Powering Down: Dusk, Sleep, and the Autumn Equinox

Solar Term 16 | September 22 – October 7

Night comes quickly this time of year. In a blink of an eye, the light turns from dusk to night. One evening I paused to watch the light fade. As my vision dulled from the low light, I felt myself shift. My ears opened to the sounds around me. I could hear birds twittering in the trees, the wind rustling the leaves. Inhaling the evening air, my nose opened to pick up the subtle scent of pine. Standing in the dark, unable to see, I could drop back and let go. My mind was quiet, my body was tired, and night had arrived. It was time to rest.

Tipping into the dark

The quality of nature that is significant this time of year is dusk. This is represented by Autumnal Equinox, which marks the moment where the length of the day and night are equal. After this moment, the light tips to the dark, with the nights getting longer and longer until the shortest day of the year at Winter Solstice. In this balance point of the equinox, there’s a place to ponder if you are ready for the decreasing light by going within. Evaluate what you have with what you need to get you through until the morning comes again.

Evaluating what you have with what you need

To know your needs, there must be a connection between your mind and body. What happens is that we get stuck in our heads, living life from this place that seems to exist behind our eyes.

The lesson of dusk is that we can’t rely on our vision alone to guide us through life.

With our visual field dimmed, we can tune into the world around us using our other senses, which is our body consciousness. By recognizing the interdependence of all the functions of the mind and body, we can evaluate our wants and needs from a place of full maturity.

This is the moment to ask yourself if you have the resources to make it through the dark. Whatever health you have right now, you are taking into the winter and holiday season. How can you cultivate the help you need if you find your resources lacking? When I ask people what they want in the clinic, they generally say, “I don’t know.” When I ask what they need, they always say, “rest.”

Cultivating Resources: Dusk, Sleep, and the Immune System

Dusk is the beginning of sleep, marking time to go within. A rhythm to falling asleep is crucial to how well you sleep and how deep you can go, and it begins with dusk. To get sleepy, your body must first release the hormone melatonin from the brain. This release is triggered by dusk, an example of mind/body medicine – your mind cannot command your brain to release melatonin – it is started by the reduction of light in your visual field.

During sleep, your immune system can “rest and restore.”  During the day, the immune system is on. I think of the immune system acting like a shield with its feelers out, sensing everything you come into contact with throughout the day to determine if it is safe. At night, during sleep, the immune system goes within to do a sweep of the organs. Eastern medicine believes that the immune system rests in the Kidneys or adrenal glands after the sweep is complete. If this sweep cannot be performed, you will not sleep deeply, properly detox, or repair and restore. This is when we can feel overwhelmed, strung out, and exhausted.

The whole process starts with your eyes.

You may remember last spring; we discussed the increasing amount of sunlight. This creates growth energy that has the quality of moving up and out. Last week we discussed cooling down as we go inward. Now you want to use the dark to go deep. And the deeper you can go, the more you will rest and recover from obtaining optimal health. This sets the tone for the quality of sleep and quality of internal repair.

Process for Falling Asleep

Let your visual field power down by dimming the lights 2 hours before bed. The best is to be outside when the sun goes down, and dusk sets in. Follow the cues of the dark by turning off screens.

Lie down and close your eyes

  • It is the relaxing of the eyes, the reduction in the visual field, and turns off the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Perhaps use an eye mask to block out the light.

Consciously relax your eyes

  • This turns off the upper brain
  • Fight or flight turns off

Open your nose

  • Close your mouth and breathe through your nose (this is why people have been taping their mouths shut)
  • Put your hand on your belly and expand your abdomen during the inhale
    • This opens the deeper brain, which is the survival instinct that opens our nose and the part of us that knows our body will keep on working when we let go into sleep
  • Allow your exhales to be long and complete
  • Continue to breathe deeply to draw your immune system more profound into your body

Open your ears

  • Your ears open up when you sleep to protect you in your surroundings
  • Check in and see how you feel deep down:
    • Are you on alert?
    • What are you on alert about?
    • Are you safe? If so, can you let go of your worries?

Relax your jaw and tongue

  • This may help you not to worry as you no longer have your jaw “set” against the world

Change your headspace

  • Feel your breath in and out of your nose
  • Orient to “it’s ok”
  • Let yourself power down

Healing deeply

Fall is the time to prepare for winter. For us this means it is an opportunity to rest, repair, and restore. The time after the feasting season of mid-October to mid-November, plan on being quiet until the winter solstice. The next blog posts will guide you through this season to further rest, repair, and restore.

  • Fall energy is diving deep so it is when you can repair your adrenal glands, joints, and sex hormones
  • Rest is key to getting your body into this state. Going to bed as early as 8pm is key to this.
  • Introduce bone broth and eat animal meat to have the proteins needed to repair these structures

Cultivating awareness about your state of being is the first step. Having and using tools to adjust is next. Acupuncture can help if you are blocked and unable fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep deeply enough to restore your immune system. If you find you need an extra boost this season, schedule a treatment at Stillpoint Healing Center. Note what works best for you at this time of year because it may change in a few weeks time. Then enjoy the sensation while you are there, even if it is for a moment. It can be special and so fleeting, just like the golden hour before sunset.

Hi, I’m Maile McKain. I am an acupuncturist, herbalist, educator, and absolute believer that healing is always possible. I practice medicine for living systems to initiate healing, restore balance, and create harmony so you can reach your full potential.