By Sarah Sajdak, MS, Licensed Acupuncturist
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the healthiest way to live is with the seasons. Depending on where you live, your diet may differ from someone many miles away.
In the fall season, our bodies and surroundings change from Yang to Yin. Just like the trees, our bodies’ energy turns inward. Though we don’t have control over the seasons, they are predictable and cyclical, allowing us to adapt by adjusting how we eat, breathe, and move.
Foods we eat should be cooked and moistening. It is also important to eat foods that tonify the Lung Qi, because in TCM the lungs are directly associated with the immune system. These include soups and stews and other hearty, cooked foods. The fall air often causes dry skin, eyes and nose. Eat Yin-nourishing foods such as pears and bananas to keep your body moist.
As you move through fall, do so with a covered neck! People often joke, “You can spot acupuncturists by their scarves.” We acupuncturists love to keep our necks covered. You’ll see us in the summer wearing tank tops and scarves. On the beach we will wear swimsuits and yes, a ‘lil wrap around our shoulders and neck. This is because the Lung Shu points of the spine are located just below base of neck. Why are the lungs so important to protect? According to TCM, the lungs are the most superficial, and therefore, the most vulnerable organ. Therefore, they are the first organ to experience autumnal changes (cold, dry air!).
Ever notice that when a chilly breeze blows on your back, you contract your neck and shoulder muscles, causing them to become stiff and painful? Or that when you first “catch a cold,” the back of your neck feels stiff? In TCM, when wind or a draft blows on the back of your unprotected neck, the cold air enters your body causing stiffness and pain. In other words, you literally “catch a cold.” The energy normally tasked to heat your body is instead used to fend off sickness. This leads to a cascade of imbalances in the body causing chills, fever, malaise, sore throat, and congestion. I encourage you to wear a scarf this fall and notice whether you “catch colds” less often than usual.
You probably understand by now that in TCM, the lungs must be protected, especially in the fall. So how else do we strengthen the Lung Qi? You can use reverse abdominal breathing, which directs the Qi towards your inner organs to strengthen overall Qi. In normal breathing, your belly expands as you inhale, and shrinks when you exhale. Reverse abdominal breathing is the opposite: Shrink your belly as you inhale, and expand your belly as you exhale!
Some of my favorite essential oils of fall include:
Rosemary - relieves respiratory problems
Ravensara - a powerful antiseptic, antibacterial and antiviral
Pine - protects against sinus infections and boosts the immune system
Orange - an antiseptic that also helps relieve depression, great for seasonal affective disorder
Camphor & Eucalyptus - decongestants
You can inhale a few drops of these oils in your palms, add them to massage oil to hydrate the skin and senses, or diffuse them into the air with an electric or candle diffuser. Those of you who have been to my office know that I’m totally into mixing and matching my own essential oil blends and that I base these blends on the day, season, current weather, and overall universal and astrological center of things.
Warm the Stomach Congee
Congee is a rice porridge that people in many Asian countries, especially China, eat for breakfast. Have this congee on especially cold days when you are too lazy to get out of the house. It will warm you right up and give you lots of energy. It also boosts your immune system, and is extremely easy to make!
fresh ginger (sheng jiang) 6g
clove flower bud (ding xiang) 6g
dried cinnamon bark (rou gui) 6g
orange / citrus / tangerine peel (chen pi) 6g
chicken or veggie broth 3-5 cups
salt, to taste
Bag the fresh ginger, clove flower bud, dried cinnamon bark, and orange peel in a cheesecloth.
Cook the rice with broth, cheesecloth of herbs, and salt.
*You can purchase these herbs in any Chinese supermarket. I would recommend Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy in Chinatown.
**For people avoiding gluten, you may substitute quinoa or another grain of your choice.