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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Autumn and the Metal Element

December 17, 2015
The Metal Element

Happy Holidays! I want to continue our discussion on the fall season and how the energy of this time should guide you in your everyday lives. Autumn is represented by the metal element. Precious metals such as gold and silver reflect the pure and valuable substances, whether physical or emotional, in our lives. The metal element symbolizes order, organization, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. It’s a time to finish those projects you started during the spring and summer and harvest the rewards (or “medals”) of your hard work. While spring and summer was a time to be outdoors and play in an external environment, we should turn inwards and inside during the fall and winter seasons. The organs most affected during this season are our lungs and large intestine, or colon. The energy of the lung and large intestine are also at its peak during autumn.

Why the lungs and large intestine?

The lungs and large intestine may seem like two arbitrary organs to pair together. However, the rationale behind this is quite logical. The lungs are associated with clear thinking and communication (since we use our lungs to speak), openness to new ideas, and the ability to let go and experience happiness. The lungs are responsible for taking in the new and pure. This is physically represented by breathing in the crisp clean autumn air, filling it with the oxygen we need to think clearly and for our bodies to function properly. On the other end, the large intestine or colon is in charge of getting rid of waste. It is the last cycle of digestion that “lets go” of what our bodies don’t need, releasing it out of our system and keeping only what is vital for us to function. But we not only need to get rid of the physical garbage in our body, but our mental and emotional garbage as well. When we are mentally and emotionally constipated, there is no room to take in the new and pure experiences that surround us. Does it make sense now?

Holding on to or letting go of things can be expressed in terms of emotional attachment. Emotionally, autumn is a good time to internally reflect on what we may be hanging on to physically and mentally that we don’t need in our lives anymore. Are you still holding a grudge from years ago that you can’t seem to let go? Are you still grieving over the loss of a loved one or a failed relationship? Are you keeping those clothes and shoes in your closet that you haven’t worn in years?  This is the best time to let go of any past negativity or sadness in your life and donate the things in your home that you haven’t used in years. We can only absorb and receive what is new and useful (the pure) if we make room by letting go of the old or donating to others more in need.

Resolving Grief and Sadness

The emotion associated with autumn and the metal element is grief and sadness. Grief that is properly expressed and resolved actually strengthens us physically and emotionally while repressed grief and sadness injures our lungs, interfering with their function of dispersing nutrients and energy throughout our bodies. Those with healthy lungs have a balanced sense of holding onto their principles and keeping commitments while also knowing when to let go of something, whether it be a physical possession or emotional attachment. In relationships, if your lungs are healthy, you will know when you need to let go (if the relationship is not healthy for you) and process the associated grief and sadness appropriately. On the other hand, those with weak lungs have a difficult time processing grief and attempt to stifle it, which results in never completely letting go. Simultaneously, they can also be unorganized and either lose their things easily or hold on their belongings with unreasonable attachment. Those who have lung and colon problems such as bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, frequent colds and sore throat, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon, and abdominal pain usually have unresolved sadness that needs to be cleared. Recognizing and sharing these feelings with others is a good way to start dissipating these emotions.  So the key is not to ignore your sadness, but deal with it in a healthy way to maintain emotional balance.

Restoring your metal and keeping your lungs healthy

Here’s what you need to do to keep your metal element and lungs healthy this fall and winter season.

1) Breathe deep – The best way to strengthen your lungs is to breathe deeply. When our brains and bodies don’t get the oxygen it needs, our energy, memory, and immune system are affected.

2) Let go of negativity or any past grudges – It’s always good to let go of negativity, but the fall season is the best time to process and deal with it since the lung and large intestine energy is high during this time.

3) Clean, reorganize, and donate – The fall season is a time to de-clutter your home and get rid of things you don’t need. Letting go of the old allows room for the new, whether it be physical possessions or emotional experiences.

4) Keep your neck and chest warm – The weather during this season is cold and windy, so the lungs will be especially susceptible to this climate and getting sick. It is the only organ in our bodies that is directly in contact with our outside environment so it’s important to keep them strong during the cold weather. I always keep an extra scarf in my car to keep my neck warm.

5) Take walks outside – Walking outside during the fall season is a great way for our lungs to take in the clean air as well as get exercise.

6) I talked a lot about what types of foods to eat during the fall season in my last post (read more about it here.) To recap, eat more warming foods and less cooling or raw foods to combat the cold weather. Our digestive and immune systems need to be strong for the colder months so warming foods help strengthen both the stomach and lungs. Because it is dry and windy, soups and stews, cooked over long periods of time on medium heat are nourishing and easier to digest. Foods that are good for the lungs such as rice, sweet rice, oats, carrots, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, fresh ginger, garlic, molasses, rice syrup, barley malt, and herring are also great to eat during the fall season.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and spending quality time with their family and friends!

In health and wellness,

Dr Elain


Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford






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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Four Vital Substances Part 1 – Qi (Energy)

April 28, 2015
Qi and Energy one of the Vital Substances

In Chinese Medicine, our bodies contain four vital substances: Qi, Blood, Essence or (Jing), and Body Fluids. Our lives depend on these four vital substances to exist. I will focus on the first vital substance, Qi, and then talk about the other three in a subsequent post.


Qi, pronouced chee, can be translated as our “energy”, “life-force”, “vital force”, “moving power”, “material force”, or “matter”. It is a fundamental principle in Chinese medicine and the energetic force that circulates through our physical body enabling it to function. It is yang in nature (to review basic yin and yang principle, read here) and its functions are transforming, transporting, holding, raising, protecting, and warming (see in bold below regarding the functions of different forms of Qi).

Two aspects of Qi pertain to medicine.

1) Qi is an energy that can manifest simultaneously on a physical and energetic (or spiritual) level. The components of the Chinese character Qi (氣) define that it is both material and immaterial. The top part of the character means “vapor, steam, or gas” while the bottom part of the character means “uncooked rice” (i.e., a subtle substance such as steam can be produced from a more tangible substance such as uncooked rice) and hence why I featured an image of steamed rice! =)

2) Qi is also in a constant state of flux and can manifest itself in different forms. When it condenses, Qi can transform into a physical shape. In Chinese medicine there are different forms of human Qi, but it is important to remember that there is only one Qi energy that assumes these different forms of energy.

The different forms of Qi:

  • Original Qi – This is Essence (another vital substance), but in the form of Qi. It originates between our two kidneys from “Pre-Heaven Essence” and is continually replenished by “Post-Heaven Essence.” Original Qi is Essence that has transformed into Qi. We will discuss the significance of Essence in a subsequent post.
  • Food Qi – This is the first step in transformation of the food we eat into Qi (energy). Food first enters the stomach where it is processed and then transformed into “Food Qi” by the Qi of the Spleen. Spleen Qi then transports Food Qi to the lungs and heart. In the lungs it is combined with air to form Gathering Qi, and in the heart it is transformed into blood. (Spleen Qi holds the blood in the blood vessels, Kidney-Qi and Bladder-Qi hold urine, and Lung-Qi holds sweat. Spleen Qi also raises the organs by keeping them in our body cavities).
  • Gathering Qi – This Qi nourishes the heart and lungs, controlling respiration, blood, and blood vessels. It controls our speech and the strength of our voices. It sends blood circulation to our extremities. Hence, poor circulation to the extremities and a weak voice signify weak Gathering Qi.
  • True Qi – This is the last step of Qi transformation. Gathering Qi is turned into True Qi by Original Qi. True Qi originates in the lungs like Gathering Qi and is the energy that circulates all through our meridians (or channels) and nourishes all our organs. There are two different forms of True Qi – Nutritive Qi and Defensive Qi.
  • Nutritive Qi or Nourishing Qi nourishes and moistens our internal organs. It flows in our blood vessels and meridians. This Qi is extracted from food and water to regulate and moisten our internal organs. It is yin relative to Defensive Qi because it is nourishing and travels in the interior of our bodies.
  • Defensive Qi – We discussed this last week on my post on The Six External Pathogenic Factors. This Qi protects and defends. It is more yang than Nutritive Qi since it flows in the outer layers of the body, outside our channels. It warms and protects our bodies from exterior pathogenic factors such as Wind, Cold, Heat, and Damp. It warms, moistens and nourishes our skin and muscles, controls the opening and closing of our pores and regulates our body temperature through sweating. Our lungs control Defensive Qi. Those with weak lungs will have weak Defensive Qi, weak immunity and be more susceptible to colds.

Direction of Qi Movement

The Qi of our internal organs move in specific directions in order to function correctly. When Qi is flowing in the right direction, our organs work properly. When Qi moves in the wrong direction, we will see symptoms and even pathology in those specific organs.

Lungs – Our lungs inhale clear Qi (air) and exhale impure Qi (impurities). Lung Qi descends. It directs Qi downwards towards the kidney and bladder. When Lung Qi is rebellious and ascends, this can result in coughing.

Liver – The Liver controls the overall smooth flow of qi in all directions of our body. In general, Liver Qi ascends and counterbalances the descending action of Lung Qi.

Kidneys – Kidneys control transformation of Water. Impure fluids move down while clear Qi (air) moves up. The Lungs and Kidneys also balance each other as Kidney Qi ascends, while Lung Qi descends.

Spleen and Stomach – Spleen Qi ascends to the lungs and heart, while the Stomach sends impure Qi downwards. These two organs balance each other. When Spleen Qi rebels and descends, the resulting symptoms are diarrhea or in more severe cases organ prolapse. When Stomach Qi rebels and ascends, this can result in nausea, belching, or vomiting.

Heart-Kidneys – The Heart Qi, associated with the Fire Element, flows down to meet Kidney Qi, associated with the Water Element. Kidney-Water rises to meet Heart-Fire.

Qi Pathology

Qi pathology happens in four ways:

1) Qi deficient – Spleen, Lung, and Kidney Qi are especially susceptible to Qi deficiency.

Spleen Qi deficiency signs and symptoms: This is caused by poor diet or malnourishment, stress, worry, thinking too much, overeating or overeating sweets. Symptoms include loose stools, fatigue, generalized weakness, pale tongue with a thin white coating, and a weak pulse. Spleen Qi deficiency can cause food sensitivities, indigestion, diarrhea, dysentery, anemia, ulcers, and upper abdominal pain. In more severe cases of Spleen Qi deficiency, we will see prolapse of organs such as hemorrhoids and prolapsed uterus or bladder (see #2 below – Qi Sinking).

Foods that can correct Spleen Qi deficiency:

  • complex carbohydrates such as oats, spelt, and sweet rice, and foods that are sweet and/or pungent (see my post on The Five Flavors for review)
  • carbohydrate-rich vegetables: winter squash, carrots, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potatoes, yams, and pumpkin
  • pungent vegetables and spices: onions, leeks, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg
  • sweeteners or cooked fruits in small quantities: barley malt, molasses, cherries, and dates
  • with severe deficiency, small quantities of animal products prepared in soup or congee: mackerel, tuna, halibut, beef, beef liver or kidney, chicken, turkey, or lamb. No dairy products except for butter, as dairy products are phlegm producing and further weaken the spleen.

Lung Qi Deficiency Signs and Symptoms: This is usually a chronic problem resulting from chronic long-term lung disease, over-all lack of body Qi, and long-term grief or sorrow (the emotions associated with the lungs). Symptoms are weakness, fatigue, weak voice and limited speech, coughing, and shortness of breath. You may see spontaneous sweating with any kind of physical activity and poor immunity if Defensive Qi is weakened.

Foods that treat Lung Qi deficiency include foods that tonify and support Lung Qi as well as improve the absorption of Food Qi:

  • rice, sweet rice, oats, carrots, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, fresh ginger, garlic, molasses, rice syrup, barley malt, and herring; herbs like licorice root
  • foods should be cooked warm; avoid cooling foods or phlegm producing foods like citrus fruits, salt, milk, dairy products, spinach, chard, or seaweed.

Kidney Qi Deficiency Signs and Symptoms: When Kidney Qi is deficient, the kidneys do not have enough energy to control urine and semen. This is caused by either a congenital defect, too much sexual activity, sexual activity at an early age, or uncontrolled fear and anxiety (the emotions associated with the kidney). Typical symptoms are low back pain, weak knees, pale tongue, weak radial pulse, minor cold signs (aversion to cold weather, wanting to drink warm food and drinks, clear urine, watery stools, or thin watery mucus), frequent urination, incontinence, inability to urinate, dribbling urine, and other problems with urinary or seminal control (involuntary emission).

Foods and herbs for Kidney Qi deficiency:

  • parsley, wheat berry, sweet rice; herbs such as rose hips, oyster shell, clam shell, schisandra fruit, and raspberry

2) Qi sinking – Qi that is deficient can sink, resulting in prolapse of organs. As mentioned above, this is mostly from Spleen Qi deficiency, where a severe deficiency will cause prolapse of organs such as the uterus, bladder, and rectum. Since Spleen Qi sinking is a direct result of Spleen Qi deficiency, foods that treat Spleen Qi deficiency will also treat Spleen Qi sinking.

3) Qi stagnant – This happens when Qi does not move and becomes stagnant in your body. Liver Qi stagnates the most. (Liver syndromes which include Liver Qi stagnation require a post of its own which I will discuss soon).

4) Qi rebellious – This is when qi flows in the opposite or wrong direction (e.g. rebellious ascending Stomach Qi results in nausea, belching, and vomiting.)

Ok, here’s what you need to know about Qi:

  • Qi is one of the four Vital Substances in our body and essential to our body’s function. Qi is the substance that gives us life and we cannot live without it!
  • Qi manifests simultaneously on a physical and energetic level, and can manifest in many different forms.
  • Qi transforms, transports, holds, raises, warms, and protects.
  • The different forms of Qi are Original, Food, Gathering, True, Nutritive, and Defensive Qi.
  • Each form of organ Qi moves in a specific direction. When the organ Qi goes against its natural direction, this causes disharmony and disease in that organ.
  • Pathologic Qi is deficient, sinking, stagnant, and rebellious.

I presented a lot of information on Qi today because I would like you to have a solid and thorough understanding of what it is, and why it is essential for life! I will be talking about Qi frequently, so feel free to reference back to this post if you need a refresher. And please don’t hesitate to ask any questions for clarification!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain


The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Photo Credit: Pontus Edenburg

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