Protect Ya' Neck: Wars Against Winter

“Protect Ya Neck” was the first hit single from a humble, soft-spoken group of musicians, Wu-Tang Clan, who debuted just as my class was debuting into adolescence, and probably was indirectly responsible for at least a portion of some of our hi jinx and delinquencies.

Obviously true to (hip hop) form, Wu-Tang was neither humble nor soft-spoken, but they were arguably brilliant, inarguably creative and original, and whether right or wrong, they were our Beatles, redefining our culture by reshaping “our music,” and doing so unapologetically, which I suspect is really the only way to reshape anything. Maybe it was no coincidence that their foreman, “RZA,” modeled the group after Kung Fu warriors, and their first hit title happened to echo one of the most important principles of self-preservation in Chinese Medicine: “Protect your neck.”

In Chinese Medicine it is said that “cold enters through the nape of the neck,” which might explain why you rarely see old Asian ladies around town without their scarves during any time of year, let alone the winter months. Personally, during those bitter cold winter days I advise taking it one step further, keeping my hood up at all times while outdoors, as heat escapes through the head, and we should aim to retain as much of it as possible until warm weather returns, at which time the same logic requests we remove our hats so as to allow our pores to breathe.

They say New York winters don’t compare to those of places like Wisconsin or Minnesota, which might be literally the case in terms of temperature and climate, but fails to consider context and lifestyle. I’d argue that on a day-to-day basis New Yorkers’ winters can be much harder, as our lives don’t exist between front door and car door, car door then following front door. Instead, even the more privileged of us generally have to walk many blocks at a time, trudging through black, soiled, slippery snow, trying to make decisions on which block to best take crosstown so as to minimize a ten degree wind tunnel blowing hail off the nearby river directly into our faces as we make our way home to a cramped, overpriced apartment that only intermittently offers heat… the city we so hate to love.

Therefore protect ya’ neck… protect ya entire head, especially while on your way home and there’s less concern for ending up with “hat hair” or “hood hair.” Keep undershirts tucked in and socks pulled up high. Neither our feet nor head should ever feel cold, so if they do it is safe to label as pathological, and actually all forms of medicine acknowledge cold winds as a potential cause of facial paralysis.

It is important to discern between the nice cool breezes of autumn or spring invigorating our energies and the cold air of winter penetrating our defenses. According to Chinese Medicine cold is not our friend, no matter what the latest trends are in “cryotherapy,” or how some medical doctors approach injuries. Ice constricts blood vessels, which means cold does the same, only to a lesser degree. Even Gabe Mirkin, the doctor who originally created the R.I.C.E. protocol in 1978, recently and publicly rescinded his prescription in acknowledgement of this truth; a very commendable about-face in my opinion:

In Chinese Medicine winter is the “height of yin,” the season of the kidneys and the water element. The movements of yin are of inversion and closure, nourishment and rest, which makes ‘tis the season for earlier bed times, later waking times, and less stimulation and excitement (at least once the holidays are over). It should be a time of conservation: eating a bit more, having a bit less sex, though exercising about the same, so as to prevent constriction of the blood vessels. Instead, we should abstain from working out outdoors, as the weather creates a breeding ground for more muscular, tendon or bone injuries. Be forewarned: even on those frighteningly lovely days of 60 degrees that invariably arrive at random, protect ya neck, as it is still the dead of winter for our vulnerable immune systems. In clinic we have people come in sick most often on the heels of such gorgeous days of apparent reprieve.

To combat cold we warm. We cook with more ginger, garlic and scallions, and eat less raw foods, such as salads or sandwiches (and please, if you must have ice cream save it for June - bake cookies in the meanwhile). Also note, things like hot sauce, sriracha or chili powder are spicy, not “warming,” which are not necessarily the same, and the former in excess can burn out our body’s yin. Other ideal warming meals include lamb and chicken, and of course bone broth. It is hypothesized that animal protein is best digested without carbohydrates, so best to have these without rice or bread, and save the starches for your meat-free meals.

If you are one of my vegetarian friends it is still possible to balance the environment through all of the aforementioned spices, as well as miso ramen or black bean soups to nurture our kidney channel. For the omnivores who just don’t have time to make bone broth I recommend either of the below online sources, and to consume at least three times a week to attain therapeutic benefits. ​​

Finally, it is a nice reminder that the significance of “yin” is of our feminine energy, one that is all too repressed and undervalued in our society, even in metropolitan areas during this present generation of evolution. Our softness, our vulnerability, sensitivity and intuitive abilities are every bit as important as our surface strength and analytical minds, and should be celebrated as such. Such a shift in perspective, in my opinion, is the only root answer to our infinite branches of social problems and the only way global change can eventually occur. Sure, winter might kinda suck. It’s not as fun as summer, and much less comfortable to get around, however it is the season of our inner and outer woman, which logically must be beautiful. It can be quietly introspective or as nurturing as Mom once was. It may come in and gently cool our pathological fire and allow us to retain our functional warmth in anticipation of the summer jams to come… so long as you protect ya neck!

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