Moving into Autumn with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Megan Odell – TCM and Acupuncture Lead

It is 29 degrees as I type these words, stifling and humid, but I see it is forecast to rapidly drop to 19 within days. Some coffee chains have already started pushing their Pumpkin Spice Lattes and tree-lined streets will soon be aflame with their shifting colours. All these external signs tell us that we are passing from late Summer to Autumn and, if we are alert, we might notice some internal signs of the change as well.

Where modern humans often see themselves as living in and among nature, but decidedly separate from it, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) knows that humans are just as much a part of the natural world as air temperature, maple tree leaves, and migrating birds. As much as we might try to elevate above the whims of the natural world, humans also need to adapt to seasonal shifts as they come.

Within TCM, Autumn is the season of dryness, contraction and moving inward, and it corresponds to the lungs and large intestine. During this season, our lungs are more susceptible to respiratory “evils” and they need more support to weather this seasonal change. 

The large intestine is (surprise surprise) associated with “letting go” and, just as trees shed their old, we may find ourselves needing to let go of things that no longer serve us, despite their former utility. Emotionally, the season is associated with sadness and grief and, as the season shifts, we might find ourselves feeling these feelings more readily and forcefully.

As these thousand-year-old associations are typically taught as a part of every Foundations of TCM course, I have been aware of these autumnal associations for more than 20 years and yet- I type the words above with a greater sense of gravity than ever before. Perhaps you read the themes (lungs, dryness, respiratory “evils,” grief) with a similar sense of poignancy as it relates to our extraordinary current time. Living and losing through a pandemic with a virus that presents primarily through the lungs (we can discuss the vascular element in another blog post), these seasonal associations “hit” more heavily than they would have in 2015.

But. Despite the seriousness of the current respiratory “evil,” it is reassuring to know that the thousand-year-old guidance of TCM is still relevant and can still support us through the seasonal change when our poor lungs are at their most vulnerable.

Eat Seasonally to Support the Lungs and Boost Immunity

Every seasonal shift brings about different foods that will best support our bodies at that time. We will always do best when we eat seasonally, acknowledging our place in the ecosystem. In Autumn, when our bodies are tending toward dryness and cold, we need to eat foods that are warming and that enrich our Yin (that which is moist, dark, restful). It is also beneficial to eat fewer cold and raw foods.

  • During the summer, people tend to eat more salads and raw foods. Now that the season is shifting, we need to shift to more soups and stews. These are easier to digest and their watery nature helps to nourish the yin element.
  • Eating warm, cooked vegetables of the season (sweet potatoes, squash, beetroot, broccoli, etc.) will help your body adjust to the change.
  • Apples and pears nourish and moisten Lung Yin – a delicious medicine for dry coughs is poached pears with honey.
  • Pungent foods (onion, garlic, turnip, ginger, horseradish) all help to build “defensive qi” (immunity) and disperse mucus.
  • Drink warm water and tea with your meals and throughout the day to warm your body and nourish the Yin.

If your lungs start to feel “under the weather,” there are plenty of things you can do to support your lungs in fighting any attack.

  • A classic recipe at the very beginning of a cold (when you’re feeling shivery and sniffly with a headache, but not feverish) is to boil spring onions with brown sugar for 10-15 minutes. Discard the cooked onions and drink the liquid. You could add some fresh ginger root before boiling to make it even more potent.

Feel Your Feelings

As mentioned above, the lungs and large intestine each correlate with different emotional states.

  • We are more likely to feel grief and sadness at this time. These can come in response to a serious loss or can be the grief associated with a big change in relationships, work, where we live, or our social lives. It can come up in many different ways for different people. The most important piece is to let the feelings come, to name them without judgment, which will let them move out of your body.
  • The large intestine encourages us to let go, so take some time to think about what might no longer serve you – whether it is a habit, a relationship, personal belongings, or even outdated opinions that you hold about yourself. Thank it for its service in the past and let it go.
  • If any of these things feel too big to process on your own, I recommend finding a good therapist to help your transition.

Protect Yourself from the “Evils”

Within TCM, our language of healing reflects the agrarian society that birthed it. As a result, we use words like “wind” and “cold” to describe things that we now call viruses. This metaphorical language also helps explain ways to protect ourselves from succumbing to the “evils.”

  • TCM knows your grandmother was right: going outside in skin-exposing clothes on cold, windy days (or nights) increases your chances of getting sick. Cover up every inch of your skin, wear a scarf, don a warm hat.
  • Avoid drafts inside. Move away from the air conditioning vent at work. Turn off the fan at night and find another source of white noise for sleep. If your flat has sketchy heating during these transitional months, bundle up and stay warm inside.
  • Wear a face covering. We know that the latest version of “wind” and “cold” facing us today is especially strong; it requires an extra layer of protection. Covering your mouth and nose will provide that extra bit of defense.

Reach Out for Support

Traditional Chinese Medicine offers several ways to support you during these times of seasonal shifts.

  • Acupuncture is excellent for helping to process difficult emotions like sadness and grief, sometimes in collaboration with a psychotherapist, if needed.
  • Chinese herbal therapy is especially helpful in boosting your Defensive Qi (immunity) to help prevent sickness.
  • Chinese herbs are also excellent if your body succumbs to sickness. Given the current COVID crisis, we wouldn’t be able to see you in the clinic if you become sick, but telehealth visits are available and herbs can be mailed to your home.
  • In cases of Long Covid, Chinese herbs and acupuncture have been shown to help manage and resolve long-lasting and debilitating symptoms.


Like all seasonal shifts, we are in the midst of a time of transformation. It deserves taking time for reflections about what changes need to occur to remain physically and emotionally healthy and in balance – both inside and outside ourselves.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about Traditional Chinese Medicine. I deliver a TCM and Acupunctue Clinic at NCIM – please get in touch to find out more or book a session with me.

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