Yep, I got one of those nasty summer colds. Here I am in Toronto, in a summer with extreme heatwaves for the last two months, and then getting a “cold” which is not cold at all but making me uber hot and sweaty, as if I weren’t enough already! Anyhow, I just happened to have some yarrow tea on hand (that I just happened to have because it’s a great hair rinse) and it so happens to also be good for “releasing the Exterior” as they say in TCM, or “sweating it out” in lay terms. The cool thing about Yarrow is that once you start sweating it out, this breaks the fever so you end up cooler, yay!
I felt perplexed as to why I got this cold in the first place with all the Vitamin D, camu camu, and elderberry that I take. But truth be told, I was spooning back the peanut butter like the factory would close tomorrow. Now that’s a lot of Damp Heat that peanuts create, on top of the damp hot humid weather going on all summer, what’s a girl to do? Oh but it tasted so good! And no problems for two months, then whammo!
So I gave yarrow a try and the exciting thing was that this cold felt really different from every cold I’ve had in the last 15 years I’d say. Rather than lingering on for 9 days, it came on hard and left just as quickly. In TCM, when the Defensive energy (read: immune system) is weak, the body can’t put up a big fight against the pathogen so the bug carries on and on. If the Defensive Qi is really strong, the fight is intense, high fever, feeling really sick, then suddenly it’s all over. That’s how I feel this morning. Like these two have had their duel – I couldn’t even sleep til 1 am last night nose running like Niagara Falls, throat sore as anything, achy joints, felt sick as a dog, and now this morning I feel almost normal, congestion all dried up, throat is 90% better, a little bit achy still, and tired because of poor sleep, but it feels like the bug is 90% gone. Wow, that hasn’t happened to me since I was a kid!
So I think the peanut butter feasts eventually caught up with me, but the yarrow tea that I drank over and over yesterday really strengthened my immune system quickly pushing the pathogen out hard and fast. And now here I am, ready to go to work today. Feels like a small miracle:)
Yarrow tea is a great decongestant that melts all the phlegm in your body down to a nice watery-ness that your body can expel really easily. My herbal teacher Diane Kent explained to us that some over-the-counter cold medications actually dry up your lungs without helping the body release the pathogen. So the Dampness now becomes Phlegm which is so much harder to expel causing the virus to linger for a lot longer. In a nut shell, if you’re getting a cold, try to take a day off work and load up on the yarrow tea. It will strengthen your Defensive Qi so you can push that mess out of your body quickly and then you can live as normal, but all the wiser knowing that too much Damp foods like peanut butter and a sticky summer heat wave just don’t go together.
Here is a simple Qi Gong exercise that you can do to wake up your cells, invigorate your body, and strengthen your immunity. It’s called “patting” or “slapping”. You’ll really enjoy this exercise and feel the effects quite quickly. Use it any time you feel a bit tired and sluggish and need an energetic “wake-up”. It’s like a mini acupressure treatment you can do on yourself anywhere. You simply use your hands to slap the outside and inside channels of the arms and legs, hands and feet, the buttocks, ribs, face and top of the head. If you have a cold, and especially if you feel like you are just starting to get a cold, apply this technique vigorously to push the cold out completely. I personally know of one guy who had been biking in the cold weather for an hour and started to come down with a bad cold. He did this technique forcefully for one hour and the cold symptoms disappeared that day.
In TCM terms this exercise strengthens the “Wei Qi”, also known as the “Defensive Qi Layer” which is the energetic layer that resides between the skin and the muscles, what’s known as the “Cou Li” in TCM. The Wei Qi is formed by the Lung system, so people who have a Lung weakness will tend to get colds and flus more easily. The Lung system is strengthened by the Spleen system because in the Five Element acupuncture, the Spleen is the “Mother” of the Lungs, meaning the Spleen sends it’s energy to the next phase, or “child” in the 5-phase system, which is the Lungs. The tips in my post Strengthening the Spleen Qi will further build up your Defensive Qi.
Human beings spend the first nine months of their lives wrapped in the protective darkness of the womb; a soft, rich and magical place of transformation, preparing the being with a physical form to have this spiritual experience on Earth. In TCM the uterus, called by many names such as “bao zhong” or ‘palace of jing’ (jing=essence) or “Zi Gong” ‘a child’s palace’ is considered one of the extraordinary organs for it’s unique function as a dark palace encasing the magical mystery life.
