In Traditional Chinese Five Element Theory, autumn corresponds to the Metal element and the lungs. This element is characterised by energy drawing inwards; refining our resources and drawing new resources towards us. Autumn is a time of both letting go and drawing in. It is a time of withering and decay, but also a time of gathering the final fruits and stocking up for the winter ahead.
The turning of the season demands we make adjustments if we are to navigate the weeks and months ahead with health and ease. There is a reduction in light and warmth and this signals a time to start eating more cooked foods and less raw ones to bring extra warmth and nourishment into the body. Eating seasonal berries will boost our intake of vitamin C which helps to guard against seasonal coughs and colds.
The lungs draw in and refine qi sending it down to the kidneys to be stored as Jing (essence, life force). The lungs protect against external invasion and along with the skin (often referred to in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the “third lung”) powers our Wei Qi - defensive energy. When we have strong Wei Qi, we are naturally immune to external pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Regular practice of qigong helps to boost Wei Qi.
However, if we eat too many raw and cooling foods (fruits, salads, chilled foods) at this time of the year and if we don’t wear enough clothes on chilly, windy autumn days, the lungs can become vulnerable to congestion with symptoms often worse between 3am to 7am and 11pm to 3am.
The most common type of congestion is cold and wind invading the lungs; which is the Chinese description of the common cold. Congestion in the lungs can also lead coughs and increased incidence of other lung diseases such as flu and pneumonia. All these conditions can be avoided if we make the correct adjustments to the change of season.
As well as adjusting your diet to eat more warming foods and less cooling ones, this is also a good time for clearing out on all levels. A time to separate the pure from the impure; in other words letting go of anything (physical, mental or emotional) that no longer serves a purpose and taking forward into the winter only those things, thoughts and ideas that nourish and warm you. It is good to do a spring clean after the winter but what is perhaps even more important is an autumn clear out.
The great power of the Metal element is its ability to shape and refine. At this time of year if we undertake a simple process of shaping and refining, it can allow us to move through the cold, dark time of the year without suffering illness or seasonal sadness. So perhaps cook yourself a nice warming stew, clear out your desk or garden shed, keep practicing your Qigong and find that woolly scarf for those cold, windy days.