Autumn & The Metal Element

"The metal element, from rough ore to sparkling gemstones, symbolizes the process of refinement and its resulting products. In this season, it’s time to make sure everything pure and necessary is used and maximized, and that anything unnecessary or wasteful is eliminated." 
- Karen Olson


Did you know unlike most skincare brands, Wild Grace didn't actually begin as a skincare brand?

Wild Grace was born while I was studying Shiatsu and Traditional Chinese Medicine in Santa Monica with a kind and brilliant old Japanese man we called Dr. Kaneko. While there, I learned from the most wonderful, quirky, and devoted teachers. They introduced me to the power of touch, how to listen to my inner voice, and the marvelous world of TCM.

This ancient system of herbal medicine with its long history of synergistic formulation inspired the products we now offer. And it was here that I fell in love with 5 element theory and began to piece together an approach to healing and living in the world that finally made sense. Within this seasonal and cyclical approach to eating, movement, sleep, daily habits, the moon phases, and even menstrual phases, something clicked and I realized that we are truly meant to live in sync with the Earth because we are OF the Earth.

Autumn’s descent is associated with the Metal element. But what is the Metal element? It took me a while to understand Metal in a felt sense since it isn’t one of the elements in the western cosmologies. Once I did though, I discovered how potent it can be to harness the energy of this element for our subtle, emotional, and physical bodies, including our skin!

Metal Element Energetics

Metal is about quality versus quantity. The energetics of this season are all about refinement, purification, and reduction in order to harness our pure essence. Metal, like a sword cuts through, separates and helps us to eliminate what we no longer need. We separate and shed the waste, keeping only what we value where it's refined, retained, and stored as reserves for later use. We reflect Nature when "the life-force of every plant withdraws from its leaves and branches to collect in the roots; nutrients stored underground." Gail Reichstein, author of Wood Becomes Water. Just as the Great Mother is gathering life force and vitality in the roots of plants and soil itself, we draw our own purified and refined life force inward so that come Spring, we can emerge renewed.

Metal invites us to allow for decay to clear away the unnecessary and unaligned in order to create space for renewal.

Organs of the Metal Element

We talk a lot about organs of elimination around here because supporting the organs that eliminate waste is a primary way of supporting your skin! The refinement and purification energy of the Metal element is reflected in the function and physiology of the Lungs and Large Intestine. These organs take in, refine, and then release. The Lungs are known as “the official who receives the pure qi from the heavens.” Our lungs, as well as our skin, serve as our first line of defense for our immune system. There is a protective boundary called wei qi that our lungs assist in maintaining. With each breath, we breathe in life. Each breath is filtered. Wastes are released through your exhale and the essence is distilled and transported through the body.

There’s an intimate connection between the Lungs and skin in Traditional Chinese Medicine: the Lungs govern the skin and body hair, both of which play an active role in protecting against external pathogens, through the way the Lungs take in and purify qi. When there’s an imbalance in the Lungs, physically or energetically, we see it manifest on the skin often as dryness, flaking, redness, and irritation.

The Large Intestine is known as the “great eliminator”. Its main job is to absorb water, gather the last few nutrients that the small intestine missed, and then eliminate what is not usable. Eliminating wastes from the body ensures that toxins don't get reabsorbed into our bloodstream and end up re-cycling through our bodies. The Large Intestine teaches us about letting go, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually, and releasing what no longer serves. This process is vital as we draw our energy in and down approaching the fallow, restful Winter when we only want to keep what is truly nourishing so that excess build-up (whether it is physical or energetic) doesn't sit around all Winter, bogging down and overburdening our systems.

Just as with the Lungs, imbalances in the Large Intestine often show up on the skin as inflammation, irritation, rashes, and flaking, especially in certain areas of the face. This tells us the Large Intestine is overburdened and the purification of qi is being compromised, often as a result of leaky gut or improper absorption of nutrients.

Food & Herbal Medicine

One way we work with balancing the Metal element is through taste. The taste associated with Metal is pungent, a flavor which disperses stagnant qi and promotes circulation. Pungent herbs and foods include many I consider “kitchen medicine” and which we think of for fighting colds and flu like:

  • Ginger
  • Garlic and onions
  • Horseradish
  • Turmeric
  • Oregano, Sage, and Rosemary

These herbs and spices dry excess mucus and stimulate the movement of stagnant qi and blood, harnessing the Metal element’s energetics of purification and refinement to clear out old, sludgy “stuff” that can get stuck in our systems and may have a hard time moving as cooler temperatures set in and, likely, are bodies are moving less. Pungent herbs, spices, and foods turn up the heat to dry and move that sludge that may accumulate.

Autumn & Your Menstrual Cycle

Known to some as the Inner Autumn, this time of year is associated with the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. After ovulation, progesterone rises and signals a sense of drawing inward, slowing down, tending to your body a bit more mindfully, clarifying your needs, and connecting with your intuition. We often feel an energetic contraction that mirrors that which the Earth’s own energy is exhibiting in the Fall - a drawing in and down.

Our bodies at this time need more grounding, warming foods, including roots, to build our reserves for the inner winter (i.e. menstruation), some of which also assist our bodies in preparing to shed that endometrial lining, harnessing our bodies’ natural ebbs and flows, so that we might find greater ease in that letting go.

Autumnal Time of Day

I’ve found this year that observing cycles not only on an annual rhythm but on a daily rhythm has been instrumental in living slowly. The autumnal time of day falls in the late afternoon and early evening. It’s a time of day that for many of us feels rushed, packed full of the last few things, which often include making dinner, doing homework, rushing from one activity to another. But what would it feel like instead to lovingly and slowly prepare a meal for yourself or your family? What would it feel like to turn down the overhead lights, light some candles, and sip a cup of tea instead of trying to get that last email written? What if we truly gave ourselves permission to just not do one more thing but instead tend to our bodies, hearts, minds, spirits?

I realize this isn’t always possible. Believe me, as a business owner and mama with a house to take care of, there is always more to do and I often think, “If I just do one more thing then I won’t have to do it tomorrow.” But I’ve noticed that unless I can approach that one more thing with absolute grace and love (like saying to myself, “gosh I just love sorting and folding this last load of laundry”), it doesn’t feel like I ever slow down. I end up just falling into bed completely exhausted and utterly spent. Which is ok! Some days go that way and that doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong. But what would it feel like to try another way and sync up with the daily cycle of Autumn’s energetics gently guiding you to slow down and nourish before heading into a restful sleep? To tell your body, mind, and spirit that you’re done with the fast-paced activity of the day and it’s time to wind down and root in?

Prompts for Harnessing the Energetics of Autumn

  • If you could cut the unnecessary and irrelevant things out of your life, what would fall away?
  • Are you spending your time in a way that you want? Where can you create stronger boundaries to cultivate your energy, growth, well-being, and fulfillment?
  • Where, this season, are you being confronted to refine your priorities and routines?
  • If you were to retreat into Autumn’s figurative chrysalis, what might the other side look like when you re-emerge?
  • Can you trust in the potential of decay as an avenue for renewal?

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