Autumn’s arrival shifts the Qi that had been expanding outward (Yang) in the Summer to begin to shift inward (Yin).  We glide through Late Summer at the equinox and then slide into Autumn–the season of Yin within Yang according Asian (Chinese) medicine.  Of the 5 Elements, Autumn this is the season that corresponds to the Metal element.

After shedding their leaves or ripened fruits and seeds, plants die back or their energy retreats to their roots. Autumn is the time of harvest and a time to start storing and preparing for Winter’s cold. Appropriately, Autumn’s abundant food is perfectly suited to help our body’s Qi move inward. This allows our bodies to have greater energy to fend off common ailments and it gives us a chance to replenish and provide the opportunity to embrace the season’s delights.  During this season, I encourage clients to use foods and tonic herbs like ginseng and rhodiola (if they aren’t treating disharmonies where tonics are contraindicated) to help strengthen the body for the upcoming colder months.

Autumn is a wonderful time to clear out old habits that we no longer need–letting go of that which harms us.  It’s a good to time to consolidate and begin storing energy.  This might include resting more, or adjusting your exercise–take long walks, practice T’ai Chi or Qigong and include meditation into your routine. Health permitting, Autumn can also be a wonderful time for a gentle cleanse.

Like all of the 5 Elements, each season has numerous correspondences that Asian (Chinese) medicine practitioners use to identify patterns in clients, both physical and mental, emotion.  Let’s look at a few major correspondence of Autumn.

Autumn Correspondences

Season Autumn
Element Metal
Color White and metallic
Sound Sighing
Climate Dry
State of growth Decline
Odor Rotten
Flavor Pungent
Yin organ & time Lungs: 3-5am
Yang organ & time Colon: 5-7am
Body tissue Skin
Sense organ Nose
Emotion Grief and longing
Soul Corporal
Vice Obsession with physical appearance
Virtue  Inspiration and righteousness

A bit more detail…

Season – Autumn represents the state of harvest.  It’s a natural time of trees and plants, giving up their final harvest for the season before moving the Qi deep within to slumber through winter.  Our body’s energy natural tries to move more internally as the days get cooler and the light disappears sooner.

Element – Metal.  In regards to the body, Metal can refer to the minerals and vitamins that enliven food and the fluids we drink.  Mineral deficiencies are often a problem in people with Lung and Colon issues.  Metal also refers to the nature of person who like their appearance and homes clean, precise and crisp.  They may wear a lot of black and white or monochromatic colors.  Their hair is always neatly and precisely cut, maybe even with sharp angles and edges. Even whole cultures display metal traits, think of the Japanese or Germans, with very clear, crisp designs of home.  Poodle cuts and bonsai trees are pretty metal.

Color – White. People with Metal element patterns or constitutions have a very white cast to their face, especially under their eyes.  Again, picture Marilyn Monroe.

Sound – Sighing – can I use Marily again?  Her speak, her singing, she was the epitome of a Metal constitution.  Want a modern reference?  Sharon Stone.

Climate – Dry.  The Lungs (and Colon) loathe dryness.  They like to be moistened with the property quantity and quality of mucus and fluids.  In disharmony, they may become too dry or create too thick and sticky of mucus in an attempt to moisten themselves.  Biggest cause of phlegm in the body?  The diet–processed, refined foods, sugar, and too much dairy and here comes the damp, which gets stored in the Lungs, throat, sinuses and Colon.

State of growth – Harvest.  It is time to pull in the grains, vegetables, squashes and lentils that will see us through the Winter months–that is if you eat seasonally.

Odor – Rotten – like the science experiment you didn’t intend to have happen in the fridge.  Also, like the smell of leaves that are starting to decompose on the grounds.  And yes, Metal disharmony clients give off a rotten smell, besides the overly sweet scent of Earth pattern clients, the Metal smell is the easiest one to pick up.

Flavor – Pungents (spicy).   Our lovely, spicy and pungent foods–ranging from cold to hot, influence the Lung and Colon.  Ginger and cinnamon warm and increase Qi.  While cooling mints clear congestion and free up energy.   Excessive use of pungents, however can deplete and damage the Qi of the body.

Read more on Autumn foods.

Yin Organs – Our Lungs have the closest connection to the exterior, receiving air directly through the sinuses and throat or mouth. Chinese medicine refers to the Lungs as the Delicate Organs as they are the most vulnerable organ system to exterior invasion.  Besides being our first line of defense they have numerous other jobs and responsibilities.

Govern Qi and respiration – With every breath you take, the The Lungs refine the air.  The process the air you breath, pulling out impurities and creating the Qi of Air (Ta Qi) and then rid the body of dirty Qi (Co2) and impurities.  Then, they combine the Qi of Air (Ta Qi) with the Qi of refined foods (Ku Qi) from the Spleen.  This mixture creates Zhong Qi or Gathering Qi–which is the base for all Qi, Fluids, Blood and…well, the base of all in the body.  Because the process takes place in the Lungs, we often refer to them as the Sea of Qi, as they dominate the creation and distribution of Qi through the entire body.  To over simplify…that’s how much energy you have, how well you heal, and the strength of your immune system.   Disharmony of this function can appear as exhaustion, fatigue, depressed immunity, inability to catch a full breath, tightness and shortness of breath.  Fortunately, though Qi can be depleted quickly, it can be rebuilt quickly.  In a healthy body, a night’s sleep and good food will bring the system back up.  If Qi deficiency goes on for too long, however, the Lungs and other systems will start to suffer at deeper levels that take longer to rebuild from.  It’s a domino effect.

The Lungs Descend and Disperse – Meaning they govern the direction of Qi, Blood, Fluids and air in the body.

Descending – As the uppermost organs the Lungs the body, Chinese medical texts often referred to them as the ‘lid’, or ‘imperial carriage roof’ – and they descend the Qi, Blood and Fluids through the rest of the body.   The Lungs must descend to communicate with the Kidneys, Colon and other organs. Failure of the Lungs to properly descend can appear as problems including:  urinary problems and constipation, facial edema and swelling,  asthma that is noted by problems of inhalation, stiffness in the chest, cough and wheezing.

Dispersing – The Lungs disperse or spread Wei Qi and body fluids over the entire body to the spaces between the skin and muscles.  The dispersing function is activated on exhalation. This is one way in which the Lungs are related to the skin.  This function warms the body and protects it from exterior pathogens, and mists or moistens the skin.  If there is a disharmony in excess, pores may be blocked and there is no sweating (this we see in wind-cold, prevalence. In deficiency, the pores are overly relaxed or slack and the fluids will flood out.  We may also problems with allergies, asthma and weakened immune system that is marked by problems of inadequate exhalation…..and, here many of you thought all asthma patterns were alike.

The Lungs govern the Wei – That’s your immune system…weak Lungs…weak immunity.

Controls the Channels and The Blood Vessels – The Lungs govern the Qi and Qi is essential in assisting the Heart to circulate the Blood and maintaining the health of the blood vessels. The Lungs control circulation within the Blood vessels themselves as well as in the channels.

Houses the Po (Corporeal Soul) – This is the soul that corresponds to our most physical aspect of being.  Through the Po we are able to feel pain, grief, loss and sorrow and physical sensations.  The Po is the spirit that is most attached to our physical form and it stays with body and dissolves when we die, as it is no longer needed to help the physical body.  Excess longing, grief and loss quickly deplete the Po.

The Lungs loath dry, yet can become overly damp – Dryness arises in the body because of overly dry conditions like central heating and forced air, food imbalances including eating too many dried foods or simply not drinking enough fluids.  It can also arise from an interior organ disharmony.  Whatever the cause, the Lung and Colon are particularly vulnerable to dryness.   Symptoms of dryness appear as thirst, dry throat, lips, nose, itching, dry cough, constipation, dry skin and eczema.  In these conditions use a few Yin (moistening foods) like spinach, barley, pear, apple, honey, nettles, maybe a little dairy, seaweeds, almonds and tofu to moisten. Dry sinuses?  Consider steaming or using a humidifier.  Dampness can also plague the Lung and the Colon which is apparent in pattern of phlegm and mucus in either or both organs.  Damp conditions include sinusitis, rhinitis, allergies, cough with phlegm and phlegm or mucus in the stools.  To drain dampness use squash, roots, onions, greens, spices and sours to astringe and drain dampness.

Can you have damp and dry in the body at the same time?  Yes.  It’s actually quite common if  the imbalance have been allowed to go on for too long.  The protocol would then also focus on resolving or transforming phlegm while moistening Yin and moving stagnation – that’s a bit simplified, but you get the idea.

Yang Organ – Colon. “As above, so below.”  The Colon is responsible for “letting go” both in the physical and emotional sense.  As the Yang partner of the Lungs, the Colon depends on Lungs to descend adequate fluids and Qi to them so they can properly refine solid wastes and eliminate them from the body.  Too little fluids and Qi and there will be constipation.  Excess phlegm and damp in the system will create stools with mucus and is a primary condition in patterns like IBS and irritable bowel.  Often people with runny noses, have loose stools.  And those that have dry, congested sinuses may have constipation or difficult bowels.

Tissue – The Skin and body hair.  The Metal element must have adequate moisture to mist and nourish the skin.    The Lungs receive fluids from the Spleen and spread them to the skin all over the body.  This nourishes the skin and hair.  The skin with have luster, the hair will be glossy, and the opening and closing of pores (sweating) will be normal.  Problems like eczema, rashes and dry skin are treated through the Lungs and Yin nourishment.

Sense Organ – Nose. If you have strong Lung Qi your sense of smell will be acute, words will be audible and the voice will be strong.  If weak there may be invasion in the nose or throat.  We call the the nose the “gateway of the Lungs” and the throat the “doorway to the Lungs”, and they are both under the rule of the Lungs.  Patterns like loss of smell, sinus congestion, phlegm in the sinus, throat, weak voice or chronic throat issue are treated through the Lungs.  Mousey, or breath Marilyn Monroe voice?  Yeah, those are Lung patterns.

Emotion – Grief, sadness, loss and longing.  In excess, these emotions dissolve or deplete the Qi in the chest.  The start of Autumn is also the time that I start seeing an increase in subtle depression and sadness issues from clients coming in.  “The sun is going away, Summer is gone.”  In some cases, the client’s emotional congestion around the season can be severe, in others a simple shifting of habits to help embrace the season, foods and tonic herbs to bolster the Metal element are enough to transition into appreciating the blessings that the season provides.

Virtue and Vice – Metal people like things to look nice, be clean and organized–when in balance.  In balance, they are organized and work with a reasonable level of perfectionism. They seek righteousness that is balanced and appropriate.   Out of balance, Metal types obsess over possessing things and are overly perfectionistic.  They like bright and sparkly things and will often stop at mirrors to gaze at themselves. They may have a distorted sense of justice and righteousness–think fanatical religion. They seek affirmation and acknowledgement and may “cut you off” if you do not indulge them.  Addiction to drugs, alcohol, smoking and stimulant foods like coffee and chocolate is also a vice of the Metal element.

Here’s to an inspiring Autumn.