Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Lessons on Lung Health During the Time of COVID

During this pandemic, many of us are doing what we can to stay healthy. This blog article summarizes three principles of TCM and provides some tips for improving the health of your lungs. Watch for updates on our social media and website as we plan on expanding this blog to an online class!

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for thousands of years. Many of the books we reference as practitioners have been in continuous use for at least 800 or 1000 years. This incredible medical theory and knowledge base have successfully treated people for millennia with very few side effects!

Because it has such a rich knowledge base and has been around for so long, TCM has a lot to tell us about what’s happening with people’s health if they contract COVID-19. But even more importantly TCM tells us a lot about how to improve our immunity and prevent illness.

In addition, the principles of TCM are holistic; our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing are integral to our overall health. It’s such an anxious time, and many of us are grieving in truly profound ways. And because of that emotional stress, our bodies are affected. Research has shown that the ability of your immune system to fight off illnesses is decreased by stress, so it is imperative that we process and diffuse this acute stress.

Let’s talk about those three foundational TCM principles.

These three principles describe some of the wisdom of the medicine, and hopefully these ideas can help you move through some of the emotional stress and physical discomfort that so many of us have been experiencing. We hope to inspire you to think about some creative and new ways to empower yourself to strengthen your physical body and overall health.

1st principle: Balance is everything 

First, let’s acknowledge and thank those of you who are actually working MORE than normal outside the home. Many of you are working to help keep the rest of us safe. Another group of people are now working from home but many have even MORE responsibilities than normal, like parents who are homeschooling their kids while also working! On the other hand, many of us are now staying at home, working less, or not working at all. We’re experiencing a slower pace of life, where we have TOO LITTLE activity going on. This is contrary to how most of us typically lived where we were always moving and on the go.

Regardless of which camp you’re in right now, most of us are completely exhausted from overdoing it all the time, and we’ve lived this way for years. Many people have found themselves sleeping more lately, partly from the stress of everything happening globally, but also because some of us FINALLY have a chance to actually sleep the proper amount of time our bodies need to heal.

In general, no one right now seems to feel very balanced. This lack of balance, either over- or under-doing it, can be disjointed and strange and a huge cause of fatigue.

What’s the lesson here? Use this time to your benefit and REST whenever you are able. Be compassionate and patient with yourself.  Don’t nervously fill up your time with activities and tasks. Try to embrace the quiet this time can allow you.

2nd principle: We are all a product of nature

The health of our bodies is related to the outside world. We are a reflection of environment, seasons and weather, as well as the physical elements around us like fire, water, and air. In our bodies, our inner organs correspond to particular elements in nature as well as to certain emotions.

Right now, we’re suffering from a lot of anxiety, fear, and grief. If a person is sick with COVID-19, they typically experience symptoms related to an excessive amount of heat, dryness, and mucus in their body. These emotions and symptoms correspond in TCM to what we call the Lung and Heart energetic systems. You’ve likely seen that most people with COVID-19 have symptoms related to the Lung, with intense coughing and difficulty breathing. The Lung energetics relate to the air element, the free flow of breath, and the emotion of grief. There are also many people with COVID-19 that have symptoms relating to the heart. When the Heart energetic system is out of balance, you’ll see symptoms like anxiety, sweating, fever and sometimes pain in the chest, throat or tongue.

What’s the lesson here? The out of balance air symptoms of the Lung and the heat symptoms of the Heart also correspond to our climate. We’ve had intense weather this decade; either too dry, excessively rainy, and some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. This further reinforces the idea that our bodies are a reflection of nature. Our bodies are mirroring a global sickness that is greatly affecting the earth. Perhaps a return to more “natural” lifestyles would help us in our daily lives. Which leads us to the third principle…

3rd principle: Our internal health can be influenced by stimulating the surface of our body

If you’re already a Selby patient, you likely know that the surface of our skin can be “mapped” with lines of energy and particular points that relate to our inner organs and the function of our entire being. We can greatly change our overall health and emotional state by stretching and stimulating these lines of energy. These lines of energy are called channels or meridians, and those points are commonly known as acupuncture points.

In general, we can think of our health like an equation or a combination of: the genetics inherited from our parents + the outside environment + our behavior and healthy habits throughout our lifetimes.

What’s the lesson here? Proper exercise to open those lines of energy can be hugely important in the third part of the equation that relates to behavior and health habits. Our upcoming online class on lung health will focus more on this particular topic, but exercise that focuses on stretching and activating the energy channels also greatly benefits our immunity and lung health.

For example, it’s important right now that you think about how you can work out your lungs every day. Focus on the idea of relaxing and expanding your lungs gently—this goes back to the TCM principles of balance and rest that were mentioned earlier. Many of us are stuck in fight or flight mode, constantly busy and anticipating what’s coming next. As a result, we hold our lungs, ribs, and diaphragm (the breathing muscle) tight, versus letting them naturally expand and move.

If possible, go outside every day and take a walk. Physical activities help to strengthen the lungs, and walking is excellent for doing that in a gentle way. There are also plenty of other activities to work out your lungs beyond physical exercise, and you can be really creative here:

  • Talk through your feelings with loved ones/ don’t hold your words in, especially if you’re sad.
  • Laugh and cry to open and release the lungs. Maybe watch some stand-up comedy or Skype with your favorite friend who’s a good joke teller.
  • Sing along to your favorite songs.
  • Do some deep breathing exercises.

All of these examples help you move through tough emotions and get them physically out of your body.

Our upcoming online class will include more tips like these to help you strengthen your lung health, reduce stress, and help your immune system function. Examples of topics we’ll discuss include: acupressure massage you can do yourself, breathing exercises, diet recommendations, and herbal medicine. And do not forget that we can personalize these tools for you in a virtual visit as well! Book here!

There’s a very old saying in TCM: “If righteous qi is strong on the inside, pathogenic influences cannot invade.” What that means is that if our body and mind are strong, we tend to not get sick. Our goal at Selby is help all of our patients understand the important role they can play in maintaining their own health!

Additional Resources:

Acupressure video for cough

Acupressure video for anxiety

Qi Gong video for Lung Health

Our own Christine Grisham’s book on TCM and food

Article written by Christine Grisham

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash