This weekend I was blessed to enjoy deep and powerful healing, sharing and ritual with some equally deep and powerful women. One of those gatherings that you didn’t realize how much you needed until afterwards. I’m so grateful that all the causes and conditions lined up for it to happen, and for what each and every woman in the room brought to it. I’m savouring the afterglow, and know that I’ll be moving into the lessons it offered for a very long time to come.
I’m also feeling wiped out from the experience. In the best possible way. But feeling a little tender and raw. I’m craving some stillness and quietude to get back into balance. To integrate where I’ve been. To become grounded.
Sometimes our practice goes deeper than we’re used to, or quite ready for, taking us out of our comfort zones. It can release and stir up powerful energy in our bodies, heart and minds. Our nervous systems are thrown for a loop. With practice, we learn how to stabilize those energies and work with them. With deep listening, we become more familiar with ourselves, and learn what best supports us and what’s not so helpful.
In yoga we use the Sanskrit word prana to refer to this inner energy. The Chinese call it chi, or qi. You could think of it as life force, or inner energy.
The Tibetans call it lung, or wind. The word lung (sounds like “loong”) can also refer to lots of other things – a direct spoken transmission from a teacher (because it comes on their breath), or the breath itself.
They often use the word lung to refer to an imbalance of energy in the body, or a “wind disorder”. Your lung or prana is all stirred up or stuck or just not flowing well. It is quite literally dis-ease. When you experience lung it can show up in an infinite variety of symptoms. Problems with sleep or digestion. Mood swings. Headaches. Skin issues. Spaciness. Sluggishness. How lung shows up is as individual as we are. It could feel like a hangover. Or it could feel like 3 cups of espresso racing through you. You never quite know. The effects may present themselves physically, emotionally or mentally.
Remember how when you took your first yoga classes, you always went home in tears? Or angry? That’s lung. The practice of yoga opens up the channels that the prana travels through, obstructed energy is released – just like opening up the kinks in a garden hose. But until we’ve gained some stability in our practice, our nervous systems are not quite sure how to integrate the new energy that has been made available.
Following a period of deep or intense practice, take some time to check in with yourself and see if you may be experiencing lung. Lung doesn’t just follow periods of meditation, retreat or yoga. You might be experiencing it after an emotional family visit, travelling, caregiving for the birthing or dying, a lengthy speaking or teaching engagement, or a funeral.
The number one message of lung is this. Don’t push.
Listen deeply for what you need in your body, energy, heart and mind. Then, honour that. Be mindful that you are always changing – what worked last week might not be what you need today. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error, and that’s all part of the learning process. Systems such as ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine which respect our energetic health and constitutions can be particularly helpful. But there are are also many ways you can ground yourself and provide some immediate self-care. Here are some to try:
- Get offline. Need I say more? Reduce sensory stimulation. Put the phone down, shut down the laptop, skip the news. Give your nervous system a break.
- Get wet. Water is so healing, inside and out. Keep yourself well-hydrated with lots of room-temperature water. Aim for at least 2 litres a day. Minimize your intake of dehydrating coffees and teas. Enjoy a warm bath or shower before bed.
- Get oily. Adding some oil – inside and out – can also help ground you. Use a body oil after your bath or shower. Traditional ayurveda recommends natural sesame oil (not toasted) or sweet almond oil. At bare minimum, one of the best things you can do to combat lung is to put some oil or lotion on your feet at bedtime, and then cover them with socks. Choose high fat foods like nuts, nut butters or avocados, or drizzle some extra extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil on your food. Sometimes indulging in some greasy – yes, that’s right, I said greasy – food is sometimes just the ticket, especially if you usually eat a light and healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies.
- Get moving. Do something to bring you back into your body. Enjoy a gentle yoga practice, a walk, dancing in your kitchen. The operative word here is “gentle”. Go for a massage, or give yourself a foot rub.
- Get outside. Enjoy the healing energy of the great outdoors, surrounding yourself with trees or walking by a body of water. Even if you’re stuck in the city you can always look up. Gazing at the sky is a great remedy for lung.
- Get heavy. Add an extra blanket at bedtime. Put your meditation cushion on your feet while you sit. Or add some gentle weight on your belly during svasana. Sometimes adding some weight on our body helps remind us to let go.
- Get grounded. Literally. Put your hands in the dirt and get gardening. Or simply lie down on the floor, or better yet the earth.
For a more in-depth exploration of lung and meditation practice – what it is, its prevention and remedy – check out this article by Tibetan Buddhist nun Venerable Lhundrup Nyinje.