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The role of the lungs in Ayurveda, TCM, and the Chakras

I know you might be corona-virused out. My inbox has been flooded with messages from yoga studios, organizations, and stores about how they’re taking steps to reduce the possible spread of the disease. This is not that blog.

Instead, we’re going to talk about the lungs, the heart space, and understanding the energetics underlying issues in our lungs. Because even if we aren’t specifically dealing with coronavirus, perhaps you’ve had allergies, asthma, or have struggled at some point to take a breath. We’re going to explore how the lungs are seen in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the Chakras. Then, we’ll talk about the action steps you can take to find balance and harmony in your lung and heart space.

Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to send positive energy out to all of the folks who are infected with coronavirus, appreciation and love to the medical workers supporting them, and fortitude to policy makers around the world who are trying to figure out the logistics of keeping people safe in a global community.

Thanks for that.

The Lungs in Ayurveda, TCM, and Chakras

In Ayurveda, the lungs are a site of Kapha, Avalambaka Kapha to be exact. Kapha energy is ruled by the elements earth and water. It’s sticky and unctuous, and Kapha is imbalanced when the water stops flowing and turns to earth. We are in the middle of Kapha time of year – the cold, wet end of winter that turns into a slightly-warmer, but still cold, wet beginning of spring.

When you think about the lungs, you probably think of air, but the function of the lungs is actually dependent on water – the fluid lining the lungs is what allows carbon dioxide and oxygen to be excreted from or incorporated into the body.

Energetically, Kapha people are incredibly stable, loyal, and consistent. They have a great memory, but can also hold on to past grievances or anger for long periods of time.

The lungs can lose proper function in a few different ways. On an anatomic level, when we hunch our shoulders forward and round our backs (think about when you’re outside in the cold and brace yourself against the wind, or are sitting at your desk typing), the lung space shrinks and isn’t able to expand and contract freely. Our lung capacity can also be diminished if the mucus in our lungs gets too thick or voluminous (an excess of Kapha).

Our respiration accounts for about 70% of our bodies excretion of waste products. The exhale is a critical piece of our body’s cleansing and renewing mechanisms. Thus, with our reduced lung capacity, our ability to let go of the past is also reduced. We don’t fully move on. It can be incredibly hard to say good-bye to habits, relationships, and situations that aren’t positively serving them anymore.

Vasant Lad, an Ayurvedic doctor, says “Avalambaka [Kapha in the lungs] creates confidence, courage, and the ability to face problems so that the chest is expanded. When the chest is contracted, the person is not able to cope with challenges.”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), like in Ayurveda, the lungs are where we hold our grief. Perhaps you’ve felt this: when a loved on passed or you had a major disappointment, it might have felt like the air was getting knocked out of you. There’s a feeling like you’re crumpling in on yourself, like an aluminum can. The grief accumulates and blocks the lungs, exhalation, and letting go.  The lungs are the center of our Qi, our life force. We need that life force to have the proper movement (as opposed to the stickiness and stuckness described above) to feel alive and well. Being stuck in the grief of the past is related to this imbalance. An interesting note: in TCM, the lungs are at their peak performance between 3am and 5am. A few years back, I kept waking up in this time frame and was advised to look at unprocessed grief (and indeed, I found it). So another way to tell that there is some stuck energy in your lungs is your middle-of-the-night wake ups.

One more system to look at: the Chakra system. The Heart Chakra (4th Chakra) is located in the center of the chest around the heart and lungs. Interestingly, the 4th Chakra is right in the middle of the 7 Chakra system, again speaking to how balance is so important in the lung space. The 4th Chakra relates to our connection to others. An under-active Heart Chakra is solid and rigid. There is an armor created against deep, meaningful connection, because of the vulnerability required to love fully and freely. This armor can be built when we witness abundant pain and judgment around us. It becomes scary to be our true selves and to be open for fear of being rejected by the community around us. Once again, we’re seeing how a rigidness in the heart, i.e., too much earth element in the lung space, can cause issues in our lives.

Ambika Wauters in Chakras and Their Archetypes says “many people feel there isn’t enough love in their lives. As we develop, we learn that love is literally all around us, and we have access to the love which resides within us.” We create more fluidity and balance in our heart.

