Life is a heat process.

From a strictly chemical view point, almost all reactions in the body are heat driven, from the formation of proteins and ATP (the fuel that runs the body), to the ability of your lungs to absorb oxygen from the air.  Without heat, many processes slow, or outright stop.

From a psycho-spiritual perspective, when we think of various descriptors that have been applied to people throughout time we see reflections of the understanding of how important heat is.  Sayings like ‘they’re cold hearted’, or calling someone ‘frigid’, or referring to an action as ‘cold’ are all examples of acknowledging a lack