Autumn is a mellowing and contracting time of year that is governed by the metal element and the lungs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Here are my suggestions for strengthening your lungs as the weather turns cooler.
Lungs and Large Intestines in TCM
The lung is known as a yin organ, paired with the large intestines, a yang organ.
- Yin metal is seen as structured and storing.
- Yang metal is seen as hollow and transmitting.
The lungs in Traditional Chinese Medicine are a yin organ and are associated with the following emotions:
- Positive: Courage, righteousness, bravery
- Negative: Grief, sadness, depression, loneliness, sorrow, detachment
Rather than the emotions relating to a psychological brain state, in Traditional Chinese Medicine the lungs govern a specific pairing of emotions. To bring these emotions back into balance, the lungs are treated, by strengthening and supporting with the five element theory.
The following table explores the many Taoist trigram associations with the lungs:
|5 Element Theory||The Metal Element|
|Numbers||6 (Yang), 7 (Yin)|
|Associations||Contracted, Focused, Solid, Gather, Stay Indoors, Maturity, Wealth|
|Direction||West, North West|
|Yin or Yang||Yang, Masculine|
|Stage of Life||Degeneration|
|Organ||Lungs, Large Intestine|
|Material||Iron, Gold, Silver, Stainless Steel, Aluminium, Brass, Bronze, Titanium, Pewter, Copper, Mined Minerals|
|Form||Semi-Circle, Rounded Edges, Dome, Arches|
|Colours||Brilliant White, Silver, Gold, Brass, Bronze, Copper, Any Metallic Colour|
|Yin (Feminine)||Silver (Soft), Scissors|
|Yang (Masculine)||Steel (Hard), Axe|
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lungs are responsible for a variety of functions in the body:
- Controls the immune system
- Known as the lid of the five organs.
- Governs the throat, producing the voice.
- Governs qi in the meridians.
- Governs the blood vessels.
- Governs respiration.
- Regulates water metabolism.
- Governs the skin, and the moisturisation of the skin.
- Governs the hair and sweat glands.
- Governs the nose.
Potential symptoms stemming from a lung deficiency in Traditional Chinese Medicine:
- Puffy face
- Blemishes on the face
- Shortness of breath
- Shallow breath
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Loss of smell
- Cold nose
- Colds and flu
- Itching skin
- Dry skin
- Aversion to cold temperatures
- Loss of voice
- Passive unassertive voice
There are many types of lung deficiency within Traditional Chinese medicine, all relating to the five element theory and the meridian channels.
Nourishing the Lungs through Movement
To nourish your lungs with exercise, look for slow and deliberate movements that help to open the chest cavity (the middle and top of the three compartments in Traditional Chinese Medicine – San Jiao). In Tai Chi and Qigong the spine, rib-cage, waist, chest and upper back go through an expanding and compressing motion that gently massages the internal body. This helps increase blood flow, remove toxins and aid the function of the lungs. The following exercises help strengthen the lungs in Traditional Chinese Medicine, by nourishing the lungs in the five element theory, and stimulating the lung meridian channel.
- TCM: Coordinate liver with lungs.
- Health: Strengthens knees, legs, waist and back, coordination.
- Key Movements: Imitating the archer, through a horizontal and vertical expansion and compression of the chest and lungs, co-ordinated with a deep squat and neck/head rotation. Stimulation of the lung meridian Lu7 to Lu11 through the hand postures.
Crane stretching Upwards
- TCM: Qi and blood in all meridians, Dumai (governor vessel), Renmai (conception vessel)
- Health: Mobility, respiration, lung capacity, bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema
- Key Movements: Focus on the lower body creating stability to co-ordinate with the opening movements of the arms, changing from the beak hand posture to open flying wings. The arms progress from a triangle posture to an arc posture, whilst the trunk goes through a co-ordinated expand and compress motion. Stimulation of the lung meridian Lu7 to Lu11 through the hand postures.
Flying like a Crane
- TCM: Qi to flow to Dantian, Qi into Lung meridian
- Health: Massage heart and lungs, respiration, lung capacity, blood oxygenation, balance
- Key Movements: Focus on creating stability to enable standing on one leg with ease and grounding. A stable base will ensure the upper body movements maintain an even flow of motion. The arm movement flows through the joints relaxing the shoulders and elbows as you raise the wrists, then by relaxing the shoulder, elbows and wrist as the arms lower. Stimulation of the lung meridian Lu7 to Lu11 through the hand postures.
- TCM: Relates to the TCM Triple Burner Theory (San Jiao), the upper compartment chest to diaphragm, respiration and heart/lungs. Qi flow helps improve the lungs function to dispel fluids, fluid is dispelled as a mist through the lungs into the body.
- Health: Aiding mobility, breathing rate and lung capacity, bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema.
- Key Movements: An expansive rotating motion in the spine with outward star reaching palms and arms. The lower body sinks from the pelvis, sinking qi downwards, whilst at the same time the upper body lifts upwards and rotates, lengthening and coiling the body, opening the lung area.
Stillness Practice for the Lungs
To nourish your lungs through meditation, there are a variety of ways to practice. From abdominal breathing techniques to visualisation of colour and emotions. The following practices will help to strengthen the vitality of your lungs whilst softening your nervous system.
Physiologically, the body is nourished, energised and fed by the action of the lungs and the oxygen in the air we breathe. Learning to breath more deeply and slowly in a relaxed way over a period of time, helps to bring more oxygen into the body, which improves all functions of the body. Learn abdominal breathing which engages your diaphragm for the best results.
- Hold the palms over the rib cage on either side with the palms facing the body.
- Draw an inner smile down to the lungs.
- Fill the lungs with the colour white, inhaling a white mist into the lungs as they begin to expand.
- Breathe in the positive emotions of courage, righteousness, bravery.
- Fill the lungs with light and thank them for the work they do.
- Breathe out the negative emotions of grief, sadness, depression, loneliness, sorrow, detachment.
- Dispersing these emotions into the clouds for recycling.
- Start with hands resting on top of thighs, palms facing upwards.
- Bring the hands up to the lungs.
- Inhale and raise the hands above head, fingers open, palms facing up as you make the sound and keep looking up.
- Then bring the hands back to the tops of the thighs and smile down to the lungs.
- Tongue behind your top teeth, exhale with ‘sssssssss’ like a snake.
Take you stillness practice into an energising standing posture. Whilst in tree pose, continue your inner smile meditation to nourish the lungs through visualising breathing in the colour white, or a bright white light and recycle the emotions that are associated with the metal element.
As autumn days progress, it is natural to eat foods that are warm and comforting. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lungs pair with foods both that are spicy and white, or are white at the centre.
Lung strengthening foods
- Cauliflower, leeks, potatoes, parsnip, turnip, white cabbage, horseradish, radish, onions
- Almonds, almond butter, almond milk
- Rice, oats
- Ginger, garlic, white pepper, chilli, turmeric, cardamom, curry, any warming spice
- Apple, pear
- Soups, stews, spicy herbal teas
- White flour, white sugar, cold raw salads, cold raw fruit, cold drinks