Of course, we can go the opposite way and get *too* fluid. Just like an accumulation of fluid in the lungs isn’t good, too much “water” in the Heart Chakra can lead us to give too much. We become like an empath – taking in all of the emotion that surrounds us, and tend to give so much to others that we don’t take care of ourselves. Using language from TCM, there is too much outward flow of Qi, and we can’t support our own life force.

Who knew there was so much going on in your lungs! Here are my takeaways from this information:

  1. I’m not all that surprised that our new virus causes a lung infection. The epidemic everyone was talking about before coronavirus came around was loneliness. Our culture has become siloed as we spend more and more time with our phones, computers, tablets, and TVs and less and less time connecting to people around us. This causes an imbalance in the Heart Chakra, as we lose our sense of true community. Also, we have a pretty divisive culture right now – if we reveal our true opinions, we might be rejected by the group. It can cause us to armor up, hunch over, and reduce our in- and out-flow of breath and Qi.
  2. In addition to hand sanitizing, we need to take care of our lung’s emotional health. Perhaps you do know that there is some unprocessed grief in your life. Or you have trouble letting go of the past. Or you’ve felt the armor around your heart. Or you give to others and never give to yourself. These are all lung/heart issues that can be addressed and should be investigated.

Let’s chat about a few things you can do to help your lungs and heart:

  1. Khapalabhati. This is a pranayama (breath) practice from yoga. Prana is very similar to Qi in TCM, and Khapalabhati is a perfect practice for reducing Kapha. Please note if you have high blood pressure, cataracts, are pregnant, have a heart or other medical condition, you should not do Khapalabhati. If at any point you don’t feel good doing this breath, you should stop. You’re going to do sharp, strong exhales through the nose, followed by passive inhales through the nose. You should feel a little pumping in your belly as you breathe out strongly. Video instructions are here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6bnFlVkKrE). Start small, with about 20 rounds of breath before taking natural, deep breaths.
  2. The Dragon Stands Between Heaven and Earth. This is a practice from Qigong, essentially the yoga system from TCM. Stand with feet hips with distance apart and a strong, straight spine. Take the hands about 6-8 inches in front of your chest. Curl the fingers into a loose fist and extend the thumbs so they’re pointing towards each other, parallel to the ground. Relax the shoulders. You can close your eyes. Stand here for 3-5 minutes (or longer),  seeing yourself as the Dragon that stands between heaven and earth. Feel energy flowing through the body, particularly around the lung space.
  3. Supported Fish Pose. If you want to breathe deeper and open your heart, do this pose. You’ll get two yoga blocks (or big thick books – The 5th Harry Potter is exactly the right size :). Lay on your back with one block on the ground to go between the shoulder blades, and one block to go underneath your head. Your hips will be on the ground. Your legs can be long, or you can bend the knees and have the feet on the ground. Take the arms out wide and feel the shoulder blades draw down as the heart opens. Breathe deeply and steadily through the nose for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Practice Active Love. This tool comes from The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michaels (we’ve talked about this book before!). This is a practice to do to help you better connect to someone who you’re currently having difficulties with. Envision your heart space, feeling energy grow and love saturate your heart. See the person in front of you that you’re having difficulties with. Imagine a light beam (think Care Bear Stare https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Eu9mM9NUTw) traveling from your heart to their heart, filling their heart with love and wishing that love upon them.
  5. Get some more spice. Spicy food burns up extra water, and can help us clear our nasal and bronchial passages. It warms up and pacifies Kapha dosha, spurring us towards the future.

Sending love to all of you and your families. Be safe and take the necessary precautions to prevent coronavirus, AND let’s remember every day to take actions to support our heart and lung’s emotional wellbeing.

What Do You think?

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  1. Thankyou so much for your beautifully written, insightful and practical article. I have been a Herbalist and yoga devotee for more than 20 years and of course, this info is second nature to me, but it has been more helpful to hear this from your space and love. I have lost both my father this year and my business (although I will probably eventually use the opportunity to reinvent it), so the grief has really manifested as asthma (and ended up in emergency last night because I couldnt breathe yet met with angry medical staff who told me I should stay home because I hadnt been covid tested). I certainly know that when all the herbs, supplements and flower essences dont alleviate my symptoms, I really need to dig super deep, so your post is really helpful. Thankyou