What Autumn Holds for You

Seasonal change isn’t instant. Especially here in the Bay Area, it’s gradual. 1 step forward, 2 steps back, until it isn’t. It takes a special focus to notice it as it shifts. We may yet get our warm Late Summer days that often show up in late September/ October, but Autumn has already been happening. There’s that chill in the air. A certain crispness. A lot of complaints of dry throats.

My favorite tree on the Vassar Farm (Oct 2003)

My favorite tree on the Vassar Farm (Oct 2003)

Eastern Medicine takes its cues from the natural world. As it is in nature, so is it in our bodies and emotional landscapes. Spring and Summer both have an energy of new growth and expansion. There’s a fullness and flourishing. In Autumn, we start to draw back into the interior.

There are five elements (sometimes also called Five Phases) in Eastern Medicine: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. The Five Elements have corresponding seasons, tastes, channels, energies, diseases, and so much more that there is an entire school of thought in Chinese Medicine defined by this focus.

Autumn is the Metal season. Metal cuts like a knife and holds like a copper cup, dividing and separating, creating boundaries. This season we ask, What do you need that you should keep hold of? What is not yours that you can release?

Classically in cultures around the world this is the season for harvesting. It’s a time to take stock of and appreciate the bounty the year has brought you. What have you accomplished? Be grateful and take pride.

The Metal meridians: Lung and Large Intestine

The emotion of the Lungs is Grief.
As we take stock in this season of our year and our lives, certain goals and accomplishments we may have set no longer serve us. They may be inaccessible or simply no longer appropriate. It’s ok to grieve that loss or change before moving forward. Once you’ve allowed yourself space to grieve, you can become clear and focused, paring back to the essentials to figure out what the new or important goals are and get them done. You can do it! There’s still time!

If you have lost someone or something this year or in this season, you may find that the grief feels larger or has resurfaced. That’s natural, but it doesn’t mean you have to feel it alone or that there isn’t a supportive therapy you can reach to, from speaking that grief with friends and family, to working with a trusted therapist, to seeking acupuncture to balance the emotions and meridians. Grief is a natural emotion, but it also shouldn’t be overwhelming forever. If it’s feeling unmanageable, please ask for help.

The corresponding emotion of the Large Intestine is Letting Go.
Don’t keep it in. Let that sh*t go!

Autumn’s climate is Dryness, which injures the Lungs.
There’s a danger of holding too much in, in that it can dry out and get stuck (sometimes literally, as constipation or dry phlegm). It’s important to keep your Lungs hydrated and strong as they govern your immune system. Lily bulb and pears are wonderful supporters of the Lungs.

My Fall recommendations:

  • Make sure your favorite sweater is within reach and put the kettle on

  • Always carry a scarf (aka make sure your neck is covered)

  • Stock up on pears (amazing just as they are or steamed, baked, or poached with ginger and honey)

  • Come in for acupuncture to address your emotional health and strengthen your immune system before you feel yourself coming down with a cold!


Treating Stress, Anxiety, and Depression with Acupuncture

Why is Chicken Soup Good for a Cold?

Stress Relief and the Pantone Color of the Year


Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Header and Pear Images: Unsplash

How to Survive and Thrive in the First Trimester

How to Survive and Thrive in the First Trimester

A NOTE FROM SHAWNA: When I find a good article I would like to share with you, I will (if the rights for the source allow it), reprint it here for you to enjoy. This does not necessarily indicate a relationship with the source and is not paid content. This post was written by acupuncturist Katherine Altneu, originally posted on the blog for her Denver practice, and is reposted here with her permission.

Pregnancy is different for every woman. Some women get debilitating fatigue, others get incapacitating nausea, others get leg cramps or insomnia. I don’t think there’s one foolproof way to make it through the symptoms that often accompany pregnancy, but here’s what I learned about managing and minimizing many of those symptoms.

To be honest, so far I haven’t been terribly impressed with the level of prenatal care I’ve experienced. I’ve seen both an OB and a Midwife group, and while I like the doctors I’ve worked with, believe they really do care about me and feel safe and that I’m in good hands, I also feel like a LOT is missing from the conversation.

Prenatal care feels basically like emergency prevention & management. Going to see them makes me feel relieved to hear the heartbeat or see the baby via ultrasound. But other than that, they pretty much just check my blood pressure as if to say “Well, you don’t have preeclampsia yet!” and then they basically just tell me: “Wear your seatbelt, and don’t get Listeria”. Um, thanks. Got it.

Yeah, all their nutritional advice is all about avoiding Listeria. It’s NOT about getting adequate or even optimal nutrition for the baby or mama. My goals are more than simply averting a medical crisis after all. Can’t we avert medical crises AND talk about optimal health and nutrition for BABY and helping ME feel my best as well?

So many doctors just tell you that it’s “normal”. Morning sickness is normal. Fatigue is normal. Bloating and gas are normal. And yes, all of these symptoms are very common, and it can be nice to hear that. But common doesn’t make them NORMAL or necessary or mean that they’re not AVOIDABLE or a sign of an underlying imbalance or deficiency.

In fact, many common pregnancy complaints and complications are associated with vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. Which means they can also be rectified pretty easily!

