The best way to stay healthy according to Chinese medicine, is to learn about the nature of each season and live in harmony with it.
4,500 years ago, the earliest known textbook on medicine suggests we “Heal before illness can come.” Physician to the Chinese Yellow Emperor, Huangdi Neijing wrote:
“In the old days the sages treated disease by preventing illness before it began, just as a good emperor takes the necessary steps to avert war. If someone digs a well only when thirsty, or forges weapons only after becoming engaged in battle, one cannot help but ask: Aren’t these actions too late?”
Autumn is the season where the hot summer days gradually become shorter, where the cold creeps in and where the energising energy of summer is replaced by the deeper, more introspective energies of autumn. In Chinese medicine, autumn is associated with the lungs. This season governs organization, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. In autumn, we move from the external, expanding energy of summer to the internal, contracting energy of the cold. It’s a good idea to finish up any projects you started in summer or spring, and use this time to slow down and replenish your reserves. Instead, start on projects that turn inwards – cultivating your focus on your mind and soul. The theme of the lungs is “letting go”, so autumn is a good time to let go of things weighing you down, and make space for new experiences you can learn and grow from.
If you are prone to lung weaknesses, like asthma or breathing problems or skin conditions like eczema, they might worsen in autumn, which is a great time to pop into the clinic for herbs or acupuncture to strengthen the lung.
Three Steps for Protecting Lungs in Autumn
1. Protect the lungs fron severe cold and dry. If you live in a particularly cold climate, cover your face with scarves or face masks. This is to warm and moisten the air before it enters your Lung system (the Lung system in Chinese medicine includes the sinuses and nostrils). But since we can’t control the weather, we also use herbs and food to ameliorate nature’s effects–see below.
2. As the lungs are the organ most affected by grief and sadness, it is important, especially if you have a weak immune system or asthma, to be in touch with issues of grief and sadness, so that you may process them. That means allowing the discomfort of grief and sadness to be felt so it can be moved through. It might mean working with a therapist, or using other emotional therapies available.
Unsuccessfully processed emotions, or unskillful dealing with emotions on a daily basis, is one of the “internal” causes of disease in Chinese medicine and as important as poor diet is in prevention of disease. That is why fear based approaches to diet can actually weaken digestion and sap vitality.
3. Knowing your constitution and having a lifestyle and diet appropriate to it is an excellent way to ensure lung health. It is a function of balancing factors of dry and damp, hot and cold. Liver people can run hot, Spleen people cold and/or damp. You need to know your constitution so you can eat appropriately. Get this checked by your acupuncturist.
As a general rule, here are some great tips to help you live in harmony with the season of autumn.
One of the best ways to strengthen the lungs is to breathe deeply. It sounds so simple but most of us don’t breathe deeply at all and this can affect things like our immune system, energy, and sleep. When we breathe deeply and with intention, we are flushing our cells with the oxygen needed for all body processes. The best thing to do is go outside for a walk in the brisk autumn air and take long, slow breaths while we’re out.
Let Go Of Negativity In Your Life
Of course, letting go of negativity is a good idea at any time of the year, but it’s particluarly good in autumn, when the Lungs are at their peak. Negativity can be an extremely destructive force, so makes steps this season to lift it from your life. Sometimes, just awareness can create huge changes in perspective.
Re-Organize, Clean & Donate
Usually, we think of doing these things in Spring, but actually autumn is a really good time to refocus of lives on letting go of the old and making room for the new. The lungs let go of old air so they can inhale new air, and we too can mirror this in our lives. Go through your closet and donate all the clothes you don’t wear anymore. Be ruthless. If you haven’t worn it in a year, you probably never will. Go though your computer and delete files you don’t have need for anymore. Sort and organise clutter.
Wear A Scarf
Because Autumn is a season of wind – in Chinese medicine considered the cause of 100 diseases – a simple thing like wearing a scarf can ward off cold which is said to enter most easily through the neck.
Beneficial Foods In Autumn
Because the weather cools off in autumn, we need to eat less calling foods like salads and fruits and more warming foods likes soups, stews and roasts. Longer cooking times and heartier ingredients are recommended in autumn to nourish the body and because autumn is a season associated with wind and dryness, it is important to eat moistening yin foods like mushrooms and cabbage.
Best Vegetables & Fruits for Autumn
- Eat plenty of seasonal vegetables, especially steamed and veggies in soups.
- Pungent veggies that help stimulate the lungs, such as watercress, cabbage,
turnip, ginger, horseradish, pepper, onions, and garlic.
- Fermented vegetables which are easier to digest and help protect Spleen Qi.
- Enjoy a few fresh fruits, especially those low in sugars, such as lemons, limes,
Granny Smith apples, and grapefruit.
Avoid Foods that Cause Dampness (Fluid & mucus congestion)
- Eat more building foods than summertime, such as proteins, meats, fish, dairy, nuts, beans, seeds and gluten-free grains. But not too much as these foods also cause dampness.
- Avoid foods that build dampness, such as noodles, potatoes, bread, bananas, cake, cookies, flours, sugar, processed, and gmo foods.
- Avoid wheat which causes dampness.
- Avoid sugars, fruit juices, processed foods and refined flours, which cause premature aging and dampness.
- Avoid cold foods or drinks, dairy, and fried foods, which cause dampness.
- Avoid store-bought salad dressings made with gmo oils and sugars.
Eat Foods that Lubricate the Body, Combat Dryness, and Moisten Lungs
- Enjoy healthy oils like grass-fed ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, sesame oil.
- Enjoy seasonal moistening foods such as pears, pumpkin, squash, apples, seaweed, grapefruit, and lemon.
- Simmer a few herb teas such as Burdock, Comfrey, Ginger, and Licorice root.
Warm Foods are best in Autumn
- Eat warm foods like bone broth, stews, soups, and hot gluten-free cereals.
- Eat beans, such as lentils, kidney beans, adzuki beans, always well soaked.
- These herbs and spices are good for the lungs: bay leaves, caraway seeds, cardamom, chives, cinnamon, cloves, dill, fennel, leek, oregano, nutmeg, rosemary, thyme, and turmeric.
Use this season to sleep a little longer, eat warm nourishing foods and turn inwards. Because the metal element within us gives us our sense of self-worth, this is the time to give ourselves some extra attention and self-love so that instead of seeking validation outside – by chasing money, status and power, we can be content inside and know that we have (and always have had) everything we need to be complete, perfect beings.