The Chinese Medicine view of the immune system combines notions of both nature and nurture. Jing, translated as Essence, is inherited from our parents, depleted by the very fact of living, depleted badly by bad living, added to by meditation, foodstuffs, and herbs. Jing is the deepest level of the body’s energies, the source of all Yin and Yang in the body. (In the most general terms, which therefore are neither elegant nor explicative, Yang is function and Yin structure).
There is also the concept of “pre-natal” qi, which combs from our parents. The medical student who gets drunk frequently, eats fast food, and still runs marathons, gets straight A’s, looks and feels healthy, probably received the gift of very strong pre-natal qi at birth.
On the other hand, there is “post natal” qi. Post natal qi is how we add to our reservoir of pre-natal qi. This piling on of Qi comes from quality foodstuffs, herbs, sleep, a quiet heart, and the breath. Heart here refers to the emotions, and includes what we would think of as mental functions.
Obviously then, we can build our Qi by sleeping deeply and sufficiently, by eating and digesting and eliminating well, by taking herbs both to prevent disease and promote longevity, by the practice of meditation and meditative exercises like Yoga and Tai Qi, (or by hard martial arts, the Yang expression of the calm quiet tiger, if that fits your constitutional type) and by keeping your lungs healthy.
Keeping your lungs healthy is a function of learning how to breathe deeply, how to do abdominal breathing, what is called Pranayam in Sanskrit, the language of Ayurveda and Yoga, which are sister sciences. For more information on pranayam, or to learn how, please contact me. Obviously one would want to avoid cigarette smoke and other pollutants to protect the lungs.
There is a kind of qi called Wei Qi, translated as “defensive” qi, which is produced by the lungs. That is one reason why a lot of people with allergies or asthma tend to get sick a lot. Rhinoviruses and influenzas enter the body through the nose, which is considered an extension of the lungs, and produce as their symptoms things like cough and phlegm.
Keeping the lungs healthy has a secondary benefit. The tissue system associated with the Lung Qi is the skin! So healthy lungs will tend to promote healthy skin. Also the practice of pranayama is extraordinarily calming, and, along with Asana, was considered the prerequisite to the practice of meditation in traditional Yoga. I have personally had excellent results with using Pranayam as a treatment for Psoriasis, along with weekly sesame oil massage.
There are foods and herbs that benefit the lungs. Last post I talked about pears, which are high on the list. Why? Because pears are cooling and moistening and the lungs like to be “cool” (not cold, and not hot) and “moist.”
Cool, not cold. That is because Qi is by nature warm, so that cold produces stagnant qi, which is unhealthy. In fact, chronic lung diseases like asthma are often a function of “trapped cold” in the lungs. An excess of moisture, which is inherently cool, is produced. Often that trapped cold weakens the normal Qi of the lungs and instead of going in deeply, the lung qi rebels, with symptoms like wheezing and an inability to breathe deeply or “grasp the qi.”
Over time a hot condition can be produced, with dark phlegm. Or the wei qi is weakened and an external “evil” like influenza enters the body producing “heat” toxins. And heat is very drying. It damages the Yin of the lungs. The lungs are full of delicate tissues that need to be moist, in order to do their job, like the mucus membranes in our nose and sinuses. This is a “Yin” aspect.
So the lungs like to be cool and moist, and that is exactly the quality of pears and pear juice. We could say that pears “protect” the yin of the lungs. Many of the herbs used to treat lung disease are also cool and moist, or if their is infection cold and bitter.
Other foods used traditionally to benefit the lung for various reasons are:
Persimmons are a wonderful autumn fruit. Autumn is a time of year that can be hard on the lungs. The lungs are the organ of grief and some people become naturally melancholy at the end of summer. Autumn can also be dry, and our lungs have gotten used to the summer warmth, so the sudden cooling can be hard. Autumns is when the first round of cold viruses appear, too. Chinese medicine associated autumn with lungs, and Ayurveda with Vata, which overlaps with chinese conepts of the lung.
Back to persimmons. They are mild and light, help to dissolve Phlegm and reinforce the Digestive Energy. Persimmon’s are especially good when there is a heat condition in the lungs with cough.
Almonds reinforce the Lung Qi and Yin. They are a Sattvic food in Ayurveda which means they balance all the doshas and create harmony. Try Persimmon muffins with almonds and saffron. Or cooked mashed persimmons with the same, or even fresh persimmon pudding: Low boil and mash persimmons, add a little arrowroot starch rather than corn starch, add cardomom, almonds and saffron, and sweetener to taste(i like yucca syrup in this case) stir on a low flame and you have pudding!
Turnips strengthen Lung Qi, and Tremella mushrooms benefit the Yin. Try Miso Soup with Turnips and Tremella Mushroom. If you suffer from digestive system dampness (thick or greasy tongue coat), eat your Miso Soup with cooked Job’s Tear’s barley, and avoid or eliminate Wheat and Gluten.This can be critical for people with allergies and asthma.
Lotus Rhizome is also for the lungs. It is very healing to Lung tissue, and helps alleviate damp cough. You can buy it at any Asian grocery. Try juicing it with Pears and a little Ginger root. It looks funny, but has a mild taste. Excellent in soups and stews, too
Chinese and Ayurvedic Herbs for the Lungs:
Chinese White Ginseng, Ophiopogon and Schizandra: Sheng Mai San
The above three herbs make up the venerable herbal rememdy called Sheng Mai San. This is a formula that protects and nourishes the “Yin” and “Qi” of the Lungs. That means it strengthens lung function, and restores the lungs after respiratory illness.
In Autumn, Sheng Mai San is a good formula to take in small doses to protect the lungs. But never in the presence of a fever or while you have a cold.
If someone has a weak immune response, or has a very “Damp” Constitution, I also give them Astragalus and Reishii Mushroom. This combination strengthens the “Wei Qi” and Lungs to improve immune response and the ability to fight external attack. It also strengthens the transformation of dampness and fluids which tend to collect Lung-side.
There is an Ayurvedic formula i use based on Tylaphora called Tylaphora Plus, but i dont have time to write about it now…to be continued and with more on herbs for longevity and jing enhancement….
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego