Thursday, March 11, 2010

10 Ways to Stay Healthy This Winter

Dr. Tim Aitken, of Eight Branches Healing Arts (Spencertown and Manhattan), is a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Although not Chinese himself, Aitken studied with an esteemed physician, gathering knowledge based on a two thousand year-old system of healing from the Han Dynasty. Applying that understanding of the human body to a world of such modern conditions as the H1N1 virus, Aitken founded Eight Branches Healing Arts with partner Heidi Harding, to impart the eight channels of wellness through local workshops and private practice.

After a rainy summer in New York, we’ve had a tougher than usual cold and flu season. With the health care system overloaded, Aitken offers these 10 simple steps to promote your own “wellth” every day. “Traditional doctors didn’t get paid for sick people,” he adds.

Know Thyself
Aitken defines the immune system, in terms of yin/yang theory, as the “me” vs. the “not-me.” The way to differentiate the self from that which works against the self, causing stress and inflammation, is daily spiritual practice -- meditation. “The owner’s manual for each person is inside,” Aitken says.
This made sense on an intuitive level. After a couple of days of following his advice -- breathing in to a count of ten, breathing out to a count of ten, and working to focus on nothing but that for fifteen minutes -- I had the sudden knowledge that, being Native American, wheat was “not me.” I also know from years of experience that coffee is “not me.” Bread and coffee is my idea of a good time (think croissants and cafe au lait at the Deux Magots), but I know that if I override my better judgment and down coffee to keep going (instead of stopping to rest), sooner or later I’m going to get a cold. Aitken says a cold is your body’s signal that something’s got to change. Meditation can get you there sooner, and with less suffering.

Exercise Regularly
Full body exercise moves all the systems of the body - muscles, glands, lymphatic system - working in concert with breath and mind, to make it more efficient. Yoga, Qi Gong and Martial Arts were created to work all these aspects of the self, and to clear away the refuse in all systems of the body. Two caveats: it’s important to cross train, and to have recovery periods between periods of exertion, so the body can reduce toxins created during exercise. Second, if you’re “plugged in,” i.e., to an MP3 player, you’re “tuned out,” and the strength of your mind and breath (or voice) are not harnessed to moving the mountain.

Eat Real Food
Local, Organic, Seasonal. My youngest kid must have missed a third to a half of the days on the school calendar last winter with a nagging cough that just kept recycling. I figured her California body was learning to adapt to the more rigorous Northeastern climate, and once she got through it, she’d be fine. However, the cough has already been back three times since school started this year. The problem, according to Dr. Aitken, whose speciality is pediatrics, is that she’s still eating like a Californian, where kids picked oranges off the trees if they wanted a snack. Sugary foods like oranges or tropical fruits are OK for hotter climates, where the body uses sugar to combat the heat (Aitkin made the startling comment that sugar = damp), but oranges don’t grow here. And you don’t eat blueberries every day, only in the heat of summer. The human body is designed to work in concert with nature, so follow the seasons and avoid processed foods like sugar. “If you’re eating white sugar every day, “ Aitkin points out, “You’re living with a suppressed immune system.”

Get Enough Sleep
How much is enough? If you can get through your day without caffeine, then you’re getting enough sleep. Ouch!
Aitken points out that it’s especially helpful to get more sleep this time of year, when the immune system is taxed. The ancient guide was the solstices. At the winter solstice, you should be active nine hours, resting the remainder; whereas at the summer solstice, it’s the opposite, resting nine hours, active the rest.
Be religious about bedtime. The key? Turn off the lights.

Try Dry Brushing
Dry skin, or friction, brushing directly impacts the lymphatic system. With a loofa or a dry washcloth (I use a soft
brush meant for vegetables on my kids' delicate skin), brush skin from the tips of the fingers and toes, toward the heart, so lymph glands can drain toward the heart.
Aitken says try it for a week, and see if you don't feel better.

Dark Green Vegetables
Eat them every day. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the "doctrine of signatures" means if a food resembles a body part,
it serves the health of that part of the body. For example, walnuts strengthen the brain, green, leafy vegetables strengthen the
lungs (an intuitive understanding western medicine, with its need for proof, is slowly proving).

Sea Vegetables
Sea vegetables, such as nori or dulse, have the same mineral pattern as sea water and blood. Used as condiments, they provide salt in a complex way, with surprisingly low sodium, which will mineralize you.

Wash Your Hands
Your mother was right! Regular hand-washing is critical. However, Aitken has a few pointers on soap. First of all, no anti-bacterial soap, which will also mess with the healing bacteria that you want to keep. Second, essential oils are the hormones of plants; they are medicine. "Natural" or "healthy" doesn't mean it's benign, Aitken points out. Better to stick to an unscented soap close to the body's pH; Aitken prefers Dr. Bronner's or castile. Washing with this helps protect the immune system, so microbes don't stick.

More ways to stay healthy coming soon....



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