Lung Qi is your body’s ability to turn oxygen into haemoglobin and to return Carbon Dioxide from your blood to the atmosphere.
Of course, that’s not what the ancient Chinese meant at all.
For a start, they didn’t know about oxygen and carbon dioxide.
This process, of absorbing Qi – ‘life’ – from the atmosphere, was and is recognised as doing more than merely maintaining life.
It also keeps us positive and healthy.
With a positive frame of mind, we maintain our composure and enthuse and steady others.
In a healthy body, all its physiological processes work smoothly, whether they be the mitochondria making warmth for each cell, or the heart pumping to move blood round through the arteries and veins, the brain integrating thoughts or stomach acid breaking down protein.
Everything, all these activities, came from Qi, and in Chinese medicine the Lungs are said to provide the Qi, hence Lung Qi.
The Chinese called the force organising all these activities, the ‘Po’.
Unfortunately, Po translates as ‘corporeal soul’. The word ‘soul’ makes many Westerners think along the wrong lines because in many religions the Soul lives on after death.
What the Chinese meant by the Po doesn’t live on after death, because as it dies, so does the body. So ‘Po’ is no more nor less than a way of expressing all the ongoing inner activities of the body.
There is an important message for us all. The Po organises the new body at conception to separate itself out from the blood and life of the mother, by forming the baby’s skin, its barrier and definition.
This process of defining ourselves by establishing our boundaries has profound consequences for our lives. Ultimately, separating ourselves from the ‘whole’ means that we die, because we aren’t the whole, and the whole is where life continues after us.
Each of us defines himself by distinguishing himself from the whole, from the universe, from other people, from the earth. Only our death returns us to that whole so it can move on, enriched, (one hopes).
This has consequences for our relationships during our lives.
Someone who cuts himself off from others may, of course, be developing some very special quality in his thinking or personalty, but more often than not, unfortunately, he is denying change in himself. That change occurs in reaction to the helter-skelter of life, love it or not.
So the universe, the world, moves on and leaves him behind.
We have to engage, or we die by ceasing to adapt to change. Death itself means that as the Po, the organising force behind the body, ceases, the body decompose into smaller parts and is taken over by the Whole again.
Every spring, new leaves and buds burst into existence.
Each leaf and bud is separate and different: a leaf grows, suffers attack by parasites and infection, absorbs carbon dioxide for its tree and releases oxygen back to the atmosphere. It suffers wind and rain, sun and dark, dryness and parasite. It grows strong and survives – for a while. What we may call an organising force keeps it together. This is roughly what the Chinese concept of ‘Po’ means.
As autumn and winter approach, the sun’s rays weaken, the leaf makes less chlorophyll, it ages, its colour depletes, it becomes ragged, and its power to recover diminishes.
Eventually a time comes when reduced sun, more rain, more cold and more darkness combined with reduced support from its mother tree cause its link to the branch to weaken.
Eventually, it can no longer maintain contact with its underlying life-force, the sap from its mother tree is gone, and it flies away in the wind, cast forth.
(At that stage, the Lung Qi of the tree rests until Spring.)
The leaf loses its life, but this life is not wasted because during its life it has contributed both to the life of the tree and to the atmosphere. What remains at death is the hulk of the leaf, dry, brown, apparently useless, now falling to earth.
The earth recovers it, breaks it down, absorbs its parts, so that it can return to life’s rolling process again.
Remember that, when alive, it was able to help keep the life force going by returning sugars to its mother, the tree, and oxygen to the air. The mother through its roots was in contact with the Earth, its ultimate resource.
In us humans, what we do or give back during life maintains and improve the lives of those we meet and the world we inhabit. It can inspire and support. It can challenge others to adapt and improve, just as what they do and who they are forces us to grow.
If we don’t adapt and grow, in effect we die, and the universe soon catches up with us as we become stultified: stuck.
The Po, for each of us, organises and maintains life within us. When life is over, we return our riches to the greater Life again.
The Chinese recognised this process over 3000 years ago. Individually none of us can easily accept it, because our Po clings tenaciously to life. But as we age, its power reduces until we cede control to the greater Life.
(By the way, this outlook is very typical of the thought patterns behind much of the Metal element and of people who are strongly Metal-like – Metal being one of the Five phases in Chinese medicine: see below.)
Gradually, the ancient Chinese noticed that when someone’s lungs weren’t working properly (ie their Lung Qi was compromised), a whole raft of other symptoms appeared.
They classified these under Lung Qi deficiency, Lung Yin deficiency and Lung Dryness, which were classified as being Empty patterns.
There were also ‘Full’ patterns of Lung Qi, experienced usually as some kind of infection or congestion in the lungs. (Read more about Excess or Deficient also called Full and Empty conditions here.)
Both kinds of syndrome, Empty or Full, could be cured with the appropriate treatment.
Each of these conditions reduced our bodies ability to organise and manage themselves. It lowered our spirits. It took away our enthusiasm for life, for change, for challenge.
If you like, our Corporeal Po shrinks a little.
In the 5 phase diagram, which is probably almost as old as the other parts of Chinese medical theory, each ‘Element’ imparts its energy to the next.
Earth feeds (is the Mother of) Metal. Metal feeds Water. Water is the Element or Phase in which life returns to the whole, but from which each of us receives life – like the mother tree in contact with Earth in the section on metaphysics above.
Metal, which includes the Lungs and the Po, feeds the Water phase. Breathing, which gives us life, supports the underlying force behind life. If our breathing, our Po, is weak, we can’t return much to Life.
So the power of our Po, of our organising force, our Lung energy, is what drives us and supports us, what keeps us alive and what gives life to the greater universe.
All the more vital then, to preserve and enhance our Lung power, your Lung Qi!
Click to read about acupuncture points along the Lung channel.
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