicate the imbalances and Shiatsu through gentle thoughtful touch can help you release and relieve and leave feeling more composed and at peace than you felt possible.
Contact Andrea if you’d like to know if a Shiatsu is right for you.
About Andrea at Shiatsu Bodyworks Cheltenham
Andrea is a qualified zen shiatsu and chinese medicine practitioner with over 20 years immersed in holistic therapies and the energetics of mind and body. Based in Cheltenham, UK she offers in house clinic and online shiatsu sessions to help people with midlife health issues and also offers online consultations as she is a menopause specialist too.
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