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Chinese Medicine and the Season of Autumn

In autumn the expanded energy of summer slowly begins to contract. The earth’s energy is pulled back from the leaves of trees and plants to go deeper into the trunk and roots to survive the winter. Within Chinese Medicine, humans are regarded as microcosms of the natural universe; subject to the same cycles that occur in nature. The cold signals us to prepare for winter ahead by bringing out warmer clothing. It is a time of gathering in, stocking up, mingled with a sense of loss as the light begins to fade and the air chills. It is a time to eliminate what is unnecessary and become aware of what is essential.

Autumn is associated with the element of metal which is represented by the organs of Lung and Large Intestine. The Lung pulls in and refines the Qi, (energy) sending it downward to nourish our roots. The lung rules the skin, the outer layer of the human body, protecting against external invasion and safeguards internal resources. Since autumn is a dry season, we need to protect ourselves from cold air evaporation of moisture from our skin.

Large Intestine is associated with letting go; not just on a physical level but also of thoughts and emotions that no longer serve us. The metal element nourishes our capacity to be analytic, critical, methodical, efficient and disciplined.

The emotion associated with the metal element is grief or sadness. We are leaving the warm abundance of summer and preparing for a quieter, reflective time of year. Keeping our energy balanced helps us to release the past and create space for things to come.

Nurturing foods for this time of year include:

  • white rice
  • white beans
  • pears
  • radishes
  • sea vegetables
  • potatoes
  • cabbage
  • turnips
  • parsnips

The flavors of metal element are spicy or pungent.

Dr. Frank Lipman

Chinese Medicine Tips for Autumn

The Lung and Large Intestine are the two energy pathways most active in fall; both organs eliminate waste. The Large Intestine eliminates digestive waste and the Lungs eliminate respiratory waste. The Lungs also control the skin and sweating. Sweating helps to cleanse the skin and detoxify the body but excess sweating can deplete our bodies. It is important to stay hydrated especially when exercising.

Foods that support the Lungs and Large Intestine are: pear, radishes, daikon radish, cauliflower and cabbage. Immune support for the Lung energy includes reishi mushrooms and astragalus.

If you develop a fall cold or flu with fever you can bring on a sweat at the early stages of infection to help detoxify the body. Spending time in a sauna or hot bath and eating spicy food will help.

Living in Harmony with Nature during Autumn : Traditional Chinese Medicine

As the days begin to get longer, leaves begin to change color and earth energies begin to slow and cool; we turn our attention to more serious pursuits. The season of fall is associated with the Metal element which governs order, organization, communication, the mind, setting limits and protecting boundaries. It is a time to finish projects and clear out that which no longer serves us. We begin to organize our lives for the colder weather ahead.

The internal organs associated with autumn are Lung and Large Intestine. The emotions related to these organs are sadness, grief and letting go.

This is a good time to begin a practice of meditation, yoga or any exercise that helps you to control your breath. Control of the breath can promote, physical vigor, mental clarity and emotional tranquility.

Some tips for the change of season:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Dress for the change in weather- too many people get sick holding on to summer attire too long
  • Protect your lungs- moderate amounts of pungent foods : garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger and mustard are beneficial.

Chinese Medicine and Indian Summer


Late summer or Indian Summer is associated with the earth element in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is a time for slowing down the activity of summer and observing the abundance we’ve created in our lives. We reflect in order to move forward again with awareness. Earth is the balance point it is a time to temporarily stop our doing and just be. Earth is stability. “The process of procuring, absorbing and converting the food into our body, is what the earth element represents.”

The earth element provides us grounding and a center.

When we have a center, we are able to see what we need and what we are lacking. When we can acknowledge our own needs, we are able to be sensitive to the needs of others. Earth element is central to all the elements. It is the transition time at the end of each season when we reflect before we begin anew.

The emotions associated with this element are sympathy, empathy and worry.

If we are in balance we can be empathic to our own needs and those of others. When we lose our balance, we become consumed with worry and often obsessive compulsive thinking. The other end of imbalance is aloofness, inability for empathy and the inability to connect.

