The Spiritual Meaning of Respiratory Illnesses, Coughs, and Lung Issues

The Spiritual Meaning of Respiratory Illnesses, Coughs, and Lung Issues

Getty/Drazen Zigic

Explore the potential spiritual significance behind that lingering cough, sneeze, or ache in your lungs—you may be experiencing unprocessed grief.

It’s common enough to have coughs and colds, or even more severe respiratory illnesses, like bronchitis, pneumonia, and, of course, COVID. But why do we catch some colds and not others? Why do we get sick in certain ways when certain things are happening in our lives?

The lungs are particularly associated with grief. One of the likeliest times for us to get a respiratory illness is when we are going through a period of loss or sadness. Let’s talk about the spiritual meaning of respiratory issues and illnesses.

How Grief Affects the Lungs

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs are the organ that is most connected to the emotion of grief. The lungs interact with the outside world, breathing it in and letting it go. When we do not let go of our grief, it’s almost as if it can fester in our lungs, causing congestion and exhaustion.

Grief can certainly be about death, but it can also mean a breakup, moving to a new city, or a big life change—even if the change is positive. Having a baby, for example, is a wonderful event, but it does mean losing the identity you had before becoming a parent. All these griefs and more deserve gentle attention and care.

Grief itself is also generally hard on the body. Processing a loss can be exhausting, and even when we give ourselves the time and space to grieve properly, we are fundamentally more vulnerable to common coughs and colds. It’s important to acknowledge our grief and give ourselves time to rest and feel our feelings.

It’s uncomfortable to do this, so many of us skip over this time and try to distract or busy ourselves to get our minds off our grief. When we don’t give ourselves enough time to be with our grief, the body will often make us sick so that we can take that time as we need it.

Treat the Lungs—and Yourself—With Kindness

If you get sick while you are grieving, don’t blame yourself. Most of us don’t live in a culture where it’s easy to take time off for emotional reasons. Take this sickness as an opportunity to care for yourself with a lot of loving intention, and ask for help as much as you can.

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself if you are dealing with a chest cold, bronchitis, cough, or other lung issues:

  • Have you been grieving anything or anyone lately?

  • What is your relationship to sadness? Do you allow yourself to feel it?

  • When you feel tired, do you allow yourself to rest?

  • When you come to a place of stillness with yourself, do you resist it?

  • Are you in a situation in your life where you can rest when you need to? What choices do you have around that?

Releasing Through the Lungs

The lungs are also associated with release. They are connected energetically with the large intestine, which helps us detoxify and shed whatever it is we don’t need in our bodies. We breathe in oxygen and exhale out carbon dioxide. Imbalances in the lungs can also be related to letting go (or not). This could still be related to grief, but here we can ask ourselves:

  • Is there something you are struggling to let go of?

  • When you feel certain emotions or when certain circumstances arise, do you notice your breathing gets very shallow?

  • What does it feel like to take really deep breaths in and out? Does any emotion, thought, or memory arise when you do?

Caring for the Lungs Spiritually

In order to care for the lungs physically and spiritually, practice breathing deeply and ensure you are giving yourself the rest your body needs. Keep your body warm, especially in the colder, windier fall and winter season. (Read more about Self-Care for Lung Season). Spend some gentle, loving time with yourself and your grief, and consider adopting a ritual or talking to a friend or counselor, or however else your body and your mind need to sit with whatever you may need to release.

Curious about ways to promote lung health? Consider salt-cave therapy.

The Spiritual Meaning of Respiratory Illnesses Coughs and Lung Issues

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