Monday, December 30, 2013

Roots, Branches, Watery Depths and Pollen Bursts

Happy Wintertime to you!  Metaphorically speaking, in Chinese medicine’s Five Element Theory, this season is the phase of relative stillness and the ”underground” unknown.  It’s like the murky bottom of the ocean.  Indeed, water is the associated element and blue is the associated color.  The kidney and bladder organ/meridian systems are related to this phase.

Often, being with the unknown, observing without evaluating, to see what emerges is the hardest phase to experience.  There may be an urge to skip it.   Before fully understanding the wisdom to be revealed in this phase, one may prematurely jump into planning and structuring the next step rather than simply being with the unknown.

The challenging emotion of the Water phase is fear.  Sometimes the feeling is unwarranted and comes from an imbalance in the kidney and/or bladder organ/meridians systems.  In wintertime in Central Texas, however, there’s often a very clear and real fear of impending Cedar Fever.  For the uninitiated, this is the allergic rhinitis or sinusitis from which many begin to suffer.  It directly relates to the plentiful cedar trees that have begun to bloom and disperse their pollen.

In Chinese medicine, it’s important to treat cedar fever on two levels.  There are the acute-stage symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy ears, and itchy, red and/or burning eyes.  All of these can leave a person exhausted.   This is the branch aspect of the imbalance.  Acupuncture and individually-tailored Chinese herbal formulas provide relief and often help someone smoothly sail through the season.

For lasting relief, a person’s constitutional level or pattern also must be assessed and balanced.  This is the root level of the disorder.   One patient may have a lot of clear mucus drainage, often feel cold, get up several times at night to urinate and have a history of shortness of breath, fatigue and asthma.  Another patient may have thick yellow or green nasal mucus, a flushed red face, strong thirst, and constipation as well as be overweight.   A third patient may simply get a runny nose and itchy eyes during Cedar Fever season.   Each person’s allergies will be addressed quite differently in Chinese medicine. 

If the root level is not addressed, the branch-level symptoms will continue to manifest during Cedar Fever season.  Although the best time to address constitutional imbalances is months before full-bloom allergy symptoms, they can be addressed at any time. 

As Bob Flaws points out, there are also three free therapies that are crucial for getting rid of these allergies: 
  •  Diet
Strong digestive Qi, or Life Force, is important to fend off the allergic responses.  What one eats and does not eat directly affect these dynamics.  For example, although a completely raw foods diet has been popular and some raw veggies are valuable, too much of them requires too much digestive Qi and drains it.  Eating plenty of veggies is very important but a general rule of thumb is to have the raw ones be no more than 20% of the diet.   It’s better for veggies to generally be lightly steamed.
Chilled food and drinks are also harmful.  Think of them in terms of the energy they drain from the body when they have to be warmed to body temperature.  Sugars, including alcohol and sweets, also damage digestive Qi.  The more oily and greasy a food is, the more it creates “Damp.”  This clogs our system and contributes to allergy symptoms.  All dairy and refined-flour products are Damp-producing.
  • Exercise
Regular and adequate exercise greatly helps Qi move in a healthy way and not be stuck.  It also strengthens digestive Qi.  Those with a history of asthma are included but need no more than 20 minutes of aerobic exercise that is done in a way that does not induce an attack.  An important first step for this population is to clean up one’s diet before starting an exercise program.
  • Relaxation 
Rare is the person who early-on did not learn maladaptive coping responses to frustrations, irritations and anger. When we feel stressed, most of us tense muscles in our upper back and shoulders, neck, and/or jaws. It’s also common to hold the breath. These responses only make respiratory issues worse. Therefore, deep relaxation practices need to involve the body and be more than mental experiences . My personal favorites are Qigong practices on DVDs by Lee Holden. His website is

Besides these three important therapies, one can also do home remedies such as Chinese self-massage at strategic points, seven star hammering, Chinese medicinal porridges, moxibustion, and Chinese medicinal teas.  Talk with your licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine or get a copy of Bob Flaw’s book, Curing Hay Fever Naturally at Blue Poppy Press for more specifics on these techniques as well as the three free therapies.

Janet Lee Cook
Licensed Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Prescriptions