Let’s Generalize About Phlegm

Let’s Generalize About Phlegm

For those of you who have not seen Crazy Ex Girlfriend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa_QtMf6alU

For those of you who have, let’s move on from phlegm puns into why this is relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Phlegm is a very important aspect of this disease. First off, it is one important factor that separates a severe case from a mild case. Why is that? Because phlegm obstructs breathing. As we have seen in prior material, there’s lots we can do to support the lungs and keep breathing. But if the phlegm is severe, these efforts are futile.

An excerpt from “Report from the Front Line in Wuhan” by Liu Lihong describes the importance of phlegm’s role in covid cases:

“Typical symptomology includes either a dry cough or no cough. Because on one hand the normal way of phlegm expulsion by coughing is missing and on the other turbid damp pathogens are obstructing the middle burner, the resultant blockage of normal transformative pathways causes turbid phlegm to congeal into a rubbery and glue-like material that severely interferes with proper airway function and has no way out.”

A resident Shan Han Lun school expert described it this way:

“Strong invasion means it not only attack taiyang (fever) but straight into yin (lungs, causing cough and shortness of breath – building up fluids quickly to block oxygen exchange with blood vessels).

In order to fight this invasion, one must restore normal functioning of 3 yin (taiyin, shaoyin, jueyin), harmonize ying wei, transform fluids/phlegm and descend lung qi.”

Before you despair or get totally lost in Chinese medical terminology, there is a point: there is much we can do to preemptively treat phlegm before we get sick or in the early stages of the disease.

In a germ theory mentality, disease is like an invading army. In a Chinese medical model, the symptoms of the disease are created by the interaction between the external pernicious influence (ie germ) and the internal landscape of the body. Therefore, if we have done everything we can about the former (social distancing, sanitizing, don’t touch your face, etc) we can turn to the latter. Namely, our internal landscape. To do that, we need to look at how we might influence the production of phlegm in our bodies.

All this is to say that thus far in our covid material we have been focused on lung function. That is well and good, but there is more that we can do. And that is to look at the role of the digestive system in supporting healthy lung function.

In Chinese medicine, phlegm is produced by the Spleen as a kind of by product of inefficient digestion. Think of your digestion as a fire. If you feed wet wood into the fire it may burn but it will steam and water will bubble out the end. If that byproduct overwhelms the lungs capacity to disseminate fluids (it’s other job in the Chinese system) that steam and water congeals into phlegm. So to review, phlegm is created in the digestive system and stored in the lung.

So how can we reduce phlegm? Herbs are very effective and you can contact me for herbal consultations. Diet is one way to treat yourself and your family.

You can either prevent phlegm by supporting digestive function and avoiding phlegm-producing foods or actually break up phlegm once it’s already there. All methods are listed below, information is sourced from Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. 

Avoid: cold food, greasy food, and dairy products.

Support digestive function: 

“The dietary treatment involves foods that are warming in termal nature. Foods with cooling properties weaken the digestion. Likewise, food that is cold in temperature extinguishes the “digestive fire”; in fact, just the process of warming up cold foods absorbs a fair amount of the body’s digestive energy. 

Carbohydrate rich vegetables: winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin

Pungent vegetables and spices: onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg”

Treat phlegm: 

Seaweeds: “Cooling thermal nature; salty flavor, softens hardened areas and masses in the body; detoxify; moisten dryness; transform phlegm; build the yin fluids and improve water metabolism; act as lymphatic cleansers.

Bitter foods: “help drain various damp-associated conditions [including] mucus. The kidney and lungs are said to be tonified and vitalized by bitter flavors. Bitter is superb for removing mucus from the lungs.” 

Examples of bitter foods include: 

“Alfalfa, bitter melon, romaine lettuce, rye, radish leaf, scallion, turnip, white pepper, amaranth, asparagus, celery, lettuce, papaya, quinao, vinegar.”

Grief and the Body II

Grief and the Body II

Grief and the Body Part II

There is something so tragic and fascinating about a global outpouring of grief. Even more so when you see it through a Chinese medical lense. This pandemic is a respiratory disease, the rate and scale of its spread a testament to how connected we all are. It has caused us to isolate from each other and even yearn for connection. All of these are the domain of the Lung in Chinese Medicine. 

