When we are in tune with our bodies and how the seasons affect us, adjusting our lifestyles to coincide with the change in season is instinctual. Just as trees turn from green to yellow, orange and red and start to cover the earth beneath, so too do we experience changes in our body. However, being in tune with these shifts and how they affect us, simply isn’t a part of our cultural consciousness anymore.
Despite our lost knowledge here, learning to honor the changing needs of your body within the cycles of the seasons is a powerful way to reduce risk of common seasonal concerns of body, mind, and spirit.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM™) season of autumn is associated with the element of Metal, which governs organization, order, communication, the mind, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. This is a good time to finish projects that you began in spring and summer harvesting the bounty of your hard work. Of course, its also the perfect time to begin more introspective, indoor projects. During the summer, which is ruled by the Fire element, we deal more with the external traveling and playing outdoors. Fall, on the other hand, is a time of organizing your life for the winter season ahead and coming more inside your body and mind to reflect on your life.
Traditional Chinese Medicine associates the Lung and Large Intestine channels with autumn. They get special attention because they are also the most vulnerable during this season. Lung issues such as fall allergies, colds, and coughing, as well as a letting go process emotionally and spiritually.
The Lung, considered a Yin organ, is associated with taking in the new.
The lungs control the circulation of the Wei-Qi, which is the defensive Qi that protects you from the invasion of flu and colds. The Wei-Qi circulates on the surface between the skin and muscles and works to warm the body. If the Wei-Qi is weak, the skin and muscles will not be warmed properly. This is why people tend to feel cold when they’re sick. A weakness in the lungs can lead to a weakness in the Wei-Qi, making a person prone to frequent colds.
Emotionally, the Lungs coincide with:
•Grief and Sadness (unprocessed grief and sadness can stagnate the lung meridian)
•Attachment (difficulty letting go can stagnate the lung meridian)
When the lung qi is flowing and balanced, one can experience enhanced:
•Clarity of thought
•Surrendering to and allowing inner peace and joy regardless of circumstances
The Large Intestine, considered a Yang organ, releases the old.
The Large Intestine is closely associated with the lungs and skin, which are other important detox organs. It absorbs liquid and releases anything that is no longer needed in the way of food, toxins, emotions, thereby cleansing the body, mind, and spirit.
The Large Intestine channel is often associated with:
•Inability to let go, uptightness, stubbornness, stagnation, negative outlook (glass half empty vs. half full perspective)
•How we flow with life’s current
When the large intestine qi is flowing and balanced, there can be increased:
•Sense of relaxation
•Release of what no longer serves a person
•Flowing with life vs. resisting
•Focus on the day-to-day vs. big picture/meaning/purpose
Since fall is a natural time of letting go and getting organized (think of trees dropping their leaves and animals getting organized for hibernation), a lack of awareness in this regard can lead to feelings of stagnation and a lack of harmony with life’s flow. All of which can affect the health of your Lungs and Large Intestine channels.
Out with the Old, In with the New
Fall offers us the perfect time to let go of those things which no longer serve us. This frees up any stagnant mental and emotional space to embrace those healing feelings of clarity, relaxation, release, focus, happiness, and flow.
Here are 5 ways to let go this fall:
Breathe—wind is a key element in fall. Therefore, take the time to focus your deep breathing techniques as you become aware of that which needs to be released. Big exhales.
Purge—this will be unique to each individual, but if nothing else take the time to purge your closets of unused clothing. Not only will it free up more space, but those clothes will be deeply appreciated by those who need them this winter.
Resolve old hurts—what pains or hurt feelings can you release this fall? These unresolved emotions can express themselves as grief and negative self-image, leading to imbalance and illness of the Lungs and Large Intestine. Take advantage of fall’s energy to let old wounds heal. Forgiveness allows us to release what we are holding onto, whether forgiving others or forgiving ourselves.
Give—this goes hand-in-hand with purging and resolving old hurts. Give away what you no longer need, and give yourself the gift of release and freedom that comes from forgiveness of self and others. I find a special joy and satisfaction when I get rid of something I no longer use and drop it off at my local Salvation Army or Goodwill.
Sleep—if you think about it, the act of sleep is the ultimate way of letting go. Thanks to a special type of lymphatic system in the brain called The Glympathic System, sleep facilitates the cleansing and organization of your brain. To keep things simple, aim to go to bed an hour earlier (the kids too) or, if your schedule permits, wake up an hour later.
Hot, Cold, Windy, Dry. Dressing the Part for Fall Health
Your Lungs are particularly vulnerable to winds and extreme temperature changes—both of which are present during the fall. The best solution to both these problems is to dress appropriately for the weather, making sure you layer to avoid getting too hot or too cold. I also recommend wearing a scarf often, even a light, stylish one will protect your Lungs and throat from the harsh winds.
The nose is the opening to the lungs, and you can prevent colds by keeping your nose and sinuses clean and clear. Using a neti pot with some sea salt and water helps rid the nose of excess mucus.
Food to Emphasize (and minimize) in Fall
In the Traditional Chinese Medicine tradition, the flavor of fall is pungent and should be balanced with sour. This ensures the body’s mucosa stays moist and warm—which prevents infection, without becoming too damp/cold—which causes congestion in the Lungs.
Some examples of foods to include in your meals this autumn include:
- Cooked vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Orange vegetables like winter squashes
- Fermented foods (including yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh)
- Adzuki beans
- Navy beans
- Lemons and Limes
- Spices: bay leaves, black pepper, chili, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, rosemary
- Dark, leafy winter greens such as kale, chard, mustard greens, etc.
- Warming soups and stews
Foods to minimize are those that create coolness and dampness, such as:
- Uncultured dairy products like cold milk, cream, etc.
- Cold drinks
- Raw foods (including salads, instead opt for cooked vegetables)