Autumn and the Metal Element

by scottmoylan

in Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine and acupuncture have for thousands of years observed the world around us and found that we are inseparable from the very same environment in which we are observing.  This will be an attempt to explore the time of year that is upon us, Autumn, and see how the Chinese medicine understanding of the Metal element is related.

It is almost impossible to discuss the metal element alone without referring to the Chinese medicine theory of “wu xing”, the 5 transformations.  These elements are constantly communicating and relating to each other in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any one of them.  Perhaps a discussion on the 5 elements or transformations will be had in the future.

Metal as a Quality

The Chinese recognized that there were some subtle and not so subtle energies and movements in nature.  The Metal element has the quality of contraction.  In its natural state Metal is hard and was used as the most exterior part of one’s clothing in the form of armor.  However, if heated up, it could be shaped and molded to make shields, swords etc.  This element is also related to minerals that are born out of the earth and infuses life to water as it flows over the ground.

Metal in the body

The lungs and large intestine organs are associated with the metal element according to Chinese medicine and acupuncture.  These two organs in many ways have the same resonance and qualities as described above.  The lungs are similar to a bellows, in that they expand when air is brought in and contract when releasing carbon dioxide.  This is similar to the expansion and contraction that is seen in the element metal.  Likewise, the large intestine contracts (peristalsis) in order to empty, hopefully on a daily basis.  These two organs are considered our armor in many ways and like metal armor, are the most exterior of our organs, being directly connected to the outside environment.

Lesson of the Metal Element

One of the most important lessons that the metal element can teach us is in letting go.  We learn this lesson from the lungs and large intestine.  We can take a breath in and it nourishes us with needed oxygen, but we can not hold the breath for very long.  Eventually we must let go of that air, to make room for more as our body utilizes what it has just taken in.  Similarly the large intestine needs to let go of what it is holding so we can eliminate what we don’t need.

Emotionally we are challenged with the same lessons.  If we are unable to let go and move on from stressful experiences then we will often experience sadness and depression.  These emotions will often lead to a dysfunction in the lungs manifesting as chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and frequent colds & flus.  The large intestine can be equally affected as well.  Constipation and/or diarrhea can result from unexpressed sadness and grief.

In nature metal teaches us the same lesson.  When metal is heated or stressed it becomes more fluid and lets go of its shape.  It becomes more malleable when heated, but becomes stronger after the tempering. This can be a hard lesson for us to follow.

Autumn: A time to let go

The fall is the time of year that  vibrates like metal in nature.  It is the time when a plant’s energies begin to contract, with the chlorophyll returning to its core.  The trees let go of their leaves and the earth lets go of its bounty for the harvest.  As the days and nights become cooler our own body’s energy begins to contract as well.  Our immune system is stimulated and challenged by the change during this season and we see the lungs assailed by allergens, bacteria, viruses, and the cool dry air.

So as the days and nights get cooler increasing lightly spicy foods in your diet can help to counteract any over contraction that occurs.  Spicy foods help with expansion and can resolve those nasty colds and flus that afflict us during fall.  And so as we let go of the long days of summer and welcome the contraction of fall and winter I hope everyone enjoys the beauty of this wonderful season.

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