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Autumn 2015 - Seasonal Energetics

by Greg Casey

In ChiAutumn 2015 - Seasonal Energetics, All In Community Acupuncture in South County, Rhode Islandnese medicine autumn is related to the metal element and the Lungs and Large Intestine organ systems. The energy of metal is consolidating, refining, and purifying. In fall, the splendor of summer begins to recede into hibernation once again. This is the energy of the most yang season reaching its peak, and then reverting back to yin- autumn and winter.  For animals and humans, the end of summer is a time of gathering up resources and storing them away as subsistence for the winter. After this final rush of activity, autumn invites us to slow down and enjoy the fruits of spring and summer's activity. Metal and autumn represent the decline and ending of a cycle that inevitably comes after energy has reached its state of maximum expansion and activity. With this comes the reaping and rewards (or not) as the end result of a lot of work and effort. Metal, or gold, as the Chinese word “jin” could also be translated, represents an energetic cycle coming to its highest level of refinement, which also means inevitably its subsequent decline. Metal is the golden hour at sunset, the golden years of life, the foliage on New England Mountains in mid-October. It is the beautiful glory of energy having met its highest potential, finally coming to rest.

Nancy Graham offers Community Acupuncture, Acupuncture, in South County, Rhode IslandThe organs of the metal element, the Lungs and Large Intestine invite us to take a deep breath, slow down, and let go. To support their health, it is important that we adjust some of our daily activity to align with the shift in the season. As the late nights and early mornings of the summer come to a close, the sages of Chinese medicine suggest that people’s sleep schedule follows the natural rhythm- going to bed a little earlier, and waking up a little later. Metal allows for reflection and with that, introspection. Autumn is the time to examine ourselves and our past, and have the clarity and decisiveness to embrace certain aspects of life we find enriching, and let go of aspects that we feel are negative or detrimental. This can refer to lifestyle habits, relationships, thinking patterns, etc. Autumn is the season of reflection and purification so that only the most vital components of life demand energy and nourishment during the scarcity of winter. This process of introspection can be accomplished through meditation, journaling, or any other method that gives you the time and space to  reflect inward.

As the seasons shift on the winds of change outside, so too does the physiology of your body change to adapt to the season on the inside. With less yang qi available from the prevalent seasonal factors in autumn, your organs are ready to take a break too, especially the lungs which worked very hard to keep you well ventilated through the heat of summer. In Chinese medicine, we understand that each season comes with predominant climatic factors that tend to have a major impact on specific organs. Coming from the heat of summer which can adversely affect the Heart and Small Intestine, autumn is considered to have a dry, cool energy, which most readily damages the Lungs and Large Intestine.  As the only Zang (yin organ) with a direct interface with the external environment, the Lungs are seen as particularly vulnerable from the invasion of external pathogenic factors. Too much physical work or exerciseAll In Community Acupuncture in South County, Rhode Island in the autumn will stress, overuse and tax the Lungs, making you much more vulnerable to catching a cold, and weaken all the other functions of the Lungs. According to Chinese medicine theory, you should particularly avoid excessive exercise that would make you sweat or become short of breath in the autumn. In doing so, you are weakening the body's Lung qi and injuring the fluids through sweating. In Chinese medicine, fluids are seen as the basis for qi. As fluids enter the Stomach the heat there causes that fluid to “steam” up to the Lungs which are seen in Chinese medicine as energetically responsible for irrigating this heat and moisture (along with the Triple Heater/ San Jiao) to all the extremities and body tissues. Each time you sweat from exercise, you have effectively generated enough heat in your body that you need to open the windows (the pores) for some of that heat to escape, escorted out by fluids (sweat). Now you can see that each time you do this during the fall, a time of year where you are not getting much, if any heat from your environment, you are exasperating the Lungs, forcing them to open up the pores and release out all that heat and fluid they are trying to store, losing a lot of qi along with it, making it more difficult for your lungs to perform their other functions. This is exactly counter to what your Lungs want to be doing in the fall, which is conserving their moisture, warmth and qi, to keep you strong and prevent you from contracting a cold. This is very different from the summer, where the dominance of environmental heat means we are constantly needing to sweat to protect the Heart and Lungs from too much heat accumulating in the body. This is why in the summer, from a Chinese medical perspective, it is a good idea to do more vigorous exercise and activity that will keep you sweating often, purging out the excess heat, and along with it any potential toxins as well. By the time fall comes around, it is time to start conserving your body heat and fluids to nourish the organs through the cold of winter. 

I mentioned the Lungs receive fluids from the Stomach, The Lungs are then seen asAutumn 2015 - Seasonal Energetics, All In Community Acupuncture in South County, Rhode Island responsible for the distribution of those fluids to all the other tissues of the body, including those of its Metal element pair, the Large Intestine. If the Lungs are not able to maintain proper moisturization, they will not have sufficient fluids to spread to other tissues, potentially leading to dry skin, chapped lips, dry sensory orifices, or dry Large Intestine, which as you might imagine could produce some difficulty with elimination. This is yet another reason it is important to conserve the Lungs qi, heat and fluids in the autumn. This is considered preventative medicine from a lifestyle approach, and you can also see that keeping adequate levels of hydration in the autumn is just as important as any of the other seasons.

