“The Accomplished person dispels trouble before it arises and restores order to an illness before it has become a disease.” Sun Simiao Vol 27 Nurturing the Heavenly Nature.Although this excerpt dates from the 7th century the words are as valuable today as when they were written. They provide very timely advice as we prepare ourselves for the passage through Winter, so that we may emerge healthy and full of vigor come Spring.
One of my shiatsu teachers from many years ago studied acupuncture in Japan (as I do). He recounted a story in which he very proudly boasted to his sensei (teacher) that he never got ill, not even a cold. His sensei turned to him and said ‘then you are stupid!’.
This obviously knocked all the puff out his chest. But more importantly, it taught him a valuable lesson. The immune system needs to be challenged in order to function properly. It’s akin to a muscle which needs to be put under strain in order to develop.
Hunkering down this last Spring and Summer and was all very well, but it’s done very little to build up our resilience. Spring and Summer are the seasons when we are traditionally most active and social. During this important time of the year we build our community immunity through exposure. For many of us, this simply was not permitted or possible this year. So where does this leave us now that we are heading into Winter – a time when we need strong immunity to carry us all the way through Winter and on into Spring.
We can view the energetic expressions of the four seasons graphically using Yin/Yang whereby the lines represent the stages of change between the sky/heaven (unbroken Yang line) and the earth (broken Yin line).
- Spring is Lesser Yin when the heat begins to return after the cold of Winter
- Summer is the time of great heat so it is Greater Yang.
- Autumn is Lesser Yang as the earth is now cooling down, Qi starts moving inside, and things are slowing.
- Winter is Greater Yin because all is quiet and dormant.
If we look closely at the Yin/Yang representation for Spring we can see there is a broken Yin line above and a solid Yang line below. The Yin line above represents the cold of Winter which is still in the air, whilst the Yang line below represents the heat beginning to return. At the time of the March Vernal Equinox, if there is insufficient internal Yang Qi in the body to radiate outwards through the cooler external Yin environment, illness can result.This is a time when the body is particularly susceptible to illness.When I first arrived in the UK from New Zealand 30 years ago, I was frequently sick with one bug or another which I picked up on the Underground or at work. My system wasn’t used to the London bugs but because I had resilience being young, fit and healthy, I was able to shrug them off pretty quickly.
It is vitally important to build up your resources before Winter with lots of fresh air and outdoor exercise which pushes you a little so that you build resilience. Mixing with as many people as you are permitted to is also essential and having the odd Winter cold indicates your immune system is functioning properly.
Warm, hearty nourishing soups and stews full of seasonal vegetables and warming spices are best during the colder months. Wrap up properly and get outdoors as much as possible – hiding inside hugging the heater does very little for our overall wellbeing or our health. Receiving acupuncture treatments during these months is especially helpful for those who are prone to seasonal illness or who are run down going into Winter so that you are in a better position to radiate the returning Yang Qi come Spring.