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how to support your immune system: A Chinese Medicine Approach

how to support your immune system: A Chinese Medicine Approach

” The best and Most efficient pharmacy is in your own system.”

– Dr Robert C Peale

How the Immune System works

 

The immune system is a truly amazing system within the body, an orchestrated dance of players that continually explore, survey and identify what is us and what is not us and help to keep the sacred vessel of our body free of disease. In this article, I will be offering you a Chinese Medicine perspective on how the immune system works, why we get sick and how we can prevent this and support our immune systems if we do. To achieve this I will be pulling from Chinese Medicine with dapples of Western thought to keep it in line with what most of our Western trained minds can understand. If you need a refresher on the basic understanding of the immune system from a Western Persepctive I highly suggest checking out one or all of these links; Cartoon, podcast, written.

 

Wei Qi aka your immune system

 

In Chinese Medicine, your immune system is called Wei Qi and is governed by the lungs. It circulates in a special layer between your skin and muscle called the Cou Li and is always on alert for what is beneficial to you and what is not. Wei Qi is created in the body from the processing of air, water and food and mixed with our Jing Qi (Ancestral or pre-natal Qi, what you get from your parents). In order to make the strongest Wei Qi it is most important to consume clean air and water and nutrient dense foods, along with hopefully having inherited good jing qi from your parents. Wei Qi is a yang qi, which means it circulates strongest during the day and weaker at night, this is why when we are sick we often feel our best mid day but as evening comes or when we awake in the morning we feel more unwell. Yang qi is hot, fast, and vigorous hence the heat, swelling and pain associated with an infection. The stronger your wei qi is the higher your fever will be and the more intense the aches and pains in your body will be. You will also clear the infection faster so long as the infection is not stronger than your wei qi.

 

Autumn is the season of the lungs which govern and regulate our wei qi. It is at this time why it is so fundamental to support your immune system through strengthening your lungs and their ability to circulate your wei qi through opening and closing the pores, sweating and breathing. The lungs are known as a delicate organ and like the canopy of trees, their inhale and exhale orchestrates the rhythms of our bodies and the circulation of our wei qi, which acts as not only a physical boundary to foreign objects but also an interface between us and the world.

immune system, why we get sick

Why we get sick

In Chinese Medicine there are several reasons why we get sick, some come from the outside, some inside and some are neither internal or external. Ultimately each of these factors can either bring “disease” into our bodies or can cause damage to our internal systems that allows for already present issues in our body to become illness inducing.  

External factors come from the six external pathogens: wind, heat, cold, camp, dry, fire, damp. These factors can come from our environment such as seasonal weather changes, the conditions in our home and work space and from the food, drink and other things we consume that may contain harmful viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc. 

The internal factors causing us to become sick are the emotions; joy, fear, grief, anger, and worry. Each of these is connected to an organ and when they are out of balance they cause our qi to move in the wrong way. This creates an imbalance in the system and leads to disease states. 

The factors that are neither internal or external are mostly life style factors that again cause an imbalance to our qi, yin and yang and create disharmony in our systems. They are

  • irregular diet (eating too little or too much, at the wrong time or when stressed, eating the wrong foods),
  • overwork and overstrain; one of the most dire situations in our culture and one of the big lessons asociated with covid
  • sitting or standing for too long; “Extended lying down damages the qi, extended sitting damages the flesh, extended standing damages the bones” – Sun Simiao 7th century 
  • insufficient rest; we have a tendency to not take the proper time to rest and heal ourselves, leading to secondary infections and lingerig pathogenic factors.
  • night work
  • Lack of exercise; though too much exercise can damage the body, not moving the body can damage the qi
  • Traumatic injury
  • excessive sex
  • parasites and poisons
  • wrong medical treatment
  • ignorance; not having been taught preventative health measures or how to utilize common sense judgement when making choices

 

 

Ways to support your immune system

Listening to the Seasons

Part of supporting our lungs and strengthen our immune system/Wei qi is living in harmony with the seasons. In recent research it was actually found that approximately a quarter of our DNA changes with the seasons, with inflammatory gene expression increasing in the winter time when we have more colds and flus in the Northern hempisphere (1). Preparing for and living in harmony with the seasons allows our bodies to adapt and find balance. These are simple practices like making sure you dress properly for the seaons, eating seasonal foods that balance the nature of the climate, honouring the tides of yin and yang and choosing our activities based on their ebb and flow.

