Autumn according to TCM Chinese medicine

Finding Stillness: Living in Harmony with the Season of Autumn

What will be covered?

  1. The qualities of autumn according to Chinese medicine
  2. Metal type personality and characteristics
  3. Common conditions and symptoms seen during autumn
  4. Practical Chinese medicine dietary and lifestyle tips to improve health in the cooler months
  5. A delicious recipe for a cold-type cough and sore throat
  6. Acupressure points to relieve constipation or acute cold/flu symptoms

Autumn According to Chinese Medicine

As the season of autumn envelops us in its crisp air and vibrant foliage, Chinese Medicine offers invaluable insights into aligning our health and well-being with the rhythm of nature. In this article, we delve into the profound principles of Chinese medicine, focusing on the Metal element, its association with the Lungs and Large Intestine, the characteristics of the Metal type personality, common symptoms encountered during autumn, and practical dietary and lifestyle considerations to nurture and balance our vitality during this season of transition and introspection.

Enduring Qualities of Autumn

Autumn is governed by the metal element in Chinese Medicine, symbolising clarity, discernment, and the cyclical process of letting go. Just as trees shed their leaves in preparation for the winter months, autumn invites us to release what no longer serves us, creating space for inner reflection and renewal. The Metal element is closely linked with the Lungs and Large Intestine, organs responsible for respiration, elimination, and the exchange of energy and resources within the body.

Autumn in Chinese medicine

The Metal Type Person

Individuals with a predominant Metal-type constitution embody qualities such as precision, detail, organisation, and a keen sense of aesthetics or refined beauty. They possess an innate appreciation for structure and order, seeking clarity and refinement in all aspects of their lives. Metal types are often also introspective, and value authenticity and integrity in their relationships and endeavours.

When excessive or out of balance, Metal constitution people can be sharp and cutting with their words, too structured and controlling and lacking in warmth, emotion or flexibility. As the Lungs and Large Intestine correspond to the Metal element, those with this elemental constitution may also suffer from excessive body dryness, constipation and low immunity (Wei Qi).

Common Symptoms in Autumn

During the transition into autumn, imbalances within the Metal element may manifest as various physical and emotional symptoms. These include the following:

Respiratory Issues

The Lungs govern our Wei Qi (also called out protective or peripheral immune Qi) and correspond to the nasal cavity and skin. When in a state of deficiency, the Lungs can manifest in a susceptibility to colds and flu’s, allergies, sinus congestion, eczema or dermatitis.

Digestive Symptoms

The Large Intestine is the internally paired organ with the Lungs and is responsible for the absorption of fluids and separation of clear and turbid substances in the body. When the Large Intestine becomes full and stagnant, then constipation, irregular bowel movements and dry stools may worsen during the autumn time.

The Emotions of Grief & Sadness

The emotion associated with the Lungs are grief and sadness according to Chinese medicine. Prolonged sadness and grief reduce the strength of Lung Qi, which can result in fatigue, cough, shortness of breath and lowered immunity. During this time, we should gently focus on the breath and create moments of stillness and reflection to release what no longer serves us.

Other Common Symptoms:

According to Chinese medicine, the Large Intestine is also paired with the Stomach which are both prone to fullness, stagnation and heat. When these organs are in a state of excess, various symptoms can arise including dry/stuck stools, abdominal distention and bloating, thirst, feeling of heat in the afternoons, irritability and vexation, insomnia, intense dreaming, and large fevers when experiencing a flu.

Chinese Medicine Dietary & Lifestyle Tips

The following general tips can be applied to harmonising oneself with the autumnal season. For specific or personalised recommendations, it is always best to consult a fully qualified practitioner of Chinese medicine.

Sleep

Prioritise restorative sleep by establishing a consistent bedtime routine and creating a peaceful sleep environment. Ensure the bedroom is completely dark with no external or electronic lights near the bed, to foster a deeper restorative sleep. In aligning with Chinese medicine thought we should also retire to bed earlier and wake up slowly in the mornings.

Seasonal eating in Autumn. TCM

Diet

Emphasise warm, nourishing foods to support the Lungs and Large Intestine. Incorporate seasonal produce such as root vegetables, squashes, apples, and pears, as well as warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Soups, stews, and herbal teas can provide comfort and nourishment during the cooler months. A plain or chicken congee is also the perfect breakfast food to support Spleen and Lung Qi. To learn more about congee and an easy delicious recipe, click here.

If dealing with chronic or acute constipation and dry stools, adding 1 tbsp of hemp seeds to breakfast will help to gently lubricate the Large Intestine, allowing for better bowel habits. Predominately consuming warm or hot fluids will also assist with bowel habits as well as supporting the body’s digestive fire, which is essential for the upcoming colder months in Winter.

Mindfullness & Breathwork

Engage in mindful breathing exercises and meditation practices to cultivate a sense of inner stillness and resilience. Focus on deep, diaphragmatic breathing, allowing the breath to flow freely and effortlessly, releasing tension and promoting a sense of grounding. Gently connecting with the breath supports the Lung Qi, allowing the Lungs to open the diaphragm and regulate the motility of the Large Intestine.

