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Chinese Medicine Tips for Fall

Fall Equinox: September 22nd - October 7th

The lunisolar calendar regards these days as the middle of fall. This is the day when the day and night are equal in time or the Yang is in relative balance with the Yin. Fall is the yin arising out of the yang.

Fall is associated with the Lung & Large Intestine, the Metal element, that connects us to the outside world and breathes life and inspiration into us, and eliminates what no longer serves us. Just as nature takes the time twice a year to rebalance itself, fall offers many gifts and opportunities for reconnecting with our health.

Your lungs breathe in and out about 20,000 times a day - at rest, for adults, that means you breathe 10-14 breaths per minute OR about 670 million breaths in your lifetime. People who hyperventilate often breathe 3-4 times that much! Hyperventilation is “over breathing” and it affects every organ and cell in the body. Do you consider yourself stressed out? Well, hyperventilation is a normal response to stress. A variety of triggers can cause hyperventilation including allergens, medications, environmental irritants like smoke and fumes, colds and flu, pain, too little or too much exercise, sudden temperatures, extreme emotions, perfumes, mouth breathing, etc. Symptoms of hyperventilation are numerous and touch every system in the body, here are a few examples: breathlessness, chest tightness, asthma, production of mucus, excess yawning and sighing, headaches, dizziness, poor concentration and memory, numbness, tingling, poor circulation in hands, cold extremities, racing, pounding or skipped heart beats, anxiety and panic attacks, irritability, depression, fear, dry mouth, abdominal bloat, heartburn, gas, nausea, fatigue, poor sleep, muscle weakness, clenched teeth, pain, heavy bleeding during your period, and painful periods. There are many breathing exercises available and we can help you find one that works for you and your life to make sure you are regularly exercising this ever-important function!

Tip #1 - Acupuncture & Herbs

In Chinese medicine, the Lung organ is in charge of taking in oxygen, no surprise there, but it also plays a major role in immunity, digestion, skin, body hair, and mental health. The Lung is in charge of propelling the protective Qi, the fluids, and the essence of the food you eat throughout the entire body. Imbalance within the metal element looks like respiratory infections, skin issues, constipation, and deficiencies within the lymphatic and immune systems. If the Lung loses its crucial descending function, there may be symptoms of stuffy chest, cough, asthma, or signs of water stagnation such as phlegm, urinary problems, edema, etc.

If the Lung is imbalanced the Large Intestine is sure to follow. A review of over 800 biomedical articles reporting on lung and large intestine pathologies found that 61% described symptoms of intestinal disease coincident with lung disease! The Lung and diaphragm work together - when you inhale the diaphragm is pulling down and when you exhale it goes up. This pump-type action helps the intestines with peristalsis - the wave-like muscle contractions that move food thru the digestive tract. Be sure to eat fiber-rich foods, stay hydrated (the Metal element loathes dryness), and eat probiotic-rich foods (like miso, kimchi, and kombucha) if you experience irregular bowel movements.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 1 billion cases of the common cold each year in the United States. In Chinese medicine, the common cold occurs as a result of a wind invasion of the exterior, usually thru your unprotected neck, and if it is not pushed out right away it will go deeper to the first organ it meets - your Lung. To treat this, the first thing we consider is whether the cold symptoms are "hot" or "cold". "Wind-Cold" symptoms include chills more than fever, sneezing, runny nose and/or cough with clear or white phlegm, itchy throat, and body aches - especially the neck/occipital headache. "Wind-Heat" symptoms include a sore throat, feeling warm, fever more than chills, runny nose and/or cough with yellow phlegm, sweating, headache, and swollen tonsils. Herbal medicine acupuncture, cupping, at-home wet sock treatment, herbal bone broth and tea, and supplements such as elderberry and zinc can go a long way to boost immunity, reduce the severity, relieve symptoms, speed up recovery, and prevent further health complications. The sooner you reach out the better your outcomes!

Tip #2 - Let It Go

The Lung is associated with taking in the new and its companion organ, the Large Intestine, which is about letting go of mental, spiritual, and physical waste to reveal that which is most precious in our lives. When there is an imbalance, instead of tranquillity, inspiration, freshness, and spontaneity, we feel depression, stubbornness (inability to “let go”), isolation, and negativity. The emotion of the Metal element is grief or nostalgia. We all experience loss, separation, and “letting go,” and we appropriately feel grief at those times. When the energy of Metal is blocked or imbalanced within us, our expression of grief likewise becomes imbalanced and inappropriate - which will have an effect on the Metal organs. It may be excessive and ongoing. Or, in the other extreme, it may be absent, as in those who cannot express their grief.

