Letting Go: Autumn, Giving Thanks, and Breath Work

Letting Go: Autumn, Giving Thanks, and Breath Work

The season of Autumn is connected with the element of Metal in Chinese medicine and is related to letting go of things you no longer need: of ideas that are limiting, of regrets, old hurts, grief and a sense of loss.

The central organ associated with the Metal Element is the Lungs which control the flow of chi. 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. The word inspiration is connected with the Latin word ‘spiritus’ which means roughly life giving energy.

Letting Go with your Breath

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. The thoracic cavity is also flexible. It is 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 breathing mechanics because they determine the mobility of your ribs and rib cage and how much your lungs can expand to take in air. 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.

Letting Go with your Belly

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:

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 Nutritious Movement.

Shopping for Food to Get More Movement

Shopping for Food to Get More Movement

When I was a kid my mother did a big grocery shop once a week. She made a plan of what we were going to eat for the week, and except for stocking up on milk, that was about it – she didn’t usually go back to the store for more. (Of course there were a lot of reasons for that.) When I started my own household, I thought this was the right way to shop – the most efficient, ‘proper’ way to shop – so that’s what I did, except it never really worked.

2014-06-09-16My husband comes from England where, growing up, his mother and grandmothers went to the green grocers for fruits and vegetables, the butcher shop for meat, the fish mongers for fish, and so on, getting what they needed daily from small specialty shops. Food was bought to be consumed on the same day – or within a few days. Although this changed when they moved to Canada, I think what you learn when you are young stays with you and he still likes doing the shopping like this – even more so now that we live in an urban environment where there are shops close by.

For decades we did the big weekly shopping because there wasn’t an alternative to walk to a store: we lived way out in the country. Walking to the store would have taken the whole day and we wouldn’t have been able to carry enough to make it work. Yet even when we moved into the city and had the opportunity to walk to the store, we still drove because it was our mind-set by then: a big weekly shop was just more efficient, we believed.

What changed was two things: not being self-employed anymore and having shops close enough to walk to. I soon found that working in an office Monday to Friday job left me with a lot of chores to do on the weekend, and doing a big weekly shop that left me tired and cranky wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my time. We’ve shifted gradually to picking up things as we need them: not daily because we don’t really need that, but several times a week. We also make shopping part of our weekend excursions by stopping at a market on our way somewhere else.

Getting Exercise while doing your Shopping

Here’s how daily shopping gives you more nutritious movement.

  • First of all you get the extra walking just going to the store, whether you are making a separate trip from home or adding it onto your daily routine.  If it is a separate trip, you of course get the extra walking to and from the store, but even if you are stopping into the supermarket on the way home from work, don’t discount those extra steps. I usually shop the outside aisles for raw ingredients, but often there will be one thing that takes me up and down the inner aisles.  I’m covering a lot of the same ground a few times a week that I would have done weekly and it is extra!
  • Secondly, I am only buying what I can carry (hopefully) but walking home with not only the weight of the groceries, but the size and shape of the items (the load) makes me use my body in a different way than I normally do. I use different muscles with more variation as I shift hands, carry with both arms, tuck things under my arms – just to get them home. Even more fun is carrying things without a bag! a(For more on this read It’s the Great Load Lesson, Charlie Brown, by Katy Bowman.)
  • Compare the amount of work it is for your little shop to your big shop: with your little shop you probably have a hand cart or carry your items to the checkout, then you carrying your items home. In the big shop the wheeled shopping cart does the work, the items are bagged and wheeled to your car. There might be a bit more work to unload them and get them to your kitchen, but nowhere near the same movement nutrients as carrying things in your arms for a walk home.
  • You can combine picking up food with entertainment. I realized how far we’d come on the weekend when we walked to Granville Island and picked up some things in the market. It is about a 45 minute walk and a short ferry ride away, but we walked at least an extra hour around the market and shops, and we came home with a bag of bagels, a block of butter, some corn tortillas, salsa verde and smoked salt – without bags. Granville Island has gone plastic shopping bag free and we didn’t have any bags with us, so we carried it. (We did get a small bag for the butter – apparently they are 100% plastic free yet.) That’s a pretty different movement experience than buying a weeks’ (or more) worth of groceries and loading them into the car.

I suspect there will always be times when we drive to pick up things – because we have the option if we need or want it – but I am now firmly of the mindset that shopping more frequently is the way to go and if you can manage it, you will be doing your body a big favour.