a new column: for your wellnessby Dr. Robert Woodbine

Dr. Robert Woodbine, “Doc Woodbine” has studied, practiced, and taught Chinese Qigong and Taijiquan since 1985. He has taught at St. Mary’s since His passion is teaching others communal self-reliance and optimal well-being through Qigong and Taijiquan. For the past eleven years, he has hosted the annual celebration of World Tai Chi & Qigong Day in Harlem’s historic St. Nicholas Park. He is a retired licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and maintains his New York Acupuncturist license.

Did you ever wonder why it is so easy to get a cold in the Fall? read Dr. Woodbine’s first “for your wellness” contribution here:

Healthy Transitions: Autumn’s Challenges to our Respiratory Health

During the past several days, we have begun to experience the shift in season from late summer to autumn. For many of us, there is the welcomed relief from the humid heat of summer. And then there are those of us who lament its passing; especially given the sudden change to cool and crisp mornings. The one constant we have all experienced is the transition. Night comes earlier and lingers longer in the mornings and the air smells and feels different. We know that fall has come.

In Chinese medicine, there is the fundamental recognition that we are a part of and are influenced by nature and the universe. One therapeutic goal, therefore, is to encourage a lifestyle harmonious with the rhythms and complementary forces (Yin and Yang, i.e., rest and activity) that are Mother Nature. Our increasing dependency on technologies that encourage lifestyles inconsistent with nature’s rhythms and contribute to chronic illness makes this even more clear.

The Theory of Five Elements in Chinese medicine ascribes to each season a variety of observed characteristics. For example, each season has an organ network system associated with it –winter/kidneys and urinary bladder; spring/liver and gallbladder; summer/heart and small intestines; late summer/spleen and stomach. In turn, each organ has complementary emotions, tastes, etc. –kidneys/fear and gentleness; liver/anger and kindness; heart/hatred and love; spleen/worry and confidence. Our awareness of these characteristics can serve as a tool with which we may better manage our health.

As a child, I used to wonder why was it that whenever school started in autumn, so did the bouts with frequent colds, coughs and the flu. Interestingly enough, the organ associated with autumn in Chinese medicine are the lungs. The energetic model of Chinese medicine states that, amongst several attributes, the lungs distribute Wei Qi (defensive energy) and body fluid to the whole body to warm and moisten muscles, hair and skin. This Wei Qi is the defensive barrier which protects the body from external pathogenic factors (cold, wind, etc.) by controlling the pores of the skin which are considered the gates of qi. When the energy (qi) of the lungs is deficient, they cannot perform their function of protecting us from these external influences and we, thus, fall victim to the colds, coughs and the like. Another contributor to lung qi deficiency is prolonged and unmanaged grief which is the negative emotion associated with the lungs. Its complementary emotion is courage.

There are a variety of Chinese medicine protocols to treat someone whose lung qi is deficient and who has manifested the typical seasonal symptoms we are familiar with. The powerful aspect of this medicine is that it also extols preventative care to strengthen the lungs and help avoid these complaints. From simple energetic exercise (Qigong) to botanical formulas (i.e., Bu Fei Tang, Bu Huan Jing Zheng Qi San), or acupuncture, Chinese medicine can assist to make this season less challenging to our well-being.

Likewise, the principles and treatment modalities of naturopathic medicine offer preventative options that support the body’s inherent capacity for self-healing. From nutritional support (i.e., Amino NAC, probiotics, Quercitin) and botanical medicine (i.e., Horehound, Grindelia, Verbascum, Lungwort, Usnea) designed to bolster immune function to simple hydrotherapy (i.e., steam inhalation with essential oil of thyme, oregano, clove) techniques and Homeopathy (i.e., Oscillococcinum, Spongia, Drosera) to promote optimal lung function and/or relieve symptoms, naturopathic medicine easily complements Chinese medicine for your benefit. 

Enough can’t be said about the importance of a lifestyle that minimizes or eliminates those factors causing illness. Your environment– what is it like? Most of us know, by now, the devastating negative impact that cigarette smoke (whether first or second-hand) has on the lungs; especially the lungs of children and the elderly. Additionally, other airborne chemical pollutants (industrial, over-the-counter household sprays, car and bus exhaust) contribute to the high incidence of asthma in urban communities. And then there are the seasonal allergic reactions to pollen. For those addicted to cigarette smoking, acupuncture and Qigong offer techniques to modify and/or eliminate the cravings. Coupled with behavior modification, lifestyle counseling, nutritional support and detoxification, acupuncture is very effective for those seeking to quit the habit.

Whether at home or at work, consider using an air filtration and cleaning system to enhance the quality of the air you breathe. In winter, it’s especially important to keep the air moistened to avoid the drying affect heating systems have on our nostrils, sinuses, and air passages. 

Speaking of breathing, how do you breathe? Do you take deliberate deep belly breaths or are you a shallow, fast-paced chest breather? Do you periodically hold your breath? Deliberate, deep, belly breathing promotes the Relaxation Response and elicits the body’s intrinsic healing capacity. In Chinese medicine, the lungs are responsible for “opening and closing” the pores of the skin. As such, dry skin brushing can be used to indirectly stimulate the energy of the lungs while helping to detoxify.

It is hoped this brief overview provided you with some options to consider with which to be better prepared for this coming cold and flu season. Continue to empower yourself by reading, questioning and consulting with your varied health care professionals.