"Get up with the Chicken" How to Get Good Rest in Autumn
“[In autumn,] Go to rest early and rise early,
get up together with the chicken.
Let the mind be peaceful and tranquil, so as
to temper the punishment carried out in autumn.
Collect the sprit qi and
cause the autumn qi to be balanced.
Do not direct your mind to the outside and
cause the lung qi to be clear.
This is the correspondence with the qi of autumn and
it is the Way to nourish gathering.”
~Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen, chaprer 2, translated by Paul U. Unschuld and Hermann Tessenow
Daylight savings time aside, I’ve been waking earlier than usual most mornings, connecting with an animal aliveness in my body. The time of day associated with autumn in Chinese Medicine is 3:00-7:00am. That autumn energy of contemplation (“do not direct your mind to the outside,” pursue self-reflection instead), is at its peak during those dark morning hours.
Many of the people I work with lately have been agitated by waking up earlier than usual. If you’re waking up at 5am, go for it, if your schedule allows for that, but also adjust your bedtime so that you can “go to rest early AND rise early.”
Getting enough sleep in autumn might mean going to bed an hour earlier. This is naturally a time of year when we rise a bit earlier than usual, just as we might stay up later in summer when the hours of daylight are extended.
Waking up at 3:00am, as the autumn energy is at its peak, can be a natural side-effect of this time of year. But for most of us it’s not sustainable to start our days at 3am. One remedy for this is to try going to bed a bit earlier and see if that helps you sleep through through this peak energy time.
A second approach is to stay in bed and close your eyes. Let yourself sink back into the warmth of your blankets. Then try a body scan. Starting at the top of your head, bring your attention to the crown of your head to begin. See what you notice there, any sensations or temperature that might be happening in the crown of your head right now. Keep moving gradually down your body and see what’s present in your body right now. Bring your attention to your eyes, then your ears, etc.
You can also ask yourself along the way if there’s anything that needs attending to. Do you need to stretch something, linger longer with a particular body part and give it some attention, pee, get a sip of water?
This gentle body scan helps us to keep our gaze inward and to “collect the spirit qi.” In autumn, the harvest has come in, the decks are stacked in our favor. We now need to keep our gaze inward to determine what we will do with the various resources in our lives. What will we keep? What can we let go of?
If you’re really stuck with sleeping or having trouble adjusting to the darkness and cold, consider coming in for a seasonal acupuncture tune-up. We can make sure that the qi of autumn is moving freely in you and is not constricted or stuck.
Unlike most people I think, autumn is my most exhilarating season, and I love helping people figure out how to work with the grief and isolation that naturally arise during this “punishing” time of year.
Please know that you are not alone if you’re starting to feel edgy or worried about winter. While that’s a normal response to these two downward-moving seasons of autumn and winter, you don’t have to get stuck in those sensations.