Stoking the fire to preparing our bodies for Winter is something we often overlook. Learn why it’s important and how you can make sure you stay warm and healthy during the coldest time of the year.
As the days grow shorter and the nights grow cooler, our natural instinct for hibernation starts to kick in. Where’s my winter jacket? Do the gutters need cleaning? Does the roof need repairs?, Do I need new snow tires?. Our bodies have seasonal needs as well. But how do you prepare your body for Winter? The preamble to the cold months helps us adapt to this new paradigm of storing and conserving heat. This comes naturally, but the body can benefit from support with acupuncture, herbs and diet.
As I write about this I think about a patient of mine, Jane. She’s a spirited and enthusiastic woman in her 50’s. In the office, I examine her and find Jane’s belly is icy cold despite the fact it’s a mild October morning. I think to myself, “This is a problem.” A problem mostly because she has many responsibilities and if her core gets colder she’ s likely to have some negative symptoms as the cold weather sets in, possibly lethargy, lassitude, diarrhea and edema.
How we prepare our bodies to cope with the cold weather will determine our resilience to what is often considered cold and flu season. As acupuncturists there’s a lot we can do to help stoke the body’s internal fire or metabolism and increase circulation to reduce the chances of having freezing fingers and icy toes. The insertion of needles at specific points in the body as well as burning mugwort (moxa) close to the skin helps tremendously. Moreover, there is a section of our herbal medicine devoted entirely to warming the body. What’s amazing is that most of these herbal formulas come from a book written in 220AD called the Shan Han Lun. The detail in which this problem is considered almost 2 millennia ago is astounding.
Warming strategies are good for most people, but not everyone. They’re are not good for people who already have too much heat in their body, namely women with menopausal symptoms of night sweats and hot flashes and patients with autoimmune diseases. Cancer patients should avoid spicy foods in general. It’s not that a warming diet contributes to developing these conditions, but it does exacerbate them.
There are a few things you can do to fortify your body for the cold weather that’s on its way. Like your mother always said, dress properly. This seems like a no brainer, but it’s not. When running late it’s easy to forget a scarf. Or even for the sake of a nice outfit it’s easy to don ballet flats, with a thin sole, that conducts the cold right into your core. In Chinese medicine we say that “if you don’t dress correctly, the cold can invade the body and get lodged your tissues” To avoid this, you may consider wearing slippers at home (and not walking barefoot across cold bathroom and kitchen floors) and perhaps getting dressed in the bathroom after a shower, so not to catch a chill.
You choice of food is another area where you can fortify your body for the cold. Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda medicine are specific about how to heat up the body with food. Warming foods include food that is both warm in temperature as well as spice. I often suggest patients consume soups with root vegetables and garlic and for people who eat meat they can add chicken, beef or lamb. Warm servings of whole grains and legumes are also beneficial. These foods have a grounding and slightly sedative effect. Lastly, spices like cardamom, clove, cinnamon, pepper or star anise warm the body and boost the metabolism. Dairy, fruit and salads are best to avoid if possible.
Every new season is a gift and we can meet it with courage and health when we take the time to prepare and protect our bodies. Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your comments, leave one below and I will be sure to respond.