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From Deep Freeze to Heat Wave: How to Handle this Craaazy Weather

First I wish to apologize for the unusually extended duration between newsletters, as I am still naïve enough to be astounded by just how much time having an infant consumes. It reminds me of the power of adolescent peer pressure, which I heard about throughout middle school and my “tweens,” but always figured would not befall me so dramatically. In retrospect it’s amazing my parents survived my high school years. I like to think I am now paying a small piece of that karma back with our lovely, but rambunctious 9-month-old.

We took her to the Smorgasborg food festival (highly recommend) yesterday, conveniently located one block from our building, but shortly after we sat down, eager to enjoy our indulgent foods, realized she could not get comfortable in the dramatically sudden spike in temperature. Although she is an August baby, we kept her inside for most of the first month (Chinese medical tradition), so the only outdoor reality she is familiar with is one of frigid winds and bitter cold. Upon reflection of how my own body has felt in the past week, I recalled that we are almost as vulnerable to such weather changes as is my little munchkin.

Throughout winter the “yang qi” of the body builds perpetually, fortifying itself to warm and protect us against the cold weather, and cold pathogens. The constriction created in our blood vessels is partially a self-protective, innate wisdom; to keep our blood thicker and warmer in winter. While in the past we had a spring season by which to transition, both internally and externally, climate change has all but omitted this, especially in the northeast.

As a result of this climactic shock to the system, many of us—especially those with warmer physiological constitutions—feel bittersweet about the arrival of summer: Mentally relieved and excited for outdoor fun, though physically uncomfortable, just as my baby was yesterday while interrupting my food festivities.

At the risk of medical bias, the best thing I can recommend for immunological thermoregulation to sudden change is herbal medicine. Xiao Chai Hu Tang is a bupleurum, skullcap, and ginger-based formula that can be modified and specifically tailored to each individual’s body type for times like these, of course when there are not other resoundingly more pressing internal issues that demand herbal formulas of their own.

Other advice falls under the heading of David’s/Chinese medicine’s broken record, which is to continue eating warm foods. The tendency when we are overwhelmed by such heat is to reach for cold foods, cold drinks, and iced coffee instead of hot in the morning. The reason this is counterintuitive is because such substances and temperatures will further constrict our already narrowed, winter-made blood vessels that are struggling to adequately dilate to keep up with this unusual climate. Instead, it is a fine time to start going lighter on the heavier fats and animal proteins, and plain, steamed veggies are always a good idea (you can sprinkle salt, a great olive oil, and/or lemon on them on the plate to not taste so boring). Hot peppermint, chamomile, or chrysanthemum teas are the perfect nighttime elixir at this time, especially while in your air-conditioned homes. Moderate, sweat-inducing exercise is also a good idea to encourage vasodilation, purge some of the dampness we are absorbing by way of this humidity, and boost immune function by releasing microbial peptides in our sweat. The ideal time for exercise is between 10am-2pm (at the height of the day’s “yang qi”), but the “second most ideal time” is whenever you can. ‘Tis better to do imperfectly than to not do.

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