How does sitting meditation benefit the body? The answer is that it adjusts respiration. Casting out all the mysteries endowed to yoga, qigong and alike, they help exercisers regain deep and rhythmic respiration, so that one’s lungs stay in the best working condition
The belief that “all meridian channels converge in the lung”originates from China’s most ancient medical classic Huangdi Neijing (The Inner Canon of Huangdi) – Su wen (Plain Questions) – A Separate Treatise on the Meridian Channels. “Energy (qi) is flowing in the meridian channels and finally converges in the lung. The lung then delivers the energy to the skins. The energy in the channels and the energy in the skins join together, flowing to the organs and achieving a harmonious balance of the body. This balance is expressed by the pulse in the wrist, which decides the occurrence or disappearance of diseases.”
What is the functional mechanism of TCM massage and acupuncture? For example, the liver is so far away from the liver channel. Can it benefit the liver to massage the liver channel? TCM research and practice have proved that the answer is yes because the liver and liver channels are interlinked. But where does the power that pushes the energy flow between organs and channels come from? All these channels lead to the lungs and it is the respiration of the lungs that pushes the energy in the channels. This is the true definition of “all meridian channels converge in the lungs”.
What function of the lungs is indicated by this phrase, then?
Nowadays, many people mistaken the meridian channel (mai) in this phrase for blood vessels. It is true, in early TCM, no clear definition is given to “mai”. Sometimes it indicates blood vessels and sometimes meridian channels.
It is also true that then lungs have some relationship with blood circulation. The oxygen we breathe in needs to be mixed with blood in the capillaries in the lungs to form oxygen enriched blood which flows to the heart for the heart to pump through the whole body. However, the heart plays the key role in this process, not the lungs. What directly relate to the lungs are the meridian channels rather than blood vessels.
According to Su Wen (Plain Questions) – A Treatise on Five Internal Organs:“the energy (qi) in the human body is charged by the lungs. The energy is poured into four limbs and eight joints like tidewater.”
Since long time ago, TCM has already remarked on the relationship between respiration and the meridian channels. As it is written in Nan Jing (another China’s medical classics), “when a person exhales once, the energy in the meridian channels moves three inches. When a person inhales once, the energy moves three inches again. When a complete respiration is done, the energy moves six inches.” Why didn’t it say something about when the heart beats once, the energy in meridian channels moves? According to Western medicine, when the heart beats, it is the blood in the vessels that moves, not the energy in the channels. And three inches is quite a slow pace. Therefore, we can understand that “mai” refers to meridian channels, not blood vessels.
In TCM’s view, every meridian channel of the human body is connected to the five main organs and they influence each other. Interstitial fluid, like the undercurrents in a river, flows among fascia and muscles to bring nutrients to different parts of the body and provides defensive substances to the body’s surface. Why is stretching practice beneficial? What is the function of massage? It unblocks the channels to improve the interstitial fluid flow so as to keep the body healthy.
How does acupuncture work? When the blocked area in the channels are irritated by the needle, the body will immediately locate the blocks (problems) and adjust pressure to make the channel run smoothly so that nutrients are delivered to these areas again. Why do we use acupuncture on liver channels to cure stomach or liver illness? Likewise, as the needle is inserted, the body will know where the problem lies and begin self-repair right away. When liver channels run smoothly, energy can flow freely throughout.
For sure, meridian channels may have other connotations, while interstitial fluid is undoubtedly an indispensable part.
Another function of the lungs, from the perspective of TCM, is to manage the body rhythm. By adjusting the respiratory rhythm, the lungs can regulate the operation of entire body channels.
So now we can understand why so many exercises emphasize respiration adjustment. The aim is to make the body energy (qi) run more smoothly and powerfully. We can assimilate the energy like water. When respiration fails to maintain its due rhythm, it is like pouring water out of a bottle blindly with strong force and the water can’t get out. On the contrary, if we shake the bottle rhythmically, the force will double its effect and the water will soon flow out. It is the same as respiration’s work onto meridian channels. If the respiration is not even or not rhythmic, there won’t be an effective force to push energy in the channels to run properly. But when one respires evenly, the effective force will increase and become more and more powerful, until it makes one sweat. Many time-honored practices such as qigong, sitting in meditation and yoga all begin with deep and rhythmic respiration.
The lungs are the first protective screen to human body. They play an important role in defending the body against exogenous pathogenic factors. From one aspect, the lungs push the smooth running of energy in meridian channels and bring defense to different parts of the body, especially the body surface. From another aspect, the nose is the first door leading to the lungs. And the nose is also the first organ that comes into contact with outward uncleanliness every time we breathe. So the lungs have great responsibility for the maintenance of good health. That’s why we advocate parents to take good care of their children’s lungs.