This is one of the 12 organ systems in Chinese medicine.
The information below is intended to enhance and expand your experience of the Lung organ system podcast, but can of course be used on its own to understand your treatment at Watershed Wellness more deeply.
Lung organ system overview
The Lung is known as 肺 fèi in Chinese.
The Lung is one of the 5 most frequently referenced organ systems in Chinese medicine, along with the Liver, Heart, Kidney & Spleen. Its importance is of course recognized in Western biomedicine as well, and this importance makes intuitive sense. We can go a while without eating, digesting and urinating – but we can't stop breathing for very long before serious problems emerge.
In Chinese medicine, some of the major functions of the Lung organ system are:
- Respiration & the distribution and movement of Qi all over the body
- Regulates waterways – in essence – it helps the body regulate dryness & wetness
- Controls and regulates the skin surface of the body, including the hairs and pores
Let’s dig in a bit more using the various structures and symbols associated with the Lung.
The Lung acupuncture channel
The Lung acupuncture channel is one of the shorter ones on the body, with only 11 points.
The first point on the lung channel is in the chest, below the collarbone, the channel then goes onto the arm, descending down the bicep muscle into the inner surface of the elbow, it then proceeds onto the inner forearm on the radial (thumb) side to the wrist and then proceeds onto the palmar surface of the thumb and ends on the outer edge of the thumbnail.
Like most acupuncture channels, it can be used to treat pain and dysfunction along its course. The Lung channel in this context is particularly good at treating clavicular, elbow & wrist pain.
Phase Element – Metal
The five phases, also known as the five elements or five phase elements, is one of the most common symbolic systems used in Chinese medicine. The five phases are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each phase has its own basic character and series of associations, all of which can be used to understand human health, as well as other aspects of reality.
The Lung is one of two metal organ systems, the other being the Large Intestine. Because we’re talking about metal for the first time, I want to discuss some aspects of this phase. Just understand that all of these things relate to the Large Intestine as well, though we can emphasize different aspects and see how they relate more or less.
Metal relates to the autumn, to the completion of a cycle, to the killing force of harvest. This is an interesting thing to explore, since the Lung actually sits more on the spring side of the organ clock. You’ll see a lot of interesting tensions like this in Chinese medicine symbolism. Instead of rejecting these or getting confused, we try to understand what they have to teach us. I will look to share more about this apparent contradiction in the future.
Metal relates most importantly to the emotion of grief. If we think of autumn, of that letting go of the summer flourishing, and the reality of harvest – there is a relationship of metal with death, the ending of a cycle. And of course whenever we say goodbye to something (whether it is the summer, a beloved companion animal, or a person in our life) there is a grieving process – a transition from one way of life to another.
Six Conformations – Tàiyīn 太陰
The six conformations is a system of diagnosis that divides the twelve organ systems into six synergistic pairs. There are a variety of ways to parse the information contained in this system, which is chiefly used when diagnosing and treating infectious conditions such as colds and flus, but has utility beyond that use.
Tàiyīn translates to greater Yin. This conformation is the strongest and most exterior of the yin conformations, sort of the front door to the interior of the body. The yin is very strong in these two organ systems and both do a lot to regulate the presence of dampness in the body. The spleen is associated with the digestive and assimilation functions of the body, and thus has a relationship to aspects of our immune system. This is a quality it shares with the Lung. Thus, when a person comes in with dietary or respiratory allergies, Taiyin is the first conformation on our mind.
Ultimately, knowing about this conformation helps us to understand that an important link exists between Lung and Spleen function.
Huángdì Nèijīng – Chapter 8 – The Chancellor / Prime Minister
One of the most important books in Chinese medicine is the Huángdì Nèijīng or Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic. In Chapter 8 of that text, all of the organ systems are described using language that relates to the operation of a country or state. This is a common way of symbolically discussing physiology and pathology in ancient Chinese texts.
In this chapter, it is said of the Lung:
“The lung is the official functioning as chancellor and mentor. Order and moderation originate in it.”Paul Unschuld translation
This one is a little harder to understand – in other translations, the Lung is talked about as the “Prime Minister.” This is a position in ancient China that is just below the Ruler/Sovereign, but above all the other officials. The Ruler in this system is the Heart, so part of this is pointing to the close relationship of Heart & Lung, and the absolute power and importance of both of them.
Order and moderation refers to the rhythm and balance keeping function of the Lung in Chinese medicine. The breath, its rhythm and power, moves so much else in the body. And through regulating our breath consciously, we can moderate our mind’s activity as well as many other things.
So, the Lung is the prime minister, taking care of very important functions that keep us alive – in concert with the highest of all organ systems – the Heart.
Organ clock – 3am-5am
The Lung is associated with 3-5am, this is solidly morning, though many people don’t wake up now – especially in the winter. I do tend to wake up around 5am many mornings, and I can tell you that it’s a peaceful time. The light is just starting to peek around the horizon, mostly traffic hasn’t started moving, but some birds and animals start moving.
This is a very peaceful time of the morning, wonderful for meditation and breathing exercises. And the Lung bears this energy – peace, harmony & balance.
Organ clock – February
Note : The lunisolar Chinese calendar doesn't match up perfectly with the months of the Gregorian calendar. I'm using the closest month on the Gregorian calendar that makes sense.
The Lung is associated with February, still a time of celebrating the new year, but we’re really starting to move out of the deep cold storage of winter here. Water is starting to move, animals are waking up from slumber, the first insects start their eternal hunt for food and warmth. Depending on where you live, of course, there can still be big storms, snow, ice, but even so – we know the spring is coming. Warmth is coming.
The lung bears this energy – balance between cold and warmth, dark and light, wet and dry, movement and stillness. The lung is everywhere about balance.
Organ clock – The Tiger
Every organ system is related to an “Earthly Branch” which is one of the pieces of the ancient Chinese calendar system. To make those symbols easier to relate to, the Chinese associated each with one of the 12 zodiac animals from Chinese astrology.
The Lung is related to the Tiger in this system. The Tiger is largely a solitary animal that rests a large part of the day, moving in bursts of energy only when needed. It is also a beautiful animal, and a lot of the folklore about the Tiger discusses the beauty of its fur, perhaps a relationship with the Lung's governing of the body surface.