Staying Healthy with the Seasons: Winter
Hototogisu kata Did a cuckoo cry?
Niwa no to akerya I open the door
Koyoi no sora nya And look out in the garden–
Tsuki bakai There is only the moon
Translation by Kenneth Rexroth, 1958, from 100 Poems from the Japanese.
In the above simple verse, the poet captures the essence of winter—the cool Yin light of the moon personifying the inward nature of solitude.
Chinese medicine, influenced by the ideas of Chinese philosophy, observes the movement of life-forces in nature and seeks a way of living that is in harmony, rather than in conflict with this Qi (life force).
While summer is a time of great activity, winter is a time of stillness and clarity.
When is the best time to have a yard sale? In the summer when everyone is out and about, hearts open, even a bit frivolous. Sidewalk traffic is at a maximum. In the winter, people are in their homes, with family, conserving their dollars for holiday gift giving.
Winter is a time of stillness and clarity. In San Diego we are blessed with wonderful clear night skies, even in the city you can look up and grab the constellation Orion or the brightest star Sirius with your own left hand. This experience, while exciting, also imparts a kind of radiant calm that is part of this season.
In the garden we see plants sending their energies down into their roots. Summer is the time for great displays of foliage, flowers, and fruit, fall harvests these fruits, but winter is the time for storage and the wisdom that accrues with contemplation and assessment.
And there is a natural human effort at balance. In the darkest of seasons, in all northern climes, there are festivals of lights, pagan Teutonic bonfires, Semitic and Hindu oil lamps, holiday trees with stars on top, and Zorastrian fire rituals. We balance the natural isolation of the season by reaching out to each other with gift giving.
Nature exerts balance also. In the north, covered with snow, when there is sun, it is reflected and magnified by the pure whiteness, the Yang within the Yin. And then there is the white winter moon.
Health Tip: Go to sleep early, but rise late after the sun has risen and exerted its warmth.
–Nei Jing Classic of Chinese Medicine, circa 200 b.c.e.
Keeping Healthy in Winter: The Lungs
Disease from Seasonal Factors: The Natural Excesses
The ancients observed that there are “natural excesses” innate to each climate and each season (heat, dry, damp, cold, wind), and that these “excesses” have the potential to weaken our defenses and compromise immunity, thus contributing to the gamut of factors that lead to respiratory and other illnesses characteristic of each season.
Thus they theorized that ameliorating the effects of, for example, heat in summer, or dryness in autumn, saves the body’s energy for its intrinsic needs.
The Lungs: How They Function and How They Become Damaged
The lungs are the canopy of the internal organs, the roof top of the inner rainforest.
With each breath they maintain contact with the outer world. As such, they are the vulnerable first line of defense against exterior pathogens. When it is windy, it is the leaves of the tree that shake, less so the trunk.
We rely upon our lungs to absorb the Qi of the air, effectively and efficiently. In order to do this they must remain slightly moist and slightly cool. The lungs are like two giant sponges. They are delicate and light and are easily damaged or weakened by smoke, particulate matter (dust, asbestos), air-borne fumes (bleach, synthetic perfume), unprocessed or overwhelming grief, and natural climactic factors like wind-cold and wind-dry.
They are also damaged by interior pathogens, factors, and substances generated by our own selves when ill or unbalanced. For example, the heat of febrile illness can dry the lungs. You see this in the lingering dry cough that may follow a cold. Some people have an inherited a cold damp or hot damp lung condition. We see this in asthma, where there is excessive phlegm production.
So, the lungs function best when they are slightly moist. Think of a sponge. If is dried out, it can’t absorb anything; if it is soaking wet, it also cannot absorb. At the same time they need to be not too hot and not too cold. Balance is the key.
Damage by Dry, Heat, Cold, and Wind
In early winter the air becomes windy and cold. In San Diego we may also get dry hot air from the desert. In both cases the lungs, which like to be moist and slightly cool, face the challenge of adaptation.
The first round of rhino-viruses (colds) are spreading. The point of contact between the cold viruses and your body are the mucosal tissues of the nasal cavities (which are considered part of the lung complex). If you are exposed and your lungs or immune system are weakened, you become ill.
Winter: Damage by Cold, Wind, Dry, Toxic Heat
By mid-winter the air becomes truly cold. At the same time indoor heating is very, very drying. Look at what it does to your skin! That is what it does to your respiratory mucus membranes that are inhaling that dry air and giving up their own moisture in order to extract the oxygen from the air. At the same time, rhino viruses are everywhere. People fall ill and the lungs are the first organ affected. Colds, flu, and bronchitis produce toxic heat that scorches and damages the lungs.
