Sunday, November 27, 2011

Autumn and the Lung in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Autumn is the season especially connected to the Lung, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. This means that right now is a great time to bolster your own lungs, and your immune system, for the coming winter. It's also a good time for getting at the root of chronic lung conditions like asthma or allergies. You can do this by receiving acupuncture or herbal treatments.

Other ways of staying healthy in autumn include going to bed earlier. The days are getting shorter and our bodies will be wanting more rest. Dressing warmly in the evenings will protect your body from cooler temperatures. Especially remember to cover your neck and shoulders. Our bodies have been energetically open during the warmer summer months, and are particularly vulnerable to chills carried on cool autumn evening breezes, according to Chinese medicine theory. Finally, since this is Lung time, you'll benefit by incorporating a focus on the breath into your exercise and/or contemplative routines. Its a great time for pranayama, qi gong, or other martial arts practices focused on the lungs, or simply for taking walks, breathing deeply and enjoying the changing season.

According TCM physiology, the Lung inhales qi from the air and mixes it with the qi extracted from food. Then, the Lung distributes this precious qi throughout the body, especially to the surfaces (skin and mucous membranes), to protect it from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. The Lung also regulates the opening and closing of the pores of our skin--guarding against external pathogens, but allowing waste products to be excreted via mild sweating. This, in a nutshell, is how the immune system functions according to TCM. Clearly, the Lung plays a central role.

The Lung shares a connection with the sinuses, bronchioles, and air passageways, as well as to the skin, body hair and mucous membranes. The Lung also has a special connection with the Large Intestine, which also plays a key role in immune health, by ridding the body of solid waste. So, autumn is also a good time to address chronic or acute skin conditions, like eczema or psoriasis, as well as colon-related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, crohn's disease, constipation, etc.

TCM practitioners treat many problems related to this Lung-centered immune system (colds, coughs, asthma, allergies, skin problems, constipation, autoimmune dysfunction, etc.) through acupuncture and herbs. We might also take a step back and address the Spleen (basically the body's digestive and assimilative capacity), which is considered to be the parent of the Lung in Chinese theory. Healthy digestion and assimilation of nutrients is key to a healthy Lung/immune function.

(In TCM, we capitalize the organ names, i.e. Lung, Spleen, to differentiate them from the western anatomical lung, spleen, etc. In TCM theory Lung, Spleen, etc. represent a physiological system, often related to, but not exactly equivalent to its western anatomical counterpart.)