Although it might be hard to imagine with the somewhat above average temperatures around San Francisco over the last few weekends, given that the autumnal equinox took place on September 22nd, autumn has officially arrived.

Over the coming weeks we’ll start to notice a slight chill in the air; the days will get shorter; and before we know it, we will be turning the clocks back and the summer will be over for another year.  Traditionally autumn marked the season of the harvest – when we would reap what was planted in the spring and preserve it for the colder winter months that lay ahead.

In our childhood autumn often meant us and playing among the piles of fallen leaves at the park or in the garden as the leaves fall and change color all around.  As adults we notice the cooler, drier air; we may find ourselves a little more serious and less relaxed and carefree than in the summer months; and we might even experience more clarity of vision – both externally as well as internally.

The autumn months are about slowing down the momentum of growth – it’s a time for our bodies to harvest and gather energy for the colder months ahead. During this time you might feel inclined to de-clutter, to set extra ‘fuel’ aside to ensure you are both physically and emotionally prepared for the colder, darker months ahead.

Autumn marks the beginning of the yin cycle when the daylight lasts less than 12 hours. The yang of summer surrenders itself to the growing yin energy of the approaching winter. After summer, autumn is a time to clear overactive yang from the body in the form of rest and more quiet time, and then as the temperatures drop, the time will come to start warming the body against extremes.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the summer is ruled by the Fire element while the autumn is associated with the element of Metal – governing organization, order, communication, the mind, setting limits, and protecting boundaries.

In nature we can see the plant kingdom transforming before our very eyes as nutrients move from the leaves deep down into the roots of the trees causing the leaves to turn from orange to brown, and eventually fall away. As the leaves change color and drop, the old ‘dead’ leaves go back to the earth, enriching it to promote the harvest of the year ahead.

In autumn we learn more about ourselves, perhaps more than in any other season. It’s a time to turn inward, a ‘falling away’ of outer directed energy. Autumn moves us to get rid of what we no longer need and reminds us of what is most precious in our lives.

The transition from summer to autumn is a time when our Qi is most unstable. If you are susceptible to “rebellious Qi” (respiratory infection; colds, sinuses, hay fever etc), it’s possible for certain acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbs to strengthen your Qi and your immune system before the onset of winter.

In Chinese Medicine, the lung and the colon are the internal organs related the Metal element and to autumn. The lungs are very closely associated with the immune system and control the circulation of the Wei-Qi (the protective Qi) which is the defensive Qi that protects the body from external attacks by viruses like colds and flu. A weakness in the lungs can lead to a weakness in the Wei-Qi, making you prone to frequent colds.

One of the best ways to strengthen the lungs is to breathe deeply. It sounds simple but most of us don’t breathe so deeply and this can also affect things like our memory, energy level and immune system.
So go for a walk outside, soak up the beautiful autumn colors and breathe in the cool air. Doing this will strengthen your lungs while also helping you achieve mental clarity and emotional tranquility. In classical Chinese medicine, the lung is described as “the receiver of the pure Qi from the Heavens”.  When the lung (Metal) energy is out of balance the body begins to stiffen up. That’s when we can become more prone to infection. Our susceptibility to allergies is more amplified and asthma and chest heaviness can appear.

The colon is the second organ in the Metal element and is responsible for eliminating what is unnecessary and toxic from our bodies. However in addition to physical garbage, we also need to eliminate mental and spiritual rubbish.

Autumn is the perfect time to take stock of all things in your life. Let go of the old, make room for the new; donate old clothes to charity; clean out your computer deleting anything you no longer need.

What you eat also greatly affects the health of your lungs. During autumn, eat less cooling foods (like salads and raw foods). Heartier soups and stews are better at this time of the year. You should also try to include more sweet potato, cabbage, pears, walnuts, rice, cinnamon, leeks, beans, asparagus, broccoli, greens, apples, plums, grapes as well as moderate amounts of pungent foods like garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish and mustard into your diet as they are also beneficial to the lungs.

You might want to consider doing a gentle cleanse by fasting to give your body time to eliminate toxins. Don’t fast for too long, but rather eat healthy fruits and vegetables. Also remember to drink plenty of water. As autumn is associated with dryness, it’s important to hydrate. Water will promote healthier bowel movements.

The lung and the colon work hand in hand – one taking in the pure, the other eliminating waste. But if waste keeps building up and we can’t take in purity (when our Metal energy is out of balance), we are more likely to feel stubborn, depressed, isolated and unfulfilled – feelings commonly associated with autumn and winter.

Sleep is another important aspect of staying healthy in autumn. However, if you can’t find enough hours for more sleep, at least try to make time for stretching, meditation and relaxation. Traditional Chinese Medicine says that this is the time of the year when the spirit is more accessible so just take a few minutes to do nothing at all.

Close your eyes, breathe and just be present feeling your chest and belly. Breathing exercises (which naturally strengthen the lungs) increase energy, still the mind, and lift the spirits. It’s time to build up your immune system for Winter!