Ayurveda: Season of Kapha
Winter, especiallly late Winter, is the season of Kapha in Ayurveda. Kapha is the dosha (body-mind types) comprised of earth and water, and is by nature affected by cold and damp. As such it is easy for people with Kapha imbalance to be thrown further off by the cold or damp weather of winter. People with Vatta imbalance will also be affected, as they are disturbed by cold and dry.
People with Kapha imbalance tend to lethargy, persistent sleepiness, poor appetite or excessive sweet craving, difficulty losing weight, tendency to catching colds, sinus infections, coughs, and phlegm.
Kaphas, when balanced, bring energy, strength, solidity, endurance, and caring, loving, and easygoing attitudes.
To keep Kapha types warmed and stimulated I use Kapha tea, containing clove, Cardomom, ginger, green tea, and cinnamon. This can be drunk in the morning and afternoon in cold weather.
To warm Vatta types, I prefer a combination of fennel, licorice, ginger, cinnamon, black cardomom, and ajwain. This is both warming and moistening, without being stimulating. (No green tea.)
Natural Remedies for Winter: Chinese Medicine
The simplest way to warm your body up when coming in out of cold windy weather is with hot tea. Fresh ginger root “relieves the surface,” meaning it warms the superficial layers of the body, muscles, and skin. Dry ginger tea “warms the interior.”
Dry ginger or ginger powder is “hotter” than fresh ginger root and more profoundly warms the core of the body. You can sweeten this tea with either licorice root or honey, both of which are slightly moistening, and therefore are good for the lungs and throat.
Other warming tea spices are fennel, cinnamon, clove, and the kind of sage sold in Greek and Arab markets.
Pears and Pear Juice: A Natural Protective and Restorative for the Lungs
Conveniently, nature provides us with an abundance of pears in autumn. In the Far East they are the natural seasonal fruit. Chinese medicine says that pears “enter the lung channel,” which is a way of saying that over time they have observed a beneficial effect from this food on lung tissue.
Pears are naturally moistening and cooling, perfect for nourishing and protecting the mucosa of respiratory tissue against the ravages of dryness, heat, and toxins.
Experiment. Eat a piece of apple and then a piece of pear. Compare. The apple is sweet, but it is also slightly astringent, even leaving the mouth slightly dry. Pears are slightly sour, but not astringent (a drying flavor), rather they have a moist, slippery quality to them, not unlike the herb Slippery Elm. Eat pears in the autumn and winter for prevention, and if you have been sick, to help restore healthy lung function.
Pears can be cooked and mashed, like apple sauce. Add a little warming cinnamon in cold weather and a tiny amount of honey, which also benefits the lungs.
When you catch a cold or get bronchitis, you must push fluids. Scientists have shown it is easier to drink a lot of water when it has a flavor. Try adding an ounce of pear juice to seven ounces of water.
To children, who usually can handle more sweets, give undiluted or half diluted pear juice. My favorite is Knudsen brand organic, which is not from concentrate. Or better yet, juice fresh pears in the juicer with celery, beet, and parsley.
Pears can be cooked, Afghani style: Saute diced onion in a little oil, and when brown, add five chopped pears, enough water to cook, a little turmeric, a dash cayenne, three to five cardamom pods, lemon, vinegar, sugar, and salt all to taste. Simmer on low till the pears are soft. This should be slightly sweet, sour, and savory. Yum!
Chinese Tonic Herb Chicken Soup
Winter is an excellent time for deep tonification of the internal organs. Chicken broth naturally tonifies the “Qi and blood.” This means it strengthens the internal organs and essential substances of the body, increasing resistance and boosting immunity. This effect is multiplied ten-fold when chicken soup is cooked with Chinese tonic herbs like Astragalus/Huang Qi, White Ginseng/Ren Shen, and Dioscorea/Shan Yao.
If there are colds going around or if you feel run down, make the following recipe and eat it for two or three days in a row. If you do catch a cold or flu, then also eat this soup but omit the ginseng and cook the soup with rice in it.
1. 7 slices Astragalus root
2. 4 slices Dioscorea root
3. 1 piece Ginseng root
4. 1 tablespoon Longan fruit
5. Salt, pepper, onion, garlic, ginger, all to taste
6. Vegetables as desired: parsnip, turnip, carrot, celery, parsley
7. 1 small organic chicken, washed well
8. Scallions if desired to garnish at serving.
Place all of the ingredients in a large pot with enough water to cover well. Bring to a boil, cook on a medium high heat with a lid for one hour, and then at low heat for two hours (long enough for the bones to become soft). The idea is to extract the essence of the bones, as well as the meat. You might choose to add the vegetables midway. Enjoy this soup warm or hot.
© Eyton Shalom, San Diego, CA, December 2010, all rights reserved
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diegohttps://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com