In Chinese Medicine, protecting ourselves from the cold winter is extremely important. In addition to making someone sick, it can also aggravate existing conditions like arthritis. When we ward off cold, Chinese Medicine says we’re not only protecting ourselves from immediate harm but helping to prevent disease when spring arrives. The idea of cold weather making someone sick is not foreign to our own culture. You probably recall instances when your parents told you to bundle up so you didn’t catch a cold.
Chinese Medicine has a term called cold damage which explains the many conditions that arise from exposure to the outside elements like cold, dampness and even heat. Specific to this topic, exposure to the cold winter weather damages our life force, affecting our body’s ability to ward off disease. How it impacts us is dependent on a complex interplay of circumstances ranging from the type of exposure to our innate ability to fight it. When cold combines with damp, it makes for an even more formidable pathogen.
Chinese Medicine is more than acupuncture. One branch of Chinese Medicine that many don’t know about is self care practices that help us understand how to co-exist with the elements, changing seasons and even the process of getting older. In this particular context, here are some preventative measures that might make all the difference in us getting sick from cold damage. Most of these are easy to do and with everyday household items.
1. The first tip is to cover up as much as you can. If you find yourself in a situation where you are exposed to cold and damp conditions, wear a good coat or keep multiple layers in your car in case that’s not enough. Wear a scarf and cap. Cold in Chinese Medicine tends to invade the back of the head. These are the most vulnerable spots of attack which is why a lot of people who get sick from cold weather might get a headache, stiff neck and achy joints.
2. Never go outside with wet hair. This is a good way of creating a cold damp scenario that gets you sick or at least a bad headache. It’s best not to go outside with wet hair even during the summer because air conditioning on a wet head is similar to a very cold and wet February day. Not leaving the house with wet hair is important for everyone, but it’s especially critical for those who are pregnant or postnatal.
3. Avoid cold wind on your face. Once again, a scarf and cap are great but if you are being hit with a blast of sustained cold air in the face, try to shield yourself from it or wear a face beanie or full face cover ski neck gaiter. This is especially important if you have a history of Bell’s Palsy.
4. After you get home, stay in warm clothes and turn on the heat. I suggest keeping your cap on for a little while unless you start to sweat.
5. Make yourself something hot to drink like chai, ginger or cinnamon tea. Every herb has a thermal temperature so it’s important to choose those that are warm in nature. Stay away from teas like mint, chrysanthemum, hibiscus or lemon. Stick with those that are bold and spicy. Also avoid cold drinks, especially those that are iced.
6. After you drink something warm, get under the covers for a half hour or more. You might even break a small sweat which is normal. This helps to expel any cold that may have invaded the superficial layers of the body.
7. Do not eat raw foods. This is the worst thing to do in the winter. The digestive system in Chinese Medicine prefers warmth so that it can break down foods into absorbable nutrients. We call it the digestive fire that works better with cooked foods. Also, eating cold raw foods during the winter is a good way of inviting cold into our bodies which can impact our circulation and immune response.
One of the best dishes after cold exposure is congee, a rice porridge that can either be made into a breakfast or dinner dish. There are a wide variety of congee dishes you can make. It’s important though to choose foods that are warm in nature. For those who eat meat, chicken, beef and lamb are great for congees. For vegetables, you can add things like garlic, ginger, squash and mustard greens. Congees can be either meat dishes or vegetarian and are very versatile. You can do a google search for all different types of recipes.
8. Keep your feet warm throughout the winter. Heat loss can occur through the feet. In Chinese Medicine specifically, the lower part of the body is under the domain of the kidneys. The root of our immune system according to Chinese Medicine is our kidneys because they reflect our overall constitution. By keeping your feet warm, you add another layer of protection that wards off cold attacking the kidneys. Smart wool socks are the best.
9. Lastly, get a good night’s sleep and don’t skip meals. It’s also good during the darkest winter months to not over extend ourselves. At this time of the year, plants and animals are less active and abundant. Although our modern conveniences allow us a little more flexibility, it’s still important for our immunity and constitution to respect the cycles of nature. If you can, go to bed earlier during the winter and wake up later than you would in the summer.