Oh Sweet, Elusive Balance

Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND

There is a slight nip in the air today. The days are starting to get shorter.  It’s time to harvest the many tomatoes ripening in our garden, to warm up with bowls of butternut squash soup and to dig out sweaters from the basement. We are beginning to store and stack wood to keep our house warm and cozy through the colder, darker days of winter. And I am preparing to leave my little nest and return to my practice. Fall has arrived.

In acupuncture theory, the move from one season to the next is a cosmically significant event. Humans are viewed as microcosms of the surrounding natural world, so seasonal changes can greatly influence how we feel. Fall, which marks the beginning of the yin cycle, is noteworthy because it signifies the transition from the more active seasons to the more passive time of year.
All seasons have an associated natural element, organ and emotion, which, in the case of Fall, are metal, the Lungs, and grief/sadness, respectively. Acupuncturists examine these associations to determine whether a person is appropriately adjusting to a seasonal shift.

Fall is a good time to set boundaries, finish projects and begin an internal process of introspection. This is happening in our house and our garden, as well as in my head, as I consider how best to balance my return to work with my new role as Charlotte’s mom.  

The internal organ system associated with autumn is the Lungs. Lungs are considered by Chinese medicine to be the “tender organs”. The Lungs control the circulation of the Wei-Qi, which is the defensive Qi that protects you from the invasion of flu and colds. The Wei-Qi circulates on the surface between the skin and muscles and works to warm the body. If the Wei-Qi is weak, the skin and muscles will not be warmed properly. A weakness in the Lungs can lead to a weakness in the Wei-Qi, making a person prone to frequent colds.  

Support your Lungs and Wei-Qi by being sure to dress for the weather. In Victoria that usually means wearing a scarf or a sweater.  With the change in weather, the diet should also change. Eating excess cold and raw foods creates dampness or phlegm, which is stored in the lungs. Sugar and dairy products create phlegm, while garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish and mustard are beneficial to the lungs.

Emotionally, Fall is a time of letting go.  For many people, a tendency toward sadness, a pulling inward as we grieve the separation from the inessential, is normal as the weather dims.

Seasonal affective disorder is a common diagnosis for people who experience depressed moods in the colder, darker months. Although some people are legitimate candidates for medication, a large number are simply experiencing the predisposition to sadness that is normal for this time of year. The inability to settle into this shift, or transition out of it, suggests an imbalance.

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 onset of winter.

In my house, our nutrition is on track and I have dug out some sweaters and scarves. I am talking through my feelings about the upcoming return to work. And, I am scheduled for regular acupuncture. Next step: the elusive full night of sleep!