Autumn and the Lungs: Guest Post
Ryan Potvin is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist in Seattle with whom I've shard many a multiple hour nerdy discussion about the finer points of traditional diagnosis and herbal applications. I like this post of his so much that I asked him if I could post it here. He's available for appointments at The Rainbow Natural Health Clinic in Capitol Hill.
Autumn is a season marked by transformation and change. As we transition out of summer into shorter days the transformation can be felt in the crisp and cooling air and seen in the changing color of the leaves. The autumn season correlates to the Lung organ system in Chinese medicine. Our lungs are certainly affected by the change in climate as the season settles in. We begin seeing shorter days, colder temperatures, and an increase in wind and rain. This is a vulnerable time of the year for the lungs and is a season when many of us become susceptible to respiratory infections. All of a sudden we are raiding our cabinets for immune supporting vitamins and herbs. It is important as we move through the fall season into winter to pay heed to self-care by supporting our respiratory and digestive system, as well as our emotional well-being.
The Lungs and Grief
The emotion of the lung is grief and sadness. Have you ever experienced that feeling of melancholy on a crisp autumn day? The world seems in a state of change and decay atthis time of year. The autumn leaves are changing color and they eventually fall, hinting at the cold stillness of winter that is to come in just a few months time. Where there is loss, there is often grief, and this is an important dynamic to recognize this time of year. Looking back to nature we can see that the leaves don’t just fall: the trees let the leaves go. An important part of acknowledging and honoring the spirit of the autumn season is in doing the work of processing our own grief, finding a way to fully express theseemotions, and learning to let go of that which we are trying to hold on to and control. The more we hold on to our own grief, the more we prevent ourselves from being able tomove forward and receive new experiences. This kind of holding on can affect the healthof our lungs and eventually lead to a deficiency, which may lead to issues such as weakness of voice, recurrent respiratory issues, overwhelming feelings of sadness, and even depression.
How can we care for ourselves during this time of the year? We are transitioning out of summer, the most Yang time of the year. It is a time of external energy full of warmth, daylight, and activity. We are moving into winter, the most Yin and cold time of the year, a period of internal stillness and introspection. The guiding principle is to support oneself, both physically and emotionally, during this time of transition and to follow nature’s lead inwardly. Two of the key words for me are gentleness and preservation.
1. Gentle exercise: This is a time to begin limiting extremes. We want to preserve our own resources and promote healthy circulation, and as the energy of the season moves inwards our ability to repair and mend after intense bouts of exercise slows down. Gentle exercises such as jogging, yoga, and tai ji quan are great practices for this time of year.
2. Support the lungs and respiratory system: Having a daily deep breathing exercise is an excellent way to support the health and strength of our lungs.
3. Supporting digestion and nourishment: As the world becomes colder and damper here in the Pacific NW we want to support our body’s ability to properly digest food and nourish our body. Cooked and warm foods are easier for our bodies to process than are cold and raw foods. Try to include nourishing foods of the season such as pumpkin and sweet potato, radish, lamb, beef, apple, pear, persimmon, and oolong tea. Soups, stews, and bone stock are excellent choices for nourishing ourselves throughout the colder months. Be cautious of too much spicy and pungent food, which are very mobilizing and can be depleting to our energy.
4. Protect the exterior: As the wind picks up and carries the brisk chill in the air it is important to protect the exposed areas of our upper body, most importantly the neck. In Chinese medicine, the lungs hold a direct relationship with the exterior of the body, and it is important to protect them from the colder elements. Don’t be afraid to spend time outside on those beautiful autumn days, just be sure to bring a hat and scarf!
5. Emotional nourishment: We want to nourish and preserve our spirit and emotional well-being this time of year. This can mean different things for different people. Reaching out to friends, daily meditation and deep breathing, spending time out in nature are a few examples of what this looks like for me. What is important here is to make time to listen to your own needs and pay attention to your own self-care.
Lastly, remember these are just a few guidelines. There are no absolutes and it is important for you to listen to your own body and learn what works and feels best for you as an individual.
How can acupuncture and herbs help?
Acupuncture is a medicine that works with the natural resources within the body to promote a healing response. When your body is fighting off a pathogen, that can mean supporting the body’s innate ability to expunge it. When you are feeling emotionally stuck in grief that can mean assisting the body and spirit in processing those certain emotions that may inhibit the ability to let go and move forward. The body always wants to help repair and correct imbalances, but sometimes it gets stuck along the way and needs some assistance. If we don’t address problems at the early stage, then this is where we run the risk of seeing acute conditions turn into stubborn long-term problems. Think about that cold you had that settled into your chest and became a cough that just never seemed to want to go away. This is a time where acupuncture and herbs can be very helpful in restoring balance in the body and facilitating the process of healing. Of course,it is best to address these issues early on before they become chronic and stubborn, but itis never too late for us to seek care for ourselves. Acupuncture can be helpful in bringing balance back to the body, bolstering the immune system, calming the nervous system,and lifting the spirits. Consider making an appointment today to support yourself as we transition through the changing seasons!
Ryan Potvin, L.Ac.
Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist
Rainbow Natural Health Clinic