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Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The organs in Chinese Medicine: The Lungs

This is the fourth post on the series on the main TCM organs. I have covered the Liver – which is in charge of circulating Qi throughout the body, the Kidneys – the root of life and source of our deepest energy, and the Spleen – the maker of Qi and Blood needed for day to day functioning of all the organ systems in the body. This week I will be sharing ideas about the Lungs, their functions, symptoms of imbalance, and ways to look after them.

The Lungs (Fei) in TCM

The TCM Lungs comprise not only the anatomical lungs but also the whole of the respiratory system, including the nasal passages and the vocal chords. The Lungs are considered the uppermost and most superficial organs of the body, and constitute both a connection and a barrier between the external environment and deeper aspects of the body. Because of this, they play a key role in the immune response to outside influences. 

The Lungs are the organs of the Metal element and are closely related to the skin and the Large Intestine, their paired organ. Their role is thus not limited to respiration but also to providing immunity and aiding the elimination of waste products and toxins through the respiratory system, the skin, and the bowels.   

According to TCM, the Lungs:

The Lungs keep us alive with oxygen
1. Govern Qi and respiration: Through both nasal and skin respiration, the Lungs are in charge of obtaining oxygen, or air Qi, which constitutes a basic catalyst for the making of Qi for the whole body. That the Lungs- rather than the Spleen- are the rulers of Qi reflects the fact that oxygen is in fact more essential than food or water to the survival of the human body. 

2. Control dispersing and descending: From their position as uppermost organs, the Lungs are in charge of distributing Qi and nourishing fluids throughout the body to provide resistance to invasions from external pathogens.  

The Lungs also regulate the Water passages and contribute to the metabolism of fluids and their subsequent distribution throughout the body. They also provide the descending energy that facilitates the excretion of waste products through the stools, urine, and sweat.

3. Rule the Exterior of the body: The Lungs provide a layer of Defensive Qi and fluids that lies under the skin protecting us from pathogenic factors that may come from the environment. In addition, they are in charge of the opening and closing of the pores allowing nourishment to be absorbed through the skin and waste products to be excreted through the pores in the form of sweat.

4. Open into the nose and manifest in the body hair: The nose is the first point of entry into the Respiratory system and its ability to fully breathe in the air and to identify all smells is considered a manifestation of the Lung energy.

The body hair, as part of the Exterior of the body which includes the skin and the pores, is thought to reflect the health of the Lungs. Healthy Lungs will provide sufficient energy for the regulating action of the body hair which, in conjunction with the pores, stops the body from cooling or heating excessively and helps prevent pathogens from entering through the skin.
  
5. House the Corporeal soul (Po): The Corporeal soul is regarded as the most tangible part of our spiritual aspect. This is the soul that ceases to exist when we die, and the one that connects us directly to the body and our physical experience. Our ability to engage with the world and to experience it through the senses is thus an expression of our Lung energy. The Corporeal soul also enables us to accept that everything in life is ephemeral and to allow renewal and change to take place in every aspect of our life.

Symptoms of Lung imbalance

As the Lungs are the first line of defence in the body, they are regarded as the “tender organs” and can be the first to be affected by strong environmental and emotional influences, particularly when the body is weak. Lack of balance in the Lungs can be reflected in lack of vitality, low immunity, symptoms along the respiratory system, and skin problems.

The protective role of the Lungs is also manifested at a mental and emotional level in our ability to establish boundaries and the sense of self-respect and self-worth that gives us the strength to face the world.

Sadness and grief can easily cause imbalances in the Lung energy and vice-versa. At the most superficial level, our attachment to what we love is dependent on our sensorial experience of it, which is the realm of the Corporeal soul. Loss has therefore a direct impact on this aspect of our beings and, by extension, on the Lungs.

Symptoms that can result from Lung imbalance include:

Lung function
Possible symptoms of imbalance
Govern Qi and respiration
Congestion and pain along the respiratory system
Shortness of breath, cough, dyspnoea
Lack of vitality, tiredness
Weak voice
Control dispersing and descending
Water accumulation (oedema) especially in upper body or under the skin
Thickening of fluids and accumulation of phlegm 
Dryness in the skin or anywhere in the respiratory system
Cough, breathlessness, oppression in the chest
Constipation/ Urinary retention
Rule the Exterior of the body
Allergic reactions (particularly respiratory and dermatological)
Low immunity, tendency to catch colds
Dry, rough skin
Sneezing
Itching and skin rashes
No sweating/spontaneous sweating
Open into the nose and manifest in the body hair
Blocked nasal passages, sinus problems
Impaired sense of smell
Nose-bleeds
Impaired thermo-regulation
Loss of body hair
House the Corporeal soul
Chronic sadness, depression
Inability to “engage” or feel emotions
Low self-esteem/feeling of self-worth
Fear of change and extreme attachment to people, things or situations


How to look after your Lung energy

- Breathe in… More than any other organ, the Lungs are concerned with the present, with living in the moment. The act of breathing represents the link between us and the world from the moment we are born, right up to our “last breath”. Ensuring an adequate intake of air and correct breathing will help us maintain this connection with the world alive, and healthy. All that is needed is to practise deep breathing and to access fresh air:
   
