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The Meaning of Fall in Chinese Medicine


The lovely shoulder season known as fall is here. The time of transition. Yang is at its peak in the middle of summer, while yin is at its peak in the middle of winter. As time keeps on moving, seasons keep on changing, and our bodies keep on adapting. Autumn is a special time where the yang transitions to yin. In a women’s menstrual cycle, it is the equivalent of the time between ovulation and menstruation; again, when yang transfers to yin.

While there can be difficulties we face in times of transitions, there is plenty of beauty to be found. In Chinese medicine, the lungs and the large intestine are the yin yang pair that are associated with fall.

The lungs are the only organ in the body that directly interacts with the external environment. The lungs breathe in fresh air, and exhale what is not needed. The large intestine is also in charge of discarding waste. The emotion that is associated is grief, the process of letting go.

When the lungs and large intestine are out of balance, they are susceptible to pathology. This can look very different for different people. Some manifestations could be asthma, shortness of breath, feeling overly weepy or saddened, constipation, or emotionally stuck.

These examples are symptoms of systems being challenged by the transformations naturally occurring in nature, and naturally occurring in our bodies. A once supple summer time leaf becomes crisp and fragile in the fall. This does not mean the leaf is diseased. The plant knows winter is coming, and soon, the leaf will turn a beautiful vibrant color just before it dies and falls. Without this process, a new leaf would never have the chance to grow when it becomes time for Spring. The cycle would be altered, and a disharmony would arise in future seasons.

No matter how hard we may try to escape inevitable changes, there is no denying how our bodies mimic nature. There should be no shame or judgment in the fact that seasonal depression runs rampant this time of year in parts of the world that experience big seasonal shifts. We are collectively mourning the loss of summer. Since living in a pandemic world, it makes perfect sense that the natural collective grief is heightened this year.

To stay in balance during these times of transition, traditional Chinese medicine welcomes you to embrace the grief. Allow it to come up however it may for you. Welcome it in, sit down and have tea with it. Ask it what it is sad for? Is the grief something personal you are going through? Is it something you may have gone through years ago, that you are now ready to look at? Are you feeling grief for the collective? Grief that may not even be yours?

While grief may be invisible, I encourage you to observe nature. Observe the beauty of the leaves changing, and be excited for its existence rather than weep its mortality.

How to support yourself in the transition of fall:

  • Get acupuncture to help support your body's vitality. In vitality, our body innately gravitates towards homeostasis, a state of harmony and equilibrium. If there is an imbalance, times of transitions can cause a feeling of stuckness, which acupuncture gently and effectively helps treat.

  • Wear scarfs. Go out for long bundled walks in nature, and make sure your throat and neck are covered. We are susceptible to invasions of cold during this time of year, which enters through the nape of the neck. Protect your body against external pathogens by wearing a scarf.

  • Drink warm fluids. There is a legitimate reason why pumpkin spice lattes are trending right now. Tasty fall spices like cardamom and cinnamon are warming herbs. They help the internal body adapt to the external cold. Staying away from cold fluids and foods (like iced teas and salads) will be doing your digestion a service. Instead, incorporate warm soups and seasonal fall vegetables like squash, carrots and pumpkins.

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