Lungs from a TCM Perspective
In western physiology, the lungs are responsible for air exchange. In addition to performing respiration in TCM, the lungs' regulate fluid metabolism, blood circulation, the autonomic nervous system and the immune system.
"The lungs rule qi and administer respiration. "
The lungs are where qi exchange and regulation occurs. During inhalation, the lungs take in natural air qi (one type of qi referring to the atmospheric air), propelling it downward where it meets other types of qi. The different types of qi combine to produce normal qi (qi present in the body). During exhalation, the lung expels the "impure" air not useful to the body. If the lungs are healthy, qi will enter the body smoothly and respiration will be even and regular. If there is lung disharmony, respiration is weakened and normal qi production is affected, leading to qi deficiency.
"The lungs direct movement in a disseminating, descending and liquefying manner."
The lungs disseminate substances in an ascending and outward direction. For example, impure air is expelled in this manner, and body fluids and food nutritive essence are directed towards the skin and hair. By regulating sweat secretion, the lungs disseminate protective qi (qi mainly responsible for immunity) to the skin and the pores.
The lungs also demonstrate descending and liquefying properties. They take in natural air qi during respiration and liquefy the fluids in the airway. The lungs then descend these substances downwards along with food essence transformed by the spleen. The descending function is necessary to maintain a normal respiratory tract.
The disseminating, descending and liquefying properties of the lungs are essential for good health. If disharmony occurs, individuals may suffer from coughing, wheezing, chest discomfort, abnormal sweating or congestion from phlegm.
"The lungs move and adjust the water channels"
The lungs are responsible for the transformation and movement of water in the body. They move water in the same directions as qi. The lungs' disseminating properties enable water vapor to ascend and scatter to the skin pores. This is the process of normal sweating. The lungs also liquefy and cause water vapor to descend to the kidneys, where the liquefied waste is excreted as urine.
"The lungs collect blood vessels and rule regulation."
As mentioned before, the lungs rule qi. By regulating qi movement, which is necessary for blood circulation to occur, the lungs intercept all blood and blood vessels. After qi exchange occurs during breathing, the qi moves the blood throughout the body. Qi movement also regulates the distribution of body fluids. Since qi is essential for all physiological functions in the body, the lungs' ability to 'rule and regulate qi" is an important function.
"The lungs open into the nose and their brilliance is manifested in the body hair. The lungs also connect to the throat."
The skin and body hair share a close relationship with the lungs. Together with the sweat glands, they are often referred to as the "exterior" of the body in TCM. The lungs are the interior organs that rule this exterior. By controlling the skin, sweat glands and body hair, the lungs regulate the sweating process. In addition, they maintain healthy movement and dissemination of protective qi over the skin. Protective qi is important for guarding the body against "illness evils" (factors causing illness including wind, fire, dampness, dryness, cold and summer heat). If these particular lung functions are weakened, too much spontaneous sweating occurs, and the protective qi will become weak as well. As a result, the body will have lower resistance to illness and may easily get colds, influenza, or other respiratory problems.
The nose is considered the opening of the lungs and the exit for qi in the body. If lung dysfunction occurs, the nose is affected. For example, disordered flow of lung qi leads to a watery nasal discharge, congestion, a loss of sense of smell and sneezing. The throat and vocal cords are also connected to the lungs. Sometimes lung deficiency produces a coarse or low voice.
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