There are 5 spirits pertaining to the 5 yin organs, a consciousness that presides over the metaphysical duties of each organ just as the physical organ is in charge of certain tasks. Each of the Heart, Lung, Spleen, Liver, and Kidneys has a spirit but for purposes our focus is the Po. The Po, or animal soul, is the spirit of the Lung and has to do with connection or lack thereof. The emotion that is processed by or, if not processed, has the ability to injure the Lung is grief. Grief is caused by a loss of connection. You love someone, feel connected to them, how could you love them if not?. If they die or leave or even can’t be reached, that connection is severed, lost, suspended. And you feel it.

How can that do physical injury to the Lung? Leon Hammer, M.D. has written extensively on the meeting of Psychology and Chinese Medicine. In his book Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies he describes the physical impact of grief: 

“The posture of the sad person is common knowledge: head down, eyes focused on the ground, the back bent forward and the chest depressed: this bearing gradually “kills” the circulation of Qi in the chest. Since the Lung makes the Qi, which is the driving force of the energy and Blood circulation throughout the body, it has to work harder and is slowly weakened.” 77 DRRF

The transformation of physical disease to emotional manifestation and back again is not outlandish in a Chinese medical model. Emotion is one of the preeminent internal causes of disease. What can we do about the external causes of this global pandemic? Many true, solid practices that have already been covered at length elsewhere. The point is that there is much we can do on an internal level. Much that, with this global outpouring of grief, we are being called to do.

Forced into stillness and isolation we are immersed in our inner world. The question is, can we use it? To look inward, to ask of our Lungs, what is there to grieve? The world, certainly. Lives lost, struggle, pain, etc etc. Absolutely. But even aside from that and below it may be a voice that has tried to get through before. A feeling or sensation in the body that we dread or avoid. What has it come to teach us? About the world and about ourselves.

Grief and the Body

Grief and the Body

Referencing and expounding on “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” by Scott Berinato.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review published an article about the Covid pandemic and the grief it elicits on a global scale, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”. In it, Berinato interviewes David Kessler, coauthor of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s book On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss, and author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief

There is much of value in the interview, two excerpts of which I’d like to highlight here. Kessler states:

“We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling.”

 Yes! Sit with your feelings. And what’s more, go deeper. As Kessler says, your body is producing the feeling. Often, the body also knows what it needs to help deal with it. Feeling the emotion is a great start, but there’s so much we can do to relieve the pressure of these emotions in our bodies. See the accompanying video for a few ideas. 

One of the interview questions, which had a great answer but I want to focus on the question itself: 

“When we’re feeling grief there’s that physical pain. And the racing mind. Are there techniques to deal with that to make it less intense?”

Kessler goes on to discuss how to help calm the mind and disrupt what for many of us can be a harmful cycle of anxiety and anticipatory fear. But there’s something there in the question. That physical pain. That is a great place to go. Our bodies are not dumping grounds, in spite of how we use them. If there is physical pain because of an emotion, certainly listen to the emotion but listen to the pain, as well. Often it is your body trying to process that feeling and it may need help from your mind. Again, there are techniques we can use to heed this call. The first step is to hear it and recognize it for what it is. 

Four Horses

Huge disclaimer: this is not meant to say do not seek medical attention if you or your loved ones experienced covid symptoms. It is intended for mild cases in which someone feels they cannot breathe but with interventions such as these can be made comfortable and weather the symptoms with relatively more ease. On a different note, this pandemic is giving us a greater awareness of our lungs and everything they do for us. Let us take the cue and focus on what they might need or have to teach us. The body has infinite wisdom and now is the perfect time to heed it. 

Four horses: Master Tung points for the Lung

Indicated (used) for: pleurisy, asthma, pneumonia, colds and influenza. 

