The ever-elusive Qi
Like the steam that spirals from a pot of cooking rice (as its Chinese character suggests), Qi is the distilled essence, the fundamental mystery and miracle of life. Qi is the vital quality of being and evolving, the foundation of the cosmos.
All the organ systems of the body are imbued with their own unique variation of Qi. While in the broader sense Qi accounts for both substance and function, when we speak of the Qi of an organ we’re mostly referring to the major functions of that organ.
Welcome to the realm of Lung Qi: where two worlds meet
In resonance with the patterns of autumn, a time for shedding the unnecessary and storing vital resources for winter, the Lung (its corresponding organ according to Five Element Theory), sheds what is burdensome or simply unessential through the breath, the skin, the tears, and its paired organ, the Large Intestine. It also inhales, refines, and circulates what is vital, protects against outside threat and safeguards resources.
As the interface between the inner and outer world, through the act of breathing (and an intimate connection to skin, the body’s “third lung”), the Lungs establish rhythm, animate and inspire, purify and release, define boundaries, and protect from external threat (by strengthening and regulating our Wei Qi, or Protective Qi).
It is said that the Lungs rule Qi. Like an alchemist, the Qi of the Lung is responsible for receiving and refining Air Qi, mixing it with the Qi from food, distilling it into the vital Qi and moisture of the body, and circulating it down and out to keep us strong and supple. The Lungs also dramatically impact the cadence of Qi, by establishing a rhythm of breath. If the descending and disseminating ability of the Lung is compromised, our Qi is too, and we might experience, among other things, impaired immunity.
“The Lung is sensitive, tender, yielding, open, and refined as it directs the Qi, providing form, structure, and definition. When the Lung is vigorous and strong, the skin is smooth, supple, and vibrant, the body has abundant physical power, an even tempo, and superior immunity. The Lung is the source of inspiration - it creates the open space, the emptiness within which new ideas and emotions take shape”.
The Lungs not only take in the precious resource of air that sustains us, but allow us to exhale, release, and yield to life’s flow. When Lung Qi is robust, we have healthy boundaries and are better able to cope with dramatic fluctuations in the environment, whether in the form of a pathogen or an emotional disturbance.
As the “tender organ,” the Lungs are especially sensitive to grief, loss, and impermanence. Disturbed Lung Qi can result from or in prolonged grief, or the inability to “let go” of someone or something we cherish. In the clinic, it is not uncommon to see respiratory symptoms arise in patients who are experiencing grief (and it tends to be more dramatic during the Fall season).
Harmonious Lung Qi allows us to gracefully acknowledge and accept the imperfect perfection inherent in life’s delicate integrity. As in Autumn, when matter returns to its source in preparation for its later re-creation, empowered Lung Qi exhibits the willingness to exhale in order to make space for the next breath.