Many people on the mountain gaze at our clear blue skies this winter and shake their heads at the lack of snowfall. Winter is related to water not just in our community but in Chinese medicine as well. Snow brings frozen aquifers to the mountaintops that melt slowly providing year round water. Winter is the time of consolidation and storage for the coming seasons of growth. Our energy hibernates in the winter like a bear; it sinks down into our cave-like kidneys to sleep. Cold creates this downward movement, strengthening our bodies through solidification. Unseasonable warmth and dryness interferes with this process by encouraging excess activity in so-called ‘good weather’. This creates possible health challenges in subsequent seasons due to lack of rest. The effects occur on a microcosmic level in our bodies as well as in the big picture of the community and planet.
Winter dryness affects the health of our forest and crops. It also challenges our kidneys, where fluids are consolidated just as they are on winter mountaintops. Parts of the body become inflamed due to lack of irrigation. Other parts retain dampness, like puddles in a shrinking river. The American continent exhibits a similar dichotomy: currently the west is arid and the rest is cold and wet.
Though we can do nothing about the weather, we can make allowances for it in our bodies. The Yellow Emperor is the archetypal Chinese sage. He is credited with writing one of the oldest Chinese books still in existence, his Classic of Internal Medicine. He says that if an individual changes then the whole state is affected. The transmission of wisdom from a single individual to many people occurs like the contagion of family dysfunction. Isn’t it reassuring that functionality goes viral too? One person’s balance with nature resonates first throughout the household, then the community and ultimately, the planet. These personal insights continue to ripple outward like a stone dropped into the substance of the cosmos.
Assuming one believes in global warming, it might be said that these unseasonable weather patterns result from the burning of fossil fuels. Crude oils are like the energy reserves in our bodies. When our activity requires more fuel than we have available, we start to overheat like parts of the planet. We become irritable, we have trouble sleeping and our skin gets dry and itchy. Plundering resources through chronic overwork eventually creates hormone deficiencies. In other words the planet is a menopausal woman fanning a really big hot flash. Without sufficient hormones to handle stress, adrenaline from the kidneys kicks in to do the job and causes a flare-up. The hot flash is an important alarm for the menopausal woman because she is over-extending herself. It is time to stop and relax when it happens.
Dry heat leads to craving damp foods: sweets and dairy smother inflammation. Eating like this leads to weight gain. The solution is to start nourishing fluids more directly (some of us have started watering trees on the mountain). Drink a large glass of warm or hot water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It filters all the way down through the empty digestion to nourish the kidneys’ reservoirs. Before exercising drink two big glasses. Workouts not only can create more heat, they also help us get rid of it. Water flushes out anything unwanted and cools any friction generated by the exercise. If this amount of water is too much for you, build up to it gradually. You can only do things for which your body is ready. Take time to adjust to new habits (we want to turn the arid desert into a healthy forest rather than a swamp). Depending on your ability to absorb water, wait 30 minutes or one hour before you eat. You will digest your food better. Fruits build fluids too. They cause weight gain consumed as juices. The high sugar content comes from a lot of fruit concentrated in one glass. A single steamed Asian pear not only promotes fluid production, it helps get rid of excess damp. It is particularly beneficial for smokers or those who have coughs.
Meditation is also a way to train our energy to be calm and grounded rather than volatile. I will discuss its merits in my next blog.