The wisdom of ancient Chinese doctors tells us of the importance of living in accordance with the constant changes of the seasons and the current state of our environment. They offer us insights on how to most efficiently use our energies so that we can keep ourselves vital and healthy. As we enter the Winter months, let's examine the advice they have for us.
The idea is that as the seasons change we should alter our habits in order to stay healthy. In Chinese medicine, lifestyle choices have always been a primary concern in order to not only prevent diseases from occurring, but also to foster a truly healthful and fully enlivened existence. In chapter two of the classic Chinese medicine text, the Nei Jing Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine), the following wisdom is offered:
From this passage we can ascertain some guidelines for how to behave in the Winter months in order to foster health:
Here is a short list of warming, nourishing foods which are useful during the winter months:
Acupuncture and moxibustion can also be extremely helpful during the winter. Often the cold season makes our joints or muscles hurt because of the contraction and reduced blood flow to our extremities. Acupuncture can help to relieve joint pain, muscle pain, help strengthen or regulate the immune system, and more. Moxibustion is a therapy which strongly warms the body with direct thermal heat, targeting areas which are cold and deficient. Both of these are powerful tools which we have at our disposal in order to make the winter months more bearable by eliminating pain, driving away colds, and fostering a nourishing storage attitude and lifestyle for continued growth. Along with the lifestyle modifications above, regular acupuncture and moxibustion can help to build a strong Winter root, and act as a strong preventive medicine.
To quote the Nei Jing Su Wen one more time:
"To oppose one's root, is to attack one's basis and to destroy oneself."
Sources used and quoted from:
Paul Unschuld. Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen Volume 1. 2011. University of California Press
Cover Photo by Simon Wa. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Almost everyone I know gets pain somewhere, sometimes, in varying degrees or ways. It seems to me after much observation that as humans, we tend to break most often at our joints, where our limbs meet and where our body's qi naturally congregates. We use our bodies all day doing hard work and dealing with stressful situations. There is a lot of pressure on our joints. Hopefully, we take the time to drink some water, eat some healthy food, and rest, but this is not always the case. The joints often take the most abuse, because that is where all of our muscles and tendons ultimately attach in our body. After a long time of use, all mechanical parts begin to break down. They need lubrication, maintenance, and some elbow grease, to keep performing at optimum efficiency. While the body is much more complex and miraculous than a machine, it does have some machine-like parts.
It turns out that acupuncture is great for helping to relieve joint pain in our bodies, even though joint pain arises from many different causes for many different people. This is because an acupuncturist is able to choose different points, and manipulate them in different ways, in order to have specifically different effects on the qi. When the causes of joint pain vary from person to person, the way we treat it also varies.
So for some people, where their joint pain is a result of inflammation for instance, I can use acupuncture to firstly release the heat at the site of the pain, but then needle points which have a nourishing, moistening, lubricating quality. This strategy treats the direct cause of pain (heat or inflammation) and then attempts to take steps to prevent future severity. For other people, their pain is worst when it is cold outside because it constricts their blood flow and makes their muscles and tendons tense up. Using a technique such as moxibustion, we can use warmth to open up the acupuncture meridians and stimulate a freer flow of qi and blood through the limbs and indeed the body as a whole. Some people have very physically demanding jobs, and though they are strong, their limbs and joints hurt at the end of a hard day's work. For them, acupuncture can provide a chance for their body to rest and to nourish itself, while simultaneously releasing trigger points in the muscles which develop after being overworked.
There are many different reasons someone could have joint pains, and acupuncture is an extremely flexible form of therapy. There are tools which are at our disposal to relieve pain and also to nourishing our deeper constitutional selves. As we treat our physical pains, we are also interacting with our mental, spiritual, and emotional realities, in whatever way these manifest for us personally. That we divide them up is one of the things which may cause us the most pain in the end.
Michael Keane, L.Ac.