“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honey sweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”
This week I am deep in the writing process for my new book on Elemental Yin Yang Yoga. Since fall has arrived with such fortitude here in New England, it is only natural that I devote my time to the Metal element.
If you aren't as familiar with the Chinese philosophy of the 5 Elements as you are with other systems, the concept of Metal and its attributes may not feel as relatable as the others. However, in Yin Yang yoga, metal has an important role in rounding out the practice so it is vital to understand.
Autumn is the perfect time to connect with Metal on and off your mat and I hope these musings and exercises inspire you to deepen your personal relationship with this beautiful element.
The Season of Metal
Fall is a magical time and an important season for the Elemental yogi. After the warmth and expansion of the summer, autumn allows one to reconnect to their practice and integrate all the breakthroughs the heat may have afforded. Autumn reminds us that life is not permanent as we watch the changing and falling of the leaves.
The final harvest begins and the crisp cool air of this beautiful season helps us to reflect on all of the accomplishments of the past year while inspiring us to make sure our preparations for winter have begun.
Autumn is ruled by the Metal element and this is by far the most challenging of the Five Elements for many yogis to grasp. Since Metal doesn’t immediately seem like a natural extension of the other elements it often takes more time for yogis to feel connected to. To help you relate to the seasonal nature of metal try this exercise.
Connect with Fall:
Plan a silent hike or stroll. It need not be a strenuous workout- a simple forest path will do. Plan to do as little talking as possible while you walk (let anyone who may be accompanying you know your intention is to connect to the sights and sounds of the season and not to chat).
Walk at a comfortable pace stopping any time you feel inspired to take a deeper look at your environment. Enjoy the symphonic crackling of leaves under your feet and the rich unique smell of the forest at this time. Notice the way the cool air feels on your face.
Consider that the beauty of this season centers around the theme of letting go. The trees let go of their leaves, the earth releases its final bounty and many religious and spiritual traditions around the world take time during this season to honour loved ones who have passed away (Halloween’s origins are deeply rooted in honouring and connecting with the dead).
You may feel inspired to spend some time writing or in meditation/ contemplation along your trip in the forest releasing things in your own life you have let go of or need to let go of.
At the end of your journey, take time to enjoy a seasonal drink (like warm apple cider) and taste the bounty of this rich season. Acknowledging that foods linked to this season are hearty and last far longer than some of their summer counterparts that have a shorter shelf life.
Often called the “tender organs” the lungs are the the yin organs of metal. They are located close to the surface of the body and are more vulnerable than other vital organs as such. The main function of the lungs is to take in air (that which is needed for life) and expel carbon dioxide (letting go of that which is no longer needed). The lungs support life and keep nothing for themselves.
It is no coincidence that yoga poses that create expansion through the chest or involve a deepening of the breath create an almost instantaneous response for the yoga practitioner. While many yogis love pranayama (breathing practice) and back bends (that seem to create more space through the front of the chest) others feel exposed and anxious during this practices.
Metal and Letting Go
Just as leaves change colour and fall from the trees in autumn, so too must each individual move through transitions of releasing aspects of life that no longer fit who we are. We must symbolically exhale things that have run their course in order to be able to inhale the fresh and new opportunities of life.
The nature of an ending may be orchestrated and logical - the completion of a project that makes space for something new, or they may be sudden and unexpected - the death of a dear friend or the loss of a dream job. In either case however, it is quite natural to grieve a loss.
As a Chinese Medicine Practitioner one of the things I would constantly stress to my clients is that emotions are natural and each one has a healthy expression that provides the opportunity to transform.
The same is true of grief, the emotion of metal. The trouble for many of us is how to navigate through this experience when it occurs in our "happiness obsessed" Western culture. In some pockets of culture, natural grief is seen as a shameful pathology.
When one isn't free to express natural feelings of loss over life's changes, they may find themselves defensive and isolated as healthy metal becomes damaged. Stagnant grief can lead to deeper disruptions within a person such as long-term depression, obsessive perfectionism or even highly superficial behavior where one avoids deep, meaningful work and relationships for fear of the inevitable loss in the future.
Learning how and when to let go appropriately can happen in many ways, but one tool for yoga practitioners is cultivating a solid, conscious savasana practice.
Savasana is the moment of letting go in the yoga practice. While many teachers glaze over its traditional death symbolism preferring to call it "final relaxation", as far as I have learned and personally experienced, the corpse-like stillness assists the student in a profound release of the ego's holding.
For a few precious moments there is space for one to let go of their hectic life full of goals and effort. This space prepares the yogi for more grace in their life off the mat and serves as a reminder that this incarnation is precious and impermanent.
Although we have barely scratched the surface of Metal's symbolism and power, I hope that this helps to give you a deeper understanding of why this element and its health is so important.
Photo Credit: Brian Hunt