Some symptoms of earth imbalance are:

  • Excessive mucous in nose, throat and mouth
  • Craving sweets
  • Heavy feelings in body with achy arms, legs and head
  • Metabolic problems, including hypoglycemia and diabetes
  • Bloating and indigestion
  • Lethargy
  • Chronic worry

Indian Summer in Traditional Chinese Medicine is a time for slowing down and gathering in the abundance we’ve created in our lives so we can move forward with awareness. This time is associated with the earth element which brings balance and grounding into our lives.

When we are in balance we can clearly see our own needs and also be sensitive to the needs of others. The emotions of earth element are sympathy, empathy and worry. When our earth element is balanced we feel empathy for another. When earth is imbalanced we take on the pain of another, are preoccupied with worry and obsessive compulsive thinking. The alternative side of this earth imbalance is the inability to feel empathy, aloofness and incapacity to connect with others.

To support earth element:

  • Find time to reflect on your life and meet your own needs.
  • Get out in nature and connect to mother earth.
  • Nourish yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The Body Organ Clock of Chinese Medicine

I like to revisit this information every so often in case someone missed it. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is believed that the chi or vital energy circulates through each body organ in two hour intervals every 24 hours. There are specific times for each organ meridian. These specific times of chi circulation are when the meridian has its point of highest energy. In TCM this cycle helped inform people of the optimum time to eat, sleep, rest exercise, etc. It also made them aware of their connection to each body organ.

Today most people are concerned with waking up the same time each night and not being able to get back to sleep. The time from 11pm -1 am is when the Gall Bladder Meridian is most active. This is a time that the body should be at rest so that it can wake up feeling energized for the next day. If you are consistently waking at this hour your Gall Bladder Meridian needs balancing. Gall Bladder energy is associated with decision making and everyday stress.

1-3am is when the Liver Meridian is most active and the body should be asleep.” During this time, toxins are released from the body and fresh new blood is made.” If waking at this time you may have restrictions in the Liver Meridian, too much yang energy or issues with anger, frustration and rage.

3-5am the Lung Meridian is most active and the body should be asleep. “The body should be kept warm at this time to help the lungs replenish the body with oxygen.” The emotions associated with the lungs are sadness and grief. If awake at this time, deep breathing is recommended.

During winter when Kidney and Bladder Meridians are most active, the 24 hour circulation for these meridians is even more powerful.

3-5pm is when the Bladder Meridian has the highest energy. At this time metabolic wastes move into the kidney’s filtration system and drinking a lot of water will aid the detoxification process. “This is the perfect time to study or complete brain challenging work.”

5-7pm is when the Kidney energy is strongest. The Kidneys filter the blood and maintain proper chemical balance. “This is the perfect time to have dinner and to activate your circulation either by walking, having a massage or stretching.” The emotion associated with Kidney Meridian is fear.

The Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine was based on an observation of man in his environment. In early times Chinese doctors identified patterns of continuous change and transformation in the universe and how these changes also occurred within the human body. The concept of qi , the vital energy of the body and the yin yang theory, which views the relationships between things as complementary to the whole, are integral to the master blueprint of the Five Element Theory. This blueprint organizes all natural phenomena into five master groups or patterns in nature.

The five groups include: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each of these elements includes many “ categories such as a season, a direction, climate, stage of growth and development, internal organ, body tissue, emotion, aspect of the soul, taste, color, sound …” the list is seemingly endless. This theory gives a template to show “how nature interacts with the body and how the different dimensions of our being impact each other.” It gives a multidimensional view and provides a diagnostic framework to identify where imbalances lie.

We are in the season of spring which is the Wood Element

  • The Liver and Gallbladder are associated organs
  • Eyes and tendons are associated body parts
  • The emotion of anger
  • The color green
  • Wind
  • Calling sound
  • Sour taste
  • East is the direction
  • 11pm-3am time

When the Wood chi is weak indecision and a feeling of being stuck can occur. People who have a strong wood energy have clear goals and vision and are able to manifest their goals. Planning and decision making are their forte.

