Written by Dr. Amy Nykoluk, DTCM
It's officially fall - the temperature has dropped, the leaves are too, and our city is bursting with rich oranges, reds and yellows. The long days of summer are over, and as we get back into our busy routines of school, work, sports and/or other extracurricular activities, it is important that we listen to our bodies and not forget about our well-being. In following the 5-Element Theory that is widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), autumn is the season of the lungs, a time to pay extra attention and TLC to these powerhouse organs that they are! During this time of the year, the seasonal Qi turns crisp and clear. All living things, including humans, rely on this natural force to ripen. We want nature on our side, especially when it comes to our health, so let's use this time wisely and focus on our lungs.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we always consider a person's external environment, along with what's going on inside the body when devising a healthcare program to achieve and maintain perfect health. It is our lungs job, along with taking in, and purifying air, to maintain a strong barrier between our internal environment and the world around us. When our lungs are healthy, our immune system is strong, our skin is lustrous and moisturized, our voice is clear, and our breath is deep. We call the lung the master of Qi, and it sits on top of all the other organs, governing all of the Qi, and pushing waste material downwards, mainly to the large intestine. When the lung Qi is strong, the pores on the surface of our skin are regulated well, and open to allow heat out, and stay closed to keep unwanted pathogens from getting in.
The health of our lungs depends on many factors, and there are many things, obvious and not, that we may be doing to damage our lungs. In TCM, we call the lung the delicate organ, as it is extremely sensitive to dryness, dampness, cold, heat, and most of all to fire and wind. Some of the more obvious ways we can avoid lung damage are by not smoking, wearing a scarf, especially on windy days, avoiding heavily polluted areas, and practicing controlled, deep breathing. Some of the less obvious things to consider are dealing with unresolved grief and sadness. Grief directly effects the lungs, which is why we get a lump in our throat when we receive bad news, the Qi actually gets stuck in the throat, or sometimes in the chest, and if left untreated, can cause many further complications and imbalances in the body.
Coughing is a major indicator of lung imbalance, but there are many other symptoms a person can experience when dealing with unhappy lungs. Frequent sighing, overproduction of saliva, weak voice, the constant desire to lay down, headaches, restless legs, puffy face, skin impurities, and itching can all be the result of an issue residing in the lungs.
So, what does a person do to help clear any obstructions and make sure their lungs are functioning at optimal level? There are many ways to improve lung function, regular acupuncture and cupping therapy sessions being a great way to kick-start the re-balancing process. Along with treatment, there are many things a person can do at home to maintain good health and avoid further damage. Restorative yoga poses, such as child's pose, rolling panda pose, and wall plank pose will all help to stretch the lungs as well as the lung meridian, where the Qi and blood flow to and from the organs. Practicing deep controlled breathing, as mentioned earlier, and visualizing the Qi and breath entering and exiting every cell in the body can work wonders at lessening symptoms, such as anxiety and shortness of breath. Avoiding cold foods, like ice cream and frozen foods, and incorporating more warm and pungent spiced food can help to reduce the production and storage of phlegm, and help the lungs stay at their preferred temperature and moisture level. Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal is a great way to work through stuck emotions or old grief, but sometimes it is necessary to talk to a counsellor for guidance on working through particularly long standing, or extremely deep grief. Dry brushing the skin is a great way to ensure that the pores are healthy and clear and able to open and close smoothly under direction of the lungs.
Many factors that affect the lung are just simply out of our control, but there are many ways to achieve and maintain a perfectly healthy internal balance. Now is the time to ensure our lungs are functioning at optimal levels, so why not take a little time to fit in a weekly cupping session, and set aside 10 minutes a day for meditation and focused breathing!? Your mind, body and spirit will thank you for it!