Fall Leaves Behind the Inessential
By Sara Calabro
Friday is the first day of fall.
With the change of weather also comes a change in mindset. In fall, we go back to school; we get focused at work; we set intentions. Our culture has embraced fall as the season of getting down to business, but the mentality stems from something more profound than advertisements for back-to-school sales.
In acupuncture theory, the move from one season to the next is a significant event.
Humans are viewed as microcosms of the natural world that surrounds them, so seasonal changes can greatly influence how we feel. Fall in particular is noteworthy because it signifies the transition from the more active seasons to the more passive.
The palpable sense of refinement that swoops in with the September air is critical in developing acupuncture diagnoses and treatment plans.
Fall Has a Heavy Metal Soundtrack
All seasons have an associated natural element, organ and emotion. Acupuncturists examine these associations to determine whether a patient is appropriately adjusting to a seasonal shift.
Fall is the season of Metal.
We think of metal as a strong substance, very definitive and embodying a great deal of restraint. Similarly, fall is about getting clear on what really matters, letting go of the excesses that we may have allowed ourselves in summer.
“Metal, derived from earth, is a pure substance generated by a process of reduction,” say Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. “Fall is a time for evolution through reduction.”
During the transition into fall, acupuncturists look for healthy expression of Metal-like qualities. Can the person organize her priorities? Is she able to accept her responsibilities and perform them in a disciplined manner? Does she exhibit self-control?
These qualities are important—however, they should not be excessive, as too much Metal is as problematic as too little. Someone who is organized to the point of being rigid, or discerning to the point of being prejudiced, may have exaggerated Metal expression.
It is not uncommon for Metal expression to become exaggerated in fall, as we are predisposed to Metal-esque qualities this time of year.
Take Care of Those Lungs
We also are predisposed to disharmonies of the organ system associated with fall, Lung.
Lung is considered the most exterior organ; it controls the skin and is the first line of defense against external pathogenic factors. As the weather turns cold and the wind picks up, the Lung organ is extremely vulnerable. This is why fall is such a popular time for the onset of respiratory infections and dry skin. Acupuncturists are big on recommending scarves in the fall, as the neck is especially susceptible to invading cold and wind.
From an energetic standpoint, the Lung system has a descending function. Fall—a season of passivity, of coming down from the heightened energy of summer—also has a descending energetic quality. This dual force of downward energy can easily compromise Lung function, leading to such symptoms as cough, shortness of breath, congestion, fatigue, and skin problems.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
The descending quality of fall also is evident in the season’s associated emotion, grief.
Fall is a time of letting go. A tendency toward sadness—a pulling inward as we grieve the separation from the inessential—is normal as the weather dims. It’s the inability to settle into this emotional shift, or transition out of it, that suggests an imbalance.
Looking at emotional health in this way is helpful for determining not only what we need but also what we don’t need. For example, seasonal affective disorder is a common biomedical diagnosis for patients who experience depressed moods in the colder, darker months. Many of these patients are prescribed antidepressants. Although some people are legitimate candidates for medication, a large number are simply experiencing the predisposition to sadness that’s normal during this time of year.
Acupuncture helps make sense of how seasonal changes affect health. Armed with this understanding, people can make better informed decisions about treatment options and remain strong for the imminent onset of winter.
Photo by Sara Calabro