December 7th, 2008 § § permalink
When the first case of influenza was reported in Wisconsin, it made the news. This was over three weeks ago and I don’t remember the details, except that the recipient was an 11 year-old boy. Isn’t it odd that something so common can evoke such dread? Practically everywhere you go, people are talking about it. And if you go the a pharmacy or clinic, people are royally freaking out about it: Cold and Flu Season.
I have had my fair share of colds and flus. In fact, you could say more than my fair share. During the 9 months that I was employed as a preschool teacher, I contracted four flus with vomiting and five run-of-the-mill colds (not to mention a never-ending case of pink eye). It was quite the learning-and may I even say spiritual-experience. Every ounce of my body, mind, emotions and spirit was taxed and worn down. Luckily, a friend had the sense to chime in to my incessant “why must I endure being sick all the time” with, “can you imagine having a really bad disease and feeling worse than this everyday for the rest of your life?”. Perspective is amazing.
There are many body systems to pay attention to; the immune system of course, the upper respiratory system (nose, ears, throat, sinuses) and the lower respiratory system (the alveoli, respiratory bronchioles). As our body systems are interdependent, we must also look at the other organs of elimination in addition the the lungs (which eliminate carbon dioxide from the blood in exchange for oxygen from the air we breathe), the skin, kidneys, and the bowels. Get to know the following action categories:
- expectorants (both stimulating and relaxing) to bring up phlegm from the lungs,
- pulmonary tonics to strengthen the system
- demulcents to sooth irritated tissues
- anticatarrhals to lessen mucus
- antimicrobial herbs to ward off invading pathogens
- immune stimulants to support the body’s ability to stay healthy
- antispasmodics to reduce spastic coughing
- astringents to tone and dry up soggy tissues
- diaphoretics to support the body during fever
- lymphatics to ease swollen lymph nodes
Let us not forget the dietary and lifestyle practices. In particular, it is very important to limit or avoid mucus-causing refined starches (white flour), sugar (which also lowers immunity), and dairy products. While working at an herb shop in my home town, I saw people with chronic sinus congestion/infections stop eating dairy prior to getting well. Once the owner said something like, “that damn ice cream!” after visiting someone who’s sinusitis would not give up. Personally, I know that sweet stuff is a trigger for a sore throat and cold for me. A whole foods diet with lots of vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, A and E, magnesium, zinc, selenium and quercetin are extremely important to prevent illnesses, fight them off, and recover from them in a timely manner. Warm, brothy soups and hot herbal teas are more than just comforting, the steam and warmth help to reduce pain and break up mucus congestion. Add a little scallion, horseradish, daikon and ginger to really open up the nose.
Exercise, stress reduction, sleep and deep breathing are also very important to staying healthy. Practically any form of exercise will do; it strengthens the muscles, bones, heart and lungs, and propels lymphatic fluid throughout the body. It also lifts the spirits, too. I just read that a daily walk outside is as effective as SSRI anti-depressants. The lymph system has vessels through which it circulates through the tissues like blood vessels, but unlike blood vessels, it does not have a pump like the heart. For lymph to properly circulate, it uses the tension created from the body in movement. Taking a few deep breaths can help keep the lungs healthy, and has been proven to lessen the chance of contracting pneumonia in the elderly.
A big contributer to susceptibility to respiratory infections that people (amazingly) often overlook when cold and flu season arrives is smoking. I personally find it an exercise in patience and detachment to not want to wring the neck of a smoker who doesn’t seem to know why they cough like crazy all day long, hack up nasty phlegm, get sick every winter or has chronic bronchitis. “Smokers are still more likely to die from chronic bronchitis than from lung cancer, and giving up smoking is the first and most important preventative measure” (Hoffmann, 329). Let us listen to our lungs! They are the living tree of our body.
More to come about cold and flu remedies.
February 2nd, 2008 § § permalink
Remember that the Kidneys are the root of both Yin and Yang, even though in and of themselves the Kidneys are considered Yin. Michael Tierra says that Kidney Yang is the “pilot light for our energy system”. When deficient, the warming ability of the Kidneys decreases and can manifest in one or more of the following patterns:
- Cold, sore, weak low back
- Copius clear or pale urine, incontinence, nighttime urination, weak or dripping urine stream
- Coldness, cold limbs, avoiding cold and wanting warm
- Weak legs, leg edema
- Poor appetite, loose stools
- Sexual dysfunction, infertility, premature ejaculation, nocturnal emission
- Chronic vaginal discharge, leukorrhea, spermatorrhea
As you can see, some of these Kidney Yang deficiency patterns overlap with other Kidney deficiency patterns, although the bolded symptoms are the most tell-tale of Kidney Yang. We should also keep in mind that a person may very well have Kidney Yang deficiency and another pattern of excess, and maybe more deficiency patterns, as our bodymind is connected on so many levels. For example, the Kidneys receive from the Spleen and give to the Heart and Pericardium, so if the Spleen is out of balance that may be the underlying reason for Kidney deficiency. It is also a good practice to add a bit of yin tonic (like lycii) to balance a yang tonic.
A few Yang tonics:
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a warm, bitter and aromatic seed has a multitude of culinary and medicinal applications. As a Yang tonic, it is used for coldness, sore lower back, pain in the torso and extremities, morning sickness and indigestion. Make into a gruel with milk or tea to nourish the body and stimulate the appetite during or after debilitating diseases and sicknesses, including infant diarrhea. Lesley Tierra suggests sprouting and eating the seeds to aid digestion.
