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In Traditional Chinese Medicine the Lung is viewed as the intermediary organ between our body and the outside world. Thus external pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria and climatic factors, are first met by the Lung. Cough, runny nose, and sweating are all symptoms manifested by an invaded Lung and have the function to fight pathogens, and restrain further invasion of the body. For this protective function the Lung is often referred to as “the umbrella organ”.



Yellow Umbrella



The Lung governs the respiration.  Through the Lung we inhale “pure Qi” (air) and exhale “dirty Qi”(1) The pure Qi is mixed with the Qi extracted from the food. This combination of Qi and nutrients is then distributed throughout the body for nourishment. Qi is also essential for helping the Heart in circulating the blood. Since the Lung governs the Qi the Lung is “the minister” who aids “the monarch” (the Heart) to circulate blood.

Besides governing the Qi and the respiration the Lung, together with the Spleen and the Kidney, is also in charge of the body's water metabolism. The Lung receives refined fluids from the Spleen (in Traditional Chinese Medicine the Spleen is referred to as the collective work of some organs and systems participating in the digestion rather than the anatomical organ spleen) and distributes them to the body’s skin and body's mucus membranes. Creating a protective coating of the  mucus membranes is essential in protecting the body from external pathogens.  Referred to as “defensive Qi” in Traditional Chinese Medicine this Lung function determines the state of the person’s overall immunity. If the defensive Qi is weak, i.e. the mucus membranes are not being well nourished, one will be prone to frequent colds and have either dryness or excess mucus in the membranes. As the Lung opens into the nose such disharmony will manifest in nasal congestion, sinus problems, and all types of Lung and bronchial conditions. As the Lung controls the skin and the hair this disharmony will manifest in dry, rough or dull skin and hair. On the other hand people with healthy Lungs have strong immunity, radiant skin, and shiny silky hair.

Sad Bamboo


On a mental/emotional level the emotions associated with the Lung are grief and sadness. A long-time unresolved or repressed grief contracts the Lung, interfering with its function to disperse Qi, nutrients and water mist throughout the body.(2) Thus the Lung becomes congested with undistributed material, while the body remains undernourished. Usually people with Lung problems have some unresolved sadness that needs to be addressed and transformed.

Since the Lung is responsible for unifying and dispersing of Qi and nutrients the emotional equivalent of this healthy physical function would be gathering and letting go. People with healthy Lungs are unified, centered and effective at what they do but also have the ability to let go of everything that is unpractical and needless (2) On the other hand people with weak Lungs have difficulty letting go and manifest attachment to people, objects, the past, etc.



(1) Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Nanjing: Harcourt Publishers Limited

(2) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books


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