In Fall this means;

  • covering out necks
  • eating warm foods that nourish the lung (cauliflower, almonds, daikon radish, potatoes, turnip, parsnip, rutabaga, apple, pear, rice, oats, sesame seeds, onion, garlic, and white peppercorns)
  • allowing our bodies to adjust to the coming chill by not over heating out homes or vehicles
  • slowing down our activities and contemplating what we need to let go of 
  • working through our grief and sadness

In Winter this means:

  • covering our low back and kidney area
  • eating warm foods that nourish the kidneys (eggplant, black sesame seeds, black beans, kidney beans, wood ear mushrooms, plums, figs, dates, seaweed, miso, seafood, bone broths and bone marrow)
  • going to bed early and rising late
  • spending time in the quiet stillness 
  • working with our fears

In Spring this means:

  • not undressing to quickly and keeping our bodies warm
  • eating seasonal fresh foods that nourish the liver (leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, beets, carrots, chives
    blueberries, goji berries, grapefruit, strawberries, eggs, liver, pork, venison, crab, crayfish, lobster, mussels, oysters, shrimp, squid, trout, whitefish, flax, pine nuts, sesame, cayenne, garlic, onion, vinegar, turmeric, olive oil)
  • getting outside and moving our bodies more
  • rising earlier
  • working with our anger and being creative

In Summer this means:

  • avoiding too much heat and direct sun
  • protecting the skin while staying cool
  • eating fresh foods that nourish the heart (celery, cucumber, lettuce, mushrooms, lemons, mulberries, schisandra berries, chia seeds, jujube seeds, brown rice, oats, whole wheat, cow and goat milk, ghee, basil, chamomile, dill)
  • rising early and staying up later
  • being active and spending time in community
  • expressing our joy

In Late Summer this means:

  • dressing for the weather in layers
  • eating more warming foods that nourish the spleen (cooked and fermented vegetables, brothy soups, cabbage, carrots, corn, onions, peas, string beans, sweet potato, yams, apricots, apples, cantaloupe, dates, figs, grapes, papaya, beef, chicken, duck, eggs, fish (bass, carp, herring, mackerel, sardine), goat, goose, lamb, spleen, veal, venison, amaranth, brown rice, sweet rice
    coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, vinegar)
  • finding and expressing our gratitude
seasonal living, health, immunity

Supporting your Wei Qi

There are several things along with living in harmony with the seasons and following a lifestyle of moderation and emotional regulation that specifically support our wei qi, these include herbs and supplements, qi gong, acupressure and acupuncture and calming our shen (spirit/nervous system). Below I will offer you some of my favourite ways to support you immune system and prevent yourself from getting sick.

  • Qi gong is a form of meditative movement that helps us to connect with our bodies and move our qi. It is a simple and powerful and encourages movement in the body without overdoing it. You can even learn to bring qi in from your environment to supplement qi lost. I especially like to do my qi gong in the morning outside but any time that you can make your own is perfect. There are three specific practices that help support the immune system and build your wei qi. You will find them here in these videos: qi gong for the metal element, qigong for autumn, qigong to strengthen the lung.

