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Fall – Self Care With Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Where did Fall go?

Fall is the season of harvest and for preparing for the winter.  But with the heavy snowfall I’m viewing and unseasonably cold September have we missed this opportunity?  And what about the animals, have their days of gathering and storing been shortened?  During my sub-alpine hikes, I noticed how rapidly the ground squirrels disappeared underground in September.

Fall generally is the season of harvest, when we reap what we planted in Spring and store them for the Winter.  However, here in the Bow Valley our growing season is challenging.  Many of my tomatoes never got to ripen, but I did have a bumper pesto crop this Fall (by bringing my Basil plants indoors!).

However, Fall is mostly all about preparing for the Winter and there are many ways we can still do this through our diet and lifestyle.


The Metal Element

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Fall is associated with the Metal element.  Metal reflects our core issues, like the ore found deep within a mountain.  Our core issues are those dealing with existential reality; “Who am I?”, “What is my purpose?”, “What remains constant in a forever changing world?”.  If you have an affinity to the Metal element you are drawn to these core issues and if you don’t, during Fall we may be called to deal with these core issues.

The Metal element also governs organization and order.  During this time, you will want to prepare for the challenges of winter by completing unfinished projects, clearing away clutter and debris, setting extra food and fuel aside and making sure you are physically and emotionally prepared for the cold, dark months ahead.

The Metal energy is also drawn to beauty, pleased with symmetry and inspired by purity.  Because we are drawn to these elements we are more highly attuned and sensitive to our surroundings.  We are more concerned with deeper issues and small talk becomes annoying.

Our majestic, snow-capped mountains mirror the power of Metal, firmly grounded to the core, beautiful and pure, remaining steadfast in a changing world, but reaching with power to the heavens.

The Emotion Grief or Sadness

Grief or sadness is connected to Metal.  Metal connects us to a time and season to let go of the past and create room for the new.

In the Fall we start to slow down and say farewell to the abundance and energy of Summer.   The direction connected with Metal is the West, reflecting the setting sun.  In Fall as the days shorten we say good bye to those long sunny days.  This process can be difficult for those who love summer and easy for those that welcome Fall for the crisper air and vivid colors of the yellow trembling aspens, red fire weed and golden larches.


The Lungs and Large Intestine

The organs connected with the Metal element are the Lungs and the Large Intestine, which reflect the spiritual nature of Fall, gathering and letting go.

The lungs take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide through breathing.  The large intestine absorbs water, nutrients, minerals and vitamins.  It also holds and eliminates waste.

The word used for breathing in is “inspiration,” which is the main function of the Lung, both physically and spiritually. To be properly “inspired,” we must create space by expiring the old stale air, along with letting go of the past and old notions.

The Lungs balance the ability to give and take, hold on and let go. When the Lung (Metal) energy is out of balance, order and discipline are rigidly maintained, the emotions are kept under tight control, rules and routines become inflexible, and the body begins to stiffen up.

Physically the Lungs are considered to be the “tender organ” in Traditional Chinese Medicine.   This is because the lungs are the uppermost organ in the body and are especially susceptible to dryness, wind and cold.

In the Fall we are more prone to respiratory infections; colds, bronchitis, pneumonia and sinusitis.  The lungs are very closely associated with the immune system and control the circulation of the Wei-Qi, which is the defensive Qi that warms the body and protects the body from external attacks by viruses and bacteria. A weakness in the lungs can lead to a weakness in the Wei-Qi, making you prone to frequent colds.

Allergies and asthma are amplified or may appear in the Fall.  The pollens and mold in the air, as well as the cold winds of autumn, stress our immune reserves, making it a good time to support the immune system with some acupuncture, herbs and supplements.

At first the Lungs and the Large Intestine seem to have little in common with each other, as one is involved with respiration and the other with digestion. But Traditional Chinese Medicine views things energetically rather than purely physically.

The colon is the organ of elimination and is responsible for eliminating what is unnecessary and toxic from the body. Only when the body is cleansed of toxic matter can it receive the more refined energy brought in by its partner, the Lung.  In addition to eliminating physical waste, we also need to eliminate mental and spiritual rubbish.  If waste keeps building up and we can’t take in purity we are more likely to feel stubborn, depressed, isolated and unfulfilled.

Irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, flatulence, and abdominal pain, all reflect imbalances with the Large Intestine and its corresponding Metal energy.



What you eat can greatly affect the health of your lungs. During autumn, eat fewer cooling foods (salads and raw foods).  Eating excess cooling foods creates conditions called dampness and phlegm which is stored in the Lungs as excessive mucous and phlegm in the respiratory system.  Dairy products (milk, cheese, cream, and butter) also creates dampness and phlegmPhlegm and damp will exacerbate sinus problems and lung conditions.

A balanced metal diet consists of hearty soups and stews, including root vegetables, meats, nuts, fish and oils.

Eating vegetables and whole grains is necessary for our bodies all year to help cleanse the intestines.  In the Fall moderate amounts of warming spices such as cayenne, ginger and curry promote good digestion and elimination.

Remember to drink plenty of water as Fall is associated with dryness that the Lungs are susceptible to (a humidifier may be helpful).   Water will also promote healthier bowel movements.

Beneficial foods for the Lungs:

Food and spices and that are especially helpful: garlic, mustard greens, anise, sweet marjoram, basil, fresh ginger, blackstrap molasses, almond, sunflower seed, walnut, Chinese or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), black bean and oats.  Nuts and seeds may be eaten regularly, but only in small amounts.  Walnuts are most useful.

Grains: Basmati brown rice, long grain brown rice, sweet rice, oats

Vegetables: carrot, mustard greens, sweet potato, yam, potato, mushroom, olives, pumpkin

Spices: fresh ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, horseradish, garlic

Fruits, Nuts, Sweeteners: papaya, peach, grapes, almond, peanut, walnut, molasses, honey, rice syrup, barley malt

Animal: duck, tuna, port, herring



Organize your Life: As you work to organize your life, try to focus on what you have accomplished rather than fretting about all the work that remains to be done. Give yourself a task that you can finish in less than an hour, and then chip away at the mess and clutter one step at a time.

Breathe: One of the best ways to strengthen the lungs is to breathe deeply.  Make sure you focus on exhaling completely.  Deep breathing also increases energy, stills the mind and lifts the spirits.  An enjoyable outdoor activity will help you breathe deeply and help the lungs receive the pure Qi from the Heavens.


Practice Letting Go: Write down the hurts and resentments you feel lingering from the previous year. Write each incident or event on a separate piece of paper. Realize that each of these pieces of paper weigh you down, and that the old resentments prevent the new from coming in. Then tear up the papers and throw them in the wastepaper basket or put them in your fireplace and burn them, watching the smoke dissipate.

Cleanse Your Body: A gentle cleanse will give your body time to eliminate toxins; this will help your immune system prevent colds and flus.  Don’t fast for long, but rather eat healthy fruits, vegetables and only complex carbohydrates.  Drink plenty of water to cleanse the body and promote healthier bowel movements.

Rest and Sleep: The late afternoon and evening is associated with the Metal energy.  This is a good time of the year to enjoy these hours by relaxing, letting go of the day’s concerns and preparing for sleep.

I may have missed my opportunity to transplant my daffodil bulbs but as it continues to dump outside I think I will take this opportunity to declutter the closet and put the crock pot on.