According to traditional Chinese medicine, fall is the season of the lung: A time to open up the organ that gives us breath, life, and is linked to the large intestine. "Our lungs are the mediators between the air we inhale and the oxygen in our bloodstreams," explains Jenn Tardif, founder of 3rd Ritual, a wellness and meditation brand. "Focusing on your breath is one of the best and most accessible ways to alter your state of mind, and there's nothing more powerful than harnessing the ability to change your perspective."
The change in season had left me feeling more anxious and sluggish than usual, and there was no question that I was in need of a perspective shift. So I decided to spend a week putting extra emphasis on lung-opening—and the results were remarkable.
How I targeted my lungs in and out of the yoga studio.
Since I am an avid yoga practitioner, you'd be hard-pressed to find a weekday when I'm not popping into the studio on my way to work or my way home, and all of my teachers were already exceptionally lung-focused. But if I really wanted to see the benefits of opening up my lungs, I knew I'd have to find opportunities to open up my lungs in less obvious moments—like in the few minutes after waking up or while taking a break in the middle of the workday.
"Flip your wrists in cat-cow," instructor Beth Cooke advised me. "The external rotation of the shoulders physically pushes the lungs more forward. As we move from cat to cow we flush the lungs. Also, try side bending in child's pose and flowing through more upward-facing dogs—this is a stretch of the front side body that makes more space to stretch the lungs and deepen breath. And when you're sitting in hero's pose, grabbing for opposite elbows above the head is a beautiful stretch for the side body and lungs for fuller, more complete breathing."
With Cooke's advice and her reassurance that the extra oxygen would calm my nervous system and ease my anxiety, I began setting aside an extra half-hour of each day to show my lungs some love for a full week: 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during the workday, and 10 minutes in the evening
Here's what changed in my mind and body.
First, the not-so-surprising: This emphasis on my lungs did indeed ease my anxiety and helped me feel extra clearheaded. I remember one day in particular when my instructor stood behind me while I grabbed opposite elbows above my head and tilted me back a little farther. My lungs flooded with extra air. I felt simultaneously calm and giddy, and my brain seemed to follow: That day at work I felt exceptionally creative and excited about my job.
I also experienced a more unexpected element of this experiment: I stopped craving sugar. With Halloween on the horizon, I had been mindlessly eating the extra sugar lying around my office and apartment, which was no doubt contributing to my sluggish, uninspired feelings. But after a week of lung-opening, I found that my post-lunch chocolate bar and post-dinner bowl of ice cream were less appealing. I started swapping sugar for herbal tea, and I found I slept better and had more energy throughout the day.
Fall is far from over, and if you're in need of a reset, I can't recommend these lung-opening yoga moves enough. Give it a shot—you won't regret it.
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