ACH Blog

The Spirit of Approaching Winter

Isobel Cosgrove - Sunday, November 01, 2020

Hallow’een has just been celebrated. This is the moment in the year, according to Chinese medical beliefs, when the heavens reach down to touch the earth. Physically, there are mists, so that clouds, which are usually way out of reach, are swirling around us as we walk. This is when we can feel more in touch with “Spirit”, more in touch with our internal world, with our essence.

gourds piled up on board

The harvest has been picked and stored for use in Winter months. As the leaves fall in the Autumn winds and rain, the shapes of the trees emerge from their Spring and Summer foliage. Eventually we can see each unique form, its trunk and branches, the essence of each tree.

And as we find what lies beneath the greenery of the year, we can contact the spirit of each tree, bush and perennial unadorned, laid bare.

leafless trees

So where are we in this process of the year turning? The hour has gone back as British Summertime ends. It is dark by 5 o’clock, the evenings are longer, the days shorter. We have to change how we live without the long sunny days. We need to contain and carefully measure our output to honour the slower pacing of oncoming Winter, and the quieter energy levels which it brings with it. Winter is about stripping back, like the trees, to the bare essentials.

The end of Autumn, and the beginning of Winter, is an ending. It is the death of the reproductive year. Seeding, sprouting, blossoming, ripening and gathering in have all ended. What is next? The energy of the tree descends to its lower trunk and into its roots. It enters a period of rest and recovery from the work of the year’s growth. Northern animals follow a similar path, gathering food for the Winter, and then hunkering down for a period of hibernation or much less activity. Like trees they enter into a different rhythm in the later days of Autumn. Their life is more internal, often underground, darker, quieter, less active and engaged with the outside world.

brown squirrel on green grass during daytime

For us all the wind is blowing, the rain falling, the mists hanging in the valleys and over the green spaces. We need to quieten down, like the natural world, as we prepare for the arrival of Winter at the end of this year. We can find ways to be more in touch with our internal world. We can engage less with outside demands and stimulation. Instead we can connect with the spirit of who we are, our essential natures. We can write, play music, paint, draw, cook, reflect on the last 12 months, and start visioning what we want to bring into our lives in the next year.

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Going back into Work and School

Isobel Cosgrove - Friday, September 25, 2020

So has it really only been 6 months since Lockdown? Some days it feels like 6 years. Did I really write 10 blogs, and here I am writing another! Yet another transition, and so much change for us all to negotiate. How are the young children managing being back at school? Those who are shy have had some wobbles. And those of us who are older have had wobbles too, finding ourselves with others we have not seen for a while. It is tricky managing face to face contact, after so much self isolation for those who are more vulnerable. 

four children standing on dirt during daytime

And recently it has been Autumn Equinox, although that is hard to believe, as I have lunch at Cricks Corner, my local neighbourhood cafe. This has been a lifeline for me since it reopened at the end of May. I have sat in the sun, on the benches outside, surrounded by plants or young trees, for the whole summer (at a social distance). Tom, Hunter, Elena, Henry and Lauren have made my cortados, sold me eggs, fruit and flowers, and made me laugh (and sometimes cry) through the long, warm days. Thank you to you all. It has made all the difference to the time without friends, colleagues and family who live out of London. 


So at this turning point in the year, as the sun moves into the Southern Hemisphere, and the days shorten, how will we continue to nourish ourselves? Making new connections at school, college, and work will definitely help, if we get the support there that we need. That depends upon teachers, lecturers, tutors and managers all understanding that going back to study and work is a challenge. It brings big gifts, and it also asks us to manage yet another big change in a relatively short period of time. 

I was working with colleagues this morning, and we all agreed that during a time of change, writing a personal, reflective journal will help us to have more contact with ourselves. And when we have that, there is a better chance that we will have more nourishing contact with others around us. We were all managing relative degrees of isolation, and time away from work and family. So sitting for half an hour a day with a journal helped us collect our thoughts, feelings and experiences. We could then face going back to the clinic, or to a meeting, or to meet a friend, with more inside of us. We could take that self knowledge and understanding into the next event, and this gave us a feeling of being a little more substantial, steady and centred. 

people sitting on chair in front of table while holding pens during daytime

Moving from inside to outside is often a big ask. Let's all get the support we need to make the move manageable and enjoyable. Then going back to school, college and work can be much more of a pleasure. 