When stimulated, these points cause a rush of oxygen to the lungs. This means if you are treating yourself you ought to sit down! When I was trying these out with acupressure I got a big rush of air in my lungs and experienced greater lung capacity right away. Focus on breathing deeply to get the bottom of your lungs cleared out. Anyone with anxiety (which is many more of us as of late) tends to breathe in a much more shallow pattern. See the video on bodywork for lung capacity to release the physical obstructions to deep breathing and be sure to check out our upcoming video on self treatment for anxiety to release emotional obstructions to deep breathing. Also check out @knottedroot on facebook for breathing exercises and qi gong to benefit the lungs.

Bodywork for Lung Capacity

A breath is just a breath, no? Wrong! So much goes into breathing; in this video we look at a few of the structures involved. 

Rib cage: what you thought was mere skin and bone is really a 3 dimensional, malleable network engaging with different parts of the body simultaneously.

Some anatomy: intercostals, the muscles in between the ribs. These can be contracted (shortened, stuck) but can be coaxed back into plasticity. How, you ask? 

Nicely. Gently. With persuasion. Notice in the accompanying video I am not breaking my patient’s ribcage open but rather asking it with persistent but easy movement to relax and open. Just from this alone the patient will notice greater ease with breathing. 

But wait, there’s more! 

Underneath the ribcage is the diaphragm which is not that easy to access manually but can be treated indirectly by mobilizing the fascia (connective tissue) under the flare of the anterior (front) of the ribs and the fascia of the abdomen (including the linea alba which I reference in the video). Again, nice and easy. Don’t pulverize the thing.

So that’s underneath. Then there is above and below. Above we have the scalenes on the side of the neck, accessory muscles of respiration. Meaning, they help us breathe by pulling up on the top ribs as we inhale, thus expanding the rib cage. Who doesn’t have tight scalenes, I ask you. A lot of emotion can get stuck in these muscles so treat with care, more on that in an upcoming video on the Po.

So, to release the scalenes we coax open the supraclavicular fossa, or the large depression just above each collar bone. This technique is shown in the video, also note that part of this procedure includes gently rocking against the head of the humerus, or top of the upper arm bone, to open the chest cavity even more. This area is often tender and protected so check in.

Last but certainly not least is the quadratus lumborum, a set of muscles on either side of the lumbar (lower spine) in the low back. It orchestrates the movement of the pelvis and rib cage. Big job, often a key problem area. So using the same techniques of gentle persuasion you pull up on the muscle (towards you) and then push down on the abdomen, rocking this part of the body back and forth until you create space between the rib cage and hip bones. Push up and down and then alternate pulling the muscle away from the spine and back again. 

After each muscle, structure, or fascial plane is treated, observe the patient’s color, breathing, and general state of tension in their nervous system. You ought to see a large impact after each structure is released and a world of difference from the beginning of treatment. 

When in doubt, contact me for questions or tips if you need help with the techniques or want to know about some of the facets of treatment to which I alluded (treatment of anxiety, the po, wisdom of the body, emotion held in the body etc) It is my favorite thing to talk about. Really. 

I also offer ½ hour self treatment consultations which are sliding scale for all covid patients or those experiencing pandemic related anxiety. 

Take care of each other. R.M Brown LAc 

A Way Forward Retreat October 18th-20th

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Of following the same deeply worn paths that lead to familiar, unsatisfactory outcomes?

Then come find the breakthrough you’ve been looking for at A Way Forward Retreat: October 18th-20th

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Feed a fever

Here are some things that have been keeping us warm with the sudden drop in temperature-

ginger foot soaks: cut up a ginger rhizome, boil it in water for about 15 minutes to a half hour and use it to soak your feet. This can help improve circulation if you have pain, neuropathy, or just plain cold feet. It can also help chase out a chill to prevent you from getting sick.

ginger tea: grate 1/2 inch of ginger in hot water with honey to help get warm after being in the cold (also works for nausea and morning sickness). If you can’t handle the hassle, you can get ginger honey crystal packets (pictured below)- this one has ginseng in it, too.

gypsy cold care with yarrow tincture: traditional medicinals sells a great warming tea (pictured below) that has warming western herbs (hyssop and yarrow) to chase out a chill. I use a dropper full of yarrow tincture (pictured above) in pseudo hot toddy fashion for stronger effect.

contact Knotted Root for more herbal advice or thoughts on how you can weather the weather