Tips for Staying Healthy During the Wet and Cold Seasons

Eons ago, as a young teenage girl, I worked weekends at the local stable in exchange for my riding lessons. We would groom and saddle horses, stack bales and ride from corral to corral dropping alfalfa into the feed boxes from the back of an old pickup.

On rainy nights I would arrive home soaked to the bone and shivering after being transported across town in the back of that old pickup (before seatbelt laws š that dates me!). I would be ecstatic. My mother would be furious.

Her first move was to march me into a hot bath, then cocoon me in blankets in front of the fire while my hair dried and feed me hot soup. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about until that stormy fall Monday morning when I awoke with a sore throat, cough and fever that lasted a good five days.

Mother wisdom has meant comfort and survival for generations of offspring. Listening to a mom, you would think harsh weather was one of humankind‰s greatest enemies. But why? It wasn’t until studying Traditional Asian Medicine that the logic of ‘folk medicine’ started making sense to me. Here are some self-care recommendations you may remember hearing growing up and why an Asian medical practitioner might agree they are good ones:

1. Cover your neck. Do you ever get a sore throat or nasal congestion after being out in the elements? In Asian medical theory class, we learned how the outside influences, such as wind, heat, cold, damp and dryness, can become ‘pathogenic factors’ (or ‘evil qi’) for a body whose defenses aren’t up to task. Wind can be the carrier of cold, heat or dampness into the body through exposed areas like the neck. The combining and invasion of pathogenic factors create patterns of imbalance which have specific symptoms attached to them. For example, a sore throat, fever and yellow tongue coat may signify a wind-heat’ condition, while flu-like symptoms with nausea and vomiting or muscle and joint aches may signify a ‘wind-damp’ condition. Treatment strategy for the acupuncturist or herbalist in this instance might be to bolster immune function and rectify the imbalance (force out the pathogenic factors) for a quicker recovery. Treatments can also help prevent illness. An ounce of preventioná

2. Cover your head and feet. These gateways are particularly vulnerable to the elements. Instead of walking barefoot on the cold floor, wear slippers. Wear a hat that protects your ears as well.

3. Remind your family to wash hands frequently. Teach them to cough into their elbows instead of their hands.

4. Eat with the season. Do you regularly eat raw salads and ice cream in winter? Your body is probably aghast and it will suffer sooner or later. When the weather turns chilly and inhospitable, try a bowl of hot soup, roasted root veggies, or some cooked spiced dish to help keep your body warm. This lessens the strain on your stomach which has to work extra hard when food is cold. In Asian medicine, the health of the digestive tract is of ultimate importance and our overall health is dependent on its efficient function. Food is medicine! If you need advice on how to eat better, contact a practitioner or take a class.

5. Counter the season’s ills with plant medicine. Our grandmas used castor oil, eucalyptus rubs, willow bark (aspirin). The medicine cabinet is overflowing now, thanks to a relentless pharmaceutical marketing machine. The need for medicinals may one day slow down, but in the meantime, can we be selective about the medicines we choose to put in our bodies? The Asian pharmacopeias list some 10,000 plants, minerals and animal products with thousands of years of proven benefits and few, if any, side effects when properly dosed. Whether preventative or curative, herbal formulas and nutritional supplements may provide the extra help you need to feel your best.

6. Rest, rest, rest! Bears do it. Cats do it. Chickens do it. The latter two species live chez moi and I have witnessed them perfecting the art of rest. My hens are in bed 15 minutes before dark all year round, even when sunset arrives at 5 pm. They don’t stay up watching late night talk shows, or plan a holiday event into every available opening; neither should we. The dark-yin time is about going within, hibernating, quiet, rest. From late fall through winter almost every mammal is conserving energy, as are the plants. Rest is good for us as well. Snuggle down in bed with a good book early at night, and learn to say ‘no’ when you people ask more of you than you‰re able to comfortably do.

7. Don’t worry š be happy! Stress has become so habitual in our society we hardly remember what if feels like not to be under its influence. Emotional upheaval, job and parenting demands, financial worries, seasonal affective disorder, or even happy occasions like a wedding or birth of a child – any of the demands of life can erode our health without our being aware of it right away. First, don’t take yourself, or life, so seriously! Play. Laugh. Love big. Second, don’t ignore the early signs that something is amiss in the hopes it will disappear without giving it attention. Your body is signaling you in subtle to obvious ways that shift is required. If you aren‰t clear what that change needs to be, consult a practitioner who can help you synch up with your inner healer.

Enjoy your yin time!

Jody James, L.Ac., Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM), operates two clinics in Graton/Sebastopol: Community Acupuncture, Massage and Chiropractic, a low-cost clinic; and Asyrah’s Garden, an acupuncture spa. For more information, call (707) 823-2866 or visit .