A balanced Metal element allows for healthy boundaries, daily routine, inspiration, and our sense of self-worth - like metal, the Metal element allows us to shine! Fall is the time to let go of what no longer serves you or lifts your spirit. Just like the animals outdoors getting their affairs in order before winter comes, you should do the same. This is a good time to restructure your routine, your surroundings, and your being. Whether it’s revisiting a good book or podcast, picking up your yoga practice, cooking, starting an inspiration board, organizing your home or office or calendar, or working with a mentor…connecting with what inspires you will support the spirit of the lungs and help you feel uplifted especially as we hunker down for winter.

The Tao Te Ching tells us that in order to receive anything, you have to give away first.

Tip #3 - Daily Movement - Slow Down

As Nature moves into a period of rest, we too must be cautious not to overexert ourselves. The time for “putting it all out there” - the summer - has passed. Now is the time to contain ourselves, acting and speaking only when necessary, behaving with prudence, and exerting our will quietly and calmly.

A yoga practice, especially yin yoga, with chest-opening poses will support the Metal element. Increase your Pranayama (breath) practice, try out Qigong or Tai Chi, and do more outdoor activities like walking and hiking to stimulate your lungs and strengthen your immune system. Storing our energy and giving ourselves time to decompress and begin to go inward, makes it easier to go through the colder months healthily. You have our permission to sleep longer!

Tip #4 - Food As Medicine

Seasonally available foods will provide the balance your body needs - but this season we want those foods warm and slow-cooked. The color of the Lung is white. So look to foods such as onions, turnips, cauliflower, radishes, egg whites, apples, white mushrooms, potatoes, lotus root, almonds, and pears to boost the energy of the Lung and Large Intestine. The white part of the scallions supports the Lung with their warmth and opens up the circulation to the Lung, chest, and skin. Pears can help regenerate body fluids and moisten the Lung, dissolve mucus, and relieve cough. Raw, local, and organic honey supports the energetic functions of the Lung by moistening the Lung and Large Intestine to smooth stool - start each morning with warm lemon water with honey. During fall, look to seeds, root vegetables, and squashes.

The taste of the season is pungent. Food and drinks that are pungent help the descending and dispersing function of the Lungs and promote circulation such as ginger, garlic, radish, and mint. Kimchi is also considered pungent, as well as other fermented foods, and will optimize intestinal flora for immune health and digestive health.

Cut back on cooling foods, like raw foods, salads, juices, and fruits as they can create too much cold in the body while we are heading into winter. Additionally, avoid foods that cause dampness and phlegm, such as refined sugar, dairy, fried foods, and alcohol.

Tip #5 - Nourish Your Lungs

The Lung opens up to the nose. All the way back to around 400 BCE Chinese manuscripts exist with detailed instructions on regulating the breath, how to slow it, and hold it. Breathing is powerful medicine. Over time, stale air builds up, leaving less room for the diaphragm to contract and bring in fresh oxygen. With the diaphragm not working to full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the neck, back, and chest for breathing often resulting in tension and pain. Here is an example of a breathing exercise you can do at home:

  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees so that the bottom of your feet are resting on the floor or sit/stand where the spine is straight and the chin is perpendicular to the body.

  2. Place your right hand on top of your heart and your left hand on your stomach.

  3. Close your lips and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.

  4. Breathe in through the nose and pull air down into your stomach and make your hand expand. Try to spread your fingers apart with your breath. At the top of your breath, begin counting softly aloud from one to ten over and over as you slowly exhale.

  5. As you finish your exhale, keep counting in a whisper, letting the voice trail out. Then keep going until the lungs feel empty.

  6. Repeat deep breaths for at least ten cycles.

Several apps offer timers and visual guides for practicing with your breath - check out Paced Breathing and My Cardiac Coherence.

In Chinese Medicine theory, “wind is the cause of 1,000 diseases”. As was described earlier, wind enters the body at the back of the neck and causes conditions that develop quickly and enter the lungs- like colds, flus, headaches, and sore throats. Temperature fluctuations that are typically seen this time of year make us even more susceptible to wind. Remembering to wear a scarf or hoodie offers extra protection against wind invasions.

The Lung also correlated with our skin and body hair. The skin and body hair attain their nourishment through the disseminating action of the Lung, in order to maintain their luster. Lung health can be reflected in the appearance of the skin, possibly resulting in dry, itchy skin, dry hair, and fine lines and wrinkles, especially around the outside of the eye. There is a Chinese medicine dermatologist on the team to help keep your skin healthy and radiant!

Seasonal herbs include astragalus, chrysanthemum, jujube dates, tangerine peels, white wood ear, and lily bulb. Make ginger tea if you have "wind-cold" symptoms and white scallion tea if you have "wind-heat" symptoms. Stay healthy and balanced with oolong tea which boosts the immune system, and osmanthus oolong, which aids the respiratory system. As with any herbal medicine, we encourage you to consult with your herbalist and healthcare provider to find out what is right for you.

Fall Feels

Trees naturally let go of their leaves at this time of year to conserve energy for the winter months. Fall is an opportunity to get rid of what weighs you down - both physically and emotionally. Wishing you health and wellness during your next transition! Be well!

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