As the winter season is approaching, the topic of immunity is a focus for everyone. In the current climate of the world, people’s immunity is something that is treated in many different ways. There are so many perspectives on this topic; it is often at the forefront of most people’s minds. One perspective is from the viewpoint of the 3,000 year-old tradition of Chinese medicine.
This ancient medicine is based on Taoist philosophy and focuses on the natural way of life. Our seasons are broken into five parts which correlate with the five elements. The five elements, along with the eight-principle theory, make up the foundation for Chinese medicine. In Chinese medicine, the element that represents fall is metal. The organs associated with metal are lung and large intestine. These organs represent the immune system.
There is a concept called wei qi, which represents a barrier around the organs. This energetic barrier around the lungs provides protection from external pathogens invading the body. The body part associated with metal is the nose. This is why when people have sinus issues, they tend to be worse in the fall. With the constant fluctuation in temperatures, along with the blustery winds, it is easier for a pathogen to break through the protective barrier and invade the body.
During this time of year, it is recommended to wear a hat or scarf to protect the back of the head. This area is called the “wind gate,” where all pathogens enter the body. In Chinese medicine, the main point that provides protection from “external wind” is called Gallbladder 20; and it is located at the base of the skull near the hairline. External wind refers to cold, flu, allergies and anything outside of the body that will affect the immune system. Keeping this point open is a great preventative method to avoid sickness.
Humans are always changing, just like the seasons. Every month the body is renewed. The drastic shift from the hot summer to the cool fall and winter months can sometimes happen too quickly for the immune system to adjust. Keeping the energy of the body strong with a good diet, exercise and meditation can form a strong foundation for prevention. During this time, it is especially important to eat and drink warm foods and liquids. Bringing the warmth into the core enhances protection from colds and flus. Ingesting warm teas, soups and broths can help warm the organs and invigorate qi.
Specific herbs can also be added to assist in this transitionary time of year. There are many Chinese herbal formulas that help to clear wind and warm the body. Gui zhi wan, which consists of white peony root, dried ginger, cinnamon twig, red date and licorice root, is a common formula for that purpose. It can help to clear a pathogen out before it takes hold. It also can be used for prevention, especially if a person leans toward feeling more cold or yang deficient. Astragalus root is the number one herb to strengthen the wei qi of the lungs. It helps to create the protective barrier to keep pathogens out. It is so good that if a pathogen does enter the body, it must stop being used because it will hold the pathogen in.
There are countless other herbs that can be used for different reasons at different times. For example, andrographis is a great herb that supports immunity. When paired with the antiviral Isatis root and dandelion leaf, this formula can prevent the pathogen from entering the body if there was exposure. If a pathogen does take hold, it usually starts as a wind cold and the person will feel cold, clammy and have a runny nose. Usually warming herbs will be given to warm the body and help clear out the sickness. Gan mao lingis a traditional formula for this purpose. If the pathogen moves deeper, it can manifest as a wind heat. This is a good time to add cooling herbs to clear the heat. Honeysuckle flower is one of the chief herbs in yin chiao, a traditional formula for a wind heat. Some Western herbs that support immunity are elderberries, rosehips, pine, echinacea and lemon balm as well as a variety of medicinal mushrooms like chaga, reishi and turkey tail. These can be taken in teas, syrups or tinctures. They can be used as a tonic for prevention but also used to feel better from sickness.
A Chinese medicine practitioner may also utilize other modalities besides herbs like qi gong, tui na, acupuncture, fire cupping, auriculotherapy,guasha, moxibustion and more to support the immune system.
Qi gong exercises are usually done in the standing position. It is often called meditation in motion. The focus is on breath and slow movements to move energy through the 12 meridians of the body. Tui na is a specific type of acupressure that opens up blockages on the meridian channels at a deeper level. A practitioner uses techniques with their hands to open up the wei qi and jumpstart the body’s innate healing ability. Fire cupping is done by putting a small flame from a cotton swab into a glass cup for a second and putting the cup directly on the skin. The heat creates the suction which pulls out inflammation and toxins, and boosts the immune system.
Cupping can clear out dampness in the lungs; it is really beneficial if a person has a cold, cough and flu. Auriculotherapy is also known as ear reflexology. There are over 300 acupoints in the ear. These points represent nerve endings that specifically correlate to areas of the body. A practitioner can put needles or seeds on the specific points to activate them. Guasha translates as scraping in Chinese. Oil is applied to the skin and then a specific guasha tool is used to rub on an area of the body. When used around the neck, it will open up the lymphatic system. It will bring blood to the surface to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Moxibustion uses the herb mugwort to move blocked energy. Traditionally used in sticks or cones that are lit on fire and put toward an area of the body where the heat is not touching the skin but it is felt. Indirect points using heat shields can also be applied. They can open up specific points or areas of the body. These moxa applications will bring heat deep inside to promote healing.
In conclusion, there are many aspects of Chinese medicine that can support immunity. A self-care routine utilizing qigong, dietary changes, supplements, Chinese herbs and meditation can be a great way to strengthen the immune system and prevent sickness. There are also other modalities that a Chinese medicine practitioner can use which include tui na, cupping, moxa, and guasha, to name a few. Overall, this concept of immunity can be something that is treated as an integrated approach to health and healing. The ancient teachings of Chinese medicine can be a way that people can support themselves and their families.