Breathe Easy With Acupuncture


Breathing. It should be a rather simple task, but if you suffer from lung issues such as asthma, bronchitis, or any type of chronic congestion you know this is not always the case. As I was traveling this past week for the Thanksgiving holiday I noticed many of my fellow travelers were suffering from coughing and congestion. The ability to take a full, expansive breath is extremely important to your overall health, and unfortunately, many people spend weeks (if not months) dealing with breathing issues not realizing acupuncture and herbs can help. 

What does Traditional Oriental Medicine have to say about it?

If you suffer from chronic respiratory issues, you may have noticed your symptoms begin to flare up during the Autumn months and continue throughout the Winter season. In my previous post 'Autumn Health Tips' I mentioned that in Traditional Oriental Medicine each season is linked to a specific organ. Autumn is viewed as the season of the lungs. During this time the lungs, and their partner the large intestine, become an energetic focal point making them more sensitive to positive and negative influences. 

The lungs are referred to as the 'tender organ' in Oriental Medicine (OM), and this is partly due to the fact that they are easily affected by external factors such as breathing in cold air or being exposed to a cold or flu. The Autumn air is cool and dry which can easily irritate the lungs and make it difficult to breathe. These conditions can exacerbate lung issues which can linger well into the Winter season. As we transition into Winter the organs most impacted are the kidneys, and their partner the urinary bladder (more on that later...). How does this link to breath? In OM the kidneys 'grasp' lung qi resulting in the downward flow of energy needed for full, expansive inhalation. A compromised relationship between lungs/kidneys may result in symptoms such as shortness of breath and chronic coughing. 

If you want to start focusing on nourishing your kidneys, foods such as black beans, walnuts, bone broths, black sesame seeds, dark leafy greens, and unrefined air dried sea salt in moderation (salty is the flavor of the kidney) are good choices. Of course, generally speaking you also want to focus on eating foods in season during these months--squash, sweet potatoes, apples, and pears to name a few. Remember that during these cool/cold months warm liquids and warm foods are key. 

Because the air is cool and dry during these months, it's important to keep the body nourished with fluids. If you are suffering from a dry cough or notice extremely dry skin the following recipe may help:

Pear Tea Recipe For Dryness:

  • Cut up 1 pear (if possible, use an Asian pear, but a Bartlett pear will work)

  • Pour enough water into a pan that will cover the pear pieces

  • Bring the water to a boil

  • Add the pieces of pear and let simmer approximately 15 minutes

  • Drink the tea with a little honey (you can eat the pear pieces as well)

What about those who tend to produce too much mucus?

If you're the type of person who wakes up congested in the morning or who seems to produce lots of phlegm, it's also important to watch what you eat. You still want to drink plenty of fluids, but you may want to minimize foods such as dairy ( or try switching to goat's milk or sheep's milk because they tend to produce less dampness), wheat, wine, and even sugar which can create congestion in certain individuals. Eating too many foods that are cold and raw can also be a factor. While everyone should focus on eating warming foods during the Autumn and Winter months, it's especially important for people who tend to produce too much dampness and phlegm. In Oriental Medicine dampness is created during the digestive process and it is stored in the lungs. Cold/raw foods can stress the digestive system leading to production of excess dampness which can easily lead to phlegm production. Instead of eating salads and drinking ice cold beverages, try switching to cooked/steamed vegetables, soups, and room temperature or warm beverages. Often times this is where the link between the lungs and large intestine becomes apparent. People who tend to congest in the lungs may also experience intestinal issues such as lower abdominal bloating, cramping, loose stools/constipation when eating certain foods. Eating foods that ensure you are digesting and eliminating properly will help to minimize the level of phlegm production. 

Are your respiratory issues simply linked to the common cold?

