Inhale - Exhale - Inhale - Exhale
A conversation about the lungs must begin with the breath. In primary school science, most of us learn that oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange occurs in the lungs. Oxygen is taken in at the inhale, circulated throughout the body via red blood cells while simultaneously exchanging places with CO2 in order to be released at the exhale. We also learn that without the breath, we die.
A conversation about the lungs also must begin with a conversation on qi. Qi is in the air we breathe, it is in the food we eat. It runs through our bodies and guides our functions physically, emotionally, and mentally. It serves to create harmony and balance. It is a concept that many ancients understood, yet we as a modern Western society have seem to forgotten. It is that universal energy that runs through all living beings and connects us. Perhaps, qi was the way for the ancients to understand oxygen and other molecules and nutrients, or perhaps oxygen other molecules and nutrients are ways that us modernists can simply fathom qi?
The lungs according to TCM wisdom are responsible for moving the different kinds of Qi around the body. (Bet you didn’t think there were different kinds of Qi did you?) TCM sees the skin as an extension of the lung system like an external lung that is porous and breathes and exchanges with its environment. Wei qi, or defensive qi is circulated under the surface of the skin and muscles, and protects the body from external pathogens and viruses as well as maintains the body's temperature. Perhaps this was the ancient understanding of the lymphatic system. Again, another beautiful example of the old meeting the new in harmony.
The beauty of TCM or any ancient healing tradition is that we live in the modern day with modern day technology and medicine. The knowledge and wisdom of the ancients can be married with the modern to create such a beautifully coherent and full understanding of health and the body.
As the barrier or boundary between the external and internal, the lungs and skin also energetically represent setting boundaries. When our boundaries are strong yet flexible, they allow us to communicate in a healthy manner where we receive what is good for us and keep out what is not. This is the ultimate act of self-compassion. When we set up healthy boundaries, it we believe in our self-worth and therefore our self-esteem, respecting ourselves and others. (Think about when you have a strong sense of self-esteem. You stand tall with your chest open and proud!)
Emotionally, respect nourishes the lungs. Self-respect cultivates self-worth, which in turn demands respect from your environment. In turn, we must respect our environment and those within. Exploring and expressing what we value, helps open the energy of the lungs. This may include cleaning up our surroundings, whether that be your home, your community, or nature. Doing so externally supports the lung function and may bring more clarity into our mental and emotional lives. (Imagine living in a dusty home and a polluted city, that wouldn't be very healthy for our lungs would it).
Pranayam (prana meaning energy or breath, and ayam meaning control, restraint, expansion) is a practice often associated with yoga that uses the breath to control the flow of energy through the body. It is used to either heat up the body, cool down, or calm. This beautiful gift of the ability to control our breath is only privy to human beings. We are the only mammals that can do this. This ability to control our breath means we can control the flow of energy in our bodies. I’m sure you have heard of advanced yogis or athletes that are able to controls their heartbeats. That occurs because of intense and concentrated breath control.
So in the wake of this global health emergency with a virus whose symptoms affect the lungs, let’s just take a moment, inhale deeply through the nose expanding into the belly, then exhale slowly out through nose. Take a few more cycles and see if you feel that panic anymore. Probably not. That's the beauty of the breath. We challenge you to bring more mindfulness to your breath during your day, even for one cycle. We challenge you to breathe slowly and deeply into your belly, and we challenge you to take some time to for yourself to nourish your body through the breathe. And we ask you to take a breath anytime panic arises. We'll be alright.