Fifth Season in TCM

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Nancy Nelson

You may be thinking to yourself, “but wait – there are only four seasons?!”. Well, prepare to have your mind blown.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are actually five. They are…

  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fifth Season
  • Autumn
  • Winter

While we are familiar with the main four seasons – the “hidden” fifth season is an important time in which yin and yang are in balance. Before we get into the WHEN of this season, let’s talk about what you can expect from fifth season.

“The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Fifth Season summarized:

The element of fifth season is Earth. Without Earth, the other elements (Wood, Fire, Metal, Water) would never prosper. Earth signifies feeling grounded and connected. When we are in fifth season, it’s important we return to our center/spirit and enjoy abundance without worry. During fifth season, we should seek out activities such as getting out into nature, letting your bare feet meet the earth, connecting with family and close friends, getting back in a rhythm with home life and embracing change.

When does fifth season take place?

Originally fifth season was believed to happen during the 18 days immediately following the end of each of the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter). This means, that you would spend time reconnecting with the earth element and focusing on the above concepts of fifth season at the turning of each season. The map below highlights this model, the control cycle.

Many still follow this approach. Later on, the map for fifth season more closely followed the “generation cycle”. It shows all five elements on the outer ring. Spring turning to summer, which turns to late summer (fifth season), then to fall and so forth.

This is why you may have heard that fifth season is “late summer” and falls at the end of summer when there is still heat outside but it’s no longer really summer / not yet fall. Of course there are no specific dates as the world has variations on when seasons begin and end – but you can estimate the dates for your location in the world if you want to set aside time at the end of the summer to focus on fifth season. Simply assign fifth season as the final six weeks of summer leading up to the fall equinox.

You may be reading this article within your late summer or perhaps not. Truly, you can personalize fifth season whenever needed as the Earth simply encourages us to connect with center. Personally, I like to take a few days of “fifth season” at the closing of each season as a way to reset and adjust before the upcoming season. This is more aligned with the first discussed model of fifth season. I do also spend the final six weeks of summer for a more dedicated and in-depth fifth season. You find your perfect recipe for connecting back to center.

Abundance…

In late summer, the hard labor and work that led to planting seeds and producing crops are now in abundance. This means that fifth season is when we can sit back and enjoy the blessings that have been provided in our lives without concern for the upcoming winter. We are meant to settle in and enjoy during fifth season so we can feel our basic needs have been met. This enjoyment helps us to savor the gifts of life knowing that survival is not a concern. For many of us in well-developed Western countries, we may constantly have abundance and therefore never feel the gravity of what this means if we don’t pay attention. There may be plenty of food in your supermarket, for instance, that is not necessarily in season but has been made available to you by countries and regions that are living more seasonally and working in crops and fields. This is simply a consideration to make if you are looking to practice fifth season in terms of abundance. Perhaps utilize this time to give a bit more to those less fortunate, eat seasonally (which is always encouraged in TCM) and locally whenever possible. This is how our bodies are physically and energetically meant to function, but many of us have been spoiled with having everything at our fingertips – which can actually be more detrimental than helpful both individually and communally.

Think of abundance in terms of your community during fifth season as well. This time is a wonderful opportunity to host and attend gatherings with loved ones. Singing and harmony are closely related to late summer as well so a concert in the park might be a wonderful event to consider!

Dampness…

The climate will also likely be very damp during fifth season. Where I am, in Texas, the dampness is hard to miss quite honestly. As soon as I walk out my front door, I feel it. Humidity is at its peak externally as well as internally. Dampness in TCM refers to retaining fluid within the body. So it’s important to avoid heavy meals, foods high in sugar, foods that increase dampness such as dairy, gluten, raw vegetables and fruits, and alcohol.

Pause for a moment…

Do you find yourself drawn to these things right now? If you are in fifth season as I am, you may find yourself wanting these types of foods and comforts. This is normal! Many of us have damp-producing habits. This may just highlight that you need to acknowledge your desire for these items and to include them only moderately. Ginger tea is known to help reduce dampness. Maybe add it to your evening routine instead of that nightcap after dinner.

Sweetness…

When talking about fifth season, the taste associated is sweetness. Do not let this confuse you! Sweet doesn’t necessarily mean overly sweet. In fact, we know now that sugar creates dampness. During these six weeks, you want to include a natural and mild amount of sweetness in your diet because it helps to improve Spleen health. Because the color of fifth season is yellow, you could easily remember to include yellow/orange colored foods for the just right taste of sweetness for health.

Yin / Yang Balance

In terms of movements reflected by this season, think of the word stabilize. During fifth season, time may feel a bit slower. You may feel drawn to “stop and smell the roses”, if you will. You may feel a bit of clarity during fifth seasons after returning from summer travels, intense yang activity and energy. We start to pump the breaks from the high energy of summer and get grounded as we prepare for autumn. As mentioned above, yin and yang are in balance during fifth season. Essentially this means that the yang energy of spring and summer will begin to fade into the yin energy of fall and winter. Below are some ways to describe the contrasting energies of yin and yang.

YANGYIN
warm / hotcool / cold
masculinefeminine
boldquiet
high-impactlow-impact
confontingyielding
movementstillness

The meridian lines of fifth season are the Spleen and Stomach (see below).

Spleen Meridian
Stomach Meridian

These organs move Qi to our cells for overall health and vitality. They are digestive organs that help to support optimal functionality of the body and mind. This. is also why it is so important to consider your diet during fifth season. We want to support these organs especially as we head into cooler temperatures. During fall and winter, we tend. tobe less active and eat for comfort, which can lead to a decrease in overall digestive health.

To stimulate the above meridian lines, include poses like the following in your yin practice!

Here’s a full sequence for the Stomach meridian!

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3 Responses

    1. It kind of depends. I like to decide what I need personally when I’m sequencing for myself – depends on my energy. If I’m sequencing for class, I do a blend of both!

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Titles for Website (38)
Nancy Nelson
Nancy Nelson
Nancy is the fearless leader here at Nancy Nelson Yoga! She has been instructing yoga since 2012 and is certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500, YACEP) with Yoga Alliance. She loves guiding yoga classes in all forms – from sweaty vinyasa flows, to slow mindful movement - but her favorite style to practice and teach is yin yoga. She attended a formal 50-hour Yin Yoga training with Bernie Clark and Diana Batts in the fall of 2018 and it truly propelled her into developing her yin focused website, webinars and trainings.

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