With the invention of electricity and the light bulb, it seems we’ve become more civilized, moving out of the darkness and into the light. Now we carry on our days’ activities into all hours of the night, working, eating, pursuing hobbies, doing chores, or surfing the internet until the wee hours. We celebrate having more control over our day, more flexibility over our time, more freedom. But what are the health effects of altering the circadian rhythm our bodies have been programmed with since time immemorial?
When the sun goes down, the pineal gland in the brain starts to produce melatonin in response to darkness. Melatonin production peaks in the body peaks at 10pm and drops off when the sun rises. Melatonin plays important roles in regulating hormone production, neurotransmitter production, reproductive cycles and circadian rhythm. Researchers at The University of Selville School of Medicine, Spain, found that melatonin has a significant relationship with the body’s immune system: more melatonin = higher immunity.1
Darkness is your friend. Melatonin actually stops hormone-related cancer cells from growing by changing the cell’s use of fatty acids and the cells’ sensitivity to estrogen. There are many other benefits of melatonin. In one study, animals given melatonin supplements became healthier, had higher activity levels, improved posture, more lustrous fur, and a 20% longer lifespan than the control animals. Melatonin has also been shown to help with depression, Seasonal Affective Disoder (S.A.D.), migraine headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, gastric ulcers, hot flashes in menopausal women (melatonin suppresses luteinizing hormone (LH) in postmenopausal women),
cardiovascular disease (melatonin helps control nitric oxide production, which plays an important role in ensuring proper cardiovascular function), ADD and insomnia in children.2
We need to have all the lights out for this to actually happen. Aaron Blair, the scientist emeritus for the U.S. National Cancer Institute and chairman of the IARC explains that, “melatonin gets made during the dark period . . .if you get light exposure during the normal dark period, it severely reduces the amount of melatonin that is made.” 3 Studies have shown that it only takes a small amount of light such the bedroom door cracked open to a lighted hallway is enough to suppress melatonin production by 87% in rats. Another study showed a significantly lower rate of hormone-related cancers in blind men and women.4
What does Traditional Chinese Medicine have to say? All things in the universe are Yin and Yang in a relative sense. It’s not that light is bad, it’s that darkness is also needed, we need a balance of both for health. What so often seen in our modern age is a deficiency of Yin. Yin encompasses many things such as the darkness, the feminine, quietness, coolness, that which is internal, rest, slowness, depth, creativity, mystery and fluidity (I will write more on these aspects of Yin in up-coming posts). There has been an emphasis in modern culture on all things Yang such as light, speed, sound, heat, external developments, activity, the superficial, the linear, the logical and the known world. This favouring of the Yang side of our natures creates physical and mental imbalances such as inflammatory conditions, racing thoughts, night sweating, insomnia, sensory overload, restlessness, anxiety, destabilization of the emotions, lack of faith, fear and loss of the internal core sense of self.
For centuries there have been people who do long meditation retreats in dark caves in the Himalayas and others who have engaged in special “dark room retreats”. What’s interesting to notice about listening to people who’ve gone through this process is they all have some experience of increased spiritual light. When the physical light is reduced people seem to get a powerful experience of their inner spiritual light, an interesting paradox to consider.
Practical tips to benefit from more darkness:
1. use an eye mask at night (available in travel shops for about $6)
2. expose yourself to bright natural light during the day because the contrast of light exposure in the day followed by darkness at night helps signal the body to make melatonin. If you spend a lot of time inside or live in a rainy place, using a full-spectrum light bulb at your desk or overhead works wonders, even said to improve mood.
3. Use back-out blinds to cover windows that let in city lights.
4. Install dimmer switches and turn the indoor lighting down at dusk.
5. Practice waking up with the sun and going to bed earlier.
6. Remove gadgets with electronic lights from the bedroom or use only gadgets with red lights (red lights are of a different spectrum and don’t suppress melatonin production).
1. Guerrero JM, Reiter RJ. Department of Medical Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Seville School of Medicine and Virgen Macarena Hospital, Spain.email@example.com
3. Aaron Blair, Ph.D., Scientist Emeritus, U.S. National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., and chair, working group, IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans; Nov. 29, 2007, statement, Elizabeth Ward, director, surveillance research, American Cancer Society; Associated Press
4.Epidemiology. 1998 Sep;9(5):490-4.Reduced cancer incidence among the blind.Feychting M, Osterlund B, Ahlbom A.
Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.