What Do the Lung, Skin and Large Intestine Have in Common?
Chinese medicine is all about the movement of energy within holistic systems. Its aim is to support the healthy interaction and connection at the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels.
Classical Chinese medicine describes energy (Qi), that flows through channels (meridians) deep inside the body and at the surface. When the body is internally balanced and in harmony with the external environment, Qi flows smoothly through the meridians to nourish the organs and tissues. If an obstruction occurs in one of the meridians, it will affect all the others.
The organ networks are identified by the role they play in the body; each network is defined by the physicality of the organ and corresponding tissue (Yin aspect of the system), and by its function—emotional, mental and spiritual (Yang Part of the system).
The Lung (LU) and Large Intestine (LI) are Yin and Yang organ networks. The Lung Network governs the skin. Let’s take a look at what the Lung, Skin, and Large Intestine have in common in the context of Chinese medicine.
The Lung Network refers to the whole respiratory system and includes the nose and sinuses, nasopharynx, bronchi, skin and mucous membranes, body hair, and sclera of the eye. Since most human energy is derived from air, it is the activity of respiration that drives Qi throughout—providing vitality for the body, mind and spirit. The lung is YIN in nature and considered the source of inspiration.
- Boundary – The Lung Network’s task both physically and spiritually, is that of making a boundary between the inner and the outer world. The Lungprovides rhythm, structure, and defense.
- Breath – We take in air from the environment in the form of oxygen (Pure Qi) which supplies cells to the blood to circulate throughout the body. We breathe out oxygen-poor air in the form of carbon dioxide (Impure Qi). The lung guides this refined essence downward from the head, to the chest and abdomen and outward to the muscles, skin and extremities. This constant exchange in the cycles of breathing maintains the correct function of all the body’s processes that need Qi
- Barometer of Health – Shortness of breath, inflammation, prolonged coughing, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, high blood pressure, hoarseness or weakness in the voice, and headaches are indications of Qi weakness associated with the lungsystem.
The skin is an integral part of the Lung Network and is often referred to as the “third lung”. The pores of the skin are seen as the ‘doors of Qi’ allowing energy to flow into and out of our body. The health of the skin is a direct reflection of the strength of the Lung Qi. When the Lung Network is vigorous and strong, the skin is smooth, supple, and vibrant.
- Boundary – Our skin functions as the outermost surface of the self both protecting us from the outer environment and containing us. The sensory function of the skin helps us react quickly to dangerous situations such as extreme warm, cold, or sharpness.
- Breath – The Lung Networkmanages external security through the skin – opening and closing the pores to adjusts the moisture and temperature of the body. It thickens or thins the skin to help us rid toxins from our body in the form of sweat, and it seals in valuable internal resources. Our skin sloughs off the outer layer (epidermis) and removes harmful pathogens in the process.
- Barometer of Health — many underlying health conditions first appear as skin problems in the form of dryness, rashes, discolorations, inflammations, indentations, changes in color or texture and more. If our Lung Qi is weak, our physical and emotional protection is reduced— making us vulnerable to illness and negative thoughts.
The Large Intestine is the Yang partner of the Lung Network; both are externally-internally related. The Large Intestine continues the process of refining that begins in the Lung Network through the processes of digestion and metabolism. By letting go of stale air and expelling bodily waste, both the Lung Networkand Large Intestine separate out that which we no longer need- promoting the processes of distillation, individuation, and elimination.
- Boundary – the Large Intestine Networkmaintains the integrity of the digestive system so that invaders do not penetrate into the blood. The Colon has the function of eliminating what is unnecessary or toxic from our bodies.
- Nutrition – the main function of the Large Intestine-is to take in food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and let go of the waste. Like breathing, the Large Intestine takes in and lets go, separating the pure from the impure both physiologically and spiritually- helping us to define what is us and not us, what is useful and useless, beneficial and harmful, right from wrong.
- Barometer of Health – The color, size, shape, texture, and odor of our waste speaks volumes about the overall state of our health and wellbeing. When Large Intestine Qi doesn’t flow properly, we have digestive disorders – constipation or diarrhea, distinctions become unclear and the mind becomes cluttered. Letting go of unnecessary thoughts, feelings, and attachments is made easier when the Lung and Large Intestine function optimally.
What you can do to take good care of your Lung, Skin, and Large Intestine
It starts with putting good things into and onto your body.The Lung is the source of inspiration—it creates the open space, the emptiness within which new ideas and emotions take shape: Getting plenty of fresh air – taking a long walk in nature – (provided the air quality is good ) or practicing breathing exercises such as Qi Gong and Tai Chi help the lung energy remain vigorous and strong.
Good food nourishes the body and the soul: Eat seasonal, natural, unprocessed and organic fresh fruits, vegetables and grains—Foods that disperse energy throughout the body and promote good circulation. In the fall our diet needs to change to reflect the change in nature.
It is best to eat:
- Spicy foods to combat the cold, and dampness
- Cooked Foods – more soups and stews – fewer salads and smoothies
- Seasonal vegetables – roasted or steamed (not raw)
- Grains: Quinoa, long grain white and brown rice
- Warm Beverages – ginger tea is good both for the lungs and the digestion
- Take the time to create a meal that is colorful and visually appealing.
- Be mindful of every bite and enjoy the flavors, textures and aroma of the meal.
- Pay attention to fullness and avoid habitual, mindless eating.
- Eating a diet rich in Omega 3-fatty acids; foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds, almonds salmon, soy, navy, and kidney beans will give your skin that fresh, moisture-rich glow.
- Drinking plenty of water and warm beverages is essential to keep the skin moist.
- Using nutrient rich moisturizers with natural ingredients to keep the skin from drying out.
- Exercise to sweat out the toxins
Get acupuncture treatments to restore and rebalance the energy of the Lung and Large Intestine. If you are experiencing any skin problems, respiratory ailments or digestive problems, it is better to seek treatment before a problem becomes persistent or chronic.
Taking good care of your Lung, Skin and Large Intestine, especially in the fall is vital for good health!
Between Heaven and Earth
by Harriet Korngold, Efrem Beinfield
The Spark in the Machine: How the Science of Acupuncture
Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine
by Daniel Keown
The Healing Point Acupuncture Clinic
Xia Xin, L.Ac., CSMA