In Chinese medicine, every organ system is associated with an element, emotion and season. Fall is associated with the metal element, the lungs and grief/loss. As we transition from the external, expansive nature of summer to the internal, introspective nature of fall, we need to be mindful of the lungs and their corresponding emotion of grief. The energy of the lungs are about setting limits, protecting boundaries and “letting go.” This is a good time to let go of anything that we may be holding on to, creating the space for growth and healing.
How does the metal element, grief/loss and the lungs relate to living in these stressful times?
There is a collective grief/loss we experience as we witness everything around us changing rapidly. We have all lost something since the beginning of the pandemic. Our sense of security, predictability and control as well as the loss and protection of not only our loved ones, yet society as a whole. The lung organ system is associated with clear thinking and communication, receptivity, self image and letting go of what no longer serves us. When the lungs are out of balance, we deal with excessive grief, difficulty with coping with loss and change and alienation. Attachment to what our lives used to be like pre-Covid creates a longing for the past. This is very natural, as we are all experiencing difficulty in letting go of what we can and can’t control during this time.
The Lungs and Large Intestine—Metal partners
As mentioned above, the organ system associated with this time of year is the lungs….and their partner, the large intestine. One is yin (lungs) and the other is yang. Both work together to address grief and loss, as well as maintaining balance in the body.
The lung organ system is responsible for taking in what is new and essential. This manifests physically as breathing in clean, new air that fills us with oxygen needed for not only clear thinking yet what is essential in keeping our bodies functioning optimally. The large intestine is responsible for letting go of waste. As the last stage in digestion, it accumulates everything the body doesn’t need, keeps what is most essential and vital (nutrients/minerals) and lets go of the waste. This paired organ system reminds us in our daily lives how our bodies constantly take in what we need (air) and let go of what we don’t (waste). Grief and loss can impair the functions of this organ system both emotionally and physically. Prolonged grief can affect digestion through the form of constipation, by not letting go of what we don’t need. The inability to let go can also create upper respiratory issues that manifest as both dryness and feeling empty emotionally and physically (cough) as well as dampness in the form of phlegm which in Chinese medicine, is the accumulation of unresolved grief.
Nurturing Your Metal Element
Here are some gentle tips to manage grief, loss and difficulty with letting go, while nurturing your lungs and large intestine.
As simple as this sounds, most of us don’t breathe deeply and this affects our memory, concentration, energy level, emotions and immune system. Breathing deeply with intention and gratitude, we are flooding our cells and brains with oxygen and Qi that is vital to the body’s functions. In addition, breathing deeply can help with acknowledging our grief and loss, while nurturing our lungs with tenderness, compassion and love.
Breathe in through your nose, envisioning breathing into your belly. Taking in as much air as possible. Hold for a count of five, then exhale through your mouth from the bottom of your lungs until empty. Do this 3-5 times up to 3 times daily.
We all can benefit now more than ever from letting go of the past, present and future. Relinquishing control over what we cannot control. Letting go of negativity that can be destructive on so many levels: physically, emotionally and psychologically. Surrendering into the unknown. The awareness of non-attachment and letting go can facilitate healing our grief.
Hands down one of the best things we can do to strengthen the lungs and our immune system, is to soak up nature and breathe in clean, crisp fall air. The connection between our breath, bodies, emotions and nature is powerfully therapeutic. Taking a walk outside circulates blood and oxygen throughout our bodies and stimulates a healthy immune response.
Out with the Old
Fall is the perfect time to organize and let go of what we no longer need both in the physical and emotional world. Cleaning out a closet, organizing an area of your home or donating items that you no longer use to a local charity can be a cathartic process which creates space and liberation for the new in your life. Taking stock of our emotions and reflectively processing what no longer serves us can move blocked energy throughout the body that can manifest as grief and loss. Relinquishing our attachments to physical objects, ideas and/or emotions can have a significant impact on the health of both the lung and large intestine.
Wear a Scarf
Fall is the season associated with wind and dryness—in Chinese medicine considered the underlying cause of many upper respiratory illnesses. Wearing a scarf can protect the neck, upper back and chest areas associated with the lungs and where colds enter the body. It’s an easy way to stay warm and spice up your flair! Keeping the lungs strong is so important because they are considered a delicate organ because of their relationship to the exterior of the body.
In eating with the season of fall, it’s beneficial to reduce your consumption of cooling foods such as raw foods and salads and opting for warmer, heartier foods with longer cooking times that nourish the lungs and large intestine and support the immune system. Fall is associated with dryness which can affect the lungs’ and large intestine’s function. (Think dry cough or constipation). It’s also important to add yin foods that add moisture, promote healthy fluid production and nourish both organs. Here are a few suggestions for nurturing your metal element this season:
Fostering tenderness, kindness and compassion towards ourselves during these challenging times can create human connection, receptivity towards all beings, surrender into the unknown and acceptance in relinquishing what we cannot control. Incorporating some of the aforementioned suggestions for nurturing your metal element can help create safe and healthy space and boundaries for processing grief and loss.