The Five Element Theory presents a blueprint which organizes all natural phenomena into five master groups or patterns in nature. This theory attempts to show the interaction of nature with the human body and how the many facets of our being impact each other. The Five Element Theory provides us with a diagnostic tool to help identify where imbalances lie and illuminates the interconnectedness of all things. The structures in our body are connected to each other, to our environment and to the natural world. It represents man as part of nature and nature as part of the cosmos.

The Elements are: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. We’ve already spoken about the Wood Element of spring and its many associations. Today I want to discuss the Fire Element.

The Fire Element is the next phase of the Five Element theory. Its associations are:

  • Heart and Small Intestine Meridians & Pericardium and Triple Warmer Meridians
  • Blood vessels
  • The tongue
  • Joy
  • Summer
  • The color red
  • Bitter taste
  • Heat
  • Laughing
  • Direction –south
  • Most active 11am-3pm

People with strong fire energy excel at communication and socialization. They can be charismatic and inspirational speakers. If the Fire Element is weak anxiety, restlessness and insomnia may occur. Stuttering, nervous laugh and rapid speech patterns may develop.

Some illnesses associated with this element are: hypertension, palpitations, heart problems and mouth and tongue sores. Walking is beneficial and the bitter flavor of dark green leafy vegetables. People with weak fire energy can be susceptible to heat exhaustion.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Dietary Tips for Spring

The Spring Equinox occurs on the 21St of March and with the change of season comes the shifting of energy. We’ve seen this already with the return of the robins and budding plants and trees. In spring the energies of the Liver and Gallbladder Meridians are most active. The time of day when liver is most active is 1-3am and gallbladder is at its energy peak between 11pm and 1am. If you consistently wake at these times of day, the liver and gallbladder meridians are most likely out of balance.

Dietary factors which can create gallbladder imbalance are:

Excessive consumption of processed carbohydrates, greasy and fatty foods, trans fats, fructose and dairy, inadequate water intake, fried food and food sensitivities.

Dietary factors which can create liver imbalance are:

Overeating, excessive use of alcohol, overconsumption of fructose, omega 6 fats, trans fats, exposure to toxins and overuse of prescription drugs.

To improve functioning of the Liver and Gallbladder Meridians:

  • Juice or blend beets, lemon, apples, carrots and dandelion greens
  • Eat more garlic, onions ,cauliflower, broccoli, kale and cabbage
  • Liver cleansing foods include: cilantro, turmeric, leafy greens, apples, asparagus, lemon and lime (to name a few)
  • Drink dandelion tea
  • Have a cup of lemon water at the beginning of the day
  • Identify food sensitivities
  • Use coconut oil in lieu of vegetable oil. It does not have to be emulsified by the liver or gallbladder.

Chinese Medicine Causes of Disease- Revisited

Ancient Chinese Medicine had no knowledge of viruses or bacteria as causes of disease. It identified instead climatic conditions which can create disharmony in the body if a person is exposed to them over an extended period of time. These conditions include: cold, heat, wind, dampness, dryness and summer heat. These weather conditions can invade the body and cause disharmony.

We‘ve already covered Chronic Cold, Chronic Heat and Dampness Conditions. The last three conditions are usually found in combination with one of the former.

Dryness is many times partnered with heat. Heat creates warmth and redness but dryness causes dehydration and evaporation. When this condition invades the body asthmatic breathing, dry cough, acute pain and fever may occur.

Summer Heat is oppressive. It can invade the body after exposure to extreme heat and can cause high fever and lethargy. It is often accompanied by dampness.

Wind is usually combined with cold when it invades the body. Symptoms of wind include: tics, twitches, stuffy nose and headaches.

Chinese Medicine would treat these conditions with a combination of dietary therapy, acupressure, acupuncture, herbal medicine, heat therapy (moxibustion), exercise (qi gong, t’ai chi) and meditation.