 

  • Acupressure to support wei qi: acupressure is a simple technique that involves pressing and massaging specific acupuncture points to bring balance to the meridians and organ. As the wei qi is dispersed by the lungs, but built from our digestive and air qi along with our jing qi from our kidneys we will work with lung, stomach and kidney points. I recommend taking some quiet time and if you like light a candle and set an intention to balance your body and build your wei qi and then go through teach pair of points rubbing them at the pressure that feels best for as long as you feel neccesary. If you are unsure 1 minute is always a good bet.
    • Lu9-Taiyuan- Supremem Abyss- source point of th lung channel, tonifies the lung and the wei qilung, immune system, acupuncture, Wei Qi
      • Ki7- Fu liu- returning current- metal point on the kidney channel, replenishes energy esp kidney yang that helps produce wei qikidney, immune system, yang qi, wei qi
      • Rn12- Zhongwan- supreme granary- command pt for the stomach- gathers energy of all the yang channels and harmonizes the centre, promoting digestion and ying qi that helps build wei qiren, stomach, immune system, ying qi, wei qi

 

  • Moxabustion- moxa is dried mugwort that gets burned over points in order to increase heat and tonify qi. When placed over specific points it can strengthen different kinds of qi including wei qi. You will need a moxa stick (which you can get this from me or your local acupuncturist) and you will light it until it glows and then hold it over the point below until it gets hot, switching to the other side continuing for about 10- 20 mins.
    • St36- Zusanli- Leg three mile- earth point on the stomach channel- tonifies the digestion, wei qi and overall strength of the bodystomach, immune system, wei qi, acupuncture

 

  • Herbs – In Chinese medicine there are many herbs and formulas that work with the lung qi, wei qi and supporting us in creating harmony in the system based on your individual pattern, so here i will offer you two herbs that have been studied quite extensively and are often used to support the immune system. It is always advised to see a practitioner when you are unsure of what herbs you can and should take.
    1. Astragalus- Huang Qi- is adaptogenic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It has been used in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years and is well tolerated by most but those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, on immunosuppressant drugs or have an auto-immune disorder shoulde consult their practitioner. It has been shown to increase white blood cell production(2) and help fight bacterial and viral infections (3, 4)
    2. Cordyceps- Dong chong Xia cao- a caterpillar and fungus used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine has been shown to increase natural killer T cells (5) and increase macrophage phagocytosis, along with may other immune factors (6)

 

  • Supplements- A healthy and balanced diet and good digestive system to breakdown and absorb these nutrients is always the best way to get key immune building vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B6, D, E, zinc, selenium. Here is an helpful list of what these nutrients so and where you can get them in your food and a podcast talking about common immune supplements.

 

  • Probiotics- There is amazing new research coming out on the microbiome and how crucial it is to the functining of all of our systems but especially the immune system. I highly recommend checking out this podcast, this article, and this book for more of the incredible way that microorganisms support our health.

 

  • Staying as relaxed and stress free as you can. Many of the above measures can help with this especially the qi gong and acupressure. Other things you can do are: spend time in nature, with those you love or doing something you love, getting lots of rest and moving your body.

 

  • And of course getting acupuncture will help support your wei qi, balance your emotions, reduce stress, anxiety and fears.

 

 

I hope this supports you in being proactive in caring for yourself and keeping your family and community healthy. Please feel free to reach out with any questions and I am always available for in-person acupuncture, shamanic healing and online consultations.

Blessings

Spring Equinox, Finding Balance and Supporting the Liver

Spring Equinox, Finding Balance and Supporting the Liver

We find ourselves once again at the turning of the wheel, where light balances dark and we are called to see what it in and out of balance in our lives. The equinoxes are my favourite times of year, heralding a great change from yin to yang and yang to yin. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are blessed to be moving into spring and here on the West coast the world is singing with fertility and life. when I go on my morning walks, the birds are singing their merry tunes and the daffodils are waving hello, the cherry blossoms wave in the wind releasing their intoxicating scent. We are reminded that are that died away in the fall has given rise to this new life and so I hope for you that what you released in the fall has given rise to new and fresh dreams within you. 

For those of you who wish to take a little quite time and reflect at this powerful time. Find a quiet space and time, take a few deep breaths, light a candle and call on your guides and take some time to consider these questions:

  1. What has happened in your life since the fall equinox?
  2. What was revealed to you in that time?
  3. What feels out of balance in your life?
  4. How would you like to bring new balance to your life until the next equinox?

