top of page
  • By Donald Hughes, LAc.

Living in Harmony with the Autumn Season

We have now passed the peak of summer and move into the waning of yang. In the Chinese calendar, we celebrate the beginning of fall around August 9th when the qi begins to become more yin. In the Gregorian calendar, we celebrate the beginning of fall at the equinox, the middle of actual fall. In the fall, trees lose their leaves in places where it snows. We can view this as the metaphor for the energy of the autumn season.

In the autumn, we deal with letting go of the bounty of summer and preparing to store food for the winter. We associate autumn with the metal element in the five transformations cycle. Metal corresponds to the lungs. In Chinese medicine, we associate the lungs with the emotion of sorrow and the sound of weeping. Sorrow disperses the energy. When we become frustrated, crying can restore balance, but too much crying can weaken us. We feel sorrow when loved ones die. Sorrow helps us to let go. The autumn corresponds to the time of life when we become a dry tree branch, when our yin fluids begin to be depleted. This causes aging.

We can consider the opposite of the emotion sorrow as something like cosmic awe. Though things in this world are temporary, there exists a higher order we can connect with through cosmic awe. We can only do this by letting go. Autumn is a time for letting go of old habits. In Chinese medicine we speak of biao li pairs, or yin and yang pairs. We refer to the yin organs as solid and the yang organs as empty. The metal element pairs the lung with the large intestine. We can consider both organs eliminatory in a sense. People will die from carbon dioxide build up before oxygen depletion. The lungs have the job of not only bringing in oxygen, but also of eliminating waste in the form of carbon dioxide.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic refers to the lungs as ‘the delicate organ’. This means the lungs suffer assault from the weather more often than the other organs. In Chinese medicine, we consider disease the result of the weather, imbalanced emotions, poor diet, injury, or environmental and animal and plant toxins. As the seasons change, we see people contracting colds and flus, particularly in the fall. The lungs paradoxically want to suck up all the energy, yet at the same time they have a pickiness and don’t like impurity. We represent this with the image of the white tiger who only wants the best and easily becomes irritated. We associate the lungs with the sour flavor. The sour flavor astringes and contains fluids, protecting against the dryness.

In the metal time, we must keep our guard up against the evil of dryness. In Chinese medicine, we list six evils: heat, cold, damp, wind, dryness, and summer heat. In the fall, the energy of dryness rises to its peak. During the fall, we must guard our fluids.

To stay in harmony with autumn, we should begin to restrict our external activity and turn inward. Going to school is helpful, particularly in this rooster year. The rooster refines and sorts data, seeking perfection, but it can also exhibit cockiness and puff up its chest. This year we have a fire rooster, so such tendencies become inflamed. We can see this in how people have become polarized over the presidency and the recent acceleration of the culture war. But, during a yin rooster year, such blustering will not result in a civil war. Resist temptation to rise to the bait. Seek the internal. The scholar benefits.

Ending old projects and beginning new projects benefits. We can consider the spring and fall the pivots, when yin changes from yang and when yang changes to yin. These transitions reveal new opportunities for growth, but they also make us more susceptible to disease. During the spring, people become susceptible to diseases stored within the body springing forth. During the fall, people become more susceptible to diseases brought on by the external weather.

We breathe through our pores as well as through our skin. In advanced meditation, you want to be able to feel yourself breathing through your feet, viscerally. Western science discovered this during the filming of the ‘Wizard of Oz’. They covered the Tin Man in silver paint and his skin couldn’t breathe in the costume. He had to be taken to the hospital and nearly suffocated. The lungs also control the opening and closing of the pores.

In the Chinese medicine model, most disease comes initially from the wind. The concept of wind in Chinese medicine has to do with chaotic energy. The wind blows open our pores, particularly in the back of our neck and our abdomen and lower back and invades the cou li layer, between the skin and the muscles. This creates a sensation of chills and either a sore throat or sniffles. Ordinarily, we expel the evil wind by sweating, but sometimes our pores become too tense due to cold in the lungs or we lack the heart energy to push out the evil wind. The heart controls the sweat which comes from the blood.

In modern Chinese medicine, we generally speak of wind cold and wind heat. The classics refer to wind as a ‘promiscuous evil’ because it brings along its friends, the other five evils. Wind cold has symptoms of sniffles, sore neck, and chills. Wind heat has symptoms of sore throat, fever, and chills. Usually these begin with a sore throat or sniffles. At first onset of a cold or flu, Chinese medicine can easily push out the disease before it manifests. But on the fourth or fifth day, the disease goes internal and becomes a complex disease, more difficult to resolve. So don’t wait to treat it. Treating problems in the beginning always proves easier than after illness has settled in.

