The days are still warm, but the nights are cooling off. Winds are shifting. Last week the clouds began to role in during the wee hours and blanketed the parched landscape. This was immediately followed by dry warm winds from the East. Still, the blazing morning sun on our eastern-sloped hillside has moderated to a gentle warmth. I live on the edge of a plateau. When the rain finally comes it will drain south through our little canyon and make its way to the San Diego Bay.
The frenetic energy of the birds has tuned down to match the slowing rhythms of September. This is the seasonal transition. For a few weeks the weather will oscillate wildly, as though swinging back and forth on a hinge.
According to Chinese Medicine, Fall is the time of the lungs. The lungs encompass what we call the Immune System in this culture. As we know this is the time of year when we must guard against the influenza virus. I have already seen 2 cases this week. An important way to do this is to stay present and conscious of the changes. In this way our lungs can keep rhythm and balance with the other organs of circulation, like the heart and liver. One way to stay conscious is to regularly focus on slow, deep breathing throughout the day.
We are leaving summer, which is the time of year associated with fire and the heart. The beginning of fall is the time to gather and reap the harvest from the seeds of our labors earlier in the year. Across the world, harvest celebrations are taking place; one last chance to give thanks and revel together in bounty.
The end of fall is when we begin to store away the year’s harvest and move inwards for winter. Although most of us are now alienated from these agricultural cycles that have grounded us for thousands of years, they still hold metaphorical power.
To purify and maintain proper circulation, the lungs must stay moist like a tropical forest canopy. I hope the Santa Ana’s are mild this year. I see a lot of headaches in my clinic when these desert high pressure systems move in. People often feel general discomfort and anxiousness and their previous symptoms may be exacerbated. If a person becomes sick i.e. from a virus, it may become more intense with heat symptoms like fever and thick yellow phlegm. The dry air will contribute to a lingering dry cough.
To cure a disease with medicines is like digging a well when one already feels thirsty; it is like making weapons when war has already broken out. Which could be too late to do much good -Neijing
Because we are part and parcel of the natural world, Chinese Medicine uses metaphors of nature as a way of understanding illness. This grounding in the cycles of the natural world, like the changing seasons, gives us important insight in times like these. when we don’t have appropriate cultural guideposts for understanding our place within these natural cycles we can become unhinged, lose balance, and become vulnerable to illness. In this chaotic modern world we must recuperate and remake some of this traditional knowledge in order to maintain balance, and therefore health.
In ancient China the yearly cycles were often conceived of as one complete breathe. The inhalation begins with the rising yang energy of Spring, which culminates in Summer. Fall is the beginning of the exhalation which terminates with the yin energy of winter.
In a clinic setting I work mostly with people who have already lost balance and need assistance to get back on a healthy path. We may discuss diet and exercise and breathing techniques. I will chose selectively among the hundreds of acupuncture points along channels running throughout the body. I choose amongst more than one hundred and fifty herbs in my pharmacy for a combination (formula) designed for each individual patient. During this time of year the strategy may involve boosting lung qi (think ‘immune system’). It could involve clearing heat or phlegm congestion from allergic inflammation or too much summer revelry. It could be ‘banking up earth’ or strengthening the digestion in order to support the lungs. It could be working with someone to moderate and understand cyclical depression, which often begins this time of year. In any case however, it is always preferable to take action before imbalances manifest themselves into major illness.