by Andrew Pacholyk MS, L.Ac
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we have a healing methodology called the 5 Phases (Elements).
When Fall is upon us, the air becomes a bit crisper, you can see and smell the changing of the leaves… everything slows down, the days shorten, and harvest is just around the corner.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers practical advice for adjusting to seasonal changes. One of the basic concepts in TCM is the 5 Element Theory of correspondences. Each element has an associated season, emotion, taste, organ…
The Season of Autumn is associated with the element Metal. The emotional aspect is Grief. The predominant taste is Spicy. The associated and most effected organ in Fall are the Lungs and Large Intestine and the most common external element is Dryness.
The Seasons, Stress, and Colds and Flu
Seasonal change, like any change, can cause stress. The main cause of stress in TCM is Wind. Wind is said to be the “agent of 10,000 diseases,” (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine). Wind is understood to be not just the movement of air, but also, any sudden change. TCM has known for thousands of years that stress can cause sickness, and modern research has certainly proved this.
To combat stress, stay in a routine. To avoid colds and flu, keep your immune system up, cover your neck whenever outdoors and stay out of drafts. Wash your hands frequently, eat a balanced diet, get good quality sleep and exercise three times a week.
The Lungs and Large Intestine
In Chinese Medicine, the lungs are an organ system that opens directly to the exterior. It’s function is to regulate and control the breath through inhalation and exhalation. Because of its opening through the nose, the lungs are easily susceptible to cold, heat, dryness, dampness, and most of all, heat and wind. This can effect the biggest organ of the body; the skin. The lung is closely related to the large intestine. The large intestine controls the transformation of digestive wastes from liquid to solid state and transports the solids onwards and outwards. It plays a major role in the balance and purity of bodily fluids and assists the lungs in controlling the skin’s pores and perspiration. It depends on the lungs for movement via the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm, which works like a pump to give impetus to peristalsis by regulating abdominal pressure.
The Solar Plexus Chakra is located below the diaphragm separating the lungs and the large intestine. This energy center is located at greatest nerve ganglia system in our bodies. This center allows for the communication between the upper and lower parts of the body and is connected to almost all the organs. The solar plexus is often where we consider our “gut” feeling to come from. This is also where the connection between the three lower Chakra interchange with the four higher Chakra energy centers.
The Metal Element
The element, Metal is associated with the Fall season and with dryness.
The element is associated with the lungs and large intestines and related to the skin and the nose.
Metal represents our mental activity such as intellect and the ability to reason, memory, thoughts, knowledge and comprehension. Metal governs organization, order, communication, the mind, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. It also rules new beginnings, friendship, clarity, and positive expression. The Metal personality is very good at making decisions and carrying them through.
Emotionally, this element is associated sadness, as metal, like the season itself, represents a withdrawal from life. Reverence is sadness without the loss. This is what makes people cry when they are moved by an experience. A lack of reverence in your life is equivalent to the lack of nourishment from everyday things. The appreciation of each moment in the present, is the virtue of this element in balance.
The Metal element is associated with feng shui and Chinese medicine. The character of metal is “sharp, retracting, polised and finishing.” People with the metal element in their personalities can be well-organized, have strong boundaries, are methodical, principle-oriented, analytical, and are very orderly. Emotionally, metal personalities can appear cold, distant or uninterested. They tend to favor intellect and reason over emotion. Metal out of balance, tends towards worries about the future.
Physically, metal out of balance can manifest as asthma, allergies, colds or flu, constipation, diarrhea or ibs.
The Air Element
The Air signs possess the virtue of knowledge. This does not mean they are more intelligent than anyone else but are generally well rounded and informed. They are good communicators. Most have a good grasp of the language and generally know a little something about everything. They have good personalities and are easy to get to know. Air represents our mental activity such as intellect and the ability to reason, memory, thoughts, knowledge and comprehension. It also rules new beginnings, friendship, clarity, and positive expression. The Air personality is very good at making decisions and carrying them through.