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Transition Into Autumn

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, September 01, 2020

As I look out of one window in the sitting room, I can see Late Summer in the trees. All is green and full, with seeds forming. Out of the next window I can see early Autumn. The tree colours range from yellow to pale red to reddish brown, and leaves are beginning to fall.

worm's eye view photography of trees

When I first started writing Blogs, during Lockdown, it was Spring. And since then, every season has been earlier than usual this year. As I look back I can see the impact of the Covid crisis, and also how life has changed throughout Spring, Summer, and late Summer. Now we are approaching Autumnal days, what changes will we be facing in September?

All of the news this week has been about how we are going to manage children going back to school. They have been at home for 5 months since mid March, and going back in September will be a really big transition. They will be pleased to spend more time with their friends. And getting used to working from 9am to 3pm in class will be a big ask. Especially for young children. So not only will they make a transition from Summer to Autumn. They will also make the transition from home study, to long days with a school timetable.

flat lay photography of blue backpack beside book and silver MacBook

 All transitions are a challenge, and it takes time for us to get used to the change they bring.

I feel sure that teachers will be mindful of the demands of this transition, and that parents will give more downtime to young ones who are tired at the end of the school days.

As days shorten, and temperatures drop, at the beginning of Autumn, we all need extra down time, and warmer and more nourishing food. In the animal world they prepare in Autumn for dealing with cold and dark days at the end of the year. And so in the world we live in we need to adjust our food, our rest time at nights, and our daily routines to accommodate these Autumn changes.’

In my first Riverford Boxes in September I have yellow squash, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, onions, which I can use to make some warming stews. I have rhubarb for crumble. And I have been out picking blackberries with my grandsons. We have mixed the berries with apples from the garden and made pies and some jam. The late French and runner beans are still being picked, as are tomatoes and corn. This is the harvest season.

variety of vegetables

There is a sense of the fullness of the year in August and September, following the period of strong growth in Spring, and the flowering in Summer. We have fruit in the hedgerows, on the trees, and vegetables on allotments and in gardens. Let's make the most of this moment, before the early frosts, and the windy days at the Autumn Equinox.

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Harvest Time

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

In Chinese Medicine we move through five seasons in the year. Winter occupies the darkest, coldest months. Plants and animals, farming communities in the old days, rest in Winter by going to bed early and rising later. Bears give birth during this resting time in their caves, and their cubs spend the first weeks of their lives inside, protected from the cold.

green and red trees during daytime

The beginning of Spring can be stormy, as the early days of the season may be blown in during equinoxial gales. From the second half of March, there is a burst in plant growth and animal activity during a period of re-awakening after Winter ends. The energy of Spring, known as the Wood Energy in the 5 Element Tradition in Chinese medicine, allows us to revise our lives, plan for the next year, and make decisions about where we go next. Spring is an important time for us to make plans for how we can grow, flourish and move forward in our lives.

The Summer Solstice in late June gives us a time with the longest days, which can usher in the warmest part of the year.  Summer may start before the solstice, as it did this year. We had very warm days in late May and early June, and because the warmth came early,  plants flowered early, and we have basked in the sun for 2 months already. In late July we find ourselves moving from the expansion and colour of full Summer into what the Chinese Medics call the next season: Late Summer.

green plant

This time from late July, through August and September, up to the late Summer/Autumnal solstice is the time of Harvest, which is such an important moment in the reproductive year. This year the rowan trees already have their bright orange berries appearing (at least they are in London, where I live). Peas were ready early, and apples and pears were filling out and ripening too.

Growing up in the hills of Northumberland, I knew that Late Summer was beginning when the moors turned purple as the heather started blooming. In the North this was later, on the “Glorious Twelfth”, which is when the grouse season starts on August 12th. This is the time in the year of “plenty”, when farmers gather in their crops to sell or store for the Winter. Every culture has celebrated, and given thanks for their harvests over many millennia.

person holding red and orange tomatoes

And how do we celebrate and express gratitude in the 21st century? We have festivals, religious and pagan, campfire meals, barbecues and meals in the garden or by the sea, and picnics in the countryside.

