Interview: The Transition from Fall to Winter
We are excited to start featuring monthly interviews with Chinese Medicine practitioners, creating learning opportunities to share this wisdom with you in an accessible and relevant way. Samantha Story is an NYC-based classically trained acupuncturist who practices a variety of healing modalities, all of which she sees as ways to support people on their journeys to self-knowledge, unlocking the body’s innate healing capacities and finding emotional liberation. Deeply honoring the Taoist practice of alchemy, which is to turn the spirit to gold, Samantha helps walk others in potentiating their unique experiences of healing.
R+B: Hi Samantha! We are so grateful you’ve agreed to have this conversation and share your insights with us. While we are both acupuncturists who have devoted ourselves to the same general path of inquiry, Traditional Chinese Medicine is so vast and it’s always exciting to understand any of its threads through the unique lens of another – especially someone as inspiring as you!
SS: Hi, I’m so excited to talk with you! I’ve used R+B for years and know I can rely on the integrity of the products.
R+B: Thank you so much for saying that! So, we’re currently moving through the transition from fall to winter, and your transmission on autumn consisted of letting go but also taking in, comparing it to the life-death-life cycle, as fall is associated with the Large Intestine and the Lungs. What would you say are the themes – energetic or otherwise – of this transitional time?
SS: Spring and Fall are such dynamic seasons; to me they both have such strong energy that in some ways prepares us for summer and winter, respectively. If you think of them in terms of the cycles of the moon, Spring is the waxing phase and Autumn the waning phase. Autumn to me is perfectly encapsulated by the act of breathing – each breath offers new life and each exhale a letting go, like a dance between life and no life, full and empty. To me the offering of Fall is spending time with the grief of loving what will pass… it’s a big one for us mortals to come to terms with.
We emerge from the heart energy of summer and the sweetness of late summer and our world is beginning to dry, to drop its leaves. Witnessing the process of dying, of letting go, of shedding, allowing ourselves to feel grief… these are not celebrated culturally so much, but they’re so necessary. Autumn is associated with the element of Metal in Chinese Medicine and to me there’s that invitation as we shed to also understand and hold onto what we truly value… that is, to choose what we will take with us into winter.
R+B: And of winter?
SS: Winter is our most yin season. In a capitalist society where rest isn’t valued this can be a difficult season for some to embrace. I was talking to a patient just yesterday about the difference between post-natal Qi and pre-natal Qi and I think the medicine of winter ties in here. Ideally we want to be using our post-natal qi to live our lives, meaning the quality of what and how we eat, our breath, how we move, our sleep and our thoughts. Our pre-natal qi is what we were gifted constitutionally at birth… it’s our jing, our life essence.
As we aren’t spending our lives meditating in mountains, but living modern lives, we will use our pre-natal qi in life… we will burn the candle in our twenties, we’ll take red eye flights, run marathons, or go through extreme circumstances that deplete us. But overall we want to try to not to finance our daily life with our pre-natal qi. It relates to winter in that our pre-natal qi is associated with our kidneys, our essence, or jing as we say in CM. It’s an ancestral gift and seasonally it belongs to winter. This is a key time to restore, to fill the cup back up so that come Spring we have the resources to bloom.
Kidney Heart connection is something we speak of and work to connect in acupuncture – the idea that the point of life is to use the gift of the kidneys to live out the heart’s desire and to do that these two must be in conversation, connected – seasonally that’s summer and winter. If you were to practice that: what did your heart teach you in summer about where your passion lies? In winter, that germination combined with the will of the kidneys, will allow for a blooming come spring.
I think I may have detoured too far there, so thanks for taking that journey with me. In CM Winter is associated with the color black, with water, the ears, our bones, the kidneys and bladder, stillness, the flavor is saltiness, the sound is groaning, the emotion is fear and the spirit is willpower. Winter is an invitation to the deepest listening, connection with ancestors, remembering who we are. There’s that bone connection, our DNA, our jing, it’s a good time to revisit and re-remember. Some favorite winter practices include journaling, salty baths, bone broth with seaweeds and mushrooms, and candlelight to balance the water and illuminate the way.
R+B: That was a very resonant reading of the energies and themes we can work with during this time of year to unlock healing. What are your favorite herbs + mushrooms (Chinese and beyond) to provide support as we move through holiday season and prepare for Deep Winter?
I like to lean into broths, soups and teas in winter, like a pot of miso soup with seaweed and mushrooms. So many mushrooms are supportive for the kidneys, making them particularly resonant with winter. I really like shitake, reishi and maitake in the winter, but I also like to make it easy and get a blend like the R+B 5th Kingdom that I can add to soups and other dishes. There’s so many great herbs; in my practice I like to encourage my patients to keep it simple and begin a relationship with one. In my opinion herbal supports are underutilized and I find people are intimidated, so beginning the relationship with one plant and letting it grow from there. Astragalus is an herb I reach for in winter as is He Shou Wu… I want to focus on supporting my immune system and building yin. I also like to think about stress and plants that work with the shen at this time… Reishi is nice for the shen… Reishi in hot cacao is a favorite. I’ll drink many different herbal teas, but Tulsi is a main one in winter as it calms and supports.
R+B: Lots of good grounding foods and root medicines! Are you noticing any patterns in your practice during this transitional time of year, in terms of what people are navigating and how it imprints upon their bodies?
