The Lung System – An Eastern Perspective

Traditional Oriental Medicine views the Lung system as being part of the respiratory process, bringing in fresh air and energy from our surroundings and distributing this throughout the entire body. Besides the actual lung organ, Eastern medicine also includes the throat and vocal cords, nasal passages, and sinuses.

In addition, the skin and mucous membranes are also regarded as an extension of the Lung system. This connection is commonly seen in children who suffer from asthma or allergies and may later on develop skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. Treatment is aimed at strengthening the health and functioning of the lungs, resulting in improvement of both the asthma and the skin.

In Eastern medicine, the Lung system is responsible for circulating “Defensive Energy” which travels along the surface of the skin, regulating the body temperature while also protecting the person from outside diseases. It is similar in concept to the immune system, and it is interesting to note that Western medicine views the skin barrier and mucous membranes as an important defense against infectious diseases, something recognized in China well over 2,000 years ago.

When a person catches a cold or flu, the typical symptoms – chills and fever, achy body, sore throat, nasal congestion, coughing – are due to this “Defensive Energy” becoming weak and not circulating properly. Many folk remedies for colds, such as eating hot soup or covering up the body with lots of warm blankets, are intended to open up the skin pores and induce a sweat which helps to restore the proper circulation of the “Defensive Energy“. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can also be used to help out, as the sooner this circulation can be restored and strengthened, the quicker the recovery time, and if done early enough, the full symptoms of a cold or flu can often be averted.

The acupuncture meridian pathway relating to the Lung travels from the chest, through the shoulders and arms, down the inside forearms and wrist, and into the thumb and index finger area. Because of this, other health conditions associated with the Lung system, besides lung and skin problems, can include things such as frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Finally, in Traditional Oriental Medicine, little distinction is made between the body, mind, or emotions – everything is seen as being interconnected. As a result, each organ system corresponds to a specific emotional state, and in the case of the Lungs is associated with sadness and grief. The action of crying, with its strong physical contraction of the lungs as well as runny nose, shows this connection to the Lung system. People who suffer from chronic sadness and depression often experience a sense of tightness and constriction of the chest and lungs. Acupuncture, moderate exercise, and deep breathing can all be useful in releasing this lung constriction, while at the same time helping to improve the person’s overall mood.

As can be seen, the Lung system has a wide range of influence on the entire body and keeping it in shape is an important part of staying healthy.

Some conditions often related to the Lungs

  • asthma
  • cough
  • bronchitis
  • tonsillitis
  • laryngitis
  • pneumonia
  • sinusitis
  • hay-fever allergies
  • frequent colds
  • psoriasis
  • eczema
  • sweating problems
  • carpal tunnel
  • tennis elbow
  • sadness & grief

Tips for keeping the Lungs healthy

  1. Moderate exercise helps to strengthen the Lungs as well as to improve the entire body’s circulation. Breathing in lots of fresh air as well as working up a gentle sweat can be very beneficial for the Lung system, but it’s important to remember that too much of a good thing can actually have the opposite effect, so moderation is key.
  2. Skin brushing is a simple and easy way to stimulate and strengthen the Lung system and only takes a few minutes to do. A dry loofah brush is used to massage the entire body before a shower or bath. To follow the same direction of flow as the acupuncture meridians, the strokes should be towards the feet and downwards for the outsides of the legs and the back, and away from the feet and upwards for the insides of the legs and chest. For the arms, the inward sides are stroked towards the fingertips but the outer sides away from the hands and up towards the shoulders.