In the 5 Element system of medicine we learn that our digestive systems are at their annual peak during harvest, so enjoy your picnics and late Summer feasts. Bears eat food in late Summer to last them through hibernation.

Let’s all make the very most of this rich and plentiful time of year by taking in the nourishment of late summer warmth and light, as well as the mellow abundance of the food available right now.

Enjoy filling up with the special qualities of the natural world at this unique moment in the year.

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All health is connected to nature

Isobel Cosgrove - Thursday, June 11, 2020

While doing ‘the sphere’, (one of my Qi Gong exercises) this morning, I had a moment of insight. When holding ‘the sphere’, we connect to nature around us, the wind in the trees, sunlight on leaves, a birdsong. We bring this energy from nature into our energy centre, or sphere. We hold this connection for a few minutes, while taking in the gift of nature. 

Bird, Kingfisher, Twigs, Bean Bird

When I was young, I spent weekends and holidays with my grandparents and relatives who farmed in Northumberland. I helped make hay, with lambing and milking cows. I learnt to love and simply connect with the natural world. During lockdown, many children have had time to connect, through sowing seeds, planting vegetables, and listening to bird songs. Chinese and East Asian medicine, which I have studied and practiced over 40 years, has enabled me to stay connected with nature, even while living in cities. A connection with nature is forged through the plants used in herbal medicine, bringing ancient wisdom into modern life. 

Chinese Medicine, Western Medicine

The 5 element teachings were brought from Taiwan and China to the UK in the 1960’s by J.R. Worsley. Those of us who were able to study with him in the 1970’s and 80’s learnt that our energy, and that of our patients, is closely linked to the energy of the seasons and the natural world. Spring is a time of growth and opportunity for change. Summer warms the heart, gives us the outdoors to play and rest. Late summer is the harvest time, while Autumn mists and shorter days ask us to quieten and re-connect with our inner lives. Winter is the end of the reproductive year. The energy of the trees, flowers and shrubs returns into the Earth, and we need to learn to slow, quieten and settle down in the Winter. 

Sky, Clouds, Landscape, Sunset, Beach

Here are some wonderful writings which can inspire you, and your children to have stronger connections with the natural world. In ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. 16 year old Dara McAnulty has written the ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’, in which he details a year in his home in Northern Ireland, spending the seasons writing. Finally, Patrick Barkham’s ‘Wild Child’ aims to inspire future generations by showing us how to help reconnect our children with nature.  

"Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer


"Diary of a Young Naturalist" by Dara McAnulty

"Wild Child" by Patrick Barkham 

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Health in Spring

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Lockdown this year has interrupted the usual context in which we experience moving into and through Springtime. Energetically, Spring is a powerful moment of awakening from the darkness, cold and inward quality of Winter.



During lockdown this year, we have so many constraints imposed on our lives, which have prevented us from physically and emotionally joining in with the awakening that Spring offers.


What is in the way?

We can’t go to join friends for coffee. Tennis, football, cricket games are cancelled. How much we can exercise is limited. Our diets are changed. We are drinking more alcohol. And stress and anxiety levels are much higher than usual. Some of us are mourning the death of friends or family. 


What have we lost?

As families we have not been able to celebrate Mothering Sunday, the Easter holiday, which is about Death and Rebirth, and this week the big events marking V.E. Day have been cancelled. What impact has all of this change had on our health?


How are we managing?

Children are out in the streets, drawing with chalks on pavements, and painting rainbows to show their support for the NHS. Without time at school have their creative instincts had more time to flourish? Spring is definitely a time for creativity.

Many of my clients have been cooking, crafting and painting too. This feeds the body, the mind and the spirits of those both doing and those just enjoying/being fed.


Connecting to Spring with Chinese medicine


Make the most of all of the greens which Spring offers...garlic leaves, dandelion leaves, kale, chard, spring greens themselves!

They help the body clear out the residual debris from a Winter of more Yin [slower, quieter] activity. The sun and warmth of this year’s season, has given us a chance to fill up with the more Yang energy of Spring.

Sit in the sun each day if you can, for at least 1/2 hour. And some gentle stretching can give you more flexibility, and may put a spring in your step. Follow the example of the trees, and extend your body more each day as you walk/run/cycle. And most of all, enjoy!

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