Another preventative measure during the shift of seasons is to be sure the areas of the body that Chinese medicine term “wind gates” are covered and protected from the elements. In Chinese medicine “wind” is a metaphor for energy that brings change, but wind can also literally afflict the body when it comes in contact with it, especially if the wind is excessive and mixed with cold or heat. As the winds of fall bring dry and cold climatic and energetic changes to our environment and our bodies, there are these particular areas of our bodies that are especially vulnerable to invasion from exterior wind, and as such it is recommended that these wind gates be kept covered, warm and protected from the wind. These areas are the back of the neck, the wrists and ankles. Simply being sure these areas are covered when you go out on a crisp windy autumn day could make the difference of you contracting a cold later that night or not!

The Sage’s Kitchen - Eating with the season from an energetic perspective.
In fall, we reap the harvest of foods that excel at storing energy. Seasonal foods such as squashes, root vegetables, grains, and nuts are readily available and tell the body it is time to start conserving its energy for the winter ahead. Autumn fruits such as Nancy Graham offers Community Acupuncture, Acupuncture, in South County, Rhode Islandapples, pears and grapes help to keep the Lungs moistened and strong to prevent contracting a cold. Baking and roasting your foods this time of year can help to not only warm your belly, but also to warm your house! Baking energetically consolidates foods as well, which is in line with the metal nature of the season. From a Chinese medicine perspective raw and energetically cold foods should be avoided during the fall and winter, as should cold or iced beverages or foods. Additionally spicy foods should be avoided in the winter as the spiciness causes sweating which exhausts the Lung qi and fluids. It should be noted that if you are just beginning to catch a cold, you should eat spicy foods that will cause sweating specifically to eliminate the pathogen (see below in Home Remedies). Here are a few simple autumnal food and snack suggestions:

Snacks

  • Baked sweet potato - eat the skin!
  • Apple or pear slices (fresh, dried, baked or sauced) - eat the skin!All In Community Acupuncture in South County, Rhode Island
  • Almonds & Walnuts - raw or baked at lowest oven temp for a few hours

Basic Fall Food list

  • Squashes -butternut, acorn, winter, pumpkin, etc.
  • Sweet fruits -apples, pears, grapes, pomegranate (non tropical)
  • Root veggies -carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, etc.
  • Other Veggies -broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Swiss chard, etc.
  • Nuts -almonds, pistachios, walnuts, chestnuts

Meditation Pillow
Sit comfortably with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes most of the way, and gaze toward the tip of your nose with a soft focus. Become more aware of your breathing and where in your body moves with each inhale and exhale. Gradually let your breath become slow, smooth, soft, fine and even through your nose. Focus on the sensation of its movement through your respiratory tract, filling your lungs, and moving your diaphragm. Then, visualize the air you inhale and exhale as shining white-gold light that fills your lungs completely, cleansing and strengthening them. If you feel your lungs contain impurities, breathe the light out through your mouth, visualizing toxic particulates and energy releasing and recycling into the environment.  Practice can be for as long as you like.

Seasonal Poem
Leaf in the wind
Drifting us by
On its way back to earth
For the very first time.

Seasonal Qigong Tips
Autumn is a great time to begin or get deeper into your qigong practice. As the seasonal energy begs us to slow down and do less intense exercise, practicing qigong is a great way to keep fit and give the lungs the energy and gentle stimulation they need to thrive this time of year. Qigong improves circulation and boosts immunity while keeping your muscles toned and internal organs well regulated. In autumn, avoid practicing qigong in windy places or while you are sweating.

Seasonal Qigong Practice
Here is a qigong to practice this fall specifically to support the Lungs and Large Intestine.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, with your arms by your side. Allow your tailbone to sink down and tuck under slightly, so you feel like you are going to sit down. Stand like this for a short while and focus on your breathing. Allow your diaphragm to fully descend with each breath, meaning as you inhale, let your abdominal muscles relax and your belly “fill with the breath”. When you feel ready, as you inhale, let your arms rise by your sides to above your head, palms facing up, with the hands slightly cupped. As you exhale, bring your palms down, with the thumb and index finger spread wide (stimulating the Lung and Large Intestine Channels). As the hands pass your face palms down, the fingertips are pointing towards each other in front of you, and the thumbs are extended open, and appear to be pointing towards your back. This is the same as the hands pass your chest and abdomen. As the hands come all the way down, they arc to rise at your sides again, palms up and cupped to above your head where they then move down again as you exhale. Repeat as many times and as often as you like.

Home Remedies - First Stage Cold Remedy
Tight upper back, neck and head ache? Scratchy throat? Sniffly nose? Looks like you’re catching a cold! Here are a few home remedies that can ward off that cold and prevent you from falling under the weather for days or weeks.

Miso Soup with scallions, and ginger. 1 cup water, 1 tbsp. miso paste, 1 tbsp. minced scallions, 1 tbsp. minced ginger. Simmer for 15 minutes and drink hot while bundled up under blankets until you break a sweat (opposite what you normally want the body to do this time of year! -read above in Seasonal Physiology section). Relax for at least 1 day drinking warm water and the following tea. For 90% of people this will “cure” their cold if they do it within the first 1-2 days of symptoms.

Basic tea - 100z. hot water, 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, 1 tbsp. honey and 1 tbsp. cinnamon. Drink 3x/day along with plenty of warm water.Autumn 2015 - Seasonal Energetics, All In Community Acupuncture in South County, Rhode Island

Summary of Seasonal Reminders

  • Slow down, allow time for introspection
  • Do less strenuous activity, and less sweating
  • Cover your “Wind Gates”
  • Keep hydrated
  • Practice breathing exercises
  • Eat warm in-season foods