Autumn: Autumnal Transition,
from a Chinese Medical Perspective

Change is in the air. The shift to autumn is apparent. The quality of light, the feel of the air, and even the social aspect of our lives has shifted. Autumn is our transition from the sweet abundance of summer to the bare darkness of winter.

In Chinese medicine, autumn is associated with the metal element and the organs of large intestine (yang) and lung (yin). How exquisitely these two are paired: one receives the heavenly chi, the other eliminates wastes. We have to let go of the old to make way for the new.

The need to eliminate is clearly seen in nature. Autumn is known for the leaves dropping. Local farmers know how important it is for this year's debris to be recycled, turned into rich nutrients, minerals for next year's new crops. We eat nourishing food, extract what is of quality, and remove what is not needed. The process of condensing to what is of most value is very characteristic of the metal element. In many cultures, precious stones (a form of condensed quality) are given to show respect and value.

Inappropriate letting go would be prematurely eliminating or holding on too long. This could manifest as diarrhea or constipation. What about on the emotional or spiritual level? Holding onto old beliefs, judgments and negative thoughts can pollute our speech, our relationships, our basic sense of self worth. If we don't let go of what is complete, we won't be able to move on to the next phase.

Exhaling and inhaling are both necessary. We can get by without food and even water for some time. We can't last more than minutes without breath. Many ancient cultures, not just the Chinese, equate inhalation with inspiration. Life without divine connection feels empty and dull. The time of day associated with the lungs is 3 - 5 a.m. In many cultures this is the time of early morning meditation, with deep breathing practices. Starting our day with inspiration allows us to better remember the glory all around.

The emotion of Metal is grief and sadness. When there is a death, on any level, there is an appropriate level of grieving that should occur. And yet, there is also an appropriate time for the grieving to end. If weeping lungs sigh too long a person will become drained, with excessive fatigue.

The lungs govern our body's protective energy, helping us to ward off the wind and cold ushered in with the seasonal change. When this energy is weak, colds and flus arise. The lungs fill with phlegm (unable to eliminate), cough occurs, the nasal passages fill (the nose is where inspiration begins and where the large intestine meridian ends.) The increased wind can cause dryness: dry cough, lungs, and skin. The skin (known in Chinese medicine as the "third lung") can lose its ability to eliminate which causes acne, psoriasis, or eczema.

If you feel a cold coming on, a good way to "kick it out," as we say in Chinese medicine, is to open the pores to expel the pathogen. Eating pungent foods particularly ginger and garlic, will help a person to sweat and cleanse the body. Note however that, spicy food is a cure, not a prevention. Eat it at the onset of a cold, not as a daily diet during autumn.

Autumn in general is a good time to cleanse the intestine. Look at your diet and eliminate unsupportive foods. Perhaps follow a simple detox cleanse or go for a colonic to further help with elimination.

On another level, it might be the perfect time to clean your house, getting rid of what is no longer of value. No one would dream of asking the trees to hold onto their leaves. Yet people will clutter their home to such an extent that they don't even know how to find the things that are important to them. If you have difficulty getting rid of possessions, hire a personal organizer to help.

Steps you can take day to day:

• Increase your exercise and/or activity that increases breath. Even your daily commute can turn into a workout. Once you get into the habit of deep breathing you can drive along, radio and cell phone off, breathing deeply and paying attention to your driving and your surroundings. We do live in one of the most gorgeous areas of the world.

• Hydrate: drink lots of water, wean yourself from dehydrating fluids such as coffee, black tea, and alcohol.

• Eat foods that are contracting/astringing, as this will match the seasonal change to go inward, eventually leading to winter. Such foods are often sour: pickles , sauerkraut, vinegar, lemons, limes, and grapefruit also aduki beans, yogurt, some plums and apples, even rose hip tea. To combat the dryness add whole oats, millet, barley, sweet potatoes and yams, seaweeds, almonds, pinenuts, eggs, crab, oyster, mussels, and again apples, persimmons, pears, and loquats.

• Set aside time to meditate, pray, and connect with God/the divine. This can better come about after eliminating the clutter of too many activities from your calendar.

In general, think "less is better". Let the simple, unclutteredness of autumn feed the soul. Appreciate the divinity all around us.


Original article by Judy Pruzinsky Copyright 2008.

Judy Pruzinsky, L.Ac writes articles about acupuncture and health that are published in online and print publications.