In East Asian Medicine, there are twelve main acupuncture meridians (also known as “channels”) that carry energy aka Qi (pronounced “chee”) and blood to provide nourishment throughout the body.
In a healthy person, the flow of these vital substances are freely moving in a state of dynamic equilibrium. However, when the flow of Qi or blood becomes blocked in one or more of these channels from emotional stress, an injury, or illness — pain and other symptoms of disharmony manifest in the body.
Each meridian is associated with an organ system as well as a host of other natural phenomena since the foundations of East Asian Medicine were created on the basis of observing the human body as a microcosm of nature — from the elements (Metal, Air, Water, Fire, Earth), climate, shift of seasons, and more.
As we attune to autumn and the waning daylight, we will begin by exploring the Lung Meridian whose symbolic connection to this season can guide us to a deeper understanding of its unique properties and mind-body connection.
As a preview, here are the key associations for the Lungs/Lung Meridian:
- Element: Metal
- Season: Autumn
- Stage of Life: Harvest
- Climate: Dryness
- Sense Organ: Nose
- Tissue Governed: Skin
- Emotion: Grief/Sadness
- Energetic Theme: Integrity/Boundaries
- Yang Organ: Large Intestine
- Time: 3-5 am (Lungs)
- Color: White
- Flavor: Acrid
Stay tuned as I touch on how these relate to one another plus their implications for our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Besides the emergence of fall, it’s fitting to begin with the Lung Meridian since it is regarded as the origin of Qi in the body; by governing our breath, it is the lead conductor in the symphony of harmonious flow from one meridian to the next.
With each inhale and exhale, the breath propels the Qi through the meridians and even influences its flow. For example, when someone is crying or anxious, the breath may arrive in heaves, spasms, and shallow gasps, all of which scatter the Qi versus someone who takes deep, even breaths, which ensure rhythmic Qi and blood flow.
Considering this role, it’s no coincidence that the Lung channel begins in the chest. From there, it travels up towards the collar bones and reaches outward to the front aspect of the upper arm before descending to the middle of the elbow crease and crossing the radial side of the wrist. The channel reaches its destination by tracing the muscle-belly of the thumb before concluding at the outer corner of the nail.
The Metal Element’s Mind-Body Connection
Ruled by the Metal Element, the Lungs mimic metal’s malleability in its ability to contract and expand — as well as serve as a conduit for energy such as heat and electricity. Here again we see the Lung’s Conductor role expressed through nature. Additionally, just like how metal takes on the temperature of what it is exposed to, the Lungs are also easily influenced by that which it comes into contact with.
Physically, this is why the Lungs are the body’s first line of defense from pathogens in the external environment such as allergens and bacteria to viruses. By protecting what enters and exits through the nose—its primary sense organ—the Lungs are like a guard: a boundary that filters and circulates the Defensive (Wei) Qi.
Emotionally, the Lung-Metal relationship can be seen by how one takes on the energetic temperament of what they come in contact with. Are there certain people that make you so tense that you didn’t even realize you were holding your breath? Can you think back to a stressful situation where you sighed with exasperation at having to go through it…or relief when it passed?
These are just examples of how the Lungs guide the body to process the ebb and flow of our emotions: we can take them in and even hold onto them, but we must also know when to release them so movement can be restored.
Autumn & The Energetics of Letting Go
The Lung Meridian’s simultaneous emphasis on expansion to bring in new energy and contraction to release the old is imitated in nature’s radiant burst into color before decaying in the fall, the season it is governed by.
Aligned with its life stage of harvest, the Lung’s energetic role of shedding to create space for renewal is symbolized this time of year. The body intuitively echoes nature by encouraging us to discard what no longer nourishes us so we are not burdened by harboring them through the dark, dormant winter months ahead.
This shedding can look like an accumulation of clutter that stifles our home’s energy and psyche (hello fall cleaning) but also an excess of heavy emotions that create stagnation such as sadness and grief—the emotions that are both stored in the Lungs and responsible for weakening them when left unprocessed.
Autumn is intrinsically a time that invites introspection, nostalgia, and reflection on vibrant moments of the past. When we can reach a place of acceptance with the changes underway and surrender to what’s to come, the Lungs remain strong.
However, when rumination on what was is met with resistance of what is — perhaps what one has lost — or what’s to come, it gets easy to become stuck in a spiral of sorrow and despair which weakens the Lungs.
The Physical Effects of Grief
When experienced over a prolonged period of time — or even when grief is sudden and shocking — the Lung Deficiency that results can manifest physically in symptoms such as: a heavy chest, shortness of breath, and a weakened immune system. A common phenomena I’ve witnessed when clients are grieving is the development of a cough that comes seemingly out of nowhere and won’t go away. The same goes for the sudden development of allergies and asthma they’ve never had before.
