Winter is the time associated with long nights and short days, with cold in the sky and moisture on land. It is the time when the energy of many plants is deep in their roots. It is normal for human being to learn from animals and plants, and to imitate them. Winter is a time to send our energys into our own roots; it is normal to sleep a bit more, to eat some heavier warming food, to gain a bit of weight that we shed in Spring. It is a time to go to sleep early and rise late, after the sun has warmed the land. It is a time to seek the inner warmth of spiritual truths, symbolized by the festivals of light common to so many religions at this time. It is a time for assessment and reflection.
In Chinese medicine we favor moxabustion in winter, to warm the channels and tonify the organ complexes, especially the Adrenal-Digestive axis. Light a moxabustion stick and hold it close enough to your skin so as to feel heat without burning. Do this at the locations Zu San Li, San Yin Jiao, Qi Hai and Zhong Wan. Have someone else do it at the space between your physical Kidneys.
Acupuncture "points" are actually caves. They are depressions in the surface of the body where the Qi of the channels is easily influenced. So, in the abscence of any heat or fire disease, warm these spaces gradually and deeply; moxabustion should feel pleasant, even wonderful. Regular moxabustion (once a fortnight) before and during the winter season will prevent colds and remedy arthritic and other types of pains. In most circumstances application of moxa is beneficial anywhere there is pain. If it feels good, do it! Moxa sticks are cheap--a dollar for a large cigar sized stick of compressed "moxa" (common mugwort, latin artemesia vulgaris, chinese ai ye ). To extinguish your moxa stick dip the burning end into some water. Break this part off next use. Moxa is one of the best self-help tools in Chinese medicine.
Food Remedies: If i had to sum up the Chinese medicine food remedies for winter while standing on my head, it would be to drink lots and lots of soup. Push hot fluids in winter to keep mucus membranes and the bronchii hydrated and phlegm loosened. The Merck Manual recommends drinking a gallon of water per day in case of acute Bronchitis, for example. Soup is warming and an excellent medium for vegetables, garlic, ginger and other warming antibiotic herbs and spices like thyme and rosemary. Miso soup (dont overdo salt) is excellent with root, green and sea vegetebles (see my recipe on the web site), and chicken or turkey soup is excellent for getting your energy back after illness. (Chicken has a "rising" qi) Barley is an excellent herb for healing the lungs, it is cooling (infection is toxic heat) and also helps eliminate dampness to resolve the source of phlegm In dry cold weather cooked pears and pear juice, diluted with water and warmed if neccesary, help moisten the bronchii to loosen phlegm.
Herbal Medicine: The strength of Chinese herbalism is its treatment by Pattern Diagnosis (Bien Zheng). We treat respiratory tract infections based on their galaxy of symptoms. Here's an example. At first sign of a cold where sore throat is predominant, use Yin Qiao San. At first sign of a cold where cough is predominant, use Sang Ju Yin. (see last month's newsletter) Complicated by nasal congestion, use Bi Yan Pien and Goldenseal. For bronchitis, which is generally viral and not something to automatically take antibiotics for, Qing Fei Tang is excellent. This formula clears the heat of infection, stops cough, and expels phlegm. The number one treatment for bronchitis is bed rest! Second is to get the phlegm out. For this i use Qing Fei Tang for dry , hard-to-get-up phlegm, and San She Dan and Ban Xia for copious easy to expectorate phlegm. Plain Robitussin is an exellent expectorant whose active ingredient Guafinesin is herbal in origin. Oregeno capsules and Elderberry syrup are two western anti-virals currently in vogue for prevention and treatment of colds and flus.
Chronic Colds, Bronchitis, or Flu? Here it is important to strengthen your immune system and promote balance between infections. American Ginseng is mild, slightly cool, and restores the "yin" of the lungs, making it an ideal tonic. Siberian Ginseng is neutral or slightly warm in temp, helps to eliminate dampness, and strongly tonifies the "righteous zheng qi" It is used to tonify the immune system, especially with Astragalus and Ganoderma Ling Zhi mushroom. This combination stregnthens lung function and the ability to withstand rhino and other viruses. It also has been shown to raise T cell and Killer T cell counts. Finally, "Minor Bupleurum" xiao chai hu tang is a typical formula for people with chronic respiratory illness.
Ayurvedic Winter Tonification
Triphala is an Ayurvedic herbal remedy that can gradually and gently purify and rejuvenate your digestive tract, improving your body's ability to receive nourishment from the food you eat.
Triphala can be used for its stool softening effect, but as it also strenghtens the intestinal mucosa, improving absorption, in Ayurveda it is also used for chronic colds, allergies, acne, chronic constipation, excessive gas, malabsorption syndromes, irritible bowel syndrome, and as a Rasayan, or herbal rejuvenator. It rejuvenates by eliminating toxins (Ama) from all body tissues, and by balancing the three doshas Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. It is harmless and safe. In fact if there were a panacea in Ayurvedic medicine, Triphala would be it. It promotes health while reducing anyone's prediliction for disease.
For the past 5 years I have sought out the best Triphala available, and for the past year I have been very pleased with the results i get from Ayush brand, a concentrated Triphala extract from Bellevue, Washington. Each 90 cap bottle retails for $18.00. A typical dose is 2-3 caps per day, depending on your condition. For more details, or to discuss your condition, drop me an e or voice-mail line.
Wishing everyone a deep and satisfying winter,
Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac.