5 Tips for a Healthy Fall Transition

In Chinese Medicine, we often look at the seasons to help diagnose and treat imbalances in the body. Of all the seasonal transitions during the year, Summer to Autumn might be the most important to watch. Knowing how our bodies adjust to this seasonal transition will help us prepare for a healthy Fall and Winter.

This period is a pivot from the active yang energy of Spring and Summer to the subdued yin energy of Autumn and Winter. Summer is the season with the most heat. In humid climates like the southern United States, it is also the dampest. We in the South know how humid, heavy, and sticky the air can become.

Summer to Fall — How this seasonal change impacts our bodies

The combination of heat and dampness can negatively affect our health in the coming months. The heat can aggravate existing chronic heat conditions like insomnia and heart irregularities. It can also impact inflammatory conditions such as dental infections, yeast infections, herpes, and eczema. If not properly addressed, these conditions can become even more set in.

As the damp heat of Summer begins to meet the cooler air of Fall, the dampness begins to be pulled upward and outward. As Fall approaches, the air will cool and dry. Just look at the beautiful cumulonimbus clouds that form this time of year as the mornings start to cool off again. 

In the body, late Summer is associated with digestion, the spleen, pancreas, and stomach. The spleen system transforms everything we eat and drink into energy, fluids, and blood. It is the key to making blood through extracting nutrients from food. The spleen is also responsible for transforming fluids in the body. 

Autumn brings dryness. That dryness will transform dampness that has accumulated during the intense humidity of late Summer. In anticipation of the dryness, energy and fluids slow down. A feeling of heaviness is normal during this time as we prepare for the even slower moving Winter months. The under-performing spleen / pancreas can also be related to swollen legs, edema, poor lymphatic drainage, fatty tumors, diabetes, and obesity.

Moving into Fall and the Metal Element —Lungs and Large Intestine

In the Chinese Almanac, the transition into Autumn technically begins early August. In the West, Fall is considered to start in late September at the Fall Equinox. The Chinese observe the Equinox as the mid-point (or apex) of Fall. 

The Fall season, which we call the Metal phase of the year, is aligned with the lungs and large intestine. The lungs take in fresh Fall air, filling us with the oxygen we need to think clearly and nourish every cell in our body. The large intestine lets go of the waste that we don't need and eliminates it from our body. It is the last step in our digestive process.

In especially intense Summers, the last blast of heat and humidity can create a turbulent transition. During the early Fall, we may see winds pick up. There can be a clash between the intense heat that pulls humidity from the earth, and the cooler, drying winds of the Fall. 

This is a time when we tend to see tumultuous weather like hurricanes, tornadoes, and typhoons. Severe storms can create flooding in many parts of our country. The unpredictability of the Autumn winds can be particularly troublesome. 

This is one of those times to pay attention to the winds and take precautions to prevent illness. Scientists have been able to show that we are more susceptible to viral infection when our body temperature is lower, and in the morning before the day heats up. In the clinic we simply say, "cover your neck" because wind is the primary mechanism that deregulates our ability to fight disease. 

Chinese medicine understands the best way to keep the body self-regulated is by protecting the skin around the nape and neck. This prevents the “winds” from entering. It is key to pay attention to nature, including noticing the winds. If you notice winds coming from any direction, think about your health and consider getting out of that wind.

Fall and the Metal Phase —A time for storing energy and letting go

Fall is all about harvesting, gathering, organizing, pruning, and protecting and reinforcing boundaries. Now is a good time to enjoy your accomplishments and take stock of things left undone. 

This phase allows us to see our self-worth, so take the time to congratulate yourself on a job well done. For those projects that are partly completed, develop strategies to complete them. Or you may decide to change plans or put them on the shelf until Spring. 

Now is not the time to expend precious energy by taking on new projects. Garnering and storage are the energies (Qi) of the colder Fall and Winter months.

We aren't ready to hibernate just yet, though. Remaining social and active is still important during Fall. But by taking it down a notch, we can also begin to conserve and store. Just as the intensity of the Summer heat must give way to a cooler Autumn, late night parties and intense activity must give way to quieter evenings.

As we harvest all that has come from Summer growth, now is a good time to relax, eat lighter, and enjoy family and friends. As the saying goes “Party's over, time to clean house and tighten up the protocols.” The payback is a stronger immune system and fewer illnesses during the colder months.

The energy of Fall is contracting and inward moving. Now is also a good time to cultivate an internal practice like meditation, qi gong or yoga, while letting go of that which does not serve us well. It's time to make room for new experiences. 

The energy of the lungs is about attachment. So letting go may prove to be a challenge for those who have an imbalance in the Metal phase. The emotion of the Metal phase is grief and sadness. This letting go can bring about a feeling of loss and uneasiness with change. Excessive grief and sadness can injure the lungs, causing symptoms of respiratory illness. 

Constipation is also common in those who have depression or difficulty letting go. Meditation and light exercise, along with acupuncture, help to bring balance back to the system. They provide a way of dealing with grief in a healthy way and keeping it from developing into a long-term depression.

5 Tips for a Healthy Fall Season

1. Breathe deeply. This is the best way to strengthen the lungs. Adequate oxygen affects our memory, energy level, and immune system. You may recall our breathing exercise video from a few months back. Now is a good time to review it and practice breathing exercises.

2. Clean, reorganize, and donate. Let go of the old and make room for the new. Look for opportunities to help others by donating what you don't want. Take a fresh look at projects that are undone and reassess your plans.

3. Let go of negativity. Constant negativity can make us feel hopeless and depressed, damaging the lungs. The simple act of becoming aware of negativity can be helpful in avoiding it or making changes toward positivity.

4. Take a walk outside (but wear a scarf). There is almost nothing more healing, mentally and physically, than being in nature. Autumn is a beautiful time of year to do that. Take in the gorgeous oranges and golds of the Fall leaves and breathe in the fresh, crisp air. Just remember to keep your neck covered when it’s windy or cold. One of the best ways to stay healthy is to observe nature and try to align with it.

5. Eat warming and moistening foods. This is a time to enjoy the remaining fruits of the garden. Begin to let go of the cooling foods of Summer in favor of the heartier foods of Fall and Winter. We always recommend aligning your diet with the season. During the Fall, we see the last of the tomatoes and melons, squashes, hearty greens, and sweet potatoes showing up at the farmer's markets.

Fall apples and pears are wonderful for moistening the stomach, lungs, and intestines. For dry phlegmy coughs, bosc or Asian pears moisten and help the lung and large intestine deal effectively to transform phlegm. Because Fall is cooling and drying, it’s best to eat foods that are warming and moistening. This helps keep the fluids in our bodies moving freely. Soups and stews should begin to take center stage in your diet.

When we live in harmony with the seasons, we feel better and have fewer illnesses. In the Fall season, that means slowing down, contracting, and moving inward.

Metal is considered precious. We need to treat ourselves as such by eating nourishing foods and getting plenty of rest in preparation for the Winter ahead.

Posted in Seasonal