SS: Treating these past few years has been different in that the pattern isn’t as seasonally obvious. People’s lives have been so affected, in positive and negative ways, and mostly I’m seeing the tolls of the past few years on people’s nervous systems. It’s showing up in many ways, but mostly as depletion, tension and sometimes depression. There’s been so many changes in peoples’ lives, so much to adjust to quickly and at the same time, very little human connection. Connecting to the seasons and elements was like a tonic through the pandemic for me, especially as a city dweller, and I think an important connection for us all as it can carry us from a limited lens to the vast interconnectedness of life.
R+B: I love that, and agree that when we feel lonely, we can connect to and find our place in the natural world and its cycles. Self-care can likewise be an antidote to the afflictions people may be facing. You’re also a breathwork practitioner and share facial treatments like gua sha and cupping, so you seem quite attuned to self-care approached from many different angles. Do you feel there are self-care practices that are especially (and generally) supportive during this time of year?
SS: Winter offers such depth, so I tend to look to practices that embody that energy… gentle practices that allow for swimming in the deep end. I’ve been recommending Yoga Nidra to most of my patients lately as so many people are in states of anxiety and I don’t want to add another “to do” to peoples already long lists. I love this practice because it’s incredibly restorative to the nervous system without requiring much. If you’re not familiar, Yoga Nidra is a guided body scan that works binaurally taking the brain offline and allowing for deep restoration. I also love breathwork during this time and any kind of gentle movement. Most of my patients are already doing a lot and so often I think it’s not about adding another thing. As winter has that aspect of deep listening, we are invited to listen to what feels nutritive… it’s so personal… and then maybe we can quiet the noise and let go of anything unnecessary.
R+B: Yes, I also try to champion self-care that’s profound but can feel seamless to integrate into our days. Can you tell us a little bit about how you conceive of beauty, and aging with gratitude / grace? Has Chinese Medicine informed your perspective, and if so, how?
SS: Chinese Medicine informs so much of how I look at life… the connection between our bodies and nature. My teacher says, “the heart longs to experience the world absent from the judgement of the mind.” We experience the world through our senses and they’re mostly on the face. So I really see facial work as a way to renew our ability to see the world clearly, to speak our truth, to hear clearly, absent from the judgement of the mind. The first point on the gallbladder channel is on the outer canthus of the eye; my teacher Jeffrey Yuen says it offers the ability to see the world with awe as if you’re seeing something for the first time. That to me is the essence of youth, of beauty, and of why we are here – to see the world with awe. The beauty industry has successfully got us acting like our faces and bodies aren’t connected, but what’s going on with the skin is related to what’s going on in the body, with emotions. At the most fundamental level, we want the smooth flow of qi and blood throughout the body and that includes the face. My hope is the “beauty” treatments I offer are a place of reconnection.
R+B: Our faces really do hold so many of our points of entry to receiving the world, including what we eat and imbibe. I definitely feel that so much healing can occur from reconnection, including, as you said, that between our bodies and nature. One concept I’m fundamentally committed to with our offerings is that of Di Tao, referring to herbs and mushrooms that are sourced from their spiritual homeland. I do believe that habitat and growing conditions play a big role in activating the constituents of an herb… for example, you can’t expect the same energy from a mushroom that didn’t have to endure cold winters and find ways, over time, to thrive in high altitudes. Does this resonate? If I may go a little “out there” with you, how do you think winter fortifies us, and what “constituents” might it activate within?
SS: That makes all the sense… it speaks to the innate interconnectedness of all things. Last winter I was in a more rural town whereas I’m usually in NYC and in this specific environment you’re faced with more people on the streets and more suffering. When you live in a denser population, the people are part of the landscape that works upon you. So in winters here I’m thinking more about others, our common humanity and looking for ways to help. Last year winter in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas didn’t place me in much relationship to others or their suffering, so the experience felt more insular. It did put me in a place where I was able to witness the beauty and power of winter and it was a little scary at times. I’m not sure if that answers your question. It’s a good one and I’ll be thinking about it and noting as we go through winter.
R+B: It is a time for reflection, after all! What are you celebrating about this calendar year as we near its culmination? Do you have any big hopes you’re wanting to share for the upcoming Year of the Rabbit?
SS: I think my focus in my life and work has been on rebuilding community. I moved back to NYC this year… so many people left, or aren’t used to coming together like they used to and a lot of the special spaces where you could come together have closed. I really want to be in community and build community. That connection is vital for our health in the many ways it manifests… I think I’m craving participation. In October I taught my first in-person class in two years and I’m looking forward to doing more of that next year. I have a facial cupping booklet that should be coming out soon. Facial cupping and gua sha aren’t just beauty tools; they’re self-care tools that are available and affordable to do at home and I’m passionate about empowering people with tools. In 2021 I got certified in hypnosis and I want to dive deeper into that practice and see where it takes me. It marries a few things I care about: changing limiting belief systems that live in the body and giving people tools to do so. Taking ownership of our health and healing is key and so I’ve been drawn to practices where I’m not the one doing the work to someone, but rather the people can do it for themselves. More trips, more laughter, more hangs, more people… that’s my wish.
R+B: Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing! It sounds like there are so many exciting things on the horizon for us through you. Truly wishing you all the very best during this transitional time and beyond!
Samantha Story has a practice in NYC sharing acupuncture + cupping, Chinese Medicine facial treatments, and custom flower remedies. She also leads virtual breathwork sessions, including group drop-in events.