Matthew Fellner DACM, L.Ac.
Fall is a time of year for harvesting, preparation, and turning inward to prepare the body for the colder weather of winter. It’s also a time of year when you are more prone to catch a virus. Taking a few simple steps to ensure that we are prepared for the change of season, can go a long way to ensuring a healthy, happier Fall & Winter.
Most of my patients ask me what they can do to protect themselves against viruses such as COVID, the common cold, or other strains of the flu. Whether you have received a vaccine or not, it is important to continue to boost or regulate your body’s own immunity, so that you have a strong constitution if you do happen to get exposed to nasty germs and viruses (which of course you will).
It’s important to note that just because there are strains of viruses more prevalent in the environment, does not mean that you will get sick. Most people have heard of the concept of viral load. The simple explanation of viral load is that you have to be exposed to a certain amount of virus for a certain amount of time to have it take hold and cause illness. This is true, but we often have very little control over how much exposure we are susceptible to. Masking can make a difference, but it is not failsafe. What we do have control over, is how well prepared our internal environment is set up to handle viral load.
In TCM, there is a concept of Xie versus Zheng. Loosely translated, it means evil versus righteous. Often, the translations of Chinese to English include overly poetic or dramatic terminology, so the principle is what matters most. The Xie includes anything from the environment that can cause disease, including bacteria, viruses, pathogens, pollutants, etc. The Zheng includes everything inside of us that prevents the Xie from causing severe issues. There is always a give and take and a relative balance to ensure health. Simply put, if you have a strong constitution, it takes a higher viral load to cause illness, and even if you do get sick, you will recover much faster and with fewer complications. On the flip side, if your constitution is weaker, then it may not take a big viral load to start causing serious problems. We need to have some simple habits that can ensure the righteous environment inside our bodies is well prepared. One note here to mention that is actually very important. I also used the term regulate and not just boost to describe what our immunity needs. Some people tend to overreact to any environmental pollutants or toxins and are susceptible to auto-immune responses. In this case they certainly do not want their immune systems boosted. Rather, they need to have it managed and regulated so that the appropriate response is generated. Fortunately, the following tips are excellent for anyone looking to promote health and wellness regardless of condition.
1. Eat with the season – this is a principle that is as old as humanity, but not followed anymore because we have such easy access to food any time we want. But our internal environments require some form of synergy with the outside world. We should be transitioning away from cold, raw foods and adding more root vegetables, broths, and warming spices. Suggestions include; apples, pears, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, soups, stews, and spices like cinnamon, ginger, and chilis.
2. Practice breathing exercises – The Fall is the Lung time of year according to TCM. It is a time to take care of the Lungs and make sure they are well oxygenated and cleansed. The Lungs are also the most important organ for a healthy immune system. Try this simple breathing exercise to maximize your Lung vitality; in a seated position inhale quietly but deeply through the nose without straining. Imagine all of the surface area of the Lungs expanding. Then exhale through the mouth as if you are exhaling through a straw. Imagine every inch of surface area being cleaned out and all the toxins being removed. Repeat 10-15 times. It is crucial that you have a space that is free from any type of exhaust or chemicals when you do this exercise. Best outdoors, but indoors is fine if you open a window or sit near plants.
3. Get Acupuncture & Herbs – Acupuncture and herbs have been used for centuries to strengthen the Zheng(righteous Qi) and create a string internal environment to regulate immunity. Chinese medicine has a long rich history of studying infectious diseases and providing effective treatments even before the availability of modern medicines like vaccines and antibiotics. Many of the herbal formulas are given as preventative treatments before the season starts or given to people who are susceptible to getting sick easily. It is important to develop consistency with treatments and not wait until you are already sick to start taking care of the internal environment of your body.