Every season has its own purpose and function. In contrast to our culture where “more is better”, in nature the fall season is a time of eliminating what is unnecessary – to ultimately make space for growth and health. One of the things I appreciate about Chinese medicine is how it connects the rhythms and cycles of nature with the phases of our lives and cycles of our bodies.
When we examine the changes seen in nature during autumn, and better understand our body systems, we can make lifestyle adjustments to help us be as healthy as possible during this season and the next.
The Lung system comes to the forefront in the fall season. In Chinese medicine the Lung System encompasses much more than just the lungs as an organ. The lungs, sinuses, throat, skin, immune systems are all part of the Lung system. This system governs our relationship with the outside world, by setting limits and protective boundaries. And like the rhythm of breathing, this system instills rhythm and order in our body functions. It’s likely due to these functions that many physical and spiritual practices such as Qi gong involve controlling the breath to improve health.
You may be familiar with the five elements of Chinese medicine, often arranged in a circle: Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire. The Lung system and the Autumn season are both linked to the Metal element. Like the processes of refining metals extracted from the earth, the fall season involves withering, decaying, decomposing and eliminating what is unnecessary and storing only what is essential for the coming winter. Similarly, the Lung system uses the energy we receive from the environment and our diet and refines it into energy that our body can use.
When the Lung system is unbalanced, symptoms include runny nose, sore throat, sinus congestion, difficulty breathing, phlegm, cough and skin rashes.
By understanding the characteristics of the Metal element, we can modify our daily habits to strengthen the Lung system during the autumn season.
Stress Remember that in the fall season, nature relies on the process of reduction to evolve. Instead of taking on more projects at home or work, you can support your Lung system by eliminating optional work/tasks and focusing your energy on only essential work. In addition, allow time for extra rest and sleep and look for ways to establish a consistent rhythm to your daily activities such as consistent sleep and meal times. Adrenal support of B vitamins and herbs are particularly helpful for recovering and rebuilding stress tolerance.
Grief A sense of loss is common in the fall as we lose the abundance and warmth of summer. Although the process is essential to health, in a culture that emphasizes accumulating as much as possible, this season of “scaling down” can be challenging. The additional loss of a loved one or a loss of a relationship, can overwhelm the protective Lung system. In addition to making space for extra rest, acupuncture and Chinese herbs helps to reinforce the protective functions of the Lung system.
Eating for Autumn The Lung system combines and refines energy we receive from the environment and energy we receive from our food. Because digestion requires warmth, when the environment is colder, we need to make our food warmer. Instead of cold or raw foods like salads and cold smoothies, this is the season to reintroduce warm foods such as steamed veggies. In addition, avoiding excess dairy and sugar helps to prevent congestion, fatigue, heaviness of the limbs, loose stools, phlegm, cough and a thick white coat on the tongue. If you are already prone to feeling cold, clear soups, broths or stews with some warming herbs like ginger can be comforting and balancing.
Just as the trees lose their leaves in the fall, nature’s process of eliminating excess is essential to our future growth and evolution. By understanding our own constitution and the functions of each season we can determine the lifestyle adjustments necessary to be healthy this fall and make the most of the coming seasons.