“The phenomena of Tao is elusive, but there is substance to it.
Vacant and dark, it yet contains a vital essence.
This vital essence is very real. It is verifiable.
From past to present it’s name has not been obliterated,
because it is ever-present at the center of all things.”
– Lao Tsu –
The respiratory system consists of the lungs and the associated organs and tissues which surround them. The lungs themselves are tender and spongy, divided into five lobes. They rest on the diaphragm, the thick muscle-like organ that divides the upper chest from the lower digestive organs. Air travels from the mouth and nose into the pharynx and trachea, then down into the bronchial tubes into the lungs. TCM doctors believe that the lungs also absorb Qi (vital force) from the air. This Qi rides into the body on the air, like wetness rides on water.
According to the Western point of view, the main actions of the lungs are exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and maintenance of systemic acid-base balance. Scientific investigations have confirmed the holistic theory that a web-like interconnectedness exists between all human body structures. With the lungs, it is clear that problems arising in many other tissues and organs directly affect lung growth, structure, function. For example, the lungs can be affected by nutritional factors, obesity, blood factors, stress and problems in the pancreas, liver and kidneys (Inselman, 1981). In the same way, anything which supports the lungs and proper breathing will benefit the rest of the body. For example, a recent discovery which illustrates the medical importance of oxygen intake is the discovery that giving a patient extra oxygen during and after surgery reduces by half the occurrence of post-surgical infections (Seppa, 2000). Therefore, in this section we will explore many different ways to support and strengthen the lungs.
Purify Your Home Air Environment
Since ancient times, the lungs have been recognized as tender organs, very susceptible to external influences like heat, dust, chemicals, particulate matter and various other irritants. This is an important issue to approach in today’s environment, as home air pollution is often ten times greater that outdoor pollution. In this respect, our young children are like the canaries in the coal mine, revealing to us the cost of poor air quality. C. Arden Pope of Brigham Young University, who studies the economic costs and health affects of air pollution, reported findings that linked infant deaths to high air pollution, including a survey of 4 million infants reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Woodruff et al., 1997). Infants living in cities with high levels of “particulate pollution” are 46 percent more likely to die of respiratory ailments and 26 percent more likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Common pollutants include household molds, bacteria, dust and tobacco (Wilson 1999, Dwyer et. al., 1999). Therefore the first step in maintaining respiratory health is to keep your home air as healthy as possible. This is especially important for allergic conditions like asthma or sinusitis. I suggest the following:
• Purchase a HEPA air filter – These air filters are used in hospital operating rooms to filter out minute particles. They are now sold at department stores.
• Wash your bed sheets and pillowcases in hot water. This will kill dust mites, which can make allergies and asthma worse.
• Get a de-humidifier if your basement or home is damp. Dampness encourages mold, fungus and bacteria to grow. Kill fungus directly by spraying it with anti-fungal sprays available in the grocery or hardware store.
• Place some healthy houseplants in strategic places. Dr. Wolverton of NASA recommends the following plants to keep in the home to reduce air pollution and toxins, including fungal toxins. (Wolverton, 1997)
* Dwarf Date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
* Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
* Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
* Ficus alii (Ficus macleilandii)
* Peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.)
* Golden pothos (Epipremnun aureum)
* Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
* Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii)
* Rubber plant (Ficus robusta)
* English ivy (Hedera helix)
• Purchase non-toxic household cleaning material. Go to a local health food store and see what they have to offer as replacements. Also avoid perfumes and other chemicals. Also avoid polyester and try to wear clothes with natural fibers.
• Get a new vacuum cleaner with a good filter on it so you are not inhaling atomized poisons when you clean. Think about a robot vacuum cleaner that can work while you are out of the house.
• Thoroughly vacuum the whole house the first time, and then wash your pets three times per month thereafter with water and shampoo. This will reduce animal dander by 90%.
• Get an electrostatic air filter (sold by Sears and other companies) to eliminate household dust in addition to the HEPA filter mentioned above.
• Get an ozone generator if you really want to destroy poisons, including carpet chemicals and toxic gasses. These little machines produce ozone, which breaks down fungus, toxins and numerous small molecules. Contrary to some instructions, they should be run when no one is in the rooms being treated, to avoid irritating the lungs.
Strengthen and Expand the Lungs
To strengthen your lungs, practice breathing exercises such as those taught in Yoga and Qi Gong. These help with blood oxygenation, increase hydrochloric acid production, improve blood circulation, improve peristaltic movement, encourage lymph movement, slow the brain waves, and massage the lower abdominal organs. It is impossible to overstress the importance of improving blood oxygen levels and breath control as a component of vibrant health.
Here is a simple breathing exercise I teach my patients, a variation of the ones taught to me by Master Wang Yen-nien, former chairman of the World T’ai Chi Association. I give it to all my patients with lung problems:
Begin by lying on your back with knees elevated and feet on the ground. Place a paperback book on your navel, Learn to breath diaphragmatically, through the nose, pushing down with the diaphragm on the inhale while relaxing the perineum muscle, the belly and the kidneys.
This will cause the book to rise up as you inhale if you do it properly. Breathe out through the nose in the same way, pulling the diaphragm up, causing the same body parts to gently contract, causing the book to go back down.
Breathe as slowly and deeply as possible, but without tension or discomfort of any kind. The tongue should rest lightly on the roof of the mouth. Time yourself for 10 breaths. This is your basic rate, usually about 5-15 breaths per minute.
Go as slowly as you comfortable can, but if you feel the need to breathe in faster the next time after a breath, it means you are going too slowly. No oxygen deprivation is allowed. Feel completely comfortable as you practice. Keep this practice up every day until you can breathe 20 breaths in five minutes (in-out, in-out, in-out, in-out each minute), four breaths per minute. When you accomplish this, your oxygen capacity should be better upon testing.