Can goose bumps prevent illness?
As much as I thrive in the spring and summer, I do enjoy the colder seasons as well - in fact, as I write this, I'm watching this fall/winter's first snowfall from my office window. It's lovely.
What I don't look forward to is the onslaught of cold and flu season. (Like, does anyone, really?)
Whether it hits me and mine (which, thankfully, is not all that often), or my clients, it's bad for business. :)
So, this seems like a good time to talk about an interesting concept in Chinese Medicine, the Wei Chi.
While immunology as a field is extremely complex and is still revealing its mysteries to western medicine, the idea of Wei Chi (a phrase which here is pronounced 'way-chee' and loosely translates as 'defensive life force') in Chinese medicine, can be conceptualized as a field surrounding the surface of the body, much like guards at the city gates.
It's a somewhat different understanding of 'pathogens' - germs that invade the body which we're helpless against, without the aids of medicines - but instead places the focus of prevention through, breathwork, herbs, massage and diet - ideally cultivating a strong and vital force to ward off not only external attackers, but helping to maintain a healthy internal balance.
The idea of Wei Chi may seem simplistic - even a bit superstitious - but let's look at it a little more closely.
(Disclaimer: The metaphorical nature of Chinese Medicine can leave it open to a wide variety of interpretations. This is both its wisdom and its weakness for us. Google 'wei chi' and you'll see what I mean. My opinion is that there is truth being revealed wherein, about how a body in context within its environment functions, and it's the fun for us to figure out what the heck is meant by this. Just my interpretation. ;)
While Wei Chi (because it is primarily a 'superficial' qi field, I suppose) is often associated with the Lung meridian, I read recently that it is more under the function of the Stomach/Spleen meridians.
Huh??? Okay, let me back up.
The concept of "Lungs" in Chinese Medicine refers not only to the organs proper, but to their function of respiration, exchange with the external environment, (therefore, healthy relationship), emotions of grief, melancholy, vulnerability, and trust, but also includes the skin as 'the third Lung' - as it also breathes, and creates a barrier (healthy relationship again!). And, when we think of colds and flus, we tend to associate those with the organs of respiration: nose, mouth, throat, lungs, bronchial tubes, etc. It makes sense that a robust Wei Chi depends on guarding and strengthening the lungs.
So, when I heard about the Stomach/Spleen association, I had to ask, well, why? I mean, didn't you?
If you're still with me...
The ST/SP, of course, includes those organs (and the pancreas) of digestion and breakdown of food, as well as the capacity for self-nourishment, self-care, nourishment of others, grounding - the energy of which manifests in the 'flesh' of the body, i.e., the muscles.
Guess what goose bumps are?
Tiny contracted muscles called arrector pili (which, for years, I thought was erector pili, 'cuz, ya know, they stand up...).
Muscles contract when we get cold to: 1) generate heat (like, when shivering), and 2), according to this article, to hold heat in between the hair follicles, which for mammals, provides insulation.
This is part of our naturally-developed thermostat system, which is responsive, and I believe, has a lot to do with a healthy immune system.
Here's another thing.
Contraction of muscle tissue is a bio-electric process. And, from what I've learned - where there's electric current, there's an electromagnetic field generated. Is that what these Chinese folks were talking about regarding qi? And, with healthy and frequent movement (i.e., contraction and expansion of muscles, including arrector pili) we cultivate a healthy qi field, which for reasons I cannot yet explain, has a role to play in how efficiently we can ward off illness?
I use that phrase - 'ward off illness' - tentatively, because, I as of yet, do not want to plant this image in your head of germs bouncing off some kind of force field around your body, which, while cool, is probably not how all that works.
But I truly do believe that our over-reliance on climate control (as well as many other attempts of controlling our external circumstances) diminishes our own internal response systems and vitality.
I also believe that, in addition to diet and other factors, our choices to avoid experiencing fluctuations in the natural environment, as well as sedentary habits that do not facilitate the movement of lymphatic fluid (our waste disposal system) play a huge role in the prevalence and frequency of illness.
So, now - get out there and get goose bumps!