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Caring for your Lungs

Covid-19 seems to particularly target the lungs so here are some pointers from a Chinese medicine viewpoint in strengthening and building your Lung energy. In traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs encompass a lot more than the actual organs and have many correspondences that give us a clue as to how to take care of them. 

The Lungs dominate and control Qi 

This includes both respiration and also the Qi of the whole body. The lungs have both a descending function of Qi and also a dispersing function. On the surface of our body, our defensive Qi (Wei Qi) is the warming, protective Qi that keeps unwanted 'guests' like Coronavirus at bay. Keeping the whole body warm is very important. According to my Qigong master Zhixing Wang, if any parts of the body are cold, (particularly the neck, knees, legs, ankles, elbows, wrist or face), then you are cold even if you don't feel cold. This can be draining for the immune system. Put on more clothes if your skin is cold. Wear a scarf round your neck when going out. (Grandma really did know best!) If you have cold feet, soak them in a foot bath of warm water till they feel thoroughly warmed through.

Strong Lung Qi is helped by relaxed, deep breathing, freeing up the diaphragm, relaxing stretching and opening the muscles of the shoulders and the chest, doing Qigong exercises, pranayama breathing (for those practising yoga) and singing or voice work.

An excellent, easy-to-follow Qigong routine to strengthen the lungs from Peter Deanman is a great daily practice. It only takes 20 minutes and some of my patients are already getting very good results, including improving circulation right to the finger tips and feeling the warming, strengthening effect of working with their Qi.

The paired yang organ of the lungs is the large intestine  The channel pathways of both connect up with each other, and the large intestine channel finishes at the side of the nose. Interestingly, the descending quality of strong lung Qi helps with elimination from the large intestine, and weak lung Qi can be a factor in constipation. Keep your large intestine clear by increasing your intake of warming fluids from both food and drink (such as warm water with lemon, herbal teas, soups, stews, stewed apples and pears, and including so-called 'slippery food' such as spinach).

Avoid cold or frozen foods, and let food reach at least room temperature.

Short-term constipation can be very simple to cure, but with chronic constipation that does not improve seek professional advice.

The lungs open to the nose

It is important to keep the nasal passages and also the throat clear. This could be through using a neti pot, massaging up and down the sides of the nose and gargling with salt water (and propolis if you have it). Try to minimise mucus-forming foods such as dairy, sugar, fried foods, wheat, bananas and concentrated orange or tomato juice.

If you cut out a food group such as dairy, make sure you replace the lost nutrients elsewhere, and if in doubt, seek the advice of a health practitioner.

The skin is also part of the lung system

Healthy skin should be glowing and the complexion bright and clear. The skin provides an important barrier of protection against external pathogens, and benefits from dry skin brushing or general rubbing with a rough towel before showering. Just as the skin forms a physical boundary against pathogens, energetically our boundaries can be weakened with deficient lung Qi. It can be harder to distinguish and maintain healthy energetic boundaries with other people that allow in what nourishes us and keep out what is draining and harmful to our energy.

The lungs are nourished by respect

Respecting, understanding and expressing our unique truth and integrity engenders respect from the outer world and fosters our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Working to improve these aspects will strengthen our lung Qi, and strengthening our lung Qi will in turn improve these aspects: a perfect symbiosis between cause and effect. On a physical level, strong lung Qi manifests in an open, confident posture, which further aids this process.

The emotion associated with the lungs is grief and sadness

It is important to acknowledge, work through, and let go of these emotions. No emotion in Chinese medicine is 'bad'. Illness can occur when we get stuck in one emotion and are unable to release it, or when it is repressed and unrecognised. Letting go helps all aspects of the lungs (and large intestine), and on an environmental level clutter-clearing is an excellent adjunct. Keeping an enjoyable, clear living space is a a great avenue to gaining greater mental and emotional clarity. Clearing one drawer a day (as one of my patients reported doing during lockdown) can be all it needs to start this process.

The colour white is associated with the lungs

Including foods like radishes, white meats and white mushrooms can be of benefit.

Pungent foods like horseradish, garlic, leeks and onions are very good. Pears are very nourishing and moistening for the lungs.  

Other foods that help strengthen the lungs include fresh foods that are alive with Qi like organic vegetables and some sprouted seeds and grains, as well as good quality proteins not too high in fat. 

The photo shows wild garlic (picked in our local park), pungent foods (onions, leeks and garlic), freshly sprouted legumes, and white foods (daikon and mushrooms), all gathered from my fridge and cupboard.

And on a more general note

In a time where we can be busier than ever and are expending a lot of active Yang energy, this can lead to an imbalance between activity (Yang) and rest (Yin). For the lungs to stay healthy and strong, they need their Yin time. Without getting too prescriptive, find ways (no matter how small) to stop, breathe, gather yourself, come back to your centre and also get plenty of sleep. 

Do share in the comments box your own strategies for stopping, staying calm and nourishing your lung energy.

For further advice phone 07983 639452 for a free 15 minute phone consultation to discuss how we can help support your health and wellbeing in these extraordinarily challenging times.

Instagram: Edgware Acupuncture


Recipes for Self-Healing Daverick Leggett

Healing with Whole Foods Paul Pitchford

Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion Deng Liangyue et al

A Study of Qi in the Classical Texts Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee

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1 Comment

Rebecca callahan
Rebecca callahan
Nov 15, 2023

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