Helping Yourself Ease into Autumn

This year I can really feel the weather in my flesh and bones. The seasonal shift seems to push and pull on my body’s temperature regulation, as well as my appetite and sleeping patterns. I noticed also that as the cold air permeates the environment, and evaporates the thick humidity, my lungs are working to adapt to the dryness. The cool air is easing my heart’s heat, stressed from the various events of this year. Autumn is a time of letting go, and so I shall.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the internal organs correspond to a respective element, which has an associated season, color, sound, flavor, smell, planet, and more. Autumn is associated with the element of metal, which corresponds to the lung organ. The color white, pungent flavors, “rank” odors, and the planet Venus have attachments to the metal element. The other four elements are water, wood, fire, earth.  Earth generates metal, and metal generates water. This cycle helps TCM doctors understand pathogenesis, from a networked physiological theory, rather than an isolated visceral issue.

The lungs are the yin organ of the metal element, while the large intestine is the yang organ of the metal element.  These associations were developed through a macroscopic view of medicine and illness, called Zang Fu theory. The premise of this theory is that the body’s internal state will externalize through predictable patterns, such as color, smell, etc.

Zang Fu Theory: Metal / Lungs

  • Element – Metal
  • Color – White
  • Direction – West
  • Environment – Dry
  • Corresponding Organ – Large Intestine
  • Tissue – Skin and Body Hair
  • Externalization – Nose
  • Sound – Wailing / Weeping
  • Emotion – Grief / Melancholy
  • Smell – Pungent
  • Season – Autumn
  • Planet – Venus

Historically, the lungs were perceived to be susceptible to environmental extremes, such as intense heat or cold. The conditions can bring about excessive damages to the soft tissue, which can then lead to irritation and expectoration. If one’s Wei qi, or defensive qi, is deficient, the lungs are especially susceptible to external invasions like colds or allergies.

Huang Qi (Astragalus) is a well-known adaptogenic herb that augments the body’s immunity. In TCM, the lungs and Wei qi can be toned and strengthened with consistent care. An herbal tea of Huang Qi can make a big difference if you are prone to frequent infection!

The lungs can become too dry, or too moist due to your diet, too, which tends to change extravagantly for most Americans in the Autumn. An increase of sugar with a decrease in activity and sunlight potentiates illness due to increased phlegm and inflammatory fluids in the body. Be sure to remain active and find a good source of vitamin C and D during this time, as to prepare for winter.

As mentioned, earth generates metal in the 5-element cycle. The organs of earth are the stomach and spleen, which are heavily involved in food processing. When sugary, dense, greasy foods or excessive alcohol are consumed, the byproduct of its digestion can manifest as phlegm in the stomach. The stomach meridian passes through the region lateral to the nasal passages, and is prone to inflammation due to poor diet. The proliferation of phlegm here can eventually invade the lungs, leading to symptoms of cold and flu. Keep ginger and peppermint on hand as first-hand defenses for these symptoms—or consult your local acupuncturist for a specific herbal blend made for your constitution.

The autumn is a wonderful time for letting go, due to the esoteric notions of metal. Metal is good for cutting away superfluous objects and reducing one’s load before winter. It is time to start restraining growth so to nourish the vital essence and inhibit overspending one’s energy. Breathing techniques to diminish anxious thought patterns are a good example of this. Diminish the cognitive stress you carry, so you can attend to the actual responsibilities in your life.

I hope you found these tips interesting! Enjoy your autumn, and its beautiful changes, and transformations.

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