Imagine that you had ten servants whose whole mission was keeping you healthy and happy. They work for you 24/7, assist you in keeping a positive state of mind, give you abundant energy, toss out your refuse. It’s true! You do have these unfailingly loyal servants in the form of your body’s organs. Learning how to understand their signals and needs via the five elements of Oriental Medicine will enable you to be the sovereign of your own health.
Oriental Medicine associates the organs with five corresponding elemental qualities of life. This Five Elements theory posits that water, metal, wood, earth and fire are the basic components of nature. These elements can help interpret the relationship between the body’s physiology and pathology with its natural environment. It also holds that your body’s vital energy or chi circulates through meridian channels that have branches connecting to the organs. Overall, there is a strong synergy between the five elements, your organs, the seasons, the emotions and your diet. So adjusting seasonally to specific nourishing foods, herbs and cooking styles is highly beneficial to your well-being.
As we move into fall and prepare for the upcoming winter season, we need to realize that energy changes happen with each season. Colder weather requires us to go within and shift downward in our level of activities. In western culture we think of dressing differently and preparing our houses for winter, but we really need to also be thinking about changing our diets to maintain warmth in our bodies and optimize the functionality of our organs.
Fall is associated with the element metal and is upon us when the cycle of the day shortens with earlier sunsets. (Your nose is one bellwether of the new season when colds start to set in.)
The organs associated with fall are the lungs and large intestine. Hay fever and other seasonal allergies are examples of not being in harmony with the shifting energies of fall. People think such recurrent symptoms are inevitable and just to be accepted or masked with pharmaceutical prescriptions. But that’s not the case! When you are in harmony with the seasons, you don’t have to get sick.
One simple example of changing with the seasons is to ask ourselves why we continue to drink ice water or eat ice cream when it’s 10 degrees outside. This is habitual behavior that demonstrates you are not listening to the intuition of the body. With fall, we should instead be thinking in terms of warming drinks, cooked stews, soups simmered in a crockpot, fermented foods like sauerkraut and baked goods. The eating style should be in sharp contrast to the tropical fruits, juices, salads and light fare of summer. Fall colds and flu are often the result of the body’s need to contract with the season and clear out stored yin energies like sugar.
The skin reflects what’s occurring in the lungs and large intestines, and so dry skin, eczema or rashes are more frequent as the weather gets colder. Intestinal irritation and inflammation can result in mucus build-up in the sinuses and lungs. The saying “If mama isn’t happy, nobody is happy” can be applied to your gut. If your intestinal balance is out of whack because of your diet, it affects all other aspects of your mind/body health. Pungent foods like ginger, radish, garlic, leeks and spices cut mucus and should be ingested during the fall and winter seasons. Mucus-causing foods to avoid are white flour, sugar, milk and cheese. The dietary “whites” — sugar, flour, rice, salt, milk, potatoes — are all too prevalent in the standard American diet and cause digestive issues.
The emotions associated with the time period of September through November and the lungs are sadness or grief. The body and mind are not dualistic but rather two parts of the same whole. Negative emotions can be caused by physical imbalances and vice versa. So it’s important to release any such pent-up emotions by crying, laughing or deep breathing, so they don’t get stuck in the body and cause illness.
Acupressure is one simple tool that everyone can use on themselves to stimulate and clear such chi blockages. Firmly hold your fingers on the relevant acupuncture meridian points for the lungs or other organs three times per day and see if you feel better as a result. Another interesting way to clue into your body is to examine your face. Different organs are associated with different components of the face (lungs with cheeks, the intestinal tract with the lower lip), and when organs are stressed it can be evident on your visage.
Our mothers and grandmothers often followed the tradition of eating ripe seasonal foods as a way to stay in harmony with nature. In fall, this translates to varieties of squash and root vegetables like carrots, turnips, yams, rutabagas or daikon radish. Learning the basics of home cooking and forgetting how to order food through drive-up windows are essential steps to staying healthy. Statistics show that 80 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated, so drinking enough water to flush your organs of toxins is also an easy step to better health and vitality.
Eating with the seasons helps to strengthen our “wei chi” — our body’s protective energy that defends against pathogens. We’ve all heard the saying, “Oh well, a cold is going around.” But why do some people catch it and others don’t? The strength, or lack thereof, of their wei chi is the answer. Colds are typically an attempt by the body to clear out toxins, so if you maintain a low level of accumulated toxins, you’ll be less likely to come down with a cold or the flu.
Chi gong exercises are particularly good in encouraging energy flow and are thus helpful to the organs. Interestingly, certain sounds can also aid in healing our organs.
As you learn to live with the seasons and interpret your body’s language, any physical ailments may be telling you that your organs just need some love! There are a number of natural healing modalities, foods, herbs and more that can help you improve the health of your organs and keep these ten servants aligned with the highest good of your mind/body/soul kingdom.