The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting a little chillier, but it’s not yet bitter cold. It’s quieter outside, you’re spending more time indoors. Meanwhile, the colors around you are turning warmer, and from one day to the next, a carpet of leaves is on the ground, in hues of caramel brown, pumpkin orange, rust red, copper and gold. It’s perhaps appropriate that some of these names are metallic in nature.
Indeed, fall is not only the season of letting go, but in Chinese medicine, it’s the season of metal.
The Five Seasons
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a holistic practice that emphasizes the symbiotic role of humans within nature, places great importance on the seasons and on their effect on the body and mind.
In TCM there aren’t just four seasons, but five (the fifth being late summer). And within Chinese medicine, each season then corresponds to an element. These elements, however, play into much more than the weather: they affect your Qi (your body’s vital energy), your body, and your mind.
The Five Elements
Those who are more familiar with TCM might recognize the Five Elements Theory. This theory relates all natural phenomena and behaviours (including that of your own body) into one of five elemental patterns. Wood, connected to spring; fire, connected to summer; earth, connected to late summer; metal, connected to fall; and water, connected to winter.
The elements, the seasons, our bodily functions, and the actions we take all have an effect on one another. When it comes to the time of year, though, each element can give clues on how to properly care for yourself—even how to prepare yourself for the next season.
So, let’s take a look at metal and what it means.
Metal and Fall
Metal (or 金) is associated with fall, with letting go, with grief, and with courage. It’s connected to the color white (a color of both innocence and death in China) as well as to old age, dry weather, and to the west—the direction of the setting sun.
Metal is structured, strong, but also yielding (as it can be molded). To Western audiences, it’s also sometimes compared to the element of air, because of its similar ties to purity, simplicity, organization—and interestingly, breath.
The Lungs and the Large Intestine
During a season in which more people catch a cold, it may come as no surprise that metal is associated with the lungs, and consequently with their gateway: the nose. When you step outside and take a breath of crisp air in a golden fall afternoon, that’s thanks to your lungs and nose, bringing your body what it needs.
The second meridian connected to metal and fall is the large intestine. This is what cleanses the body, expelling what it no longer needs, while retaining and reusing what it does.
It’s important to foster balance in our lung and large intestine meridians, as well as with the element of metal. Imbalance could then lead to allergies, asthma, wheezing, colds, coughing, skin rashes, eczema, diarrhea, or constipation.
Metal, Fall, and Your Mind
Fall is almost universally seen as a period of letting go, of slowing down. This is when the animal kingdom prepares for hibernation, when plants stop growing and shed their leaves. Metal and fall, after all, are associated with old age, with grief—but with courage, too.
Fall is consequently a good time to allow oneself to be open to change. It’s a good time to detox, to rethink situations, to move, and to clean out closets. Autumn is a season to let go of what no longer serves us, just like leaves off a tree.
Of course, metal is also an element of strength and structure. This is also an ideal time to communicate and enforce boundaries (indeed, perhaps with what no longer serves us). It also provides an opportunity to get things in order to prepare for the winter months ahead.
A healthy balance of metal allows for inspiration, for healthy boundaries, for organization. Too much or too little of it, though, can lead to inflexibility, grief, or sadness.
To counteract the rigidity of metal, it is important to be more yielding in this time, to allow oneself to be supported, and to be open to endings—in order to then welcome new beginnings.
What Should You Eat?
Fall is the season of harvests, and is often filled with festivals to celebrate this. We reap the food we’ve grown to enjoy it with our community, but also to prepare us for the winter months. This, in turn, also allows us to make way for new crops planted in the new year.
Autumn indeed has strong associations with food, and paying attention to what you eat is a good way to nourish your body, support your immune system, and prepare for the coming winter months.
Since metal and fall are associated with dryness, dampness is to be avoided. An excess of raw or cold foods as well as some dairy can throw this off balance, increase the phlegm stored in the lungs, and lead to breathing difficulties.
Instead, it’s better to eat pungent foods, like garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish, vinegars, fermented foods (including yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh), and mustard, which help the lungs. Another idea is to eat food that is associated with the color white, like onions, turnips, parsnips, cauliflower, egg whites, apples, potatoes and pears.
We also recommend foods like cooked vegetables, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, olives, adzuki beans, navy beans, walnuts, chestnuts, lemons and limes, spices (bay leaves, black pepper, chili, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, rosemary), and dark, leafy winter greens (like kale, chard, mustard greens, etc.). And, don’t forget warming soups and stews!
How Can You Improve Your Health During Fall?
Here are some additional steps you can take to care for yourself during fall:
- Bundling up and wearing a scarf: this helps protect your lung meridian and fends off colds and coughs;
- Drinking plenty of water: this counteracts the dryness in the air and helps flush things out;
- Detoxing or a light fast: done carefully and in moderation, this can also help do the same;
- Practicing letting go: this helps detox on an emotional level and keeps grief and sadness from stagnating;
- Organizing: you can work on your habits, or your space, your belongings. This is a good way to harness metal’s structural benefits and to prepare yourself for winter.
- Setting boundaries and communicating with others: this also takes advantage of the framework of metal and allows to reset things for winter;
- Giving: additionally, this can be a great way to motivate decluttering or letting go of what you no longer need
- Breathing exercises: this is a wonderful way to improve your lung health in this time, as well as to still the mind and to reduce stress. There are many resources, but we recommend diaphragmatic breathing or Qigong;
- Keep exercising: this helps keep the Qi flowing and keep your immune system high;
- Learn more about how to care for yourself as the weather gets colder. You can learn more about TCM and cold and flu season here.
Acupuncture Benefits in the Fall
Of course, acupuncture is also a great way to balance out the metal element in your body, and promote healthy Qi flow between your lungs and large intestine. It can also help you embrace fall, and prepare yourself for winter. This in turn can help you have a peaceful season and then reap a delightful spring and summer!
Interested in acupuncture and Chinese Medicine? You can schedule a healing treatment at Wellnest Acupuncture + Holistic Medicine. We will create a custom treatment plan including: acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and dietary recommendations to help balance your hormones, decrease stress, strengthen your immune system, and much more!