As we transition from the warm, sunny days of summer into the cooler, shorter days of autumn, you may begin to notice the cheerful summer vibes replaced by more pensive, even melancholy emotions. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), our Lungs are associated with the emotions of grief and melancholy. Breathing exercises can be a great way to manage some of these encroaching feelings. Below, we will introduce a meditation exercise that is great for mood enhancement and relaxation and is something you can even practice on the subway!
As it gets cooler, it is especially important to pay particular attention to our respiratory health, as well as to help regulate our emotions. The Lungs govern the vital energy in the body, rule the circulation of Qi, and are thought to be the outermost organ that interfaces most with our outside environments. Qi is taken in through the air we breathe during respiration and is transported to the blood to then be circulated through our body.
Since the Lungs rule this circulation of Qi, they also direct Qi through channels and vessels, which creates warmth throughout the body, and nourishes the muscles, hair, and skin. Because they are considered to be most exterior, the Lungs function to bring Qi to the surface of the body, therefore nourishing the skin and hair.
When the functioning of the Lungs is out of balance, the skin may be dry, tough, or flaky, and the hair may be withered and dry. You may encounter lowered immunity, a weak cough, fatigue, aversion to speaking, and prolonged grief or sadness. Thus, focusing on breathing exercises is a great way to support this vital organ system during this time of year. Another great way to support our Lungs during late summer and heading into fall is to avoid phlegm forming foods such as dairy and refined sugars.
Breathing Exercise for Autumn
A useful Lung opening and stress reduction exercise is called “Coherent Breathing,” the strategy of consciously controlling your breathing rate to five breaths per minute. When done properly, it rapidly balances the autonomic nervous system, which controls your “rest and digest” and “fight or flight” responses. There is an alignment between the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) systems and synchronization between the energy of the heart and the energy of the brain.
Within a few weeks of regular practice, your heart rate variability (HRV) typically increases, which is considered to be an indicator of an increase in overall well-being, both physically and mentally. In the moment, this breathing exercise is helpful for calming you down and bringing you to the present.
Coherent Breathing Instructions
1) With eyes open or closed, inhale to the count of six, then exhale to the count of six. You can use a noisy clock that ticks off the seconds or count silently to yourself.
2) Since the highest density of blood vessels are located in the base of the lungs, breathe deeply into that region first. This is also known as belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe slowly and rhythmically (think of a pendulum).
3) Allow the air to flow naturally. Guide, but do not force the process.
4) Each time you exhale, relax your face, neck, shoulders, and the rest of your body. You can do this on the subway, at your desk, or anywhere and for any amount of time to achieve the immediate physical and mental benefits.
An audio track to help with pacing the breath is available titled “RESPIRE 1” by Stephen Elliott here and more information is available in print: “The New Science of Breath” by Stephen Elliott with Dee Edmonson.
In addition to breathing exercises, acupuncture and herbal medicine are other great tools to help us through this transition in seasons. Click here to book an appointment today.