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Patterns of Health: The Lungs

Lungs

The Balinese belief system is similar to the philosophical foundations of Chinese Medicine. According to the Balinese, the universe is divided into three realms; the realm of gods, the realm of earth, and the realm of man. The Balinese endeavour to maintain the harmony of these realms hence the role of rituals to nourish and appease. Only by adhering to the ritual rules of ceremonial behaviour may the inherent balance be kept between good and bad forces.

Likewise in Chinese Medicine the three realms are heaven, earth, and man, it is stated in the classics that an abundance of heavenly energies (yang) descended thus creating earth, and an abundance of earthly energies (yin) ascended thus creating man. As in the Balinese belief system, how man balanced his lifestyle between heaven and earth had a direct impact on his wellbeing. Chinese medicine is based upon the empirical laws of nature and the natural phenomena, TCM views humans as a microcosm of the universe that surrounds them, in other words man’s inner microcosm is a mirror image of the outer macrocosm (a difficult aspect to prove scientifically).

Humans, as all life forms, are seen as inseparable from nature. Humans represent the juncture between heaven and earth, a fusion of heavenly and earthly energies, sustained by the nourishment of earth and transformed by the power of heaven, hence humanity cannot be separated from nature.

In this issue the spiritual and physiological aspects of Lung function/health will be discussed.

Maintaining healthy lung function is crucial for long life. The reason is the lungs are the masters of energy circulation. Its four main physiological functions are:

Dominating Qi (energy), Controlling Respiration

Lungs dominate Qi by taking in clean air and exhaling dirty air, this constant exchange maintains all the bodies’ physiological processes; this is why health professionals recommend exercise programs to promote this function. The food we eat rises up as humours and mixes with the pure air we breathe aiding in blood viscosity then distributed (heart) around the body as oxygenated blood. If this process is strong, the voice will be strong, energy abundant, and the four limbs flexible. Because the lungs connect closely with the outside world through breath, the lungs are the first to be attacked by outside pathogens leading to lowered immunity, common colds, flus, and allergies.

Controlling, Distending and Dispersion

Dispersion means to spread fluids and defensive Qi all over the body between the skin and muscles. This function ensures that defensive Qi is equally spread under the skin and performing its function of warming the skin and muscles, opening and closing skin pores and protecting the body from exterior  pathogenic factors. This is why during the early stages of a cold we feel hot or cold with sweating, fever, muscle aches and pains.

Descending means to send fluids downward to nourish the kidneys and bladder, this function can be seen as the lungs being like a lid on a cooking pot where the steam rises to the top and is filtered downward as pure fluid. When this function is weak, cough and breathlessness, with wheezing, may occur.

Regulating Water Passages

This means the lungs help to regulate the pathways for the circulation and excretion of fluids, via kidney and bladder. An imbalance in this area may cause oedema, fluid retention, or urinary type problems as the kidney and bladder connection is not properly nourished.

Control Skin and Hair

This function is closely related to the above two. The lungs spread the fluids to the skin and hair, thus providing the skin and hair nourishment and moisture. This function helps to explain why people who suffer with asthma may also have eczema or dry type skin conditions. A health tip to save money on expensive moisturisers is to nourish the lung function (see below).

Lungs Spiritual/Emotional Aspects

The spiritual aspect relates to the corporeal soul, the classics of Chinese medicine state that the corporeal soul resides in the lungs and is the most physical and material part of a human being’s soul. The corporeal soul is closely related to essence and it could be said to be a manifestation of the essence in the sphere of sensations and feelings. Essence is the foundation for a healthy body and the corporeal soul makes for sharp and clear movements and sensations. Being related to the lungs, the corporeal soul is also closely linked to breathing. The ancient Greeks called the soul “wind or breath”. It can be stated that the breath of life manifests the corporeal soul. Hence when a baby is born and takes its first breath, with it arise feelings and sensations.

At the emotional level, the corporeal soul is directly affected by the emotions of sadness or grief which constrain its fluidity and obstructs its movement. Such emotions have a powerful and direct effect on breathing, hence the shallow breathing of someone in a state of sadness, or someone sobbing for breath when grief stricken. Long term sadness and grief can lead to the breath being constricted to the top of the lungs and long term can cause injury.

Dreams

Chinese medicine states that when the lungs are in excess (not dispersing or distending properly), one dreams of weeping, worry and fear. When in deficiency (shallow breathing), one dreams of flying or being in battles of war. If lung Qi is strong then the strength, tone and clarity of the voice will be strong. When the lungs are healthy, they are compared to a bell, giving off a clear ringing sound which is the voice. If the lungs are weak, the voice will be low, and if the lungs are constrained by fluid or phlegm then the sound will be muffled.

Lung Nutrition

The lungs are like a lid on a cooking pot. If the essence rising up is pure/nutritious then the lung’s function of mixing food essence with clean air will be strong for the heart to circulate. This is why the lungs are called the masters of energy. Leafy green vegetables and fruits nourish lungs; one study indicated that people who ate five apples a week had better lung function than those that ate none. It has also been shown that by consuming antioxidants in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprout etc., substantially reduces the risk of lung disease.

Lung Exercises

Our life expectancy is directly related to lung health. If our lungs are not functioning at optimal levels in supplying the body with oxygenated blood, all metabolic processes become sluggish. An effective way to increase lung capacity is of course aerobic exercise, swimming, take up playing a wind instrument, or buying a lung capacity exerciser instrument from a medical supply store. Just ten to fifteen minutes a day will be enough to increase lung capacity health.

Clear Phlegm and Dampness

The lungs loathe dampness and phlegm, which are often the source behind many lung problems. Chinese medicine sees diet and digestive weakness as a contributing factor to the production of damp phlegm accumulating in the lungs. Start by reducing consumption of mucous forming fords like ice creams, dairy rich foods, processed foods, carbonated soft drinks and processed sugars. These create internal dryness and the body compensates by producing phlegm, hence the saying “thirst disease” in diabetes.

Most of all, be mindful of your breathing.

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