Prevention is one of the hallmarks of natuorpathic medicine. When cold and flu season arrives, I dig in to the fundamentals of our medicine which are centered around strengthening vitality and removing any obstacles to healing. However, the holiday season does not lend well to what we all know will help prevent viruses from taking hold of our immune systems: getting good sleep, avoiding sugar, reducing stress, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. HA! Instead we are faced with a giant cookie platter from our neighbors, too much to do with too little time, and eating on the run or eating out much more than usual. Thankfully, there is still hope for seeing our way through to a healthy New Year by weaving wellness practices into our winter routine.
Not everyone exposed to a cold or flu virus gets sick. Increase your chances of out-smarting the buggers and reducing your susceptibility to infection with these simple practices:
MINDFULNESS: I recently began seeing a patient who lives a very stress-filled lifestyle that holds little time or space for just “being.” I encouraged her to start carving a 5-minute window in her day for silence away from the phone and computer. “But what am I supposed to be doing during this time?” she asked. “That’s just it,” I replied. “The intention is for you to stop doing and just be.” This practice has been challenging for her, but she has stayed committed to her goal of reducing stress to improve her health.
A 5-minute window of breathing and simply “being” can be enough to start calming stress and reconnecting to the present moment. You can practice mindfulness in the car by simply driving without the radio on or set a reminder on your computer during your lunch break to chime when it is time to practice breathing. As you sit down to dinner, you can allow for a few minutes of mindfulness before eating. Where can you find 5 minutes that may add up to a healthier holiday?
WRAPPED IN WELLNESS: There may not be hard and fast science to substantiate this health tip, but I will still offer it as valuable from personal experience. Those of you have known me for a while may notice that once cold weather arrives, I wear a scarf daily. Protecting your throat, the back of your neck and warming the area over the front of your chest (where your thymus gland sits) may ward against what Chinese medicine practitioners call a “wind cold invasion.” The neck and throat are energetically vulnerable areas of the body and by keeping that area warm, the body can direct energy elsewhere to protect us from infection. Wearing socks around the house (as opposed to walking around with bare feet) may have similar benefit.
HERBAL TONIC SUPPORT: For those patients who have a pattern of contracting respiratory infections repeatedly during the winter months, I recommend certain botanical remedies to boost the body’s natural immune response and keep the white blood cells on a strong surveillance mission against invaders. Examples of these herbs include:
- Astragalus: With a strong traditional use in Chinese medicine, Astragalus is a wonderful tonic for supporting optimal functioning of the immune system. It is generally not recommended during an acute infection.
- Eleutrococcus (Siberian ginseng): One of my favorite adaptogen herbs which supports the body in literally ‘adapting’ to stressful situations, Eleuthrococcus also boosts the function of T-cells in our immune system.
- Mushrooms: Cooking with medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi, Maitake and Shiitake throughout the winter months will be a nutritious way to fight off infection and strengthen your overall immune response.
The information in this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. Please consult with a healthcare practitioner before introducing any new herbal or other natural therapies to ensure safe and appropriate sourcing and dosing.
After the successful passage of the licensure law in Maryland for naturopathic doctors, I composed this article which was published in the October 2014 issue of the Naturopathic Doctors News and Review (NDNR). It speaks to the challenges and the successes of a nearly four-year journey that summoned every ounce of fortitude, tenacity and grit that my colleagues from the MNDA and I could muster to stand out as stronger than the voices that opposed us. The bumper sticker on my car reads “Expect a Miracle” and this legislative victory was more than any of us could have expected.
PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
Today I am challenging you to practice a random act of kindness for either someone in your life (family member, co-worker, friend) or a complete stranger. This may be a simple as leaving a flower on your neighbor’s doorstep, slipping money into an expired meter, or writing a kind/inspiring note and leaving it on someone’s windshield. Think about what expressions of positivity or joy you would appreciate in your life and then channel them out into your community. The more you engage in this practice on a regular basis, you will likely find that you will one day be the recipient of someone else’s random act of kindness. This kind of healing DOES come full circle.
Today’s Challenge: FIRST DO NOTHING
As easily as you can brew up wellness in a medicinal bath, you can steep up a symphony of flavors and aromatic delights in a simple cup of tea. The act of both preparing and drinking tea is a sacred ritual in many countries. In fact, traditional tea cups are designed without handles which require extra care and attention as you bring the cup up to your mouth to take a sip. The addition of the handle is a very “Western” concept as it adds convenience often at the cost of mindfulness.
DRINK A CUP OF TEA MINDFULLY
- Dig through your cupboard to find your favorite box of tea.
- Turn on the kettle while you slip into your pajama pants.
- Cozy up on the couch with a warm fuzzy blanket while your tea bag steeps for 5-10 minutes in hot water.
- Breathe in the aroma of the herbs in your blend.
- Sip slowly and sigh deeply.
Hydrotherapy is one of the oldest modalities used by naturopathic doctors in the Western world. Alternating hot and cold water to different areas of the body stimulates a natural healing response by promoting circulation and healthy lymph flow. While taking a bath every night may seem cumbersome, even giving your feet a quick soak can help melt away the stress of the day.
Today’s Challenge: JUST ADD EPSOM SALTS
In honor of the second-ever nationally-declared Naturopathic Medicine Week, I am going to invite you to join me in celebrating with a series of wellness challenges throughout the week. Each “challenge” this week will be an opportunity to engage with your health and well-being in a gentle, mindful, and easily accessible way. They are designed to be of little to no monetary cost as a reminder that moments of wellness are available to us ALL every day.