In Chinese medicine the skin is associated with the season of Autumn, it is a time where skin complaints, particularly dryness may worsen and a good time to be thinking about how best to nourish and protect your skin ahead of the winter season.
The traditional Chinese approach to health, centres around a cycle of 5 elements; water, wood, fire, earth and metal. All of life is understood as a series of cycles - for instance solar days within lunar months, within seasonal years - and that all cycles are understood to follow similar patterns which are understood using the concept of yin and yang. Every cycle has its maximum yang point of greatest activity (fire), which then flows back to maximum yin, the quietest and stillest point (water), and round again. So if we take the cycle of the year, summer represents maximum yang and winter, maximum yin.
This approach enables all elements of life to be categorised according to their basic characteristics, meaning imbalances can be corrected by addressing any part of the cycle that is out of sync. This simple concept lends itself to understanding hugely complex issues and allows for a completely unique approach to each person’s health depending on their individual constitution, personal environmental factors and the symptoms that they experience individually. No two people can ever be the same!
Skin, and autumn, are associated with the metal element, and the part of the cycle where the heat and natural activity of summer is cooling and returning to the stiller state of winter. It is the time when plants draw their energy back into their roots, pulling their nutrients in where they can be stored and released when the spring returns. This astringent effect is mirrored in our bodies where it can cause dryness in our skin. In Chinese medicine the lung system* plays a major role in helping support a happy nourished skin, as its job is to transport water in the body, spreading it to the skin, and the space between the skin and the muscles to keep the skin nourished and healthy. Ensuring we keep ourselves hydrated and that we are living in ways that will support a healthy lung system is therefore essential for the health of our skin.
*‘Lung system’ refers to the wider functions of the lungs not just the actual organ, so please do not worry if you are ever told your lung system is out of balance it does not mean there is a problem with your lungs!
So in terms of helping nourish and keep our skin healthy from a Chinese medicine perspective what can we do? Chinese medicine is all about the importance of balance, keeping all elements of our system in a general balance with each other. So in a simple way, ensuring we have a sufficient balance of rest and activity, allowing ourselves to adapt to what we need at any given time and ensuring a nourishing diet and adequate hydration are essential are the first things to look at if we notice changes to our skin or system in general.
However as we move into Autumn it is a particularly good time of year to work on regulating our breathing and keeping our lung system healthy so that it can work efficiently to keep our skin hydrated and healthy. Mindful yoga or seated breathing techniques can be particularly helpful as they not only helps us exercise our lung system but also have that inward quality that fits with the drawing inwards and stillness that takes place in the wider world during Autumn.
Interestingly while our lungs are the receivers of respiration it is actually the nose that plays a major role in how we breathe. A simple exercise to try is to sit comfortably and focus to where your lungs are in your chest, then take a deep breath in and slowly release it, observing how you feel. Then move your attention to the back of your nose, imagine you are trying to smell a flower that is on the other side of the room and notice how you breathe in as you do this. You will probably find that the breath is much longer and smoother than when your focus was on your lungs, and that your lungs fill more fully and comfortably. Sit for a few minutes with your eyes lightly closed, breathing in this manner and keeping your focus on your breath. This simple breathing practice done regularly will not only help calm your system but also train your body to breathe the same way in more strenuous situations, helping ensure your breath stays smooth and as efficient as possible, and supporting a healthy lung system in the body, which in turn will benefit your wider physical and emotional health.
If you have any questions about Chinese medicine or using yoga techniques therapeutically please do feel free to contact me through my Instagram site https://www.instagram.com/balanced_stillness_yoga , I’m happy to connect with people for skin related or any other issue!