Happy New Year friends!
How is everyone doing?
As we battle through cold and flu (and Omicron) season, you might be interested in some Traditional Chinese medicine tips to keep you well or to speed up your recovery if you do get sick.
This is likely stuff you have heard before–TCM isn’t rocket science–but that’s part of its genius. Simple, profound and effective.
Let’s begin with a word about clothing. During these cold damp days, it’s important to keep yourself warm, dry and swaddled. It is believed that cold can enter the body through the meridians, so wearing a scarf is a good idea, but this also includes keeping your wrists and ankles protected. This is especially true for women because we are more yin dominant and tend to run colder. On that note, ladies, if you’re gonna show some ankle 😉 consider throwing on a pair of leg warmers for your commute to keep cosy until you reach your destination.
If you always have cold hands and feet, you might try warming up your feet before you go out with a hot foot soak or heating pad. Then stick those toasty tootsies into thick socks and boots or shoes with a decent sole so cold cannot penetrate into the meridians that traverse the foot.
What should we eat to keep our immune systems in tip-top shape? According to TCM, the spleen and stomach work together to ensure smooth digestion. Our Splomachs (see what I did there) love warm, cooked, easy to digest foods. If a meal is too cold, the body needs to divert energy from other organs to warm it up. Well-cooked foods are soft and basically partially digested, so it takes less energy for the stomach and spleen, which makes it easier on the whole body.
For brekkie, a simple porridge made from oats or rice (or quinoa or amaranth if you’re feeling fancy) is a lovely way to start the day. See recipes below.
Lunch and dinner: you can’t go wrong with soups and stews. If you eat meat, try making a big batch of bone broth to freeze and then use as a base for your creations. For seasoning, use whatever spices and herbs you are drawn to. Because I run cold, I love to incorporate fresh ginger, garlic and shallot into almost everything and then depending on the dish, rosemary, thyme and sage from the garden or cumin, curry and coriander from my spice cupboard.
Full disclosure, I’m a coffee drinker. I have tried at various points to cut it out but over the years have noticed that one cup in the morning feels good. See what feels best in your body. Coffee is yang in nature, so if you’re a little bit yang deficient (which can sometimes present as a feeling of coldness in the body or cold hands and feet) you might tolerate some amount of coffee each day. During this season I’ve taken to making a small cup of fresh ginger and mint tea to drink before my cup of coffee.
For sipping through the day, opt for warm fluids. Avoid ice water, especially in winter, according to TCM wisdom.
Gyms are closed at the moment, so you’ve never had a better excuse to experiment with other forms of exercise. Chinese medicine says it’s A-ok to not work yourself into a sweaty lather if it doesn’t feel good in the body. A brisk walk, an online yoga class (or tai chi/qi gong) or dancing around in your living room are all great options. Even house and yard work counts. It’s nice to have something to show at the end of your “workout”, like a pile of freshly chopped wood or a floor you could eat off of!
Hugs with those outside of your bubble are off the table for now but there are other ways to include this aspect of healthcare in our daily lives. First up: self-massage. An easy one to start with is simply tapping all over your scalp. Most of the movement is from the wrists so keep your hands relaxed, with all ten fingers making contact. This simple technique brings qi up to the head, makes you feel alert and stimulates several acupuncture meridians that run along the scalp.
If there is someone in your bubble that you don’t mind touching or being touched by you could do a Tui Na trade. One technique that’s easy (and fun!) is pecking. It’s wonderful for neck and shoulder tension in particular and can be done over the clothing. Simply make a bird shape with each hand with your fingers pressed together (see image). Again, movement stems from the wrist. “Peck” over the neck and shoulders and even up into the base of the skull. You can use both hands with a decent amount of pressure to stimulate qi and increase circulation to the area.
Another great option would be a full body massage or acupuncture treatment. If that’s not in your budget right now, check out the student clinic at Pacific Rim College. An Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Treatment is $35 and Community Acupuncture treatment is by donation.
I hope these ideas help keep you safe and comfortable as we continue slogging through this challenging time. I’ll close with a quote from our boy Lao Tzu:
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Stay well friends!
Savoury breakfast congee (3-4 servings)
1 cup raw long-grain white rice, rinsed
7 cups water
salt to taste
ginger to taste, peeled and sliced thin
In a large pot, add water, rice, salt and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir occasionally so that the rice doesn’t clump or stick at the bottom.
Simmer the congee for about 1 hour or until the congee is thickened and creamy.
Add-ins: egg, gai lan or other veg, green onion, sesame oil, soy sauce, Sambal Oelek or Sriracha
Ginger Apple Oatmeal (3-4 servings)
1 cup rolled oats
1.5 cups water
chopped apple and fresh ginger to taste
Place everything in a large pot, cook on medium until thickened and the apples are soft.
Add-ins: molasses or maple, butter, cinnamon, milk or non-dairy substitute