Since the Lungs govern our body’s skin in East Asian Medicine (another boundary that filtering our internal and external environment), grief that is repressed or consciously stifled can be an unsuspecting root to the sudden emergence of skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, body acne, and chronic dryness.
Aside from being the climate that corresponds to the Lungs, dryness is also the effect of Lung’s inability to distribute bodily fluids, another one of its key functions. Dryness can happen due to what we call a Lung Qi Stagnation or a Lung Qi Deficiency, both of which lead to poor perfusion or depletion of fluids from frequent crying, the Lung’s intuitive mechanism to process grief.
When you consider how cortisol affects our immune system and ability to process inflammation in allopathic medicine, all of these mechanisms make sense. This is also why waking between the hours of 3-5 am (the time governed by the Lungs according to the Chinese Medicine Body Clock) can happen when this meridian is weakened from a respiratory infection or a reservoir of sadness that wants to be realized; like a wake-up-call, grief can cause insomnia during these hours as if asking to be recognized so it can be released.
Speaking of release…another way sorrow makes an appearance is by disrupting the free flow of Qi in the Lung’s paired organ, the Large Intestine. Just like how the Lungs are a Yin organ, a container which takes in air to propel the Qi that gives us life, the Large Intestine is a Yang organ, where its capacity for elimination can be compromised second-hand from a Lung affliction. This naturally leads to difficulty “letting go” physically and spiritually, which I will cover next…
The Keeper of Our Soul
In East Asian Medicine, not only is each meridian associated with an organ system, but each meridian of a Yin-organ has a Spirit, an animation of its own. You can think of these Spirits like a personality whose expression denotes a state of harmony of vexation depending on whether the organ is balanced or weakened.
I find it a beautiful synchronicity that the root word “spirit” is found in inspiration and aspiration, both of which convey the Lung’s power by guiding the breath. The chest is the source of this power but also the home for the Spirit of the Lung: the Po, also known as the Corporeal Soul.
When balanced, the Po helps one stay connected to the present through their breath. Someone with a dominant Metal constitution or balanced Po tends to speak with clarity and conviction in their voice. Emotionally, the Po supports surrendering to grief and accepting what is: their present loss and circumstance.
When the Po is deficient, there can be listlessness in someone’s disposition and voice. They can feel as though they are disembodied and depressed, just going through life with a deep sense of incompleteness. An afflicted Po can lead to preoccupation with the past and the inability to move forward in life, as is often the case when someone is entrenched in their grief.
Ways to Support the Lung Meridian
To nurture your Lung Meridian this season and beyond, here are some rituals you can try on your own:
- To galvanize your Lung Meridian’s Defensive Qi and maintain the integrity of your energetic and physical boundaries, try this meditative Qi-Gong technique to draw the Lung Qi to the body’s surface: by making a slight cup in the palms of your hands, rhythmically pat the Lung meridian with a light to medium pressure from its origin to exit point. Start with a light patting over your chest (just under your collarbone is fine) then maneuver your hand to follow the meridian outward along your upper and lower arm, to the web of the thumb and finally, the lower-right corner of the thumb’s nail.
- Exercise the Lungs to exorcise trapped emotions by: singing to a cathartic song, beginning a guided breathing meditation, and even performing a moderately strenuous physical activity as your body allows. In their own ways, they expel the breath, strengthen the lungs, and can allow your body to begin shedding the layers of somatic memory and accumulated grief being contained within its walls.
- Moisten the Lungs to strengthen it’s Qi and protect mucosal lining by eating foods with Acrid and Mositening properties. Acrid is the flavor associated with this meridian because these foods open the senses and propel Qi through the body as the Lungs do. The core of many Lung-supporting foods are white at their core, the color of the Metal Element. Try incorporating: cauliflower, daikon radish, potatoes, turnip, parsnip, rutabaga, apple, pear (especially Asian Pear which are in season during autumn), rice, oats, almonds, sesame seeds, onion, fennel, and garlic.
Dr. Lauren Renee Dyer is the Founder of Rune Acupuncture in New Gloucester, Maine where her approach to care can best be described as a merging of medicine and mysticism. Dr. Dyer addresses her client’s needs with a holistic and integrative approach. Her specialty lies in offering Acupuncture for emotional health and pain management, guiding patients towards a state where the body and mind are re-integrated, allowing one to reclaim the essence of who they are, as well as a more harmonized state of health. Book a session with Dr. Lauren through Rune Acupuncture or follow her on the ’gram for daily inspiration and wisdom.