Often, we don’t need to just accept these symptoms as NORMAL. For many of these common pregnancy symptoms, there are strategies and tools we can use to prevent them, minimize them and alleviate them.

So, without further ado, here are the tricks I’ve learned and what I really want more women to know:

Why is Chicken Soup Good for a Cold?

No matter what culture you hail from, you probably crave broth or chicken soup when you're sick. It's certainly comforting to reach for what we were given as children, but why is there merit to the reflex? What makes chicken soup the best cold remedy? Chinese Medicine explains the classic cold buster through this nutritional lens:

The Onion and Ginger

The ultimate basic immune support is hot water with green onion and ginger slices. Both spring onion (or scallions, cong bai in pinyin Chinese) and fresh ginger (sheng jiang) are in a category of herbs that release the exterior of the body, inducing a slight sweat and helping to expel pathogens (what we might understand as germs). From a pharmacological perspective, both ginger and spring onion have antibacterial properties and ginger is also anti-inflammatory, antipyretic (brings down fever), and analgesic (relieves pain) (source: Chen & Chen, Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology). This simple two herb pairing works best when you are in the very early stages of a cold as this is gentle medicine.

For an integrative mixture of Eastern and Western medicine, adding lemon provides Vitamin C and flavor, but keep it light – just a slice or small squeeze – as you don't want to astringe the pathogen into the body. Just as the sourness of lemon makes you pull your lips into a pucker, Chinese medicine theory states that foods with a sour flavor can pull in and reserve, so they can have that function with what you're trying to expel if you overdo it. If your throat is sore, stirring in a spoonful of local honey (feng mi) will both boost your immune system and soothe dryness.

Once a cold has developed, you need a bit more support. We stay comparatively light as a cold affects what we consider the outer layer of the body (compared to the muscle or bone layer). Colds can go deeper to the organ layers if untreated or due to a strong pathogen (think pneumonia directly and very physically clogging up the lungs). When in doubt, see your acupuncturist for a treatment and get the best prescription for you. The sooner you are treated, the more likely it is that acupuncture will be able to help decrease the duration and severity of your cold.

The Chicken and Broth

When we add chicken and broth to the mix, we're making something nourishing rather than just releasing.

The Spleen (the Chinese medical organ system/concept, not the anatomical or physical organ) is in charge of taking food and turning it into qi or energy. The Spleen needs a warm, wet environment to do its best work and becomes sluggish or damaged when fed too much cold, damp, or sweet. Chinese medicine classifies foods by a value we call temperature, and uses temperature to treat its opposite with the strength of its degree (warm foods treat cold conditions more gently than hot foods do). The temperature value doesn't change based on whether the dish is served hot or cold; rather it is intrinsic to the food itself (which is more a problem with the English translation of temperature than the Chinese terminology). It does still help to serve soup at a warm temperature as we know from a Western perspective it takes energy (calories) to digest cold foods and we want to conserve our energy when our body is trying to direct its efforts to immune function.

The Spleen sends the qi it creates from food to the Lungs (again, conceptual organ system), which control the opening and closing of the pores, guarding the body from pathogenic entrance and ensuring appropriate sweating as a regulating and protective action. Thus, the best food we can give the Spleen when the body is already under attack from pathogens is warm, wet, and easily digestible: soups and stews.

Broth has a lot of nutrition packed into a warm and wet delivery system. According to Chinese Medicine, chicken is considered warm and has a balanced nourishing action as compared to other meats like lamb, which is hot or pork, which is cool.

Meatless Options

If you're vegetarian or vegan, you can make or use a veggie broth and skip the meat. The key is warm, easy to digest foods that provide a light serving of salt and protein when the body only has energy for small meals. Again, soups and stews are your friend.

Cautions and Other substitutions

  • If you don't love ginger, substitute a cinnamon stick (gui zhi) or two for fresh ginger slices

  • Profuse sweating: stop using spring onions

  • Hypertension: avoid high doses of ginger

  • Pregnancy or heavy menses: limit dosage of cinnamon

What to avoid

As tasty as they are, wait until you're back to health to enjoy the following sweet, cold foods in moderation. They dampen your healing efforts by increasing mucus, slowing down the Spleen, and generally decreasing immune function:

  • Orange juice with pulp (the Vitamin C is wonderful, but the pulp increases mucus)

  • Ice Cream (increase mucus, sugar depresses immune function)

  • Yogurt (increase mucus)

  • Milk, cheese, dairy (increase mucus)

  • Eggs (increase mucus, but great for dry cough as they tonify health yin fluids rather than dampen pathogenically)

  • Sweets and sugar in general (depress immune function)

  • Alcohol (depresses immune function)

Please, Sir, Can I Have Some More?



Preparing for Cold Season

If you feel a cold coming on, go see your acupuncturist as soon as possible. Don't cancel your appointment, even if you're worried about being contagious! Come in right away as the sooner you get treatment, the more likely it is that acupuncture will help you decrease the severity and duration of your cold.

If for whatever reason you can't be seen right away, do still give me a call and I will do my best to assess your symptoms and advise management strategies over the phone to aid your recovery until your next visit.

And before you catch that cold, contact me about a health maintenance visit to support healthy immune function.


Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.