Maintaining Health in Autumn with Chinese Medicine


In the three months of autumn all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen and harvesting occurs. The heavenly energy cools, as does the weather. The wind begins to stir. This is the changing or pivoting point when the yang, or active, phase turns into its opposite, the yin, or passive, phase. One should retire with the sunset and arise with the dawn. Just as the weather in autumn turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful, refraining from depression so that one can make the transition to winter smoothly. This is the time to gather one’s spirit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild. One must keep the lung energy full, clean, and quiet. This means practicing breathing exercises to enhance lung qi. Also, one should refrain from both smoking and grief, the emotion of the lung. This will prevent kidney or digestive problems in the winter.
~Maoshing Ni, PhD, 
pg 6 (1)

Chinese medicine is all about harmonizing and balancing. Not just within one’s self, but also aligning one’s self with nature. As the above quote shows, the ancient wisdom reflects this, suggesting ways to prepare the body and govern actions so as to live in health and balance. As we move into autumn there are things we can do to help ourselves achieve harmony in health for this season.


Taking time each day to focus on breathing is essential to good health. This does not have to be a complicated practice. Just a few minutes in the morning and evening will help you feel centered and more balanced, cultivating your qi (energy), and enhancing your well-being. Bringing breathing practices into daily life will help manage stress, relieve tension, and can help with low moods and low energy. Try taking a few deep breaths whenever you start to feel irritated or stressed, or just because – while you sit at a stop light, waiting in the check-out line, before a meeting. Being mindful of how we are breathing can have a profound impact on our overall health given time.

The practice is simple: try to sit up as straight as possible to allow for optimal lung expansion. When you breathe in, do so through your nose, allowing the air to fill your lungs, expanding into your abdomen. When you breathe out, do so without hurry, feeling your lungs empty. Repeat as many times as you need. So many of us breathe too shallowly, only allowing our chests to move. We need to allow ourselves to relax enough to “belly breathe”, which is more natural for us. The end result is being more centered, focused, and grounded.


You may look at the quote above and wonder how one refrains from grief. This does not mean suppressing our emotions, but rather dealing with them in healthy ways so they do not fester and become a burden to us. Autumn encompasses the element of metal, which controls the Lungs, so it is a good time to resolve and heal any grief we may be holding onto. Whether that is by allowing the space to experience this emotion, talking with friends, or seeking professional assistance, now is the time. Autumn is the time when our Lungs are most easily impacted in a negative way, but conversely it is also a good time to focus on our Lungs and healing them, whether on a physical, emotional, or energetic level.


Just as the abundant energy begins to contract in preparation for winter, we too should begin preparing ourselves for the coming winter months. The foods we eat should reflect this consolidation of abundant energies. Hearty flavors that are also astringent are appropriate this time of year. Cooking should be slower to concentrate the energy.  Dryness is prevalent in the fall, so foods should be moisturizing and nourishing. Special attention should be taken to help boost the immune system and keep the lungs healthy. As autumn is governed by the metal element, which also governs the lungs and sense of smell, fragrant foods will stimulate the appetite. Pungent flavors will directly benefit the lungs. Many culinary herbs are pungent in nature and can be incorporated into sauteed dishes and baked goods. Small amounts of sour foods will help release the active energies of summer, and so should be incorporated in early autumn. As the months progress, gradually adding salty and bitter flavors will prepare the body for winter.

Spices to consider: Cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne, cumin, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mint, nutmeg, black pepper, and rosemary. Spices that are both pungent and bitter (good for late autumn): sage, thyme, turmeric, white pepper, oregano, parsley, and basil.

Some foods to focus on: Sourdough bread, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, leeks, vinegar (a little goes a long way!), cheese, yogurt, sour citrus, sour varieties of apples, jasmine tea, and rose hip tea. Foods that combat dryness: Spinach, barley, millet, pear, apple, black and white fungus, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds, honey, milk and dairy products (especially for those with weakened constitutions), eggs, clam, crab, herring, oysters, duck, and pork. Adding a little salt to your dishes will also help.

Everyday life

Now is the perfect time to wrap up those projects that were started over the summer (or spring, or last winter if you’re like me), in preparation for enjoying our “harvest”. Giving ourselves the time and space to slow down, even a little, will help make the most of the energy of autumn, and allow us to work more in harmony with the nature that surrounds us. Enjoy the crisp air and the turning leaves. Plant some mums for some fall color. Light those wonderfully scented candles and enjoy the delightful aromas as you practice your breathing. Bake some bread and share it with a friend. Now is the time of harvest, abundance, and sharing.

Happy Autumn!

~Cyndi Bartlett, LAc.


(1) Masoshing Ni PhD, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, 1995, page 6


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