Autumn doesn’t spring, rather it falls. Summer changes to winter and a crisp dry coolness creeps into the air somewhere between the extremes of the year. The days shorten as we adjust to less sunlight and cooler temperatures, and it is time to organize for the winter and prepare for a long hibernation ahead. For many of us, autumn is also a time for transition and renewal as we return to work or school after enjoying some summer freedom. There is a movement towards deeper thinking and reflection, and we tend to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.
The trees and plants lose their green, becoming yellows, reds, oranges and the inevitable browns. They also lose their moisture, becoming brittle and dry. The heat and fire of the summer season transitions to contraction and dryness. According to Joerg Kastner who wrote Chinese Nutritional Therapy, “autumn is characterized by the eternal decline of nature – drying and cooling. The natural movement pattern is inward. Yang energy decreases, the small yin appears (yin within yang) and the energies of the body gather on the inside” Summer is yang and winter is yin, full energy versus dormancy. Our internal organs and processes reflect how the seasons change.
The Autumn and Immunity
The Lung is the organ of autumn. As they say it is “in charge of foreign affairs and defense”. It controls the body’s surface and skin, is in direct contact with the environment and is responsible for immune defense systems of the body. When we strengthen the Lungs and corresponding systems, we build Wei qi or defensive energy and immunity. As the energy enters the core and leaves our protective outer layers vulnerable to attack, we can improve our Wei Qi, strengthen our Lungs and build up immunity. Then we can enjoy the beauty of autumn and what it has to offer, while staying healthy and transitioning into the winter season. Here are some dietary and herbal recommendations to consider.
Dietary Recommendations to Boost Lung Qi
Try to include some mildly acrid and energetically warm foods that compensate for the onset of external cold, such as oats, millet, corn, rice, carrots, leeks, radishes, horseradish, cauliflower, beef, and lamb. If you feel an inner coldness that is difficult to cover up from, along with shivering and the possible beginnings of a cold or sickness, the acrid flavors of garlic, cinnamon, chili, ginger, pepper and onions invigorate qi circulation and quickly bring defensive energy to the surface. The foods that are harvested during this time and keep well should also be included in our diets, such as squash, apples, and pears. For drinks, spiced teas, and high proof alcohol such as vodka help the internal fire. Gin, rum and tequila are gluten free.
Herbal Formula Recommendation to Boost Lung Qi
Yu Ping Feng San (Bai Zhu – atractylodes, Huang Qi – astragalus, Wu Mei – sour plum, Sheng Jiang – fresh ginger, Fang Feng – Ledebouriella Root) This formula is named Jade Windscreen Powder, because like Jade it is valued and precious. Furthermore, it acts as a screen against wind, which is the environmental force associated with pathogens such as viruses that cause common colds and flus. The traditional character for wind was actually a bug underneath a cover, taking cover from the elements.
This formula is used for spontaneous sweating due to Qi Deficiency, spontaneous sweating due to Wei Qi Deficiency, or Lung Qi Deficiency. It has been shown to increase white blood cell count, settle digestion and regulate sweating.
Acupressure Massage to boost Immunity
You can massage these points several times a day, for 5-10 minutes.
Fengmen (wind gate) – Bladder (BL)12
Feishu (lung shu) – Bladder (BL)13
Fengchi (wind crux/pool) – Gallbladder (GB)20
Fengfu (wind mansion) – Governing Vessel (DU)16
These points are useful to release the exterior, tonify the Lung and stop cough. They are located on the upper back between the scapula and on the back of the neck up to the base of the occiput.
Zhongfu (central palace) – Lung (LU) 1
This point is useful to disperse fullness in the Lung, stop cough and tonify the Lung and Spleen.
It is found about an inch below and lateral to Lung (LU)2, which is located about 6 inches from the midline, in the depression below the lateral end of the clavicle.
The Autumn and the importance of Digestion
The Lung and the Large Intestine have an intimate relationship in Chinese medicine as their channels pass through each other’s organs, creating one of the many Yin/Yang pairs in our body. As such, it is also an important time to ensure your bowels are healthy and moving smoothly and regularly, as the health of the lung and your well-being through the autumn are both directly linked to the function of this organ. Also, during the last period of each season the Spleen is strong enough to resist pathogenic factors. Coming into autumn is the perfect time to nourish and support our Spleen and digestive system. We want to build enough warmth and energy to ensure strength to maintain a warm core for the inevitable arrival of winter.
Things to Avoid:
Fatty, oily foods, and cool or cold dairy products which burden the spleen and cause dampness and phlegm disorders (bronchitis and sinusitis, especially during wet weather).
The Autumn and Sadness
For many the autumn brings sadness, the emotion of the Lung. Sadness often depletes Lung Qi, leading to us to being more susceptible to colds, flus and/or other bronchial disorders. Many of us are affected by SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which is defined as depression/sadness associated with autumn and winter, often thought to be a result of less light. If we can nurture the habits and lifestyle choices that improve our mood, we can also help to protect our body from external pathogens.
Tips and Ideas to improve our mood
Embrace positive hobbies and relationships
Try breathing meditations or Qigong (Breathing with the ‘sssssssss’ sound on outbreath)
Walk outside for fresh air and increased circulation
Use phototherapy to boost vitamin D production and improve circulation
Sleep longer hours when summer passes and more darkness arises
Supplements to aid with mood and immunity
Probiotics, fish oils, and vitamin D supplements are recommended to stay warm and protect your skin, avoiding typical fall illnesses such as cold, flu and lung pathologies.
The Autumn and Dryness
The Lungs do not like dryness, but they do like to be gently moistened. Too much and it is pathological and mucous accumulates. Too little and the tissue can crack causing bleeding from dryness. During the autumn the main environmental influences are wind and cold; the wind dries out tissues and the cold constricts. The Lungs can be depleted of moisture or can tighten as a result of the cold. When the Lungs are dry they require moistening through nourishing Lung herbs and spices. When the Lungs are constricted and accumulate with cold and mucous they require a dispersing and warming intervention such as cinnamon or ginger.
Recommendations to Moisten the Lungs
To avoid internal dryness affecting our bodies and lungs, include foods that are moistening, such as squash, nuts, seeds, pear, alternative milk products (hemp, almond), and yams. For breakfast you can incorporate oatmeal, eggs, and avocados. For lunch / dinner, these are tasty: soups and stews made with squash and/or yams. When you snack have smoothies or a nut pate. Drink one or two cups of room temperature lemon water daily, which is an especially useful habit to incorporate in the morning. We should also be sure to drink (your weight in pounds x 15 mL) of warm water per day.
Consider using natural skin moisturizers, such as coconut oil, shea butter or sesame oil.