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How To Survive The Cold and Flu Season From A Chinese Medicine Perspective

As a massage therapist who earned her master's in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, I have a unique perspective on the body and how it is able to protect itself during the fall and winter months of the year.

If you think about it, there aren’t as many people getting sick from viruses or bacterial respiratory infections as often during the spring and summer months, compared to the fall and winter months. Why is this the case?

In Chinese Medicine, we look at different principles such as yin and yang.

Yin is a concept that corresponds with things such as nighttime, heavy, dark, cold, closed, physical, rest, parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), etc.

Yang is a concept that corresponds with the daytime, light, ethereal, warm, active, sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), etc.

The spring and summer months are more yang. The fall and winter months are more yin.

What does this mean? It means during the spring and summer, all creatures and plants in nature are more active. Temperatures are warmer. Flowers bloom. People and animals spend more time outdoors. There is a lot more movement and activity during this time of the year.

During fall and winter, everything starts to slow down. The flowers die off and leaves are shed from the trees. Nature prepares for the dormant times of winter by collecting and storing the remaining harvest. Reproduction of most animals and plant life stops or slow down during this time. These are the months of rest and conservation of energy to prepare for the energy surge of the spring.

Because the fall and winter months are more yin, our immune system is not as robust during these months. Unfortunately, our current American culture doesn’t make it a priority to live in tune with the rhythms of nature. Instead, we are expected to be stuck in a perpetual state of growth (springtime), with no seasons of rest. The expectation of constant work and growth, without a season of rest, can be very damaging to a person physically and mentally.

The excess stress placed on people during the season of rest can also makes a person more prone to attack from various viruses and bacterial pathogens.

So what is a person to do to survive the cold and flu season in the American culture?

  1. Keep the body warm, especially the head and feet. Lots of attention is given to our hands, because of all the tactile things we use them for. Think in terms of cold slows things down, heat speed things up. If our feet stay cold, then circulation to them is slowed, and blood isn’t able to deliver the nutrition that’s needed to the tendons, bones, nerves, nails, and acupuncture points on the feet. Your feet also have major reflex points that refer to other organs within the body. Keep your feet warm by wearing thick socks or slippers when walking on hardwood or tile floors. Don’t expose your head to cold air when wet, and try to keep it warm when outside.

  2. Drink teas and eat foods that contain herbs that are warm and energetically moving in nature. Ginger, turmeric, and chai are some of my favorite teas to drink during the winter months. Foods that contain warm spices, like curries, soups, and stews are very beneficial during this time. Try to eat lighter meals in the evening, so your body spends less energy on digestion.

  3. Avoid eating too many cold/sweet foods. Ice cream is one of the worst foods to eat during the cold months, according to Chinese medicine. If you want something sweet try hot chocolate, wassail, warm cider, cinnamon rolls, and foods that have warming properties. If you REALLY want ice cream or frozen yogurt, try adding some cardamom or cinnamon to it to help spice it up and balance it out.

  4. Try to do the best you can to rest and get some self-care as much as possible. I know this might sound impossible for some, but whatever you can do to reduce your stress levels will really help make your body more resilient to pathogens. Make sure you are getting proper sleep at night, and if you aren’t do everything you can to make that happen. Try to rely less on energy drinks to help you get through your day. If you are a stay-at-home mom, try to take a short nap, or lay down for at least 30 minutes listening to calm/meditation music, while your kids are napping. The other stuff can wait. Also, did you know that weekly massages have been scientifically proven to help boost lymphocyte/immune function?

This is the season of rest, renewal, and celebration. The rest of winter brings about the hope of a prosperous spring and summer. If you need help getting rest and relaxing this season, or want to give your immune system a boost, get in touch with me and book your massage today!


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