Autumn Healing with TCM: Metal Element's Lung/Large Intestine and Grief



Autumn is the ideal time for letting go of emotional residue and anything else the body does not need.    Wisdom from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be a helpful guide on how best to cleanse your whole being, attuned to the seasonal cycles.  In TCM, autumn corresponds with the lung and large intestine, recommending this as the best time to cleanse these organs.  It’s also a good time to detoxify the mind and body’s toxic residue from emotional grief or sadness, as these aspects correspond with the Metal element of the autumn season in TCM.  


I.  5 Element System


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) rests on a foundation of 5 Element Theory, involving Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.  These elements are a 5-phase theory of interrelated, organic energies expressed in our body and nature.   This pentagram within hosts a flow of energies that depict our personalities, emotions and health imbalances.  Everyone has their unique energetic blueprint of 5 elements expressed through health patterns, and this can be a key factor in diagnosing for a TCM Practitioner.  While some of this can be deep and complicated, meriting a 5 year degree to recognize, parts are simple and easy to recognize for anyone.  This article is part of a 5 element series, focusing on the metal element for autumn.  Here is a table that sums up all of the elements and some of their correspondences: 


Element    Season        Organs                Emotions          Color               Tone           Sounds


Wood        Spring        Liver/Gallbladder     Anger/              Green                E                 SHHH


Fire          Summer        Heart/                  Joy/Hatred              Red                  G               HAWW

                                            Small Intestine

Earth   Late Summer     Spleen/Stomach        Worry             Yellow               C                WHOO


Metal      Autumn            Lung/                   Grief/Sadness      White               D               SSSSS 

                                    Large Intestine

Water     Winter            Kidney/Bladder           Fear                 Blue/Black       A                WOOO



The interrelationships follow a flow in which each element feeds the next element and controls the second from it as depicted below.   For example, Metal feeds water and controls wood and so on.  And Metal is fed by earth and controlled by fire (think of melting).



We embody all five elements, however, many individuals express certain elements more strongly.  For example, a Metal type would take on more traits of this element, being more analytical and resistant to change and letting go. 


II. Metal Archetype of Lung/Large Intestine


The Metal archetype of TCM is one of the 5 used in TCM diagnosis, embodying the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the constitution.   Being human, we are always out of balance with our own individual blueprints toward our highest nature.  Working with and understanding the baseline can give guidance for objective assessments, helping to eliminate judgement and encouraging personal evolution.  The metal element corresponds with the 3 earthly branches of Autumn: Monkey, Rooster and Dog. Metal’s symbol is the white tiger.  Its direction of west on the feng shui ba-gua is associated with children, creativity and the future.   Metal qualities include strength, independence, focus, intensity, righteousness and fluency in speech.  The  metal personality is very determined and powerful. Metal types are learning to be less opinionated, accepting change, and letting go of the past.  Although metal is a lesser yin element, it can exist in either a yang or a yin state. When metal expresses masculine yang energy, its color is white and is symbolized by a weapon. When metal expresses feminine yin energy, its color is silver and is symbolized by a kettle.                                                                    


Each element is associated with paired yin-yang organs and other emotions.  The paired yin-yang organs for the Metal Element are the Lung (Yin) and Large Intestine (Yang).   TCM’s cultural perspective is different than ours in the West regarding emotions.  With the exception of joy, from the western perspective, the other 4 TCM emotions of anger, worry, grief and fear would be considered ‘negative’ to most individuals.  In TCM, the emotions are a source of disharmony with neutral connotations.  All emotions have their place in healthy individuals and should be expressed in a balanced way to maintain health.  Even too much joy can be a source of disharmony.    In TCM, the emotion grief is associated with Metal.   The challenge is to express grief and let go of the past, which can fester if not released, as negativity or sadness.  The body, mind and emotions are all connected in TCM with emphasis on treating the whole person for balance and health.


