By Liza Pollock, L.Ac., M.Ac.O.M.
As the end of November nears we begin to transition from autumn into winter. Some of the oldest Chinese medical texts suggested thousands of years ago that humans should live in harmony with the natural cycle of the seasons. After the warmer seasons that are full of activity, now is the time to honor slowing and quieting down, to reflect inwardly, and to rest and conserve energy so that we may be replenished and recharged instead of burned out when the spring returns. Just as the leaves fall off the trees and the roots store the essential nutrients needed for re-growth in the spring, we can shed unwanted layers, getting rid of that which does not serve us anymore, while grounding into and cultivating the positive and healthy aspects of our being.
The complex system and framework of diagnosis and treatment within Chinese medicine emerged from a holistic understanding of the universe through observation of patterns and movements in nature that create balance and flow. These are also present within human beings who are inseparable from nature. When there is balance, there is health and a sense of thriving; when there is imbalance, there is discomfort and sometimes illness and disease. Prevention of imbalance is a core principle of Chinese medicine. The goal of treatment is to maintain or bring back balance in order to restore the healthy functioning of the entire system.
The two most essential theories within Chinese medicine as well as Chinese culture and philosophy are yin-yang theory and five-element theory. Both theories are ways of explaining and reflecting upon all natural phenomena in the universe. Yin-yang theory holds that present within everything in nature are two opposing but interconnected aspects that are relative to one another. The original meaning of yin is the side of the mountain turned away from the sun, or the shady side; while yang (pronounced yon) is the side of the mountain facing the sun, or the sunny side. Yin represents darkness, nighttime, cold, winter, passivity, interior, downwards, storage and stillness while respectively yang represents brightness, daytime, heat, summer, activity, exterior, upwards, action and movement. Five-element theory explains the relationships between wood, fire, earth, metal and water—all thought to be the basic constituents of the universe. It holds that all phenomena in nature can be categorized into these elements.
As fall transitions into winter and the days grow shorter and colder, yang moves into yin. Winter is the most yin time of the year. According to Chinese medicine, the metal element corresponds to autumn, harvesting, the Lung and Large Intestine organs, the nose, skin and body hair, grief as well as awe and inspiration; while the water element corresponds to winter, storing, the Kidney and Bladder organs, the ears, bones and head hair, fear as well as courage and ambition. The Lungs help distribute Wei Qi, the defensive energy, to the surface of the body to ward off colds and flus, while the Kidneys store our source Qi, our most dense core strength and will-power. The Kidneys help anchor down the pure air we breathe in through the Lungs to be used as vital energy to support all the systems of the body.
During this time of introspection and consolidation, it is important we recharge our batteries and cultivate personal practices of a healthy diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep and relaxation. Try setting attainable changes that will make you feel better to increase energy, focus and suppleness while decreasing pain, fatigue and stress. Regular acupuncture, massage and herbal medicine can help boost immunity as well as fight off something already present. Particularly at the initial onset of a cold or flu- acupuncture and antiviral/antibacterial herbs can quell a sore throat, stop or at least reduce other symptoms, and definitely prevent them from going deeper. And when recovering from illness, Chinese medicine can help nourish the body and mind back to optimal health.
Things we can do for self care on our own on a daily basis are:
-Eating whole foods that are in season. Always think of adding as much natural color to the diet as possible with a variety of foods from vegetables and edible herbs, fruits, whole grains, nuts, naturally raised meats and wild caught fish. Try to eat regularly, slowly and mindfully.
-Exercising regularly. The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study reporting that people who exercise regularly catch fewer colds and when they do the duration and severity is less. On the mental/emotional level, moving the body moves stuck thought patterns and emotional responses.
- Taking Vitamin D is another way to prevent colds and flus, even more so than vaccines or antiviral medication as reported in a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vitamin D is naturally absorbed into our bodies from sun exposure, so with less of that here in Portland we often need to supplement.
-Drinking plenty of room temperature water. As a general guideline, try to drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water per day.
-Sleeping 7-8 hours a night, trying to get to bed by 11pm.
-Breathe intentionally. Taking just 2-3 deep breaths anytime and anywhere will automatically bring you into the present moment and calm the mind (2-3 minutes is even better!) Inhaling down into the belly, then the rib cage and upper chest, and exhaling slowly and fully until the belly draws inward.
-Hydrotherapy can be used in many ways for pain and inflammation. One simple way to invigorate overall blood flow and circulation that also helps prevent illness is to end your shower with 30-60 seconds of cool-cold water. Then dry off and warm up immediately.
-Bring laughter, creativity and play into your daily life as well, in whatever form that takes for you!Tweet