Many people are surprised to learn that acupuncture and herbs can help combat the common cold/flu. A great time to get a treatment is at the early onset. Acupuncture points and herbs can be chosen to help expel the illness before it worsens. Next time you feel a tinge of itchy throat, neck stiffness, or fatigue scheduling treatments may help you avoid days (or weeks) of illness. If your'e already suffering from chest congestion/cough due to a lingering illness there are wonderful point prescriptions and herbal formulas that can help you. Better yet, if you know you are prone to catching colds/flus treatments can prevent illness by boosting immune function. In a previous post I mentioned a few simple steps you can take now to help boost your immunity. 

How Can Acupuncture and Herbs Help?

Regardless of your condition, acupuncture and herbs work wonderfully to treat chronic lung issues and overall problems with congestion or dryness in the body. Some people have bodies that tend toward dryness while others more easily accumulate damp and/or phlegm. Using OM diagnostic techniques, we can choose acupuncture points and/or herbs specific to your needs. Because we look at the patient as a whole we can determine the underlying pattern causing your breathing issues. Yes, your lungs may be the main issue, but in OM we don't compartmentalize the body. As mentioned above, the kidneys may play a role, but other organ systems may be a factor.

Acupuncture needles can help open up the chest and even help balance out the level of moisture in the body by impacting various organs and meridians in the body. Plus, herbs can be prescribed to not only help you deal with current symptoms such as coughing, they can also help with the underlying issues creating the symptoms in the first place. We often refer to this as the root and branch of a condition. The branch represents the many symptoms arising from the central/root issue. Treating the root of any problem takes time, so we can focus on symptom control to help you feel better as your body gets stronger. However, as we address the root, over time many of the symptoms will go away. For example, someone who tends to have weak lungs may experience chronic cough, but they may also notice things like chronic dry skin and a tendency to easily catch colds and flus. These things may not seem related, but in Oriental Medicine the lungs diffuse fluids to moisten the skin and control wei qi (protective qi) and the body's resistance to pathogens. Thus, as the lungs (root issue) are treated through the use of acupuncture and herbs, the cough, dry skin, and immunity (branches) improve. 

What You Can Do Right Now

While making an appointment with your acupuncturist will help you focus on the specific things you can do to improve your respiratory health, there are a few things you can do immediately:

Using the dietary suggestions mentioned above, start making changes to your diet. The important thing is to listen to your body. If you notice your skin is extra dry or you have a chronic dry cough, increase your fluid intake. Are you drinking too much coffee which can cause you to be dehydrated? If you wake up in the morning feeling congestion, think about the foods you ate the day before, and start eliminating things you suspect may be triggers--the morning after having pizza/beer for dinner compared to the night you had salmon and steamed vegetables may feel very differently. Try switching to organic versions of the foods you like. You may simply be reacting to the chemicals in your foods. Eat out less and prepare more meals at home so you have control over what you eat. 

This one is pretty basic. The air you breathe is going to impact the health of your respiratory system. This may seem like I'm pointing out the obvious, but the majority of people out there do not consider their air quality when thinking about breathing issues. Certain environmental factors cause the chest to feel tight and can even build congestion as the tissues become irritated and inflamed. I recommend investing in an air purifier for your home and/or office--especially if you live in a city like Los Angeles where we are subjected to large amounts of pollution. Sites such as The Purified Home sell high quality purifiers. Personally, I'm a fan of the Austin Air, and I use them in both my home and in my office. If you cannot afford a purifier big enough to filter the air in your entire space, at least get one for your bedroom. Close your windows, and if possible, your bedroom door at night. By running your filter while you sleep you'll give your respiratory tract a good solid 6-8 hours of clean, filtered air. If you've noticed your breathing issues started up after moving into a new space, it may be time to get an air quality inspection to make sure you don't have things like mold negatively impacting your health. 

Hopefully these tips will help you to breathe easier. Wishing you and your family a wonderful, healthy holiday season!

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional. The information and opinions presented are intended for educational purposes only and they are not intended to be medical advice. It is advised you contact your healthcare provider prior to starting any type of program or protocol, starting or stopping supplements/herbs/medications, making any major dietary changes, or beginning any new form of physical activity. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care provider before using products or protocols based on this content.

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