By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
It used to be that when September sets in, we would feel the change in climate- the crisp, cool, air of the “ber” season. Last year and this year, it is now November and although mornings and evenings are cooler, they are not as crisp as before. But season is still season. This season in the Philippines is our equivalent of autumn or fall. Much of what we planted have been harvested and we are into a season of relative rest. Plants may go dormant (like they become seeds) and we have stored these produce for the future. Animals prepare themselves for the upcoming winter and some travel to warmer regions, thus this time is also “ikik” time in Sagada (catching migratory birds).
If the weather has its seasons in a year, our body also has its equivalent seasonal cycle. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), autumn is the season of the element metal, and the body organ system most challenged at this time is the lungs. In TCM, the lungs include the 2 lungs and the lung meridians (energy pathways) and lung patterns. Have you noticed that there are many people with cough and colds since September?
The lung is called, in TCM, the master of qi. “Qi” is the life force that flows in the various meridians in our body. So if lung qi is clear and free-flowing, then all other types of qi will flow along smoothly. If lung qi is obstructed and murky, then the other dynamics in the body will be affected. We can understand this better when we have experienced a bad cold or cough. We cannot breath properly, our head feels congested and we don’t feel well, so we are not as energetic as we should be. It’s the lungs that take in clear qi from the environment (air) and breath out refuse. We know that we need oxygen every minute of the day even if we are sleeping so it is important that our lung system be in tip top condition.
In TCM, each body organ works in pairs. The pair of the lung is the large intestine or colon. Neil Gumenick of the Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture,Inc, states this relationship quite well: “The lung and the colon work together as a team, one taking in the pure, the other eliminating waste. If these organs failed to do their jobs, imagine what might result- certainly we might experience physical ailments of the lung and colon such as bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, colds, sore throat, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon and abdominal pain. But what happens to our mind and spirit if waste keeps building up and we are unable to take in purity? Instead of tranquility and inspiration, spontaneity and freshness, we feel depression, stubbornness (inability to “let go”), isolation and negativity. We see the dark side in everything…” (CYCLES: AUTUMN)
All organ systems have an associated emotion and for the lungs the emotion is grief or sadness. It is part of our humanity to feel a range of emotions and properly express them. What causes disharmony or dis-ease is when emotions are repressed or expressed without control or out of context. When the lung qi is deficient, you can experience an overpowering sense of grief that can lead to depression and other psychological imbalances.
TCM looks at disease differently – as patterns, not as specific conditions. Thus we say lung patterns, not lung diseases, because TCM looks at and treats the root and not the symptom/s. Lung patterns can either be of an excess in the body (usually taken in from the outside) or a deficiency or weakness. In deficient patterns, lung qi deficiency is more common than lung yin deficiency. In excess patterns, these are invasions in the lungs by external pathogens mostly wind, cold and heat.
These external pathogenic factors usually combine to form wind-cold or wind-heat and they first attack the “wei qi” (defensive energy of the exterior of the body). Initial symptoms are usually fever, chills, aversion to cold, body pains, sneezing and stuffy nose. If the “wei qi” is conquered, the lungs will now be invaded producing dry throat, cough and dry skin.
Excessive consumption of cold and raw foods, dairy, juices, fried foods, baked products, produces excessive phlegm which challenges lung function. Chronic sadness and worry also cause lung qi deficiency. Activities that restrict movement of the chest and breathing such as being hunched over a desk reading or studying or doing facebook for hours weaken lung qi. Excessive laziness and lounging can also do the same. Now I see the wisdom of the old that when they feel a cold coming, the more they go sweat it out in the uma, otherwise, they say they’ll really get sick.
So how do we keep our lung system strong, especially at this season?
Deep breathing, as in diaphragmatic breathing, like that practiced in meditation and yoga. This releases a lot of physical and emotional issues to effect the free-flow of energy.
Reduce mucus-forming foods (see above).
Eat foods good for the lungs – beans (see how nature provides for what we need in season? We have a lot of beans now.). The lungs are also strengthened by foods with pungent flavor like ginger (very good condiment for beans), garlic, onions, cinnamon, radish.
Slow down even if slightly, be more introspective and work on resolving underlying emotional issues.
“Be silent before the Lord, all humanity, for he is springing into action from his holy dwelling.” Zechariah 2:13