Chinese Medicine Daoism Health

Illness at Seasonal Changes


On March 20th the year officially turned to spring. Did you notice how many people were sick around this transition? Were you one of them? The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine describes the profound differences in energy between the four seasons. This ancient book explicitly states that we become vulnerable when we do not follow these shifts adequately. As long as we adapt willingly to changes in our environment, we are healthy. It goes without saying that this includes eating a healthy diet and limiting our indulgence in junk foods and poor lifestyle habits.

There are ways to smooth such transitions in life, to limit the backlash of inertia in the form of colds and influenza. As the digestion converts food into usable nutrients, it also helps us alchemically transform our lives. The time before and after seasonal shifts is controlled by the earth element because it represents the digestion. Our digestion helps us incorporate new environments into our consciousness, the way it does various foods. We stand upon different soil when seasons change or we travel and eat food with different bacterial profiles. A strong digestion makes us more adaptable, less prone to Montezuma’s revenge.

Internal organs, from the Daoist Canon, 15th century Chinese, from
Internal organs, from the Daoist Canon, 15th century Chinese, from

The proper transmutation of food and fluids means that we do not collect residual waste. Foods that weaken the digestion create byproducts such as dampness and toxicity. We all know the usual suspects: sugar, alcohol, coffee, chocolate and hot spices create heat; dairy, soy, raw, frozen or cold foods create dampness. At the seasonal transition, the digestion’s first order of business is to get rid of the waste products bogging it down; otherwise change is stymied. If you have more heat, your body’s mode of detoxification will be through the throat. If you have more cold, you will suffer from sinus congestion. If you have more damp, you may tend to get influenza. Whatever the illness, rest assured that your body is house cleaning. Illness during seasonal transitions is the body’s way of preparing for the next season with a clean slate.

Is it necessary to suffer in order to see the process of detoxification to its end? There are ways to speed the resolution of illness. First you must rest. The day or two you stay home from work will do wonders. Shīfù Kenny Gong, my martial arts teacher and a Chinese medical practitioner, used to say in ‘Chinglish’, “Can’t fix bicycle while riding it.” By resting you will not be tempted to take OTC medications that suppress your symptoms, which has the effect of pushing the toxins back in. Sometimes it is necessary, but each time you resort to suppression the garbage piles higher. Secondly eat plenty of fruit. Their high sugar content stimulates the immune system and their fluids help carry out accumulated detritus. You could eat twenty apples in one day with a cold. If this sounds overwhelming, drink unsweetened fruit juice instead. Avoid citrus because they increase phlegm during illness. I do not recommend this regime for diabetics. Their blood sugar gets naturally high during an illness for the same reason. Plenty of water is a better choice for them. Thirdly soak in Epsom salt or sea salt baths to pull out the toxins, especially if you are achey. The skin is very porous and a large detoxifying surface. If a bath is too physically demanding, mix the Epsom or sea salt with some oil, wet yourself in the shower, scrub your body down with the mixture and rinse. Your Chinese medical practitioner has acupuncture techniques and herbs to accelerate your recovery as well. Periodic colds and influenza are signs that you are strong enough to clean house. If you get sick too often, the opposite is true and your immune system needs strengthening.

Hydrating Fruit
Hydrating Fruit
Chinese practitioner palpating a patient's pulse, from
Chinese practitioner palpating a patient’s pulse, from