Fall signals the change from summer to winter. Long summer days finally cool and leaves offer vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds before they fall from the trees. It’s the time when we go from the relaxed, carefree attitudes of summer to the more serious and introspective energies of fall.
In the five elements theory of Eastern medicine, fall represents metal. You can think of that in terms of the qualities of this element. It is rigid and refined. This season governs organization, setting limits, and protecting boundaries.
In fall, we move from the external expansive nature of summer to the internal contractive energies of autumn. It’s a good idea to finish up any projects you started in spring or summer and enjoy the results of all your hard work. It’s also a good time to begin projects that focus on the internal, cultivating body and mind.
Fall, the Lungs and Grief
In Eastern medicine, every season has an organ and emotion associated with it. Fall is the lungs and grief. The energy of the lungs is “letting go,” so fall is a good time to be mindful of anything we may be hanging on to so we can make room for new experiences. The lungs are associated with clear thinking and communication, openness to new ideas, positive self-image, and the ability to relax, let go, and be happy.
When the lungs are out of balance, or you’re dealing with excess grief, you will have difficulty dealing with loss and change. You may feel a sense of alienation and experience a sense of sadness that doesn’t improve.
The lungs represent our sense of attachment, so if you have a hard time letting go of people, places, or experiences or spend a lot of time reliving the past, this can point to a deficiency of the lungs.
Eastern medicine talks about qi, which is an energy created through the air you breathe and food you eat. It can be weak, or strong, and is affected by several factors.
If the energy or qi of the lungs is weak, you may experience an overwhelming, constant state of grief that doesn’t ease. If prolonged, this deficiency can lead to depression and other health issues.
By contrast, grief that’s expressed fully is strengthening both physically and psychologically. Therefore, it’s not avoiding grief, but rather dealing with it in a healthy way that’s the key to being happy and balanced in all aspects of life.
Take in the New, Let Go of the Old
The lung has a partner organ, and that is the large intestine, and they work in tandem to keep the body healthy.
The lungs are responsible for taking in the new. This manifests physically as breathing in the clean crisp fall air, filling us with the oxygen we need to think clearly and allow our bodies to function optimally. The large intestine is responsible for letting go of the waste. It is the last stage of digestion and takes everything the body doesn’t need and releases it, only keeping what’s vital for us to function.
Emotionally, this is why fall is a good time to look at things we might be hanging on to and working through them so we can let them go for good. Elimination problems like constipation often point to problems with letting go in some form or another, and lung problems can also be due to grief lingering inside the body and psyche.
How can we work at letting go this fall? Here are some ideas to help you start letting go of what’s no longer serving you so you can make space.
Clean, Reorganize, and Donate
The best time to strengthen the lungs is in the fall when the lung’s energy is at its peak. Fall is the perfect time to take stock of things in your life, organize, and let go of anything you no longer need. This is a good practice in the physical world as well as the emotional one.
Go through your closet and take out all the old clothes you haven’t worn in ages and donate them to a local charity so they can be new for someone else.
Clean out your computer, deleting anything you no longer need. If your computer is anything like mine, this should take a while, but feels great and makes space.
Organize your cupboards and rearrange your furniture.
All of these activities can be incredibly liberating and are in harmony with the fall season and strengthen the lungs’ function of letting go.
In Eastern philosophy, to have optimum health, we must learn about the nature of each season and live in harmony with its spirit. If we’re living in harmony with the world around us, we see that in the fall, nature is slowing down, contracting, and preparing to rest.
It’s good for us to do the same.
Sleeping a little longer, eating warming, nourishing foods, and moving inward, paying a little more attention to our internal lives—these are good practices at this time of year. Because the metal element within each of us gives us our sense of self-worth, this is the season to give ourselves some extra attention and self-love. Instead of seeking value outside—like chasing status, money, or accomplishment—we can work to be content inside and know that we have (and always have had) everything we will ever need to be happy, healthy beings.
Emma Suttie is an acupuncture physician and founder of Chinese Medicine Living—a website dedicated to writing about how to use traditional wisdom to live a healthy lifestyle in the modern world. She has lived and practiced in 4 countries and now works through her consulting practice Thrive Consulting. She is a lover of martial arts, the natural world, and a good cup of tea.