Strengthening the Lungs & Immunity

Healthy Human Lungs 2d illustrationChinese Medicine follows the wisdom of natural rhythms. One of the earliest books on Chinese Medicine, the Nei Jing, offers specific examples of how to stay healthy as the seasons change. At the very heart of it, this medicine is about prevention and empowerment. There are many small steps we can take in our daily life to ensure greater health, vitality and stronger immunity. This particular transition, the one which turns towards colder weather, is seen as especially important in the realm of Chinese Medicine. Autumn is the season of the Lungs, which have a direct role in the health of our immune systems.

We intuitively know that Fall is the season of letting go. We watch as leaves turn golden, orange, red, then drift sweetly to the ground. As we walk through the world, we breathe in the scent of drying leaves, crisp decay. Often we experience sadness as we grieve naturally for what has reached the end of its cycle, for what no longer is, for what we must release. Sadness and grief are the emotion associated with the Lungs and are considered a healthy human experience. They become problematic and begin to affect our health when we cannot move through our grief, when we cannot express it, or when it becomes overwhelming. Chinese Medicine offers us ways to strengthen the Lungs and increase our resiliency.

By dedicating ourselves to new healthy routines and habits, we naturally begin to strengthen the Lungs and harmonize ourselves with the changing season. No matter how small the gesture, it’s the act of daily tending that strengthens the Lungs. If you are interested in a new habit or routine that is intended specifically for the Lungs, the following options may be of interest:

Lung Exercise (Lung Qigong):

  • Begin by standing with feet shoulder width apart, arms relaxed by your sides, gently extend up through the crown of the head.
  • Take several breaths to let go of tension in the body while maintaining a gentle lift through the top of your head.
  • Settle the weight evenly through both feet, knees soft.
  • Inhale, float your arms up in front of you, palms face down, to the level of your shoulders.
  • Exhale, drop the shoulders and extend out through your fingertips (arms are straight out in front of you, palms face down, shoulder height)


  • Inhale and open your arms towards a “T” shape, but keep your hands within your peripheral vision (don’t let them open too wide).
  • Exhale, turn your palms up and draw the hands back in front of your chest, arms extended.
  • Inhale, palms turn down, open your arms.
  • Exhale, turn palms up, close the arms.
  • Inhale, palms down, open.
  • Exhale, palms up, close.
  • Inhale, open.
  • Exhale, close.
  • Continue with your breath.

The movement of the arms helps to use all five lobes of the lungs and the slow, rhythmic breathing massages the internal organs by pumping the diaphragm. Commit to either a set repetition (9, 18, etc) or an amount of time (5 minutes, 15 minutes, etc) and explore movement and breath. Qigong is easy, relaxing and one feels good after doing it.

  • When you have finished your practice, let the arms float by your sides with an exhale.
  • Place your palms over the low belly (beneath the navel), let your eyes close and breathe deeply for a few moments until you feel the belly relax beneath the hands.


Lung Nourishing Foods:

Chinese medicine often has a food recommendation for any ailment because it is always asking us to use food as our first medicine. In this light, we can increase our consumption of foods that nourish the Lungs to help boost immunity.

The best food advice I can give is to fall in love with congee. Try it in the morning instead of oatmeal. Ingredients: 1 cup rice, 5 cups water, 4 ¼ inch slices of ginger. Directions: Place in a crock pot on low overnight or cook it on med-low heat on the stove for 1-3 hours. If you enjoy a sweeter breakfast, add some raisins, honey, almonds & cinnamon. If you enjoy a savory breakfast, add some chopped green onion stalks, soy sauce, a drizzle of sesame oil and slices of hard boiled egg. Delicious!

If trying something new like slow cooked rice porridge seems too daunting, consider adding more of these familiar foods into your diet:

  • delicious crisp apples
  • ripe fresh pears
  • garlic, onion, ginger
  • cabbage, broccoli
  • white rice, miso
  • radish, black pepper
  • navy beans, soy beans, white beans

*Note: For maximum benefits of garlic to the immune system, mince it finely and then set it aside for 10 minutes and let it oxidize. Add it into your food in the last minute so it warms but does not cook.


Breathing Exercise for the Lungs (Pranayama):

Any type of breathing exercise is beneficial for the Lungs. If you have considered deep breathing and its benefits, it’s a great time of year to carve out a few minutes each morning or evening to sit in a comfortable position and practice slow, rhythmic deep breathing. Focus on the inhales and exhales having the same length (a count of 4 or 6, for example). Set a timer for 7 or 9 minutes and explore the practice. A pranayama practice such as Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, is especially beneficial to the body at this time of year if you have learned these techniques from a qualified teacher.


Julie Baron is an EDSC_0081ast Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. Julie seeks to empower individuals and communities.  As a movement and mindfulness educator, she has a penchant for functional anatomy. As an EAMP, she has also has a passion for herbal medicine.

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