Mom was right – wear your scarf!

Fall finally made it here to Florida and – gasp – people are actually putting on long pants and closed-toe shoes. Along with fall wardrobe changes come cold and flu season, too. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we not only treat colds and flu, which we call Wind Heat or Wind Cold depending on its presentation, we like to prevent them too.

Regardless of your geographic location, it’s time to stock up on a variety of hats, hoodies, scarves, and gloves. Mom was right; dressing appropriately for the weather is important for preventing illness.

In TCM, our terms for “disease” sound a lot like weather patterns. The most common “pathogen” we treat is Wind. TCM theory tells us that wind enters through the back of the neck before moving to other parts of the body. Think about the last time you got a chill. First you feel it the neck; it stiffens up and your shoulders get tense too. Then maybe you start with the chills and fever, or the headache. And when Wind invades the body from the outside, it likes to bring friends like Heat, Cold and Damp. They’re all BFFs in the TCM world.

If only you could stop Wind from getting in your body in the first place. That’s where Mom, and her reminders for dressing warmly, come into play. Covering the back of the neck and the head makes it harder for you to get chilled, i.e. Wind to enter the body. That’s why I keep my hair long as a constant protection against Wind. And when it is cold, or I know I am going out on the harbor, I cover the back of my neck with either a collared shirt or a scarf. Wearing a hat also adds protection, but remember the neck is vital to keep covered. It is also why in TCM theory mothers who just gave birth are encouraged not to wash their hair. Chilling the back of the neck after such a strenuous activity and blood loss leads to bone bi (arthritis) later in life, as Wind gets a wide-open door to settle down in the bones because the blood vessels are deprived of a large volume of blood and Wind travels to the bone in that suddenly empty space.

On the opposite side of the body, the feet are sensitive to and conduits of Cold, which is why acupuncture physicians tell you to always wear shoes, especially on tile floors. The Kidney channel, which is the meridian in charge of our lifelong energy and genetics, starts on the sole of the foot. The Kidney channel is connected to the low back and knees. If you have pain in either area, check to see if they are cold to the touch. If they are, then you know you have a little more work to do to keep them warm. The Kidney channel’s BFF, the Urinary Bladder channel, starts at the inner eye, travels over the scalp and down the back in two lines, and down the back of the legs and knees until it reaches the little toe. So Cold on the feet affects the two channels connected to the back.

Here in the US, we wear back braces for heavy lifting to protect the back. In China, they have a padded version that older people wear to protect the lower back from Cold. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Japanese obi have a large sash at the back, either.

The take home point is TCM theory is a lot like Mom’s common sense. Keep important parts of the body warm, and you will be healthier. Your acupuncture physician will give you what may seem to be simple suggestions during your office visits, but creating good daily habits go a long way toward keeping you healthy when you aren’t getting needled.

Now go put a scarf on.

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