By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
Autumn is the season where the hot summer days gradually become shorter, and the leaves begin to change, presenting us with their beautiful colours before they fall off the trees to prepare for the coming winter. There is a chill in the air that signals us to start putting away our summer clothes and get out warmer clothing for the coming cold weather. We also begin to harvest and gather the brightly coloured foods that grow at this time of year like pumpkins and squashes, so they can be put away for winter. It is the time of year that we go from the relaxed and carefree attitudes of summer to the more serious and introspective energies associated with autumn.
In Chinese medicine, autumn is associated with metal and the lungs. This season governs organization, setting limits and protecting boundaries. In autumn we move from the external, expansive nature of summer to the internal, contractive nature of autumn. It is a good idea to finish up any projects you started in spring or summer and enjoy the results of all your hard work. It is also a good time to begin new projects that focus more on the internal – cultivating body and mind and becoming more introspective. The energy of the lungs is “letting go”, so autumn is a good time to be mindful to let go of anything we may be holding on to so we can make room for new experiences that will help us to learn and grow.
Autumn Associations in Chinese Medicine
Element – Metal
Yin Organ – Lungs
Yang Organ – Large Intestine
Emotion – Grief / Sadness
Climate – Dryness
Stage of Development – Harvest
Flavour – Pungent
Colour – White
Sense Organs – Nose
Tissues – Skin
Sound – Crying
Healing Sound – sssssssssss
Grief, the Emotion of the Lung
In Chinese medicine, every organ is associated with an emotion, and the emotion of the lungs is sadness and grief. The lungs are associated with clear thinking and communication, openness to new ideas, positive self-image, and the ability to relax, let go and be happy. When the lungs are out of balance or you are dealing with excessive grief, you will have difficulty coping with loss and change, a sense of alienation, and experience a prolonged sense of sadness that does not dissipate. The lungs are also associated with attachment, so if you have a hard time letting go of people, objects, experiences or spend a lot of time reliving the past, this can point to a deficiency of the lungs. If the energy (or qi) of the lungs is weak, you may experience an overwhelming, constant state of grief that does not ease. This deficiency, if prolonged, can lead to depression and other issues.
In contrast, grief that is expressed fully and resolved is strengthening both physically and psychologically. Therefore it is not avoiding grief, but rather dealing with it in a healthy way that is the key to being happy and maintaining balance in all aspects of life. For a more detailed description of how sadness and grief affects the lungs, you can read – Grief – A Chinese Medicine Perspective.
The Lung and its Partner – The Large Intestine
Every organ in TCM has a partner – one is yin, the other yang. The lung is yin, and the large intestine is yang, and they work together to keep balance in the body. The lung is responsible for taking in the new. This manifests physically as breathing in the clean, crisp fall air, filling us with the oxygen we need to think clearly, and our bodies to function optimally. The large intestine is responsible for letting go of the waste. It is the last stage in digestion, and takes everything the body doesn’t need, and releases it, only keeping what is vital and important for us to function. Emotionally, this is why fall is a good time to look at things we might be hanging on to and working through them so that we can let them go for good. Often, people with elimination problems like chronic constipation can have problems letting go, and an acupuncturist would look at the emotional aspect of each of these symptoms. Because the lungs are associated with sadness and grief, they can be damaged by these emotions is they are in excess, conversely, a prolonged lung deficiency can lead to feelings of sadness.
Here are some things that you can do to keep your lungs and large intestine in tip-top shape this fall and for the year to come.
One of the best ways to strengthen the lungs is to breathe deeply. It sounds so simple, but most of us don’t breathe deeply at all and this affects things like our memory, energy level, and immune system. When we breathe deeply and with intention, we are flooding our cells and brains with much-needed oxygen that is vital to all the body’s processes. We are also taking in vital qi from the air that the lungs use to perform many functions that keep us healthy. The best thing to do is to go for a walk outside in the crisp, clean autumn air, and fill your lungs with all that good qi. Below is a simple exercise to help you get started.
Breathing Exercise – Deep Breathing
Breathe in through your nose, and think of breathing in all the way to your belly, taking is as much air as possible. Once the lungs are completely full, hold the lungs full for a count of five. Once you have counted to five, exhale through your mouth from the very bottom of your Lungs until they are completely empty. Do this three times. This exercise should be done three times daily.
Let Go of Negativity in Your Life
Of course, letting go of negativity is always a good idea, but it is particularly important in autumn when Lung energy is at its peak. We can often feel like many of the negative things is our lives are beyond our control, but if we become aware of negative things, we can make small changes to avoid them as much as possible. Negativity can be an extremely destructive force both physically and psychologically, so working towards keeping as much of it as possible out of our lives is a good goal. Sometimes, it is just the awareness that can really help make the changes necessary to keep as much positivity and light in our lives, because that is the energy that feeds us on every level and helps us be happy healthy beings.
One of the best things we can do to strengthen the lungs is to walk outside, soak up the beautiful fall colours and breathe in the clean, cool air. There is nothing more healing to us that connecting with nature, and autumn is one of the most beautiful times of the year to do it.
Reorganize, Clean & Donate
Autumn is the perfect time to take stock of things in your life, organize and let go of the old, to make room for the new. This is a good practice in the fall in the physical world, as well as the emotional one. Go through your closet and take out all those old clothes that you haven’t worn in ages – donate them to a local charity so that they can be new for someone else. Clean out your computer deleting anything you no longer need. Organize your cupboards. All of these activities can be incredibly liberating and are in harmony with the autumn season and strengthening to the lungs function of letting go.
Wear a Scarf
Because fall is a season also associated with wind – in Chinese medicine considered the cause of 100 diseases – a simple thing like wearing a scarf can ward off cold which is said to enter most easily at the neck. It’s an easy way to stay warm, portable and very stylish!
Keeping the lungs strong and healthy is important in autumn. In Chinese medicine, the lungs are considered a “delicate organ” because of their close relationship with the outside of the body. The lungs are the only yin organ with a direct connection to the outside of the body – so we must be extra careful to keep them strong, especially in the fall.
Beneficial Foods in Fall
Because the weather begins to cool off in autumn, it’s a good idea to eat less cooling foods, like salads and raw foods at this time of year. Longer cooking times and heartier ingredients are used in autumn to help nourish the body and support the immune system throughout the winter months. To support the digestive system, soups and stews are eaten as their long cooking times are warming and the foods are easier to digest. And because the autumn is a season associated with wind and dryness, it is important to eat moisturizing yin foods like the snow-ear mushroom. Here is an excellent recipe using snow-ear mushroom, perfect for fall – Snow-Ear Mushroom, Apple & Pork Soup. Foods that nourish the lungs are eaten in fall. Below is a list of beneficial foods to eat in the fall season.
- Sweet potato
- Black pepper
- Navy Beans
- Soy Beans
- Mustard Greens
- Sourdough Bread
The best way to stay healthy according to Chinese medicine is learning about the nature of each season and living in harmony with its spirit. If we are living in harmony with the world around us, we see that nature is slowing down and contracting, preparing to rest so it is good for us to do the same. Sleeping a little longer, eating warming, nourishing foods, and moving inward – paying extra attention to our internal lives. Because the metal element within us gives us our sense of self-worth, this is the season to give ourselves some extra attention and self-love so that instead of seeking value outside, like chasing status, money, and power, we can be content inside and know that we have (and always have had) everything we will ever need and are all perfect, complete beings.