Preparing for Fall
Who doesn’t love summer? Our clothes becomes lighter, our activities become more robust, and we spend significantly more time outside enjoying a time of year when freedom seems to be the operative term. Then that first cold snap hits and we immediately are forced to consider the impending change. Autumn begins to knock on the door and we begin to fear the possibility of facing another flu season.
For millennia, humans operated under the belief that winter was a time to do less, to conserve. We actively prepared for the season where we could be inactive, a sort of hibernation. Autumn was that time to organize all we had done throughout the summer to prepare for a time when resources would be scarce. Unfortunately, autumn was also a time when illness would find its way into our bodies, in particular, our respiratory tracts and lungs. Many believe that the sudden change in climate caught our respiratory systems off guard and we became ill.
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), we look less at the immediate influences and more at those effects which have been insulting our systems over the longer term. In the case of the changing of summer into fall we see the causative influence of the flu season frequently as the insulting of the lungs by the excessive heat of the late summer. Our lungs, in TCM theory, control our wei qi which is a sort of defensive barrier helping to keep pathogenic factors at bay, similar to our immune system. Like a defensive wall around a castle, the wei qi provides a barrier holding out invaders. The heat of the summer, over time, deteriorates the wall and when we continue to operate during these more acutely cold days as we did during the warmer ones our wall is pushed to the point that it becomes compromised and a pathogen is eventually able to breech it. Subsequently, we become sick.
TCM practitioners understand that Fall is the time of the metal element which involves heavily the processes of absorption and elimination. Very much like a village must harvest its fields to collect and store the yield, we must also prepare ourselves for the upcoming winter by absorbing certain energies and rid ourselves of any excess. These processes rely heavily on a properly functioning lung and large intestine system. These organs are representative of the metal element and govern the actions we exhibit during the fall. In order to best support these organs in their preparatory endeavors we can choose to eat more warm, seasonal foods like squash, rice, and Brussels sprouts. We should also avoid cold and raw foods as they will serve to hinder the function of the organs involved in helping us prepare for winter. One less obvious suggestion would be to also practice conscious breathing exercises often. These exercises will help tonify our lungs and better assist them in their protective function and keep at bay those pathogens which wait outside the wall.
This all being said, fall is not a time to hide. It is a time of introspection according to the tenets of TCM, where we need to shed our resentments and any emotional baggage in much the same way a tree sheds its leaves to prepare for the winter. In preparation for Fall we can still enjoy those leaves as they change colors, assure that you also wear a scarf, breathe deeply, and enjoy some soup.