In Chinese Medicine we have fully entered into the season of wood. Wood is ruled by the Liver and the gallbladder and helps us to dream, plan and take action in our lives just like the little sprouts that are pushing up towards the sun. Wood is resilient when it is flexible, breakable when it is too rigid. It harnesses the deep nourishment of the stillness of winter and the water element to help guide its dreams and create change with loving kindness. You may find that if you wood element is excessive, you become dictatorial, forcing life to happen and raging when it doesn’t go the way you want it to causing your body to tighten and ache from the tension and if it is deficient, you may lack the drive to dream or plan, be stuck in a depression and feel lost in the world. 

    In order to support your wood element, I offer you hear some tips and tricks;

    • begin each morning with a room temperature glass of water with the juice of half a lemon squeezed in to awaken your liver and continue it’s digestive processes
    • try not to eat any fat or protein rich foods until afternoon, instead eating fruits and salads (ensuring these are room temperature or even warm if its still cold where you are)
    • start to add in fresh spring greens; nettles (here is one of my favourite nettle recipes), dandelion, arugula, chickweed, wild mustard and other bitter foods
    • move your body daily (go for a walk, dance, do some yoga, or qi gong….) Here is one of my favourite qi gong sequences for the wood element.
    • take time to dream, plan, and create; make art, draw, do a vision board
    • apply some bergamot essential oil to the following acu points: Liver 3 and Gallbladder 13
    •                     

    For those of you who would like to go on a little journey to tap into the energies of spring and the medicine it has for you. Check out this Drum Journey I recorded last year. 

    I wish for you a spring filled with renewal, dreaming, planting and creation.

    Many Blessings to you and yours

    Lessons from the Dark

    Lessons from the Dark

    It has been a while since I have written I have been enjoying a much needed break from all the extras in life. After the wild ride 2020 has offered us up, I have been spending time with my family, friends and clients and in quiet contemplation and reflection as i truly believe this time of year is meant for. 

    This time to nourish myself and take care of my body has offered a great many lessons, including some deep transformations of family patterns and bodily manifestations of these patterns, which only seemed fitting after teaching a course on Ancestral healing and medicine. I am still working at it as we all are but I can feel the shifts with the eclipses and solstices.

    I know from speaking to many of you,  that either you or those you know are also experiencing such things. It may show up in an emotional pattern, a dis-ease, a traumatic accident. All of these things are coming up to help us shed the last vestiges of Jupiter and Saturn in Capricorn which as an earth sign is focused on the physical, our structures and habits and patterns. Each awakening of a pain, illness or broken bone is an opportunity for us to learn and shift. Bones and teeth particularly hold our oldest patterns from our ancestors and even our past lives. So though I know it can be hard and painful and seem so bleak when we initially discover experience these pains and traumas, remember that it is always darkest before the light and with some quiet reflection and the desire to learn from our situations we can begin to shine our own light on the darkness and discover the medicine that resides there. 

    So I invite you all to sit a little in the dark and get curious see what is there for you and with love and compassion begin to light your inner light on the situation asking what you need to learn from this and what support you need. If you are having trouble awakening your own light, you can try lighting a candle and asking the spirit of fire to enter into you heart and burn away the fear, and hucha there and once it is gone ask the fire to help grow your inner light, a bright clear light that is part of who you are as a person and what the world needs right now. 

    And of course if you need more support I am always here for a session to help you find out what it is the dark is trying to tell you and how you can awaken this light to help transform these pains into crystals. 

    With so much love and Gratitude,

    Honouring the Ancestors and Releasing the Baggage

    Honouring the Ancestors and Releasing the Baggage

    My favourite of the cross quarter festival is upon us. The last of the harvest festivals as nature prepares for her long slumber through the winter. It is a time of magic, mystery, ancestors and spirits. In many cultures this time of year was a time to honour our dead loved ones and release what no longer serves us preparing ourselves to rest and refuel our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits. As this was the final harvest festival it was the practice amongst those who celebrated Samhuinn to leave any remaining food in the fields and gardens to the spirit world. In that way creating balance and nourishment for all. 

