Grief and the lung – A Chinese medical perspective

Today we are going to look at grief and the lung in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). We all go through grief many times in our lives. It may be all consuming, it may wrench and hurt our heart, it may leave us feeling empty and lonely. We should not deny these emotions as they are normal expressions of the body. It is a necessary part of healing. It is the transitional phase of acceptance that something or someone in our life has gone or changed. However, we must also be able to allow it to travel it’s natural course and come to an end. We must be able to let go of our grief.

How do we measure grief or sorrow. This is purely subjective. There is no test. The loss of a beloved pet to one may be an unfortunate incident, and to another it could be something that destroys their world. I am giving two extreme ends of the spectrum here, but you can hopefully see what I am trying to illustrate.

The function of the lungs according to TCMWhen do people usually seek help?

Generally people will appear in the clinic once grief is impacting their every day lives. They appear when it is reducing their quality of life. This could be straight away after an event to manage signs and symptoms. It could be a while later when they are ready to move on but find they are unable to do so. Grief may become problematic if certain organs are out of order, especially the lungs.

Chinese medicine becomes concerned when grief or sorrow is not allowed to express. There is also concern if grief is expressed without control, or not within it’s proper context. Emotions are considered pathalogical when they are too intense, felt for too long or are unacknowledged or repressed.

What is grief or sorrow?

Chinese medicine describes pathological sorrow as uncontrollable low spirits, a tendency towards grief, melancholy, excessive crying or excessive desire to cry. There is no clear parallel to anything in Western psychiatry. The closest could be melancholia or characterologic depression. A depressive or melancholic temperament is typically seen in the context of personality disorders which are accompanied by feelings of loneliness or emptiness. There may be a frequent history of emotional disregulation, and/or a chronic pattern of chaotic or abusive relationships. Characterological depression is not a disorder but a manifestation of several personality disorders. Signs and symptoms for pathological sorrow can range from mild to severe. Severe signs and symptoms are indications for referral and are out of the scope of a general Chinese medical practitioner.

What is grief or sorrow in TCM?

Sorrow is an effect or emotion of the lungs. Tears are the fluid of the liver. In TCM sorrow, grief, melancholy and crying are patterns mainly related to the lungs and liver. When the lungs are healthy and in balance sorrow is only provoked by external stimuli. The duration and extent of the emotional expressions is within healthy parameters. This is considered the correct functioning of the lungs. If the lungs become weak or are weak to begin with they may lose control over emotional functions. Causes for weakness may include excessive or prolonged grief, over-taxation or enduring disease.

The lungs in TCMEmotions of the lung:

Lungs aid in clear thinking and communication, the openness to new ideas, a positive self image and the ability to be happy. If the lungs become disharmonious or empty (weak) then you may experience difficulty thinking and communicating clearly, diminished ability to cope with loss or change, may foster a negative self image and develop a propensity to sorrow and melancholia.

How may we help ourselves with our grief.

One of the simplest ways to do so is to do regular deep breathing exercises. The aim is to really open that chest and breath in all the way to the bottom of the lung. Grief may constrict and stagnate the lung qi, so it helps to breathe in new air, and forcefully expel the old.

Another way is through food. We want to consume foods that strengthen the lung. Allow yourself to be guided by colour. White is the colour of the lung and is said to moisten it. White foods such as pork, white beans, pear, white mushrooms, lotus root, wild rice, tofu are some of the foods that may help.

You are not alone.

Like all emotions, grief and sorrow should not have a long lasting detrimental effect on our lives. If you feel that something is out of balance, and you are having trouble bringing yourself back to the centre try the breathing exercises. Try some yoga or qigong. Eat foods that will benefit your lungs. If you feel that these methods aren’t helping then see your TCM doctor, see your GP, see a professional someone. Sometimes we need a little more help than we can provide ourselves.


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