Autumn is a time of transition. It’s the time when the yang begins to transform into yin. We’re moving away from the warm, bright, sunny activity-filled months of summer to the cold, dark, quiet and wet months of winter. The leaves begin to change color and fall to the ground as the air becomes cold, crisp and dry.
Living in harmony with the changing seasons helps us to stay healthy and avoid maladies. As the nights become longer we should be going to bed earlier. As the weather becomes cooler we should be wearing warmer clothing that covers and protects our body. This is the time to eat slow-cooked foods made from orange and yellow seasonal vegetables and fewer summer foods like cold smoothies and salads. We want to be boosting our immune system (we call it wei qi in Chinese Medicine) with herbs and proper lifestyle changes in preparation for cold and flu season. Like Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
In 5 element theory autumn belongs to the Metal element. The organs associated with the metal element are the lungs and large intestine. Interestingly, we see health issues arise with both organs this time of year. Asthma, coughing, colds and allergies, as well as digestive issues such as constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are prevalent.
Breathe Fresh Air
The lungs are in charge of breath and bringing in oxygen. Taking deep breaths while out on a walk is one of the most healing things you can do for your lungs this time of year. Inhale fresh air deeply into your belly, hold it in for a count of 5 then slowly exhale until all the air is out. Breathing this way is very relaxing, it nourishes every cell in your body and should be done daily.
Use a saline rinse aid daily to clean your nasal passages. Nasal rinses help to physically remove allergens and microbes and may prevent allergies and infections. It’s also a good idea to invest in true high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. True HEPA filters trap 99.97% of dust, mold spores and other allergens preventing them from circulating in your home or office. You can use them with your air purifier, vacuum and air conditioner systems.
Moisturize & Stay Hydrated
In Chinese Medicine, the lungs control the skin and body hair. Since autumn weather is characterized by wind and dryness, it’s common to see skin issues such as dryness, itching, psoriasis, and eczema flare-up. It’s important to keep your skin moisturized and to stay hydrated. Massaging your skin with warm oil after bathing will protect your skin and prevent dryness. Sesame, jojoba, and/or almond oils infused with essential oils is not only therapeutic but smells wonderful.
The back of the neck contains points where wind is said to enter and bring pathogens into the body. Wear a scarf even if it's not particularly cold out. Keeping this area covered helps with circulation and adds a physical layer of protection. Make sure you always have an extra layer of clothing on hand in case the wind picks up and the temperature drops.
Eat with the Season
Be extra mindful of the food you eat. The large intestine is vulnerable to dryness this time of year which manifests as constipation. Autumn is the time to tend to your inner garden. Drink plenty of water and eat fiber-rich foods. Moistening foods such as seasonal squashes, pumpkins, persimmons, Asian pears, apples, almonds, hemp seeds, parsnips, sweet potatoes and oatmeal keep your bowels moving. Sour foods such as vinegar, yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, miso and other fermented foods feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. Their job is to break down food, help synthesize vitamins and boost the immune system. Pungent spices like cinnamon, ginger, garlic, cardamom and pepper can be added to your food or made into a tea to help strengthen the lung energy.
Take your Herbs
Drinking warm herbal teas are a great way to support the metal element. Jade Windscreen (Yu Ping Feng San) is the most popular autumn immunity formula in Chinese Medicine. It’s comprised of 3 herbs; astragalus, atractylodes and siler root. Together these herbs strengthen the immune system and increase energy.
Grief is associated with autumn and the metal element. As the days become shorter, colder and covered with gray clouds it’s common to feel some grief and sadness. It’s important to feel your feelings but also to let them go. Holding onto emotions causes stagnation, and stagnation leads to disease. Autumn is a good time to let go of grudges, retreat inward and conserve your energy.
Speaking of letting go, autumn is a good time to declutter, organize, put things away and let go of items that you no longer use. You can donate or give them away. The idea is that you want to create space for what’s preparing to come in.