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  • Emma K. Dweck, L.Ac.

Covid, Grief, and the Lungs

Self-healing in the time of Covid

As I’ve written about many times, Chinese Medicine does not separate mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. We are whole beings, and thus we experience illness in all aspects of ourselves. Right now, we are being called on to take care of ourselves, our families and our communities in a way that has truly never even occurred to many of us. It is holistic health in the broadest and most extreme sense of the word.

I’m going to sharing some content over the next few months about the Five Elements and how they can help us maintain health and wellness during the Coronavirus Crisis.

Today’s post is about grief, which is chronically ignored and mishandled in modern society. Although grief is a natural part of any person’s life, we tend to avoid it because it’s painful. We have moved away from traditional ceremonies and rituals around loss, which leaves many feeling confused and uncertain about how to process the grief they are feeling right now.

Grief is associated with the metal element and the lungs in Chinese medicine. Think of a mourner sobbing and wailing as a loved one is buried. Healthy lungs are in constant movement: taking in and letting go (breathing!). When the grief that we will inevitably feel in the course of a lifetime becomes stuck in our systems, the healthy functioning of the lungs is compromised.

Because the lungs are deeply affected by Covid-19, it's important to acknowledge and process the intense grief and loss that many of us are feeling. We are grieving for lives lost, for a way of life that we may never return to, as well as experiencing an insidious and strange phenomenon: anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief means that we are grieving things we have yet to lose. We may not know exactly what these losses will entail, but we can all feel them coming. This is a terrifying and disorienting feeling for many people (more on the intrinsic connection with fear later!).

On the spiritual and emotional level, there are certain ways we can support our lungs and honor our grief, which can help us navigate our strange new day to day existence:

  1. Have a good cry! This may sound simplistic, but if you are feeling the grief, overwhelm, and pain that many are feeling right now, letting it out fully through crying or other vocalization can make a big difference. If you are a parent or have a living situation in which you can’t really wail, try screaming into a pillow or getting in your car (if you have one) and vocalizing your feelings. Singing loudly and fully is another way of taking care of your lungs in this way.

  2. Acknowledge your grief and pinpoint how and where it lives in your body. Simply bringing attention to your unique manifestation of grief can help to soothe and release it. Remember, it is not grief itself that is harmful, but a pathological expression of it. This pathology can manifest as either avoidance or a kind of wallowing. Identifying what you are grieving, and how that loss affects your day to day, can help move the grief in a healthier way.

  3. Identify what you value. The flip side of grief is appreciation. When we lose something, we are able to feel what we appreciated and valued about that thing in a unique way. Or, as Joni Mitchell says “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Really honing in on what you value about what you’ve lost as well as appreciation for what you still have, can do wonders for the health of your lungs.

  4. Connect with spirituality- whatever that means to you. Many people experience a shift in their spiritual life when they experience a profound loss. Whatever spirituality means to you, it's a good time to connect and honor that aspect of yourself

On a physiological level, we know that the lungs are most at risk from Covid-19, and that those with underlying lung and heart issues must be especially cautious. Ways you can support your physical lungs and respiratory health include:

  1. Herbs! There are many herbs and other botanical substances that can help with respiratory and lung health. I will share more on that later, but my favorite, and something that is really simple to add into your daily routine is ginger. Email me for simple and easy ways to use ginger to support lung health including ginger baths

  2. Cardio exercise. Because a lot of us are sheltering at home, we may tend to be more sedentary right now. It’s important to make sure your heart and lungs are getting a good workout daily, if possible. This will help prevent serious problems in the event that you are exposed to Covid.

  3. Dietary support. Foods that are beneficial to the lungs in Chinese medicine include pungent and spicy foods. Garlic, ginger (again!), cardamom, cinnamon and other warming spices are great to add into foods or teas. Apples and pears are excellent for lung health, as well as onions, leeks, other alliums and daikon radishes.

If you are looking for more resources related to grief and loss, I highly recommend Megan Devine's website Refuge in Grief, as well as Pema Chodron's book: When Things Fall Apart.

These are just a few of the many ways you can support yourself and loved ones as we all experience the profound grief and loss of this moment. Please stay tuned for more posts on: fear vs. caution, anger and how it can help our situation, how to handle the loneliness and depression of Covid, and what this means for our families and communities. I will also be sharing practical content related to immunity and stress.

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