Autumn, like Spring, is when the weather varies drastically, as the season shifts from one extreme to the other (as in from the hot summer to the cold winter that is to come in the case of Autumn). At least here in Los Angeles, Fall is when we have some drastic temperature and weather changes during the month of September, from rainy drizzles to whippety-windy days and cooler temps to highs of 100 degrees during an Indian Summer. What remains consistent, though, is the wind. It’s windy most days. That’s Fall for you.
We say in Chinese Medicine that Autumn is when the Yang and Heat of the summer is slowly dying and the Yin and Coldness energy begins to grow. This gives rise to the transition of Cold-Dryness and Warm-Dryness (thus the windy days). Fittingly, it is also the season of the Lung System. If you have respiratory issues, it's this season that respiratory issues get more aggravated than others, energetically speaking. When the weather is dry and it's "lung season", people are prone to catching colds and flus. The lungs detest dryness. We should thus eat foods that nourish the Yin. These foods soothe dryness, taste sweet and moist, promote the secretion of body fluid and benefit the lungs, without being greasy or dry.
Some good examples of Fall foods to promote these benefits include: pear, persimmon, banana, sugarcane, lily bulb, white fungus (or bai mu er), and radish. Soups/consommes/broths are also excellent for moistening internal organs. I have started to make miso soup every night to drink for dinner and breakfast. It is lovely to wake up to a nice hot cup of miso soup every morning.
Another good option in lieu of miso soup is a ginger tea with brown sugar and a very popular healthy Chinese drink made with apricot seed powder (locally in Southern California, this powder can be found in 99 Ranch stores). Let’s talk Chinese herbology for a moment here. Although the apricot seed powder is called Hong Kong Style Almond Powder, the “almond” part is actually a mistranslation, and it’s really an apricot seed of the sweet, southern China variety. Apricot seed, or xing ren, is used extensively in Chinese herbology to treat coughs, asthma and constipation. The sweet variety is less bitter and non-toxic and is excellent to treat chronic dry coughs and constipation of the dry kind. Apricot seeds, like other seeds, have oils in them, and thus its capacity to be an emollient to the lungs and a lubricant to the intestines.
In Chinese Medicine, we say that the Lungs and Large Intestine are correlates of one system. The lungs open in the mouth through the throat and ends in the anus through the intestines. Therefore, if one is prone to respiratory issues, in Chinese Medicine, we often say that individual is prone to bowel issues, and vice versa. If you are clogged on one end (i.e., asthma), you have a tendency to get clogged in the other end (i.e., constipation). Therefore, if you treat one organ system, you need to treat the other, and this herb, xing ren, does both! And as I alluded earlier, the Lungs – and thereby the Intestines – detest dryness. The oils of xing ren provide the emollience and moisture the two organ systems require to function optimally, especially during this drying time of year, and into winter when heaters are on full force.
Conversely, if you have a phlegmy cough, xing ren would not be suited for you because it’s too cloying. It would need to be combined with other herbs to break up the phlegm. It is very rare for a single herb to be used to treat a certain condition in Chinese medicine. We often combine multiple herbs to formulate a prescription to offset the toxic, warming or cooling nature inherent in certain herbs. For example, the northern China variety of xing ren would never be prescribed alone because it has some toxicity if taken in large quantities. This northern variety is prescribed only with other herbs to offset this toxic nature while enhancing the cough-reducing, phlegm-busting, bowel-moving nature of this excellent herb with the other herbs.
[As a side note, the same warning against using just one herb applies to the Chinese herb, Ephedra, or ma huang, which became a very popular energy stimulant and weight loss pill in the early 2000s when they removed the active chemical component from the herb. After multiple deaths were confirmed from the usage of this drug, the drug was banned in the United States, along with our profession’s ability to prescribe the drug’s original format, the herb, in our formulations. Ma huang is a potent herb for sure, and it has been in our material medica for literally thousands of years as a highly effective herb for acute onset of respiratory illness, anaphylactic asthma attacks and acute nephritis. Ma huang is excellent at stopping in its tracks an acute asthma attack, chronic asthmatic wheezing, as well as banishing a strong cold infection of high fevers, no perspiration, severe headaches with strong chills, and acute nephritis. The effects of ma huang for these conditions were almost instantaneous. BUT, ma huang was NEVER prescribed alone because of the potent ephedrine alkaloid function to stimulate metabolism. It was ALWAYS combined with other herbs to mitigate the powerful effects of this herb, and almost ALWAYS used for respiratory conditions, never for weight loss or to boost stamina and athletic performance, as was the bastardized usage in a non-medical setting in the United States. It is a real shame that this herb was taken from our professional repertoire because so many asthmatics and highly virulent colds and flus could have continued to be effectively treated with the usage of ma huang in formulations. Herbs are never to be taken casually, and therefore it is extremely important that when getting herbs, you are getting a prescription from a trained herbalist, whether in the Asian medicine tradition like myself or Western herb tradition.]
An exercise that is wonderful at strengthening the Lung system is the classic yoga pose, Warrior pose. Take that pose a step further and make it into an Archer pose where you mimic an archer: take one arm as if to pull the arrow back, curving your fingers into almost like a tiger paw and pulling your elbow as far as it can go, and take the opposite arm to push the bow forward straight from your shoulder. Turn the pushing arm's hand up to a 90 degree angle as if to signal Stop. This will make your inner arm stretch even more. Repeat this with the other arm, so you're pushing and pulling on both arms alternately. Repeat this 10 times on each arm. This dualistic push and pull movement of the two arms forces one to open wide the chest while forcing the core to tighten and steady oneself to balance this expanding movement in the upper torso. The legs are wide open and steadying your stance as well. This is a pretty solid stance and makes one feel quite invincible. And that is how one has to feel during the cold and flu season: invincible from the onslaught of coughs, colds, flus and other respiratory ailments prevalent this time of year. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the Lung and Large Intestine channels run along the arms, and by doing the particular archer movements stimulates both channels in the arms and thereby the organ systems. So not only are you physically expanding and exercising your lungs via the widening of the chest with the arm movements, but the arm movements trigger stimulation in the channels, to make this exercise a deeply strengthening, nourishing and stimulating exercise for both the organ system and channel systems. And the contraction of the core while standing steady stimulate the Spleen, Stomach, Small Intestines and Large Intestines.
As the weather continues to cool, taking regular hot baths is also an excellent preventative for colds and flus, to relieve sinus congestions and infections, improve sleep, maintain a well-running digestive system and, of course, is a great stress buster.
And as I always say, when it's windy, protect your neck, because we say in Chinese Medicine that the Wind is the Carrier of One Hundred Diseases (scroll down the linked blog article on more about Wind), and the neck is most susceptible to wind invading our system and wreaking havoc. Put up your collar, wear a scarf or hoodie, and keep that neck protected.
Last but not least, come in for acupuncture or herbal consultations to keep your body in tip-top shape! Click here to book your appointment conveniently online.
Prevention is the best medicine!