Grief and the lungs


Grief and the lungs

I have just made a very short trip to France to attend to my father’s funer­al. Unfor­tu­nately, I caught a res­pir­at­ory infec­tion as soon as I landed, and I spent most of my time over there in bed.

This gave me plenty of time to exper­i­ence first hand the intim­ate con­nec­tion between our phys­ic­al health and our emo­tions. While West­ern medi­cine only recently acknow­ledged that stress had a neg­at­ive effect on our immunity, most forms of tra­di­tion­al medi­cine around the world have always been hol­ist­ic con­cepts, where the mind, the spir­it , and the body are regarded as one.

The con­nec­tion between emo­tions and organs is espe­cially strong in Tra­di­tion­al Chinese Medi­cine. In that med­ic­al frame­work, spe­cif­ic emo­tions have a neg­at­ive effect on spe­cif­ic organs. Anger affects the liv­er, worry or overthink­ing affects the spleen, fear affects the kid­ney and sad­ness, and grief affects the lungs.

Accord­ing to the ancient med­ic­al texts, the lung organ is “ the offi­cial that receives pure Qi from the heav­ens”. Every time we breathe in, we absorb oxy­gen (pure Qi) into our body, before breath­ing out the waste product, which is car­bon diox­ide. Plants are our most valu­able com­pan­ions because they pos­sess the unique abil­ity to reverse that pro­cess, absorb­ing car­bon diox­ide to trans­form it into oxy­gen.

The lung is our most super­fi­cial organ, its energy cir­cu­lates just under the skin. Tox­ic sub­stances are absorbed and elim­in­ated through the skin, and many der­ma­to­lo­gic­al con­di­tions such as acne, dermatit­is or psori­as­is, are there­fore often treated with lung acu­punc­ture points

The lung is the first organ to be affected by extern­al con­di­tions. We feel the cold through our skin, and devel­op breath­ing prob­lems when our immunity is down. When we look at the five ele­ments (wood /fire/ earth /metal/ water) and their cor­res­pond­ences with the dif­fer­ent sea­sons, the met­al ele­ment (lung/ large intest­ine) is asso­ci­ated with autumn, which is a trans­ition peri­od, between sum­mer and winter. In autumn, the weath­er cools down, the days shortens, the leaves turn yel­low before fall­ing into the soil where they will decom­pose to gen­er­ate new growth.

Autumn is a time for let­ting go, for mov­ing into a new phase. Accord­ing to the Chinese clock, each organ fol­lows a two-hour tid­al cycle when its energy is at its peak, fol­lowed by anoth­er cycle, twelve hours later, where it is at its weak­est. The optim­um time for the lung is between 3 am and 5 am. The rise of the new day has tra­di­tion­ally been a spe­cial time for cleans­ing, for inspir­a­tion, and rebirth. Birds sing at dawn to express their joy at being gran­ted anoth­er day to live. Lung time has been a spir­itu­al peri­od for med­it­a­tion, and pray­er in ashram and mon­as­ter­ies since the birth of time.

The fresh air we breathe stim­u­lates the mind, as well as the body, and the concept of the breath as a fun­da­ment­al form of energy is an integ­ral part of Yogic and Ayurveda med­it­a­tion, as well as of Tra­di­tion­al Chinese Medi­cine. The ancient Greeks used to call the soul “the vital breath “, which illus­trate that con­nec­tion between the lungs and our emo­tion­al health.

When the lung energy is in har­mony, we are able to breathe in fresh new ideas, and absorb new exper­i­ences, as well as being able to breathe out and expel the old pre­ju­dices, and assump­tions, which pois­on our mind. Unfor­tu­nately, the lungs are dir­ectly affected by emo­tions of sad­ness and grief, which constrain its feel­ings and restrict its move­ment. Being unable to express these emo­tions or being over­whelmed by them causes the lungs to weak­en. Our immunity goes down, and we can eas­ily devel­op res­pir­at­ory prob­lems like I did when my fath­er passed away a few weeks ago.

Grief is a neces­sary pain­ful pro­cess. It is a trans­ition­al peri­od of accept­ance that one part of our life has changed, that a per­son close to us is forever gone. It is a con­front­ing time because we are forced to reflect on our past beha­vi­or and rela­tion­ship with that per­son. When the deceased is one of our par­ent, or sib­ling, emo­tion­al scars and accu­mu­lated guilt some­times come to the sur­face. Some past con­flicts might nev­er be resolved. It takes a lot of strength to be able to for­give not only the per­son we’ve lost but also ourselves. When the lung energy is too weak, this can mani­fest as a con­tinu­al feel­ing of regret and nos­tal­gia towards what might have been, and an under­ly­ing bit­ter­ness at the missed oppor­tun­it­ies.

We for­get that everything is tem­por­ary and that nature and life fol­low a con­tinu­al pro­cess of birth, growth, decay, and death. In Buddhism, unhap­pi­ness is a reflec­tion of our inab­il­ity to let go. Like the birds singing to cel­eb­rate being alive, we are taught that every new day is a fresh begin­ning. It brings a feel­ing of grat­it­ude and great spir­itu­al com­fort know­ing that we are part of some­thing etern­al which is much big­ger than us.

Life begins with our first breath, and by learn­ing to con­trol that form of energy we can dis­cov­er ourselves, and devel­op respect and deep con­nec­tion with oth­ers.


Olivi­er Lejus MHSc.BHSc. is a registered acu­punc­tur­ist prac­ti­cing in Sydney, Aus­tralia.



About Olivier Lejus

I was born in France and I emigrated to Australia in 1980. I worked as a circus performer, puppeteer and actor before I began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine a the University of Technology of Sydney in 1997. I graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of of science degree in Traditional Chinese medicine. I am now specializing in Japanese style acupuncture for the treatment of female and male infertility, pain, and anxiety.

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