Stay Healthy this Winter with TCM
Winter is here! It's the season to sit by a fire and snuggle up with a warm drink. This is the time of year when the plants have retreated back into the earth to lie dormant until their spring rebirth. The energy of winter moves downwards and inwards.The trees and plants hardly look alive. They have gone back into the earth to rest and conserve energy for their resurgence in spring.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), like in nature, this is a time of year for rest and contemplation. To remain healthy during the winter season, we should encourage our energy to move downward. It is a time for rest, reflection, conservation, and storage. We should take time for ourselves to relax and rest our bodies. It is a natural time to reduce activity, but we have to be careful not to overindulge this time of year or it can lead to weight gain. It is a good time to do gentle activities such as yoga and meditation. We want to work to conserve our energy because it is easily depleted this time of year.
The kidney and bladder meridians relate to the season of winter and are susceptible to damage by cold. They influence the low back and knees, so it’s important to your body covered and warm. It is also important to get enough sleep in the winter to restore yourself physically and mentally. The days are shorter and we should make an effort to go to bed earlier than we did in the summer time.
To nourish yourself, choose root vegetables, legumes, soups and cooked foods. Raw food is cold and can lead to imbalance this time of year. It is also good to add warming spices such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves to your foods and drink. Most of all try not to stress after the holidays, just relax and enjoy time with family and friends. That will give you a good foundation for the year ahead.
The holidays may be done, but unfortunately not flu season. Between the months of November and March over 100,000 Americans are hospitalized each year for flu related reasons. The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious respiratory infection. Colds and flus share some symptoms, but usually the flu is more serious compared to the common cold. Common cold symptoms are nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, and light headaches. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, extreme fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, runny nose, and watery eyes.
Chinese medicine classifies colds and flus as wind disorders. There is a reason we were told as children to bundle up when we went outside during windy cold weather. The neck, back of the head, and shoulders are the most exposed to the wind pathogen. You may have noticed your neck and shoulders become tight and achy after being outside on a cold or windy day. This is a classic example of wind invading your muscles. Usually this will go away quickly once you go inside, but sometimes the wind goes to a deeper level. This is when you start experiencing the classic cold and flu symptoms such as sneezing, chills/fever, sore throat, and body aches. Sometimes you’ll feel so cold that nothing you do will warm you up.
Form Good Habits to Stay Healthy
Start an immune boosting, flu prevention herbal formula before flu season. Stay on this formula until the flu season ends. Your practitioner will decide which formula is best for you. This is especially important for adults and children with a weakened immune system, a history of frequent illnesses, fatigue, and stress.
Get plenty of sleep every night. Aim for at least 8 hours. Fall is dominated by the metal element (Lung and Large Intestine meridians) and winter by the water element (Kidney and Bladder meridians). You can support them through light exercise, meditation, rest, and by being gentle with yourself.
Stimulate Stomach 36 often by rubbing or pressing the acupoint. It is located a hands-width beneath your knee and on the outer edge of your shin bone. Often you can feel a slight depression in that area. You can also talk to your acupuncturist about a warming technique called moxibustion, which is a treatment you can do at home to boost your immune system.
Eat root vegetables, beans, whole grains, soups and stews to keep you strong and warm.
Be aware that food sensitivities (gluten, soy, eggs, nuts, etc.) can add to general inflammation in the body. It is best to avoid these all year, but especially during the cold and flu season.
Avoid sugar, which reduces your ability to fight infection.
Avoid dairy if you are prone to excess mucus or cysts.
Wear a scarf to protect the body from a Wind Invasion (common cold, influenza, or sore throat). Keep your upper body covered to prevent tight and achy muscles.
Wash your hands often and avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
If you are generally in good health your wei qi (immune system) will be able to fight off the invaders. There are many ways to boost your immune system. Acupuncture is a great way to keep yourself healthy and balanced. There are many Chinese herbal formulas to boost your immune system and relieve cold and flu symptoms because of their anti-bacterial and anti-viral qualities. Other supplements such at Vitamin C and Elderberry are believed to boost the immune system.
Regular moderate exercise (enough to warm you up but that doesn’t induce too much sweating) has been found to boost the immune system. TaiChi, Qigong, and Yoga are also beneficial. Eat a healthy diet full of fresh vegetables, especially carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, garlic, and tomatoes to keep the body healthy. Limit sugar intake. Sugar, especially the refined form has been found to depress the immune system. Drink lots of water and get plenty of rest. During sleep your body can really concentrate on fighting off invaders and healing itself. Most importantly set aside time to have fun and relax.
Help for Colds and Flus Using Chinese Medicine