Woman meditating in sunrise. Mindfulness meditation.

The Practice of Letting Go

Dedicate time for self-reflection and introspection, acknowledging and releasing any emotions or attachments that no longer serve you. Journaling, meditation, or gentle movement practices such as yoga or Qi Gong/Tai Qi can facilitate the process of letting go, fostering clarity and emotional well-being.

Appropriate Seasonal Clothing

Dress in layers and choose clothing made from natural fibres to adapt to the fluctuating temperatures of autumn. Protect the neck and shoulders from external wind and cold, as these areas are considered vulnerable to attack by external environmental influences according to Chinese medicine, and can result in the onset of cold’s and flu’s.

A Note on Cold-Exposure & Sauna’s

Although cold exposure and sauna’s have increased in popularity in modern times, both practices deplete the body’s Yang, eventually leading to aversion to cold, joint pains, fatigue, lower back pain, and urinary issues. During Autumn the body’s Yang begins to descend and enter into the internal organs in preparation for the colder months. Repeated cold exposure or sauna’s will disrupt the movement and strength of Yang as it either try’s to warm the surface (cold exposure) or cool the body through sweat (sauna/heat exposure).

Every time we sweat, we loose a small amount of Yang which is our metabolic fire and life energy (source qi). It is said in Chinese medicine, things that are alive, active and moving are Yang, whereas things that are dead, still and stagnant are Yin. So, protect your Yang at all costs!

Recipe to Soothe a Cough & Sore Throat

Cold and Dryness-Type Cough

The following recipe can be used during autumn when experiencing a cold-type cough and sore throat. Symptoms may include, feeling cold with aversion to external cold, lack of thirst and frequent urination, a dry cough or with clear white phlegm.

There should also be a complete absence of the following symptoms: Yellow or green phlegm, excessive thirst, aversion to heat, restlessness, big fever with sweats, or constipation/dry stuck stools. If presenting with these symptoms or unsure if the recipe is suitable for your condition, make sure to reach out to a fully qualified practitioner of Chinese medicine.

TCM Stewed pear for cough

Ingredients

2x firm pears; sliced longways into 4-5 pieces
1 large cinnamon stick (broken into small pieces)
3 whole cloves
1 small pinch of salt
1-1.5 cups of water

Instructions

  1. Place the pears into a small-medium saucepan
  2. Add the water, mixed spices and salt and turn the heat to a low-medium simmer
  3. Cover the saucepan and reduce heat to low allowing to gently simmer for 10-15mins. Check the saucepan throughout to ensure their is still some moisture whilst cooking to prevent burning.
  4. Turn off the heat. The pears should have maintained their shape but be soft. Remove the pears and allow to cool down to a warm temperature.

Note: Feel free to experiment with other warming digestive spices like whole cardamom pods, star anise and fresh sliced ginger.

How to Enjoy these Deliciously Cooked Pears?

The cooked pears can simply be eaten alone on an empty stomach or sprinkled with some hemp seeds to aid digestion and gently move phlegm/mucus. Cooked pears can also be a wonderful tasty addition to a morning oatmeal or morning granola.

Acupressure Points

Large Intestine 11 (LI11)

Large Intestine 11 (LI11) is a clinical favourite point to stimulate when there is excess heat in the body. Common indications for LI11 include, a high fever, thirst, restlessness, constipation and dry/stuck stools, or eczema presentation on the skin. However, the top indication for this point is constipation and stuck/dry stools!

LI11 can be easily found on the muscle near the outer elbow. Press around this area until you find a particularly tender point and then stimulate for 2mins, 1-2 x a day to help slowly increase gut motility and reduce constipation.

Large Intestine 11

Image taken from A Manual of Acupuncture by Kevin Baker, Mazin Al-Khafaji, and Peter Deadman

Master Tung’s 22.01/02 Lung Points

The following two-set points come from the late Master Tung and are commonly used in clinic to treat an acute fever with cough, sore throat, heat and restlessness. These two points can be pressed when experiencing an acute flu and fever response.

Acupuncture points for sore throat or cough

To locate these points, simply press into the fleshy mound which lies just beneath the base of the thumb. Press until you find a particularly tender spot and then continue to apply acupressure for 2-5 mins. This can be repeated on each hand a couple of times per day if experiencing an acute sore throat, fever or cough associated with the cold or flu.

Closing thoughts

Embracing the wisdom of Chinese medicine allows us to harmonise with the seasonal energies of autumn, fostering balance, resilience, and inner renewal. By honouring the Metal element and its associated organs, cultivating mindfulness in our dietary and lifestyle choices, we can navigate the transitions of autumn with grace and vitality, aligning ourselves with the natural rhythms of nature. For further exploration into Chinese medicine principles and practices, consult with a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner who can provide personalised guidance and support on your journey to holistic health and well-being.

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