The winds are picking up and the leaves are falling down. This blustery season finds us reaching for our scarves, preparing to cozy in. Every year at this time, our patients come in remarking that they don’t have as much energy, and it’s becoming harder to get out of bed in the morning. (Check out this blog post on sleep cycles in the Fall and Winter here!) They are often disappointed by this transition, disappointed in themselves for not feeling as productive, their moods slightly darkened by the looming reality that “Winter is coming.”
These tendencies are due to Autumn’s natural direction towards consolidation, which allows us to harvest and gather our energies and resources, fortifying us for the Winter. Autumn is an extremely useful time. It serves a beautiful purpose in it’s transition. It is the season of the Lungs in Chinese Medicine, and the Lungs provide us with the capacity to take things in, and let things go.
Just as one of their physiological duties is to inhale and exhale, take in oxygen and let out carbon dioxide, their emotional assignment is that of taking in what is new and useful to us, and letting go of what no longer serves us.
It is the organ system that processes our grief. Sometimes if sadness grows too heavy, we will see illnesses affect the Lungs. Likewise, a weakened Lung system might create a propensity for melancholy in an individual. The healthy ability to let things go (objects, bad relationships, etc,) is a sign of good Lung Qi, while the holding onto these things long after they have expired in their value, might indicate a deficiency of the Lungs.
The Lungs flower to the skin (our external lung) and we will often see skin conditions relating to lung pathology, such as the often noted correlation between eczema and asthma, or how the skin becomes lusterless and actually suffocates after years of cigarette smoking.
The Lungs are known as the “Delicate Organ” because they are directly in contact with the external environment and often suffer the first blows of an external attack, such as a cold or flu. In those with weakened immunity, we often find a disharmony in the Lung system. Conversely, people with strong Lungs can enjoy robust immunity, and often get through the season untouched by the passing epidemics.
Our voice is projected by our Lungs. Speaking loudly and assuredly might indicate one has strong Lungs, while speaking in a soft or whispery tone might indicate the Lungs are suffering. We can sometimes lose our voice altogether if the Lungs are attacked suddenly by heat and wind (Think Laryngitis.)
Metaphorically and physically, the Lungs allow for us to receive. The descending action of the Lungs directs our breath downward and inward, and when they are weakened we might see a counter flow of this direction, such as coughing or wheezing. Likewise, the consolidating energy of the Lungs allows for us to be strong in our boundaries with others and with the world around us and maintain order in our lives. We might need to strengthen this organ in those who have difficulty with boundaries, are perpetually disorganized or have trouble releasing things from their lives.
The organ system of the Large Intestine is paired with the Lungs, which help it to direct waste down and out. Sometimes digestive issues such as constipation may trace back to the Lungs if they are too weak to help direct the energy in the Large Intestine downward.
What to do if your Lungs need some help?
There are things you can do both on your own, or with the help of a licensed practitioner.
1) Eat pears, apples, persimmons and loquats. Seasonal foods protect and nourish the Lungs. These are in season now and are very nourishing for dry or weakened lungs. A very simple treat involves just slicing up a pear, placing the slices on a baking sheet and drizzling some honey or maple syrup over the them. Bake at 350-375 for about a half hour (cooking times may vary.) A very yummy dessert!
2) Breath easy. Do a breathing exercise, even for just 5-10 minutes per day. The simple act of conscious breathing, such as we find in Qi Gong, Yoga and Meditation, is an easy and effective way to start strengthening the Lungs. Some traditions in yoga and meditation actually follow specific patterns of breathing for the emotional cleansing they can facilitate. But breathing exercises can fortify the physical lungs as well, improving immunity and conditions such as asthma or allergies.
3) Allow yourself to grieve. There may have been some challenging times for you over the course of this year. The loss of a loved one, a pregnancy, a relationship or any number of circumstances may be weighing heavily on your Lungs (and heart.) The Autumn is the perfect time to acknowledge and honor these challenges. Writing about them in a journal, or speaking about them to a friend, therapist or support group can help to start moving these emotions through.
4) Get some treatment! If you feel your Lungs could use a little outside help, seek out a licensed practitioner and get some acupuncture, or a custom herbal formula made just for you.
Let’s celebrate this very important season! Listen to Nature’s suggestions and slow down a bit. Sleep a little more, exercise a little less. Let go of the things in your life which are no longer serving you. Let the consolidating nature of Autumn guide you into the germination of Winter, where we make room for all of the new potential that will blossom for us over the coming year.