Many of us grew up with a Bubby or Grandma who would caution us to heed their warnings. I can easily recall being told not to leave the house with wet hair, or to be certain to keep a scarf wrapped around my neck during the cold weather, otherwise I’d get sick. I recollect laughing at what we referred to as bubby meisehs. I think that can probably be loosely translated as old-wives’ tales, some stories or ridiculous notions that the older, wiser generation believed would protect us.
In traditional Chinese medicine, we know that there are certain easy ways to protect and strengthen our immunity. This is always most important this time of year, as the weather is unpredictable. We are forced to check our weather apps on our phones before getting dressed, or the older generation might actually open the door and step outside to check the weather. We were fortunate to have a beautiful Sukkot with record-high temperatures, even though the Jewish calendar was what we refer to as “late” this year. However, then it changed so rapidly that we went from wearing flip-flops to boots over the course of a day. As I write this article, we are currently back to the unseasonably, yet most welcome, warm weather.
The constant change in the weather makes it difficult for us to acclimate. Our bodies cannot get used to the extreme weather changes easily. Often, this can cause us to catch colds and coughs that may linger longer. Disease can be harbored in the body and you can become more susceptible when you are at a low point–for example when you haven’t had enough sleep or are tired. Certainly a wonderful but exhausting marathon month of cooking and serving company, while trying to balance work and family in the process, can cause exhaustion. Many of us are currently feeling the prolonged stress and fatigue and are eager to resume our regularly scheduled program.
In Chinese medicine, there are various types of colds. A cold is not just simply a cold, and must therefore be identified and treated according to its presenting symptoms. The symptoms of a stuffy nose, drippy, opaque mucus, and fever may be identified as a cold, but is what we refer to as a warm disease. This differs from a cold accompanied by body aches, clear mucus, a constant runny nose, etc. This would be diagnosed as a cold disease. A person can present with similar symptoms but additionally may have a foggy, muzzled head sensation, accompanied with extreme leg heaviness, making the body feel overly fatigued and slow. This would be symptomatic of a damp presentation. An additional example would be an individual who has a cold presenting with itchiness and some dizziness. This would be more symptomatic of a wind disease.
We have all experienced the different types of colds at one point or another. In holistic medicine, they are all treated differently. The acupuncture points used to treat someone with one type of cold is vastly different than those of someone with another presentation. Someone who is suffering from a warm disease would benefit from points that clear the heat from her body, whereas someone suffering from a cold disease would benefit from acupuncture points to dispel the cold, along with moxibustion, an herb that is beneficial for many purposes but in this case would warm the body and support the immunity.
Identifying and properly diagnosing the individual is a key component in getting to the bottom of the illness and ensuring the cold is not prolonged. Many of my patients have learned that I can best help them when they notify me immediately at the first signs or onset of a cold. I often get calls asking me to fit someone in immediately as they can feel something coming on. This is when acupuncture is at its finest. We can actually push out the impending illness and strengthen the immunity. We can cheat diseases. Once a pathogen has already set in and begun to run its course, we can still help the individual get over it faster but it may take a bit longer.
I have one patient who comes to mind. I was treating her for a joint issue affecting her knee and hip, and she was responding well to treatment. She suffered from chronic sinus infections. Before she began acupuncture treatments, she used to have three or four sinus infections yearly. They were quite debilitating. She was unfortunately too familiar with the stuffy nose and muzzled-head sensation, along with extreme pressure and headache over her sinuses. She came in for her weekly appointment to work on her hip and knee, and she presented as someone in the acute phase of a cold. When I took her pulse, I could feel the illness beginning to set in, but it was still on the surface. I explained that I could help her with her symptoms and try and prevent it from developing into a sinus infection as she was so prone. She was unaware that acupuncture can help with this as well and merely thought of it as beneficial to her joint issues. I adjusted our treatment to ensure that the illness would not enter the body any more deeply.
She called me that afternoon and the next day. She had so much energy and felt so good she couldn’t believe it. She fully expected to run the same course of her typical cold turning into a sinus infection for which she would have needed an antibiotic medication. She was pleasantly surprised by how much it helped her in stopping the course of the disease. She is no longer an active patient as we resolved her joint issues. However, every once in a while she will tell me to fit her in as she feels like she is coming down with something. She knows the power of acupuncture, and how it helped her with her symptoms.
A simple thing you can do at home when you feel the first signs of an illness developing is to “sweat it out.” Take a hot bath or shower and layer on tons of clothing and sweats, get under the covers, and force your body to sweat. This can help utilize the sweat on the surface of the pores to push out the disease, stopping it from gaining entry within. In all types of acute illnesses, it is essential to expel the pathogen and ensure the disease does not penetrate from the exterior to the interior of the body.
Warm diseases as well as cold diseases enter the body through the nose and mouth, as well as the nape of the neck. When someone is sneezing in your office and fails to cover his nose and mouth with a tissue, he is spreading those germs where you are most susceptible. Additionally, feeling a chill or having a draft on the back of the neck can allow disease to enter the body as well.
So when your Bubby took a scarf and wrapped it around your neck and then covered your nose and mouth, she knew exactly what she was doing!