It’s that time of year again in Richmond – the time where everyone around you is dropping like flies with the flu or some such – so it seems like a perfect time to write about what Chinese medicine can offer us in terms of avoiding getting sick.
Have you ever tried acupuncture If you do find yourself getting sick, consider coming in to the clinic. Acupuncture can be a great reset for the body, activating our body’s natural immunity, and helping it to rest. Chinese herbs can offer amazing relief for symptoms associated with cold and flu.
Preventative medicine really is best, because no small part of you wants the flu. A big problem that I see clinically is that people have no idea how to shift their behaviors in accordance with the seasons, and this actually causes a lot of problems for our health and immunity. A lot of things we do in the warmer months with no problem, like getting sweaty or staying up late, can cause problems for us when done during the colder months.
Dress for the weather. This is paramount. I can’t believe how many of you are walking around in shorts or shirtsleeves, or even just without scarves on cold, windy days. You want to avoid the flu? Fine. Make sure your body is covered. I hear all the time, “But I was only at the gym, that’s why I’m dressed like this.” That’s even worse. Work up a sweat, and then go expose your bare skin to the elements? That’s like if you lit the wood stove and turned on the air-conditioning. It is an enormous waste of your body’s resources. Wasting resources = getting sick.
Eat appropriately. The grocery store really fools us into thinking that we should be able to eat whatever we want whenever we want. The truth is that this ultimately does you no favors. Sure, sometimes you want to eat guacamole during the Superbowl, and we live in the modern world, and that’s not going to kill you. But most of the time you should be making an effort to be eating foods that are climate and season appropriate. This gives your body natural tools for dealing with the elements. Here’s an example that I use all the time – Most cuisines that you come across that are mostly, inherently spicy like certain Latino, Indian and South Asian cuisines are coming from places that are near the equator. Read: Where It’s Really Hot. What does spicy food do? It makes you sweat. What does sweat do? It cools you off. Do you want to be cool in the winter? No, because that doesn’t feel good and it takes a lot of energy to warm you up – energy that could be directed to more useful things like maintaining a strong immune system.
Spicy food is like air conditioning for the body. Do you want air conditioning in the winter time? No. In this case, it’s all about dosage. A small amount of spice is generally warming, but a large amount, the really spicy stuff, opens you up and gets you sweating. It’s not that spice is bad in the winter; you just don’t want to eat too much.
It is also helpful to think about how you are cooking things. Prior to this modern age, raw fruits and vegetables were barely available at this time of year in this climate. Traditionally, any plant-based foods that were available were somehow stored or preserved. One way to think of preservation is as a level of cooking – something that begins to break down or even “pre-digest” the foods. Cooking or preparing foods makes them more “warming”. Raw foods on the other hand are more “cooling”. You want to be warm this time of year.
Don’t get all sweaty. As we discussed above, sweat is the body’s air conditioning. If you want to get in the sauna, fine. But be careful to not overdo it, and make SURE your body is dry before you step outside.
Sleep. Listen to your body. Sleep recharges the batteries. If you’re feeling the slightest bit off, like you might be getting sick, there are supplements or herbs that you can take to help keep the baddies at bay, but sleep is your #1 way to charge up the immune system.
Setting your thermostat. We’ve talked about how living in accordance with the seasons can go a long way towards improving your health and immunity. One of the most literal ways to think about this is with respect to the temperature of your home or workplace. A good parallel is to think about hardening off plants in the spring. If you started seeds indoors in the later winter or early spring, you make them stronger by gradually exposing them to the cooler temperatures outside. We too can be made a little stronger if our HVAC-controlled environments are a little less controlled. For example, I set my thermostat in the winter to about 63 degrees, and at about 80 degrees in the summer. These temperatures are pretty easy to get used to if you’re otherwise healthy.
So these are some ways to start thinking about how you can improve your immunity. It’s really just the tip of the iceberg, but try a few of these things out. You just might feel better!