Autumn Wellness: Balancing Metal

The leaves are falling from the trees and the weather is cooling. The active summer vibes are transitioning into modes of relaxation and some species of animals are beginning preparation for hibernation. It’s the season of Autumn!

Like the macrocosm of Earth, the body is capable of sustaining itself through the carrying out of various cycles and activities that operate in an interconnected flow, vitalized by what is referred to as “qi” or “chi”. This is the energy that flows through and connects all forms of life as the animating force that ignites us beyond pure mechanical functioning and bodily existence. Within this cyclical system are five elements; metal being the element associated with Autumn.

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The Fall is a natural time for slowing down, enjoying the harvest of what we’ve sown the previous year and planning to store the abundance of what we’ve gathered for the coming winter; so does Traditional Chinese Medicine recognize metal as an element of structure and organization. When molded to do so, it can act as strong foundation for connecting pathways as well as a collector of liquid (water). It symbolizes themes of purity and making space for rest before the cultivation time arrives again. This process is best represented in our bodies in the lungs and large intestines.

The lungs are considered the yin of two metal-related organs as it is receptive in nature. The crisp dry air of the season is easier for taking in. It’s important that we use this time to truly catch our breath as we recover from the high activity of the summer months. And, just as the falling leaves nourish the soil for future growth, so does the lungs work to oxygenate and nourish our cells. Beyond the organs themselves, the energy of the lungs travels from the large intestine, diaphragm and lungs, into the armpit, down the inner arm into the radial part of the hand, to the tip of the thumb and through the index finger. Dysfunctions and blockages of this channel may manifest as arm, elbow or thumb pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and other symptoms. Emotions associated with the lungs include grief and sadness which is why taking a deep breath is more challenging when we experience feelings of loss. On the other hand, healthy lung energy allows for clarity in thought and open communication.

The large intestine are considered the yang of the metal-related organs as it operates to eliminate. Just as harvesting clears space for future growth, so must our bowels clear space for the nourishment that is to come. The energy meridian for the colon travels from the tip of the index finger, through the inside of the thumb, up the outer arm to the highest point of the front of the shoulder. It then branches off in the lower gums to opposite side the nose as well as two the lungs and diaphragm. Dysfunctions of this channel include constipation, abdominal pain and cramping, toothaches and even nosebleeds. Sadness is, also, associated with the large intestine as well as worry and trouble letting go of the past. However, an ability to digest experiences well and letting shit go (both, figuratively and literally) when it is no longer serves are signs of a healthy LI.

Photo by Joshua Abner from Pexels

If you suspect that your metal element may need some balancing or you’d just like to sustain your metal health throughout the fall season, here are some practices that have worked for me:

  1. Spend time in nature and breath deeply often – this is especially important in our current heavy mask-wearing society.
  2. Stay hydrated in response to the dryer climate.
  3. Drink warmer beverages and eat foods with ingredients like apples, cinnamon, cardamom, sweet potatoes, garlic and almonds.
  4. Practice yoga poses that include twists and open the chest like child’s pose, camel pose, reclining twist and wall plank.
  5. Create your own rituals for letting go of things you may be holding to.
  6. Manage your time in a way that allows you to slow down and enjoy a healthy balance of work, play and relaxation.

May your Autumn season be full of peace, balance and abundance.

Ashe’.

Traditional Chinese Medicine at a Glance

Thousands of years ago, Chinese medicine practitioners had enough insight to develop the understanding we could not simply be composed of flesh and bone alone. Instead, they regarded the human body as a microcosm of Universe and, therefore, the state of our overall health and well-being is subjected to same Universal laws with harmony and balance being the ultimate goal.

Like the macrocosm of existence, the body is capable of sustaining itself through the carrying out of various cycles and activities that operate in an interconnected flow, vitalized by what is referred to as “qi” or “chi”. This is the energy that flows through and connects all forms of life as the animating force that ignites us beyond pure mechanical functioning and bodily existence.

Over time, it came to be understood that this life force energy flows in specific patterns called channels of meridians, each making their way through certain body parts and organ systems. When these pathways are obstructed due to injury, illness or stress, we face associated physiological and psychological ailments. When blocked for long periods, these issues are considered chronic. It is believed that working through these blockages via “alternative” therapies and practices, such as acupuncture, herbalism, massage and yoga, can help the flow of our energy to run smoothly and bring us back into balance.

The concept of balance in Traditional Chinese Medicine stems from Taoism. This ancient philosophy is founded on the principle that the Universe operates in an inherent flow and in order for one to live a whole and effortless life, they must live in the Tao, or The Way. The Tao, however, is just as indescribable as the complexity of Universe itself and, therefore, is physical as well as non-physical – much like the mind-body. In each case exists dual complimentary forces visible throughout nature. These forces are called yin and yang. Yin describes more feminine qualities (cold, receptive, dark) whereas yang describes more masculine qualities (heat, forceful, light).

TCM also acknowledges that there are five fundamental elements of nature that interact with each other within the principle of yin and yang and categorize our organs, systems and structures. The elements are fire, wood, earth, water and metal. Fire represents our physical warmth , creativity and feelings such as passion and happiness; associated with the small intestines and heart organ. Wood represents our ability to regenerate and restore as well as feelings of anger or contentment; associated with the liver and gallbladder organs. Earth is regarded as the measure of our connected-ness and ability to receive and digest; associated with the stomach and spleen organ and feelings of compassion . Water represents stillness and the physical moisture necessary to lubricate our systems for proper functioning; associated with the kidneys and bladder organs and feelings of fear. Metal represents the minerals we produce and need for structure; associated with the lungs and large intestine (air element in Western culture).

In a generative (yin) cycle, Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth, Earth bears Metal, Metal collects Water, and Water nourishes Wood. In a degenerative (yang) relationship, one element is being destroyed by another: Wood penetrates Earth, Earth absorbs Water, Water puts out Fire, Fire melts Metal, and Metal chops Wood.

It’s important not to perceive one process as good or bad as both construction and destruction serve the overall purpose of harmony in health and in nature. For instance, destruction is necessary in order for the food to be broken down for digestion and nourishment. Rather, it is best to avoid overwhelming extremes for excessive periods of time. Imbalance can be caused in the case of overproduction as well. For example, the overproduction of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is responsible for the condition known as Gigantism, a disorder of excessive growth during childhood that lead to a variety of other health issues.

In conclusion, TCM focuses on the maintenance of the flow of vital life force energy in the body, mind and in connection with all living beings. Surrender and accordance with natural cycles will allow for an effortless balance resulting in overall harmony and satisfaction. The approach is prevention of disease and disorder opposed to only treatment of symptoms. A complete path to wholeness.