As the long summer nights draw in and coolness enters the air, it is a sign that autumn is on the way. Autumn brings with it a sense of gathering in, stocking up, and a change from the carefree energy of summer to the more introspective and sedate period before winter settles in.
In Chinese medicine, autumn is associated with both the Metal Element and the Lung and Large Intestine organ pair. The Lungs gather Qi from the air, sending it down and out to nourish our body and our skin – the first stage of the process of nourishment. The Large Intestine then is responsible for letting go of the waste that accumulates at the final stage of digestion.
As the autumn weather becomes changeable, this environment can potentially lead to Lung problems, coughs and colds. Our Lungs are considered to be the organ most closely connected to the outside world, and as a result it is often the first part of us that succumbs to illness. The Lungs have an inherent link to our defense against disease, as they help to produce Qi to keep us strong, and in particular to circulate Wei Qi which acts as a barrier against external invasion. Getting coughs and colds easily could be a sign of weakness in the Lungs, and other health issues also include problems with Dryness – dry skin, dry throat and cough, even constipation.
However, there is also an emotional quality to this too – the Lungs and Large Intestine are linked to the emotion of grief, and the ideas of separation and release. If there are problems in these organs, it can lead to emotional issues around difficulties in letting go, and conversely if we experience severe or prolonged grief or sadness, this can in turn cause the Lungs especially to weaken.
The Metal element is rigid, strong and precise, so the autumn season governs organization, setting limits and protecting boundaries, making it a good time of year to begin bringing plans or projects to fruition before the winter.
So what can we do to help strengthen our Lungs?
The food we eat can have a direct effect on our health, and in autumn it’s better to eat less “cold” items, like salads and raw foods and instead turn to soups, stews and foods that have been cooked for longer, making them more warming and easier to digest.
Foods with a pungent flavour are of particular benefit to the Lungs, in moderation. These are foods like onions, garlic, chives, leeks, ginger, mustard, horseradish, watercress, rocket, woody herbs like sage or rosemary or stronger-flavoured herbs like basil or coriander, and warming spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg.
Because the Lungs are so closely tied with the air and breath, just take a few minutes each day to breathe deeply, and give yourself the opportunity to let go of stress or negative emotions when you exhale. Better still, find the chance to breathe in the clear outdoor air in nature or green spaces, but remember to keep warm and wear a hat and scarf if the weather starts to take a turn for the worse.
And of course, why not think about having some acupuncture to boost your qi, and make sure your lungs are strong and prepared for the coming season! Get in touch to find out more.