- Fenugreek gruel: 1 1/2 tablespoon fenugreek ground coarsly simmered low in 1 cup milk or water, for a 5 minuets or until it thickens. Add herbs to flavor or thicken, cinnamon, fennel, slippery elm, marshmallow, ect. Turn off heat, let sit to cool, covered. Three times daily.
Damiana‘s (Turnera aphrodisiacea) spicy leaves combined with cinnamon, dried ginger and lemon peel are one of my favorite ways to warm up and tonify yang in the winter. The herbalist/acupuncturist at the Medicine Tree in St. Croix Falls formulated this “Libido Lifter/Kidney Tonic”, one of the most popular tea blends. Damiana is attuned to the Kidneys as it is a well-known aphrodisiac (just check the botanical name) that also treats impotence. The Tierras use it for irritable coughs, which I have yet to try, but I don’t doubt its soothing expectorant abilities, as I have felt how calming damiana can be to the nerves.
Blend and drink as needed. I like it strong; 2 tablespoons to a pint of boiling water, steeped an hour.
- 2 parts Damiana
- 1/2 part each cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel ground coarsely
- 1 part Spearmint
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) tastes bitter, with an underlying sweetness and a slight warming to the body. Its has yang tonic, aphrodisiac, sedative, astringent and adaptogenic properties. Some yang tonic can be too stimulating (think deer antler, yohimbe), but ashwaganda apparently does not overstimulate and in fact is used for improving sleep and clearing the mind when stressed or overworked. I have witnessed a complete turn around for a friend with lower back pain, creaky knees, low libido and a general state of low energy by mixing a teaspoon of the powder in heated raw milk daily. Personally, I have used ashwaganda tincture in adrenal formulas, which I always seems to need in spring. Perhaps I should be taking some right now for to tonify my Kidney Yang so to prevent adrenal exhaustion.
- Delicious dosage to nourish yang: Mix 1/2 teaspoon powder with warm milk (can be rice, almond, soy, or ghee), take twice a day.
Other notable herbs:
Teasel Root (Dipsacus sylvestris)
Saw Palmetto (Sabal serrulata)
Celery Seeds (Apium graveolens)
False Unicorn Root (Chamaelirium luteum)
January 29th, 2008 § § permalink
Winter is the season of the Kidneys. That growth and development, as well as reproduction and the immunity that is deep within us are ruled by the Kidneys is no surprise when you consider that they also rule the uterus and the brain (the two extraordinary organs in Chinese Medicine). The Kidneys are classified as the most Yin organ, so Yin it is the source for Yang.
Think of Yin as blood and moisture, cool and fluid. It flows, passive and receptive, to nourish the substances of the body. To know Yin we must also know Yang–as they are interdependent. Yang is the energy and warmth that is circulates stuff in the body. Yang is the processes, the things that happen like digestion, assimilation, homeostasis, libido, appetite.
Indeed the Kidneys are full of moisture, they maintain the correct water balance of the body and the correct composition of extrecellular fluids. They concentrate urine, pass it to the bladder for storage until it is released through the urethra. To do this, the Kidneys have about 1 million nephrons and receives 1 liter of blood every minute. The nephrons are lined with many mitochondria, which are helpful since almost all of the glucose and amino acid molecules filtered from the blood are reabsorbed. Someone mentioned to me that it seems like the Kidneys do a ton of work, so does that make them more Yang? The kidneys do a lot of work, yes, but they do it in a very energy efficient way. The work in the Kidneys are done with the help of concentration gradients, which employes movement from a region of greater concentration to a region of lower concentration. This is also known as diffusion, which is the process of random motion to form a state of equilibrium. It uses no energy. That certainly sounds Yin to me!
In the “Chih” entry, I mentioned that the Kidneys rule over the bones and marrow, joints, sexual-urinary organs. Here are some typical Kidney imbalance symptoms. Note if any of these issues happen to you only in damp, cold environments or seasons.
- Joint problems and pain
- Weak knees, wobbly legs, weak ankels
- Fertility, sexuality, hormonal issues,
- Urinary and kidney problems, night time urination
- Morning loose/watery stool
- Teeth problems
- Brittle bone
- Fear, paranoia, lack of will power
- Poor memory especially short-term, senility
- Thinning, loss, or premature graying of hair (including body hair)
- Premature aging
- Hearing and ear problems
- Leg edema
- Low-back pain and weakness
Kidney imbalances are not just some esoteric things that only apply in a Chinese Medicine context. Western medicine gives diuretics for swollen ankles. A friend of mine had some sort of kidney failure as a child, and has since had teeth problems. People with anxiety problems tend to also have loose stools. And now we know why sometimes too much sex can make your legs wobbly (it’s not just the straddling . Honestly though, touch the small of your back or your partners after sex and see if it feels cool to the touch. If it does momentarily it is not a concern, but if it stays that way some warming Kidney Yang tonics could be of help (with a little break from hitting the sheets).
Some of the signs of Kidney imbalance mentioned above overlap with the principle of Cold, like achy joints, loose stools, and urinary and menstrual problems. If the lower back is sore, I think Kidney. If not, I lean towards Cold. This is not be a catch-all way to differentiate as there are many exceptions, but it helps me to begin somewhere.
Here is a link to a wonderful Yin yoga sequence, to restore and revitalize. http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2545
Tierra, Lesley. Healing With the Herbs of Life. 150-160.
Purves, et. al. Life: The Science of Biology. 105, 1079-1082.