    This year is an especially powerful year as we have a blue moon as well. A blue moon refers to the second full moon in a month and is a modern invention but this still has not occurred since 1944 and we only have a full moon on Samhuinn ever 19 years. The energy of the full moon adds to the power of our intentions to release what is no longer serving us.  Below you will find three rituals which you can do separately or together. The first is to help you release what you need to to prepare for your own dream time. This is best done in the window of the full moon in the next few days. the other two are rituals to connect with your ancestors and can be done in the next few weeks as the dates of Samhuinn would have been based on the harvest and the moon and not the Roman calendar. 

    Skeleton Dance

    The fall is such a powerful time for release, All around nature is releasing things and so deep within us we also feel this desire to release. On top of that as the moon begins to wane and shrink down it also encourages us to release. 

    I have affectionate called this practice the skeleton dance in remembrance of the old disney cartoons. It was taught to me by my teachers Lena and Jose Stevens and it originates from a Siberian practice. You will need room to move around and shake. I highly encourage you to give your all to it. The fiercer you can shake the more you will get from it. Shaking also happens to be a great reset of your body. 

    I have recorded an audio of it for you to listen to. You will find it below

    Dumb Supper

    This is one of the easiest ways to honour your ancestors and is such a great thing to do if you have kids. At Dinner time on Samhuinn, Halloween or Day of the Dead when you are setting the table you set an extra place for the ancestors and fill it with food. You then can eat your meal in silence thinking of those who have passed or you can share stories about them. When dinner is over you simply take the plate and put it outside to be offered to the nature beings who are connected to our ancestors. 

    Connecting to your Ancestors

    This simple ritual is something I do every year and since offering my course on Transforming Ancestral Trauma it has become a daily practice. All you will need is a candle and some memento that reminds you of your ancestors (a photo, keep sake, snack, drink,…)

    You begin by creating a little altar for your ancestor. Placing their photos and keepsakes around the candle.

    Take a moment to ground yourself with a few deep breaths.

    Light the candle and ask your ancestors to come and surround you.

    When you feel their presence you can ask them a question. Like what do I need to know? What do I need to release? How can I connect more with you?

    Then take as much time as needed in silence or you can do automatic writing allowing the messages of the ancestors come to you.

    When you feel complete thank your ancestors and blow out the candles and write down the messages you got.

    Much Love

    Immune-Boosting, Earth-Nourishing Chai

    Immune-Boosting, Earth-Nourishing Chai

    Once the signs of autumn roll in I immediately start craving chai. It has been a favourite drink of mine for a long time but especially after living in India and daily finding the Chai wallah on the closest street and sipping on the warm, sweetly spiced beverage. Here is my version that I make at home. You can adjust i based on your preferences either doing a base of black tea if you want a little kick or some medicinal mushrooms if you want something more rejuvenating (chaga and reishi are my favourite) or a simple herbal base like red rooibos. You can also adjust the spices to your liking making it more heating and spicy with chilies, ginger, black pepper and clove or more neutral and sweet with cardamom and cinnamon. You can sweeten it with honey, maple syrup, sugar, xylitol or stevia and add any animal or alternative milk based on your preference. 

    Immune-boosting, earth-nourishing Chai

    Ingredients
    • Base- two bags black tea, two tablespoons medicinal mushrooms or other adaptogenic herbs or one tablespoon red rooibos
    • 3 cups Milk- Goat, cow, sheep, almond, cashew, oat,…
    • 3 cups water
    • thumb sized piece of ginger – peeled and sliced
    • one tablespoon spice mix (cinnamon, clove, chilli, cardamom, black pepper, fennel, fenugreek, allspice, nutmeg,….)
    • sweetener- honey, maple syrup, cane sugar, xylitol, stevia
    Instructions
    1. Pour water and milk into a pot and put on medium high
    2. Peel and slice ginger and add to water
    3. Collect what spices you like and grind in a mortar and pestle (I usually make lots and keep extra in a jar)
    4. Add spices to the pot
    5. If using medicinal mushrooms or other herbs add now
    6. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 10- 20 mins
    7. Add black tea or rooibos
    8. allow to steep for 5 mins
    9. strain into a cup and add sweetener as desired
    10. Enjoy!!

