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 and bacteria as well as climatic factors such as wind, damp, dryness, hot, cold are first met by the Lung.
The Lung governs the respiration. Through the Lung we inhale “pure Qi” and exhale “dirty Qi”. The pure Qi is then mixed with the Qi extracted from the food forming the so called Zong Qi (translated as "pectoral" or "gathering Qi"). This combination of Qi and "food essence" is then distributed throughout the body for nourishment and protection(1) Thus the Lung both unifies/gathers and dispurses Qi.
Being the uppermost body of the torso the Lung needs to descend its Qi downwards. The disharmony of this healthy function manifests in cough - the main symptom of an imbalanced Lung.
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 and distributes them to the body’s skin and mucus membranes. Creating a protective coating of the mucus membranes is essential in protecting the body from external pathogens. This Lung function (together with the above mentioned dispersing function to warm the skin and the muscles for protection) is called “defensive Qi” and it determines the state of a person’s overall immunity. If the defensive Qi is weak 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.
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.
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 other 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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