Tips for Remaining Healthy This Fall
Autumn is associated with the Lung organ, in Chinese medicine theory – a poignant note for our community, which still feels the impact of the fires with every inhale. This association means that our lungs are vulnerable this time of year, but it also means that it’s an important time to focus on the other energetic associations of the Lung organ, in order to maintain optimal health and balance.
Below, we share information about the energetic associations of the autumn, and some tips for how you can live in balance with the increasingly Yin nature of the season:
Time to get organized
Autumn is the season of the Metal element, which controls organization and boundaries. The leaves are falling from the trees – likewise, it’s the season to organize your life and let go of that which no longer serves you. Clean out your clutter, and donate the items that are collecting dust. And it’s not just about stuff! It’s also a good time to release feelings of resentment or ill will that may have been building up over the past months or years. We’re settling in to the inward stillness of the Yin time of year; it’s important to have a clean physical and emotional space to facilitate peace in that stillness.
Focus on the breath
What a complicated time to talk about the importance of breath. Watching the air quality index (AQI) has been like riding a roller coaster the past few weeks! Autumn is an important time to take care of the Lungs, by both connecting with our breath, but also making sure we avoid respiratory irritants.
So… on high AQI days, keep your windows and doors shut, and blast your air filters. If you must spend time outdoors, wear an N95 or a mask with a filter. Our simple two-layered cloth COVID masks won’t protect your lungs from smoke, unfortunately.
When the AQI is in the green, spend some time outside breathing in the fresh air. Savor the scents of nature, and spend some time everyday taking slow, full breaths.
Protect yourself from the wind
The times of year when the weather is shifting from hot to cold (or vice versa) are times when we see the wind pick up. According to Chinese medicine theory, wind can carry pathogens into our bodies – the kinds of pathogens that are comparable to infectious illness in Western medicine – most frequently starting in our lungs. The back of your neck is particularly vulnerable to these wind-borne / infectious pathogens, so we encourage patients to start wearing scarves, turtle necks, or hooded outerwear at this time of year.
Start choosing warm foods
It’s time to say goodbye to the salads, ice cream and chilled watermelon that help to balance out the heat of summertime – and break out your crockpot! Cold food and drinks can create dampness and phlegm in the body, which clog up the lungs. Instead, start shifting towards stews, soups, and other warm foods. The warming spices are especially beneficial for the Lung organ, spices like cinnamon, ginger, anise and clove…. so don’t judge the pumpkin spice lovers, they’re just taking care of their lungs! **Note: avoid excessive intake of warming spices if you run hot, or if you are pregnant!
You can never go wrong with eating seasonal produce. Squash, pumpkin, broccoli, kale, and walnuts all help to keep the tissue of your respiratory tract nice and moist, to help trap any pathogens that find their way in. Pears are especially nourishing and beneficial to the Lung organ, so eat them to your heart’s content – YUM!
Face your grief
So many people are facing varied, unrelenting sources of grief this year. Chinese medicine theory teaches that each organ is responsible for processing a different emotion – and the Lung organ processes grief and sadness. That means that when someone is experiencing grief, the energy of their Lung helps them manage the emotion; if the emotion is too overwhelming, or becomes repressed, it has the potential to clog up the function of the Lung.
The goal isn’t to avoid feelings of grief or sadness. Instead, the goal should be to lean into facing those emotions as they arise. There’s no right or wrong way to face one’s grief, but the important first step is to recognize it when it’s coming up. Grief isn’t just about loss of a loved one or a possession. Especially this year, grief is about losing time, losing touch with the things that make us feel alive, losing the opportunity to hug our loved ones. Let yourself cry, let yourself scream, let yourself mourn those losses. And you can always come back to your breath – focusing, especially, on the exhale – to help you process that grief.
Keep your immune system strong!
Especially this year, keeping your immune system strong as we enter autumn is of the utmost importance. Schedule a time to come in for care with one of our acupuncturists (or make a virtual appointment!) to keep your Metal element and Lung organ in balance, and your immune system strong. We hope to see you in the clinic or on Zoom soon.
Happy autumn, everyone!
Keeping Your Lungs Healthy throughout Fire Season
Our hearts are heavy with the challenge that once again faces our community. Wildfires are already burning strong, and it’s only August. We may be facing an extended period of exposure to wildfire smoke, as well as an extended period of feeling unsettled and alert, here in Sonoma County. Sigh.
In an effort to serve our community as best we can, we wanted to share some wisdom and resources to help you keep your lungs healthy and protected from the smoke. We recognize that, for many of you, life does not currently afford the ability to engage in all of these self-care recommendations. So… pick one thing that you can do right now! Or, just come back to your breath, which is always there to help you ground.
Our main goals for maintaining lung health while the fires are burning are two-fold: primarily, of course, to prevent as much smoke inhalation as possible; secondarily, we want to keep the respiratory tract moist, so that your body can appropriately trap and excrete smoke particles that do make their way in. Here are some things you can do to help keep your lungs healthy…
- Mask for smoke (vs. mask for COVID): We’re all used to wearing face masks at this point, but it may be time to consider changing your day-to-day mask. While double layer cotton masks are effective for COVID protection, they aren’t effective at keeping the particulate matter from smoke out of your lungs.
- N95 or P100 masks are recommended if you’ll be spending significant time outside on smoky days. BUT… because of COVID, these masks are in short supply and should still be saved for our healthcare workers and other essential workers that need respiratory protection on the job. So, please try to use any that you already have on hand, rather than going out and buying a huge supply of new ones!
- Vogmasks or similar masks that include filtration are a great reusable option to protect yourself while avoiding the consumption of valuable supplies needed by essential workers.
- If you are using an N95 or Vogmask that has an exhalation valve, it is not COVID safe. Make sure you cover the valve with tape, or you wear a second-layer COVID-safe mask over it.
- Masking properly is especially important for those of you with preexistent lung issues, for pregnant women, and for anyone working towards fertility (regardless of gender)!
- Run air filters in your house on smoky days: Any HEPA filter will do, it doesn’t have to be fancy! If you don’t already own a HEPA filter, this video tells you how you can make one yourself, on the cheap.
- Do daily steam baths: Get a bowl of steamy water, stick your face over the bowl (make sure you don’t burn yourself, obviously!), and toss a towel over your head to form a tent that traps the steam inside. Breathe deeply, and hang out there for 10 mins or so. This will help keep your respiratory passages nice and moist, and soothe that dry scratchy feeling that comes with continued smoke exposure.
- Get lots of antioxidants: Wildfire smoke inhalation results in oxidative stress on the body. Antioxidants help to undo that damage. Eat more berries, dark leafy greens, nuts, dark chocolate and green tea! Oh, and red wine… that should help.
- You can also consider supplementing antioxidants, including vitamin C, N-acetyl cysteine (supports glutathione production), and selenium.
- Stay hydrated: Simple, but crucial.
- Drink tea: Some great options for supporting lung health are peppermint, green, ginger, licorice and / or turmeric tea. Add some honey to moisten the respiratory tract.
- Eat pears: Pear season is just getting started – and the timing is a gift from nature. From a Chinese medicine perspective, pears are the perfect food to nourish and moisten the lungs. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you could cut a pear in half, drizzle some honey and cinnamon on it, and bake it in the oven for 30 minutes at 350. Delicious and nutritious.
- Process your grief: According to Chinese medicine theory, the lungs are the organ that help us process grief. So, when we have unresolved grief, it has the potential to muck up the function of the lungs. We realize it’s not particularly helpful to just say “deal with it!”, especially during a year filled with so much widespread grief. But consider setting some time aside in your day to think / talk / cry / yell / journal / sing about any grief you’re feeling in this moment, or any grief you may have stored up inside. And come back to your breath (slow, deep and steady) as a tool to help you process.
- Likewise, putting effort into preserving the health of your lungs will help ensure you have the strength that you need to process the grief that comes with this painful moment in time.
- Come in for acupuncture and herbs: Calm your spirit, protect your lungs, and get on the right herbal formula for this point in time. We’re still working at the clinic – book your appointment online, or be in touch with any questions.
- If you can’t make it in person, because you have evacuated out of the area, please remember that virtual appointments are also available!
- Take care of your spiritual health: Dr Jen’s organization, Integrative Healers Action Network, has been sharing some great resources for this time. On Thursday at noon, they will be offering a live event on Facebook entitled Getting Your Spiritual Health Prepared for Fire Season.
We are with you in spirit through these challenging times. Once again, we’re all in this together – Sonoma strong!