    Summer Solstice Eclipse Ritual

    Summer Solstice Eclipse Ritual

    This weekend is the summer solstice, solar eclipse and New Moon in Cancer, Cancer and the moon are kindred energies they come from the same deep and holy place, enabling us to feel the feels and wrap ourselves up in the caring and compassion of our hearts. They bring us closer to the motherly energies we all possess and ask us to love ourselves completely and honour our own sacred lives, as well as all life. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is the empress. It oversees the work of all our other organs and houses our shen, the light of spirit that animates us, allowing us to know our true selves. The heart-mind speaks to us through our feelings and helps guide us on the truest path of spirit. The peak time of the heart is in the heat of the summer, a time of connection, play, laughter and energy. Just as the fire element drives the heart, we are driven by our inner fire that asks us to step out and dance amongst the other flames, to connect and create sparks of joy and love. Fire, like all elements is in a constant flux and keeping it from being extinguished or burning up is a practice we all take on each day of our lives.

    Through observing nature, ancient Taoist Sages recognized that the simple ways that fire was strengthened and weakened. In moderation, heat strengthens fire and cold soothes it, in excess heat may cause fire to burn up all the body fluids, while cold will freeze the body and no fire can start. The spirit of wood with its direction and healthy anger can reignite and replenish our fires and the soothing nature of water can calm an abundant fire. They also recognized that when we go through a traumatic experience, our inner shen will return to Shen and leave our hearts and bodies empty. In my shamanic training we referred to this as a susto and can result in delusion, anxiety, depression, confusion, despair, fear, panic, numbness or pain in an area of the body, sleeplessness, palpitations, difficulty breathing, digestive concerns, the list goes on. Depending on where the trauma happened and our natural areas of weakness. Sometimes these sensations can come up without an obvious experience of trauma  but from something witnessed, heard or felt that links to our ancestoral or past life traumas. 

    The solstice was a fire festival for most of our ancestors, being the longest day and shortest night of the year they would stay up with bonfires through the night asking for the blessings of the sun on their growing crops, relationships, babes and lives. Fire is a powerful transmuter of energy, burning away what no longer serves us and carrying our prayers out into the universe. 

     

    Here is a simple ritual for you to work with on this summer solstice, eclipse, new moon:

    If you have access to a place where you can safely have a fire that is ideal and you will need a piece of twine or cord, some tobacco, cornmeal or another offering and some twigs, If you don’t you can use a candle and very thin thread and paper along with an offering.

    1. Begin in the dark, sit comfortably and take three deep breaths centering yourself into your body
    2. Call in great spirit and your guides, allies, ancestors and angels to support you and hold you in your work
    3. Take some time to breath in the dark and find that place deep inside you that feels dark and unwanted
    4. invite it to be seen and share its medicine with you. 
    5. pick up your piece of twine or thread and begin to tie knots in it as each aspect of your shadow comes up. 
    6. Once you feel completed, light your fire and offer it some tobacco, cornmeal or other offering to thank the spirit of fire for its support
    7. Now place your twine in the fire and watch it burn away taking several deep breaths feeling it release from your mind and body
    8. Now pick up your sticks and begin to embrace the positive or opposite aspects of what you just released. Fill the sticks with it. If you are using a candle write it down on paper
    9. Once complete add those sticks to the fire or paper to the candle. Again take several breaths, breathing these qualities into your body.
    10. add more of your offering to the fire. Thanking the fire, guides, spirit, etc for there support and release them. 
    11. Sit and enjoy the light of the fire/candle on this the shortest night of the year. 

    Please let me know how it went and if you have any questions please reach out. 

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