  • Here is a very simple exercise: Try inhaling really slowly first expanding your abdomen allowing it to fill with air, then expanding your chest to its maximum capacity without straining yourself. Stop for a few seconds and then start exhaling slowly allowing your chest to come back to its normal position and emptying your abdomen by contracting it gently. Stop for a few seconds and repeat for up to 5 minutes. Doing this on a daily basis can improve your Lung energy and your ability to live in the now. Deep breathing not only aids the oxygenation of every cell but returns us to the present moment where all the frustrations and resentments from the past do not exist, and where all the anxiety and fear about the future are irrelevant. Through deep breathing we discover that there is only NOW to be experienced. It is no wonder that deep breathing is used as the gateway into mindfulness and awareness in many meditative practices.
  • In our busy lives, we overlook the fact that accessing fresh air is as important as having clean water and food on our plates. Visiting the countryside or a nearby park at least twice per week can go a long way at nourishing our body and soul. Using the breathing technique described above outside in the fresh air will make it even more powerful.  

Discarding what is no longer needed allows for renewal
·     -  Cleanse yourself: The Lungs are the organs of both elimination and protection, and the effectiveness each of these functions is in effect linked with the other. Just as hygiene is directly associated with fewer risks to our immunity, keeping a “clean” environment inside can help the Lung energy produce the protective energy that we need to fight disease. Clearing out physical and energetic waste also makes room for clarity and renewal. These are ways in which we can cleanse ourselves:
  • Encourage your bowels to empty on a daily basis: Irregular bowel movements can both be a symptom and a cause of Lung imbalances. Lack of elimination of waste products can produce a toxic build-up in the body which may in turn make the immune system – the protective energy dependent on the Lungs - work harder trying to keep this toxicity from creating illness. Ensuring a balanced diet both in terms of quality and quantity is necessary for proper elimination. An adequate intake of fluids and fibre is also essential as is avoiding excessive amounts of red meat as well as fatty, sugary, and chemically-laden foods. For more on how to balance your diet click here. When constipation is chronic or recurrent, either Acupuncture or Chinese Herbal Medicine can be used to help restore regular bowel movements.
  • Stay away from chemical additives and preservatives: Anything that your body does not recognise as usable is regarded as a waste product. This applies not only to the food that we eat but also to the air we breathe and anything that comes in contact with our skin. An excess of waste products in the system may impair efficient elimination through the bowels, urine and skin which can result in a build-up of toxicity and a subsequent burden on the immune system. Our ability to fight disease may then become compromised and we can end up perennially ill, or our immune system may become overly sensitive resulting in allergies to food and air-born particles.
  •  Let go of pre-conceived ideas and prejudices that serve no purpose in your life: Just as we need to de-clutter our environment and our inner space, clearing out mental waste such as culturally acquired ideas that hold no truth but which stop us from engaging with people and situations is important for good health and the renewal of our energy. 
·        - Seize the moment: The Lung energy fuels our ability to be in the moment and is nourished by our enjoyment of the present. As children, we tended to inhabit our bodies powerfully and to experience each moment fully. As we grow up, many of us lose this ability so as adults staying in the moment needs to be achieved through deep breathing and accessing a grounding calm that allows us to engage with what is happening now. Activities that help us “be in the body” as opposed to trapped inside the mind such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga can also provide us with tools that help us achieve this.
   
     - Detach yourself: The Lungs have the ability to constantly renew our energy through a combination of elimination of what is no longer needed and a continuous intake of potentially new energy. This implies an ability to recognise what needs to be discarded and a willingness to allow it to go. Understanding that everything in life – things, ideas, situations, people - is transient enables us to go smoothly from one stage of life to the next. When we are reluctant to accept this reality, we may remain in grief and pain until we make room for new things to come.

Chinese Medicine treatment for Lung imbalances

Because the Lungs are superficial and particularly susceptible to change, Lung imbalances can quickly respond to Acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture points to strengthen the energy of the Lung and Spleen are often combined for lack of vitality and respiratory problems rooted in weakness of the Lung energy. Points on the Large intestine and Lung channels can also be used to bring relief from the symptoms of common cold, flu, and allergies. Ear acupuncture can be particularly helpful for allergies as there are points that have antihistamine, and anti-allergic effects. 

Many classical Chinese herbal formulae are designed to deal with respiratory symptoms resulting from chronic Lung imbalances. Some of these formulae can provide enough support to the body so that the immune system can be boosted and symptoms such as recurrent infections or allergies can improve.Other formulae can encourage the body to provide moisture to the Lungs or to break down and expel phlegm that may be blocking the air passages.

When Lung imbalances are treated, a diet that helps balance the distribution of fluids throughout the body is necessary. In cases where too much phlegm has accumulated, dairy and wheat products should be avoided. Where there is dryness in the Lungs, skin or air passages, a diet that provides enough moisture needs to be put in place. Appropriate dietary and life-style advice should be offered to you along Chinese Medicine treatment in order to support the effectiveness of treatment and prevent future recurrence of symptoms.

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