Dramatic, isn’t it? How Autumn sneaks up on us. Suddenly, we notice a chill in the air. Or how dark it is when we get up in the morning. And the leaves – oh the leaves! – as they leave us. The edges of light and dark show up so clearly now. Dawn and dusk seem like sharper turning points. Often magnificent – ever so briefly. Now you see it, now you . . .
That’s the nature of Autumn. Bit of a sharp edge. It’s cut-to-the-chase time. Days get shorter. Plants die back. Animals look for cover. We may not be the ones bringing in the last of the harvest, but we share their primal sense of urgency. We may feel unprepared for what comes next. Or unready to let go of what’s past. Often we feel like we’re scrambling just to keep up.
Our lungs help us – if we let them – move thru these changes with grace, maybe even elegance. Our lungs give us the capacity to claim what we really value – and blow off all the rest. At least that’s how we Acupuncturists see it.
In Asian healing arts like Acupuncture, Autumn is the season of the lungs. It offers profound healing AND profound challenges for our lungs. Lung function is all about how we exchange whatever we value with the world around us. Our skin and colon help with this exchange.
On a body level, we exchange air. We take in what we need and exhale all else. We can’t do this once and for all. Or once in a while. We do it regularly, rhythmically every few seconds. From the moment we’re born till our last breath. Some 98 percent of what we breathe in never penetrates a cell wall. But what does is the difference between life and death.
On mental and spiritual levels we also have to clarify what we value and extract it from all else. This can also be seen lung function. Letting go comes easily only when we know we’ve got what’s essential. We wouldn’t want to ‘throw out a baby with the bath,’ right?
Think of a diamond. In the rough it doesn’t look like much. You have to carefully cut away the rough edges to reveal the brilliance at its core. That sort of honing is what our lungs do for our mind and spirit. It can be wrenching, but when we let go of what’s not necessary for us to be our true selves, our inner light shows up more vibrantly on all sides.
Autumn fine tunes this honing function. Good thing because we need it more than ever now! Without it, we get bogged down with too much to think about, too much to do, too much phlegm, too much stuff. Things we don’t want from the world around us ‘invade’ us as respiratory infections or distractions. Our lungs and skin are our first line of defense.
Autumn calls us to make sacrifices – not a popular concept in our culture. But consciously or not, we make sacrifices every day. A sacrifice is giving up something of value for something of greater value. We can’t have or do it all. We make way for what matters to us most by letting go of what matters less. When our lungs are in good form our choices match our core values. And we can acknowledge and recover from losses and mistakes. One breath at a time.
Like any part of us, our lungs get stronger with constructive exercise. That includes both aerobic activity and breathing practices. Anything that lets us to breathe more freely and fully. Our lungs are compromised by slouching and by tensions that prevent us from breathing fully. Anything that enhances our physical breathing boosts lung function on other levels as well.
In fact, checking in with what lets you breathe more freely is a great way to make wise judgements about what to keep and what to let go of. When you have a choice to make, say between between two activities scheduled at the same time, try imagining each and check in to see which one lets you breath more freely. Our clarity on this is extra sharp this time of year.
Tricky thing to learn about exercising the lungs is that less effort can help them work better. You can work at inhaling, but working at exhaling, well, it just doesn’t work. All you can do is hold a space to allow exhalation to occur. Taking just a little time to practice this can make a huge difference in both your immune system and your energy level throughout the day. I always say, unless someone has a gun to your head, you have time for three breaths, That’s usually all it takes to expand our lungs and reset our lung rhythm to breath more fully.
When we go too long without exhaling fully, things hurt more, we get more anxious and more tired. We may have trouble concentrating as things we don’t really care about distract us. We may find ourselves haunted by mistakes – ours or others’ – that we can’t let go of. Worse, we may miss opportunities to do what really matters to us because we’re busy doing other things.
So let yourself breath in the awe of Autumn. Let the drama of leaves leaving take your breath away – and open space for inspiration. That’s what we call a first breath. The rest we call respiration. Don’t take it for granted. Knowing that one day, one breath will be our last is a great reminder to make the most of each breath.
Tips to make the most of Autumns healing gifts:
- Boost your defense systems by roughing up the skin of your arms and the back of your neck
with your fingernails. Just enough to make it tingly. This wakes up your ‘border guard.’
- Pay attention to your posture. Check in front of a mirror and notice how differently you
breathe when you hold your head high and let your let your shoulders hang loosely.
- Imagine the top of your head is connected with the sky. Imagine energy from the Heavens
pouring into that spot, lifting your head to effortlessly draw you up to your full height.
- Notice the ‘clutter catchers’ in your home or office. Start taking small steps to clear them out,
maybe one step each day. Congratulate yourself for each step along the way.
- Early morning is peak time for the lungs. If you wake up early, don’t fight it. Enjoy your first
breath of the day with gracious gratitude. Stretch it out and let it energize every cell.
- If your lungs get ‘invaded’ by infection, take time to recover fully and re-envigorate your lungs.
- Don’t spend too much time lying down, which is taxing to the lungs.
- Take stock of your spiritual practices, especially those that help you refine and reaffirm your
values. Set aside a regular time in your day or week for this.
- If you don’t have a practice that helps you catch your breath, consider meditation. You can
start by taking just a few minutes every day to focus on your breathing.
Cynthia Zanti Jabs, L.Ac., has practiced Acupuncture and Medical Qi Gong for two decades. She can be reached at her Ruscombe Mansion office by calling 443-226- 6626