The Metal element dominates the season of Autumn. In the Five Element theory, an ancient view of how nature and man interact, each of the elements is discrete, yet also dependent on every other element. The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.
In a nutshell, each element corresponds with an organ and meridian in Traditional Chinese medicine and defines a season of time, as well as specific characteristics such as personality type, season, senses, and every living thing.
Beginning with Wood, considered the first element to be created, a new element is generated until the final 5th element. Wood generates Fire. Fire generates Earth, to Metal, and finally to Water at the last of the chain.
As we are now in the season of Metal, Autumn, here I will describe how the energies of this element affect health, both the inner and the outer.
Metal is representative of the process of going inward as we move from the expansive energy of Fire and summer to a slower, darker, more yin season. As the heavens shift to shorter days one finds the time to reflect on what is valuable and cherished. This is also a time to release what is no longer needed in order to purify and restore.
The organs corresponding with Metal are the Lung and Large Intestine. They are the major detoxifying organs and are charged with releasing the products of respiration (Lung) and of digestion (Large Intestine). Unfinished or unresolved issues held since the past Spring or summer months are meant to be released, and if not, may lead to congestion.
Dryness is considered the perverse pathogen associated with Metal. When the digestion is sluggish, or the defenses are weak, dryness can attack and lead to phlegm stagnation. Phlegm is a byproduct of weak transformative powers of the organs, in which the metabolism is not strong enough, or is detrimentally affected by an external pathogen, and is thereby unable to transform fluids. The stagnancy of fluids leads to the formation of phlegm, and may then manifest as sinus infection, constipation, itching, and/or allergic reactions.
This is not the season for strong detoxification with herbs or diets, like the Spring. Gentle and moistening herbs may be employed to move phlegm and ease symptoms such as cough and itching. Formulas such as Sang ju yin may be useful this time of year for their Wind expelling (prevents colds/flu), blood nourishing, and moistening properties.
The emphasis of Metal is purification by establishing boundaries, both within oneself and with others. If something is no longer serving its purpose, it should be released gently and with good intent, or said another way, “the Lung governs the relationship between the inside and the outside, setting limits and protecting boundaries (Beinfield & Korngold, 1991, p. 117).”
There is a strong moral center to Metal types since they have spent time on developing themselves and their values. Moss (2004) says that Metal types “like established plans with people and activities that will meet their high standards.” The problem is that it is hard to meet their high standards, and even they can not do so themselves all of the time. Their perfectionism can lead to issues with Lung or Large Intestine (Metal organs) such as chronic sinusitis, constipation, or asthma. Metal types also need to let go of their regrets or self-criticism. Releasing toxins, both mentally and physically, is important to their balance.
Beinfield & Korngold (1991). Between heaven & earth: A guide to Chinese medicine. New York: Random House Publishing Group, Inc.
Moss, Charles MD. (2011). Power of the five elements: The Chinese medicine path to healthy aging & stress resistance. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.