The season of Autumn is connected with the element of Metal in Chinese medicine and is related to gratitude and letting go of things you no longer need: of ideas that are limiting, of regrets, old hurts, grief and a sense of loss. If you desire to experience more reverence and gratitude and a sense of celebration in your life, or experience more playfulness and joy, work with Metal Element energy. The most effective way to do this is to work with your breath.
The central organ associated with the Metal Element is the Lungs which control the flow of chi. The word inspiration is connected with the Latin word ‘spiritus’ which means roughly the same thing as chi – essential life giving energy. Although breathing is an autonomous function, most of us breathe quite shallowly, using only the top third of the lungs. Taking full deep breaths, filling all the lungs, and fully exhaling is extremely beneficial. It is also a meditation practice, because doing breath work connects us with the moment; it is almost impossible to do while the mind is roaming.
Lungs take in and let go. We think of the Metal Element as a solid, un-moving structure, but metal is flexible; it can take almost any shape when it is in a molten shape and is also flexible to some extent in its solid form.
Like the element of metal, the thoracic cavity is also flexible – a container that can change shape to become larger or smaller in volume. The bottom of the container is your diaphragm, the ribs and spine form the sides, and in between the ribs are the intercostal muscles.
Instead of letting go and breathing freely, most of us have patterns of constriction or holding on: in your shoulders, diaphragm, stomach and even your pelvic floor. Do your shoulders rise with your breath? Does your belly harden, or pouch out? Do you breathe shallowly and hold your breath?
The shoulder girdle muscles and the stomach muscles are very important in breath mechanics because they determine the mobility of your ribs and rib cage and how much your lungs can expand to take in. If you only work on breathing exercises (through meditation or yoga) you may find there is some agitation and discomfort in your upper body, causing you to hold on even more, rather than relaxing and letting go.
The first step to releasing your breath is to stop sucking in your stomach. If you aren’t sure whether you have stomach tension, try this simple exercise:
Belly Release Exercise
Come to your hands and knees on the floor (as if you were doing to do cow pose) and let your belly hang. Do not force your belly or your front ribs out. You are looking for a neutral spine and a neutral abdomen. Most people will not feel anything happen at first but if you can stay in this position you may feel a sudden release in your abdomen. Congratulations: you’ve just let go a lot of tension you didn’t know you were carrying.
To work on your shoulders and ribs try one of the Alignment Snacks by Katy Bowman:
A Real Pain in the Neck: A 30 minute class of neck and shoulder stretching that shows how tight shoulders make for tight neck and jaws.
Can’t Get Enough Shoulder: A little over 30 minutes, this class helps you see here you hold tension from your hands to the neck. (Hint: they are connected). You’ll also see there you have lost ranges of movement in your shoulder girdle.
Gotta Get Down to (Arm) Swingtown: This approximately 30 minute class focuses on muscle tone of upper arms (bingo arms anyone? Nooo!). This class is also important for breast and spine health.