TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Now, ask yourself: how often are you mindful about your lungs and each life-giving breath? Healthy lungs are a vital part of our overall health. Lung function may be taken for granted by many of us. However, with a bit of mindfulness and care, we can nourish these delicate organs.
Understanding your lungs from a western point of view
Did you know that between the ages of 25 and 80 years, your lungs’ function and capacity decline by approximately 40%¹? This can make breathing slightly more difficult as you get older and makes it tougher to recover from respiratory illnesses. That’s all the more reason to take interest in caring for these amazing organs.
The lungs are a pair of spongy organs that are located on each side within our chests. With every breath, our lungs refresh our bodies with life-giving oxygen and eliminate harmful carbon dioxide. Every cell in our bodies depends on the lungs to perform this gas exchange for life. But did you know they have other functions?
The lungs also bring air to the proper body temperature and moisturize it to the right humidity level. They even protect our bodies by filtering, coughing, or sneezing harmful substances.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Viewpoint of the Lungs
In the view of traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs are additionally responsible for moistening the skin and regulating sweating from the skin’s pores. When the lung qi (energy) combines with the qi from our digested food, an energetically exponentiated qi is formed called “Zong Qi”. Zong Qi nourishes and also protects the body’s organs, tissues and cells.
The lungs are paired with the large intestine. The lungs and large intestine belong to the metal element in the five-element theory of Chinese medicine and their energies correspond with the Autumn season.
Energetically, the lungs serve as the courthouse of the body. They house our feelings of justice, judgement and criticalness. They also resonate with emotions like sadness, grief, depression, momentum and enthusiasm. Once empowered through acupuncture and qigong meditation, we can all tap into the virtuous and empowering aspects of the lungs including dignity, self-worth and compassion.
On the spiritual level, the lungs house the “Po” or the “Corporeal Soul”. In TCM theory and Taoism, when the human is formed, the spirit becomes two aspects: the yin and the yang aspects. The yin aspect of the soul, called the “Po” is housed in the lungs and is closely related to the physical aspect of our Being. Just as the lungs take in beneficial oxygen and exchange it for the body waste of carbon dioxide, the lungs’ spiritual aspect function is to receive what is of essential worth to our highest Being and through its pairing with the large intestine, lets go of ideals and experiences that no longer serve us.
So how can we nourish and care for these imperative parts of our Whole?
Reduced lung function is a natural part of aging but there are plenty of ways to keep these precious organs as healthy as possible. Of course, don’t smoke for the lung tissue is oh so delicate. If you have smoked in the past, know that your lungs have the magical ability to heal themselves. It will take time, but you can reverse a lot of the effects if you stop within a reasonable time. (I will address this more in depth in another article soon.)
To keep lungs strong, stay active. Remember the old saying, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”? Well, that saying goes for the lungs too. Breathing hard during exercise keeps the lung tissues and breathing muscles like the diaphragm strong. In addition, regularly practicing breathing exercises like “pursed lip breathing” and “diaphragmatic breathing” are imperative to keeping them fully functioning.²
Dialing down our stress response and learning to tune into the lungs is also key to their health. How can we ever feel the small alarm bells from our lungs years before there is irreversible damage if we don’t learn to be present and feel them? There are specific movement sequences in qigong that energize and heal the lungs. WithYiRen qigong practice, you can actually learn to feel your lungs and their associated acupuncture meridians. You can empower their qi to refresh your entire body, mind and soul.
Breathing exercise- empower the lung with its healing sound
Slowly breath in through your nose for a count of four, allowing your expanding belly to draw your breath in as your chest fills from the bottom and up. Throughout the inhale, sip a white, healing light and allow it to fill your lungs. Once your lungs have filled, hold for a count of seven with your attention to your lungs. Now, slowly exhale with lips relaxed and slightly parted, while gently making the sound SSSSSSSSSSSSSSS for a count of eight. Repeat nine times. When you have completed the exercise, sit for a few minutes and enjoy the feeling of your refreshed lungs.
To learn more tips for nourishing and building the health of your lungs, check out my qigong classes at drjuliannaenglund.com, other blog posts and Instagram page (@drjulianna).
Written by: Dr. Julianna Englund, ND, LAc