I generally use one of two indispensable cold and flu treatments, Gui Zhi Tang and Yin Qiao San (Yin Chiao). Gui Zhi Tang forms the basis for the entire Chinese medicine herbology. It contains cinnamon twig which boosts the heart energy, white peony which nourishes the blood, ginger, which promotes sweating and thins mucous, jujube which boosts blood and assists ginger in strengthening the pores, and licorice which harmonizes the other herbs and boosts qi energy. In Chinese medicine, we combine herbs according to their synergistic effects. Use Gui Zhi Tang as a go to for sniffles.

For those with sore throat, use Yin Qiao San. This formula comes from a later school when scholars began combining herbs more according to bias than to experience, though Yin Qiao San remains a remarkable achievement. Very possibly the most widely sold herb formula in the US, Yin Qiao San can rapidly reduce the symptoms of and resolve early stage cold and flu. I generally recommend taking triple the recommended dosage every three to four hours, until symptoms resolve or the fourth day passes.

I twice contracted the H1N1 virus—swine flu. I started getting the raspy cough and simply couldn’t afford to be sick either time. The first time I took Yin Qiao San and it resolved in two days. The second time I contracted H1N1, I took Gui Zhi Tang as well as a decoction of garlic and onions, and that also resolved the illness. This leads me to believe that both Yin Qiao San and Gui Zhi Tang resolve both wind heat and wind cold. Stock up on Yin Qiao San and save yourself and your loved ones from the cold and flu season.

During the autumn, we should begin spending more time indoors. We should embrace introspection. Reflecting on the past year benefits. Let go of that which does not work for you and your growth process. Stay warm and bundle up. Especially cover your neck and abdomen so as not to contract evil wind. Don’t keep dressing for summer during the fall. Bundle up and keep warm.

Aside from threats from the evil wind, we must defend against dryness with proper nutrition. Sour foods help us to retain fluids and nourish the lungs. Pungent foods help us to cleanse the lungs and boost lung energy. Good autumn foods include pears, apples, mushrooms, carrots, figs, seaweed, cabbage, garlic, onion, black pepper, radish, sweet potato, olives, pickles, celery, apricot, banana, eggs, sauerkraut, yogurt, cheese, cucumber, broccoli, mustard greens, plums, grapes, soy, duck, pork, lamb, and beef. Avoid eating too many raw foods and start preparing soups. A teaspoon of raw honey can heal the autumn lung dryness.

Avoid smoking as it will exacerbate lung problems. If you chronically smoke, take advantage of the autumn energy to let go of old habits. Acupuncture can help to reduce cravings. We can consider addiction like a hole that wants to be filled. The addictive substance fills that hole, but it doesn’t quite fit right, thus we become eternally hungry to fill it. Acupuncture can fill up the energy of the organs so that the feeling of lack becomes diminished.

Breathing meditation remains a strong purgative for difficult emotions and bad habits. In order to do basic breathing meditation, sit with a straight back, tongue on the roof of the mouth and count each out breath up to 10. If your mind wanders and you forget which number you counted last, then start back at one. If you can do this twenty minutes a day, you will make a lot of progress towards letting go of old patterns. Try to breathe into the abdomen just below the belly button or into your heart chakra. This will prevent the energy from accumulating in your head and causing headaches.

As we pass the midpoint of this rooster year, remember the rooster has a nature of refinement and sorting. The rooster wants to peck at mistakes to create perfection. We want to become less active and more reflective. Nature bids us to ready ourselves for our retreat to the caves. The rooster has a metal nature, so the fall season has an even more metal nature than usual. Educate yourself and study hard as you move towards hibernation. If you can guard against dryness and wind, stay covered up, keep a calm mind, contemplate and rest a little more, you will surely stay healthy this autumn.

Donald Hughes is a licensed acupuncturist who earned his Master’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the Academy of Chinese Culture and Health Sciences in 2012. He has 20 years experience in the martial arts and energy work and 10 years as a body worker. Before that, he taught high school biology in Richmond, California. He can be reached at or 510-923-0079. Visit his website at

Isis is now offering Community Acupuncture with

Donald Hughes, L.Ac Every Thursday from 5:00-9:00 pm.

Community acupuncture is a model where many people are treated at once in order to lower the cost. Acupuncture uses sterile needles to create flow in one’s energy channels and has been shown effective for a wide array of health issues including but not limited to aches and pains, allergies, colds and flus, tummy troubles, women’s issues, stress and emotional disorders, insomnia, post stroke recovery, edema, asthma and dizziness. Come and enjoy a treatment for $30. Expect to be there about an hour and to leave more relaxed and peaceful.

66 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page