The Air signs are what the philosophers called seers or priests. These are mentally inclined people. They actively acquire knowledge through experience, education and association. In ancient times, the only educated people were priests, royalty or those who took it upon themselves to acquire knowledge (seers).
The Air Signs of the zodiac are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius and they are the possessors of the virtue of knowledge. They are curious, have initiative, are original, generally are well disciplined and are quick thinkers. The Air signs have a mental nature and are keen witted. They rationalize by thinking things out rather than being influenced by emotional or physical factors.
They enjoy any type of entertainment where they can use their intellectual capacity and their ability to think quickly and accurately often gives them the upper hand. The emotional nature of the Air signs is directed toward self-appraisal. These people have a tendency to judge themselves very harshly.
They have certain standards they set for themselves such as hygiene, the way they dress, education, job performance and family. The Air signs are almost as ego-oriented as the Fire signs. Air signs resort to trickery. These people are crafty, under handed and ingenious when it comes to evil.
They are also prone to physical violence. Whereas the Fire signs’ anger is generally of the moment and soon after forgotten, the Air signs at their worst are mean. They carry a grudge, and like Fire signs, they are quick to express their opinion and are very opinionated. Aquarius and Libra are not as violent as Gemini. Gemini and mind altering drugs such as alcohol just does not mix. The Air signs will not hesitate one moment to express their anger verbally, but physical violence is not a first choice during that anger (the exception being Gemini who will act in an instant).
Air represents the Breath of life! It is an exchange of electrons or flow of energy. Air is the primary nutrient. Survival without it is measured in minutes. It is so important that you do it without thinking. Your breathing is the voice of your spirit. It’s depth, smoothness, sound, and rate reflect your mood. The cosmic breath, the Hindus speak of called prana is also the energetic life force the Chinese refer to as Qi energy.
Air can be a common theme when we dream. It can indicate ideas such as intelligence, being caught up in a whirlwind, tornado or hurricane of confusion or distraction. It can relate to the sacred breath or dreams about flying. You can find out more about air in Andrew’s Dream Dictionary.
The gift of Air is flexibility, and their ability to experience life through many prisms. They’re often excellent communicators, storytellers, interpreters and journalists. They link people together socially, and often have a curiosity that keeps them out and about.
Dryness is a common problem in Autumn. Dryness can manifest as constipation, dry throat, dry skin, dry eyes, dry brittle hair, thirst, and lack of sweat. Most people do not drink enough fluids regularly, let alone in the Autumn. Spicy food can cause or worsen dryness. Be careful not to get stuck in the vicious cycle of craving the same food that makes your symptoms worse!
Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. Though we often expect to grieve the death of a family member or friend, many other significant losses can also trigger grief.
*The end of a relationship
*A move to a new community
*A much-anticipated opportunity or life goal is suddenly closed to us
*The death of a pet
Someone we love contracts a potentially life-threatening illness Grieving such losses is important because it allows us to ‘free-up’ energy that is bound to the lost person, object, or experience –so that we might re-invest that energy elsewhere. Until we grieve effectively we are likely to find reinvesting difficult; a part of us remains tied to the past. Grieving is not forgetting. Nor is it drowning in tears. Healthy grieving results in an ability to remember the importance of our loss — but with a new-found sense of peace, rather than searing pain.
No two people are likely to experience grief in the same way. The way we think and feel, the way our body functions, and the way we interact with others may all be affected. Some of the more common experiences include:
*Anger — at those responsible, at the deceased, at ourselves, at
God, at any handy target
*Guilt — “If only I had done . . .”
*Loss of appetite
*Withdrawal from others
*Intense sadness or tears when a memory is triggered
*Loneliness, or a sense of separateness from others
*Loss of life’s meaning
Sometimes our reactions are so changeable, intense, or irrational that we fear we may be going crazy. Often grieving people are afraid to confront their grief for fear that if they open the door they will be drowned in a flood of tears or rage. Though this is very unlikely, allowing others to help us in our grieving is good ‘insurance’ that we will keep our balance. No matter what our intense experiences of grief may be they are temporary. There IS life after grief — if we acknowledge and work through our reactions, rather than trying to stop them.
Fortunately, much of the process of healthy grieving seems to be ‘built into’ our genes. Acknowledging and growing from losses is such a natural process that much of it will happen without our direction — if we relax our expectations of how we “should” grieve and give up some of our need to be in control. But healthy grieving is an active process; it is NOT true that, “You just need to give it time.” One way of understanding the work to be done is to think of grieving as a series of tasks we need to complete (not necessarily in sequence):
*To accept the finality of the loss;
*To acknowledge and express the full range of feelings we experience
as a result of the loss;
*To adjust to a life in which the lost person, object, or experience
*To ‘say good-bye,’ to ritualize our movement to a new peace with the
loss. Good friends, family members, or a personal counselor can all
be helpful in doing this vital work. You can also do a good deal to
Active, healthy grieving requires balance — balancing the time you spend directly working on your grief with the time you spend coping with your day-to-day life; balancing the amount of time you spend with others with the time you spend along; balancing seeking help from others with caring for yourself.
Focusing too strongly on any single side of these pairings is getting off-track. Here are some things others have found useful in their healthy grieving. Choose the ones that fit for you, or make up your own methods of self-care. Remember that grieving is an active process, it takes energy that will likely have to be temporarily withdrawn from the usual pursuits of your life. Treat yourself with the same care, tolerance, and affection you would extend to a valued friend in a similar situation.
*Go gently, take whatever time it needs, rather than giving yourself a deadline for when you should be “over it”;
*Expect and accept some reduction in your usual efficiency and consistency;
*Try to avoid taking on new responsibilities or making major life decisions for a time;
*Talk regularly about your grief and your memories with someone you trust;
*Accept help and support when offered;
*Be particularly attentive to maintaining healthy eating and sleeping patterns;
*Exercise moderately and regularly;
*Keep a journal;
*Read — there are many helpful books on grief; some are listed
below. If grief is understood it is easier to handle;
*Plan, and allow yourself to enjoy without guilt, some GOOD TIMES.
*The goal is balance, not martyrdom;
*Carry or wear a linking object — a keepsake that symbolically reminds you of your loss.
*Anticipate the time in the future when you no longer need to carry this reminder and gently let it go;
*Tell those around you what helps you and what doesn’t. Most people would like to help if they knew how;
*Take warm, leisurely baths;
*See a grief counselor;
*Get a massage regularly;
*Set aside a specific private time daily to remember and experience whatever feelings arise with the memories;
*Choose your entertainment carefully — some movies, TV shows, or books can only over-intensify already strong feelings;
*Join a support group — there are hundreds of such groups and people have a wonderful capacity to help each other;
*Plan for ‘special days’ such as holidays or anniversaries. Feelings can be particularly intense at these times;
*Take a yoga class;
*Connect on the Internet. There are many resources for people in grief, as well as opportunities to chat with fellow grievers;
*Vent your anger in healthy ways, rather than holding it in. A brisk walk or a game of tennis can help;
*Speak to a member of the clergy;
*Plant yourself in nature;
*Do something to help someone else;
*Write down your lessons. Healthy grieving will have much to teach you.
Grief and Nostalgia
With Fall comes “gathering in, stocking up, mingled with a sense of loss as the light begins to fade and the air chills,” (Between Heaven and Earth, p.205). Grief is, of course, quite natural and appropriate in many situations. But excessive and/or long-term grief can harm the Lung system (a group of correspondences including but not limited to the actual biomedical lungs), and likewise, people with Metal or Lung problems can be frequent grievers, criers. And let’s not forget that more positive form of grief… nostalgia, tends to occur more in the ‘Fall’ of our lives.
Strengthening the immune system should be a part of any seasonal ritual! Any tonic formula that strengthens the lungs, nourishes the Qi and moistens the skin is appropriate. Remember, the best form of medicine, is preventative.