III. Taoist Healing Sounds and Tones/Grief & Loss Meditation


In TCM, there is an ancient Taoist concept of the Six Healing Sounds or Liu Zi Jue.  Each of the 5 elements and paired organs have a healing sound and tone.   Triple Burner is the sixth sound and integrates the other 5 sounds and is explained in Fire Element blog.  The tone for Metal Element is D and the healing sound is SSSSSS.  There is a Taoist Qi Gong exercise where you lean to the left with arms and palms up, inhaling deeply then exhaling while saying the healing sound, SSSSSS.  The Six Healing Sounds are thought to transform the stagnant energy stored in the organs and meridian pathways into a vital life force.  This also includes an exercise, similar to the western modality, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprogramming).  In the Lung exercise, you imagine a person or situation that has given you grief, then separate the person/situation from the grief.  Next, imagine your each eye move down, one in each lung.   While focusing on the grief, move your eyes back and forth, imagine the eyes in your lungs moving back and forth, eliminating the grief.   This exercise can be practiced with all organs and their corresponding emotion and vocal healing sounds.  In addition, you can use color therapy and imagine vibrant white or silver light penetrating the lung and Large Intestine during this meditation. 


IV. Lung Cleanse


Herbalism is one of the 5 branches in East Asian Medicine.  Autumn is the best time to cleanse the lungs and large intestine.  There are 6 key herbs good for detoxing the lungs that are worth mentioning.    These herbs can be taken as herbal teas, pills or tinctures.  Elecampane or Xuan Fu Hua is an herb used in TCM and Ayurvedic Medicine for phlegm and cough.  The key phytochemical in this plant is Inulin, which coats and soothes the lining of the bronchial passages and is an expectorant for cleansing lung congestion.  Its root in used in TCM for asthma attacks.  Another expectorant is mullein, with saponins, natural detergents which make a cough more protective in releasing phlegm from the lungs and mucilage, a gelatinous substance which soothes any irritated membrane.  Oregano Oil is a histamine reducing herb, which may help to reduce allergic reactions, such as, nasal congestion, mucous production and sneezing.   It is known to be a potent antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant and anti-parasitic oil that can reduce pain and inflammation and fight off infections.  Lungwort has been a lung tonic for centuries, helping with cold flu, cough, and shortness of breath.  Part of the reason that Lungwort is so therapeutic is that it an antioxidant, protecting the cellular and organ health.  Eucalyptus oil (do not swallow) and peppermint oil are both used as a lung cleansing, expectorant chest rub with aromatherapy benefits, allowing vapors through the nasal passages.  In addition, the menthol helps relax respiratory tract muscles, which eases breathing difficulties. 


V. Large Intestine Cleanse


There are many herbs that are beneficial in cleansing the Large Intestine.  In TCM, a popular herb for constipation is Da Huang or “Big Yellow.”  Being a purgative that is bitter and cold, it can clear constipation and toxins, especially heat accumulation with abdominal distention.  It is often combined with bowel-relaxing purgatives, such as, Mang Xiao and Hou Po or along with magnesium oxide.  Another TCM herb for bowel cleansing is Aloe Vera or Lu Hui.  It is cold and bitter, while being gentle on the intestinal tract.  It can ease inflammation in the colon and facilitate digestion with its enzymes.  Interestingly, Aloe is thought to be so beneficial because its chemical make-up is more similar to humans than any other plant.  It has the ability to restore the digestion by providing nutrients and enzymes.   An Ayurvedic bowel tonic is Triphala (“the 3 Fruits), a concoction with Amalaki or Indian gooseberry, Haritaki, and Bibhitaki.  All 3 of these superfoods are not only mild laxatives but also beneficial for the heart, brain and inflammation.


VI.  Meridian Therapy:  Lung and Large Intestine  


In TCM there are 12 principle meridians that correspond with organs.   There are paired organs, 1 yang/hollow and 1 yin (solid) pairs for each element and season, with the exception of the fire element having 2 pairs. The meridians are channels, where the qi (life force) flows, transforming energy to material and vice versa.  The acupuncture points used for needling are along these channels.  However, there are many ways to stimulate the points without acupuncture needles, using essential oils, acupressure, massage, Reiki or tuning forks.   Plus, anyone can support the flow of the qi in the meridians by stretching or doing yoga.  When we are stiff, our meridians kink like a garden hose, obstructing our free flow flow of qi.  Obstructions can lead to pain or disease from this imbalance.   Here is an overview of the locations and benefits of the 2 metal meridians and selected power points emphasized along the channels:  


Lung Meridian:



This meridian starts on the upper lateral chest in the first intercostal space next to the shoulder bone, then continues down the shoulder and arm along the outside of the biceps muscle with palms up and down the forearm over the palmar side of the thumb and exiting out the end of the thumb.   Of the 11 points, 5 are significant ones are explained:

1-“Central Palace:” First Intercostal space-cough, asthma, chest pain or shoulder pain, abdominal distention

3-“Heavenly Residence:” 3 cun below axillary fold on outside border of Biceps-Letting go, depression and grief

5-“Cubit Marsh:” In elbow crease on outer side of biceps tendon-chronic lung issues/congestion, cough, asthma

7-“Broken Sequence:” Radial Margin of arm, superior to styloid process, 1.5 cun above wrist crease-head and neck problems, migraines, toothache, cough, asthma, nasal problems, thumb or thenar eminence pain and immunity.

10- “Fish Border:” midpoint of palmar side of thumb-throat conditions, such as, hoarseness, fever or sore throat


Large Intestine:



This meridian begin at the tip of the index finger moving up between the first and second metacarpals up the arm  and forearm with palms down to front of shoulder bone and back on shoulder blade and then up the side of the neck, ending alongside the nose nostrils.   From the 20 acupuncture points on this meridian, 4 significant ones are explained: 


4-“Joining Valley:” Between 1st and 2nd metacarpal bones in the middle of the 2nd bone-diseases of the head and face, sinus congestion, eye pain, sinusitis, epistaxis, deafness, anhidrosis, difficult or abnormal labor, abdominal pain, IBS, immunity, allergies, colds or flu. Contraindicated for pregnant women.

11-“Pool of the Crook:” lateral side of elbow crease in middle of muscle-all febrile diseases, fever, sore throat, malaria, knee or shoulder pain, blurring vision toothache, irregular menstruation, urticarial, erysipelas, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, depressive psychosis and madness

15-“Shoulder Bone:” Anterior, superior side on shoulder bone in depression-shoulder pain/stiffness

20-“Welcome Fragrance:” Alongside the nostrils-sinusitus, nasal congestion, allergies, epistaxis


VII.  Spirit of the Lung: Po


The Po or Animal Soul, according to TCM, ceases to exist when you die.  It’s that part of our spirit that is the most primal and physical, completely reliant upon the body’s corporeal existence.  The virtue of the Po is seen in preciousness or bao, with the ability to appreciate the moment and its transitory nature.  The Po reminds us of the impermanent nature of our physical bodies and mortal relationships.  It allows you to let go and appreciate the completion of all things whose life has ended, even the transitory feelings of inspiration or sublimity.   When the Po is oppressed or weak, a person may have difficulty letting go of feelings and relationships that are complete, therefore, hanging on to grief and sadness.  This can also manifest as physical problems with the lungs, such as, bronchitis or pneumonia.


VIII. Conclusion/Guided Healing Meditation


In conclusion, this article was intended to simplify and provide an overview of TCM or Taoist principles on the 5 elements.  This system is interrelated into a cohesive whole, with this article on the metal element of autumn, being 1 of a 5-part series (see my other blogs on Wood, Fire, Earth and Water).  This article is especially beneficial to consider in the autumn, however, anytime you have imbalances with the lung/large intestine or their associated emotions of grief and letting go, this can be helpful to read and apply.    As a TCM Practitioner, I offer seasonal healing services with Acupuncture, herbal cleanses, healing sounds, and qi gong exercises.   In addition, I have written and co-producing guided healing meditations with Eileen Dey, Wurst and Michael Mercker on a 5 Element East Asian Series for each season and its corresponding organs/emotions.    Here is a link to purchase the Mp3 download for the Metal Element and Lung/Large Intestine Guided Healing Meditation:    



Disclaimer:  This article or CD is not intended to diagnose, cure or treat any disease.  Consult a health practitioner for any illness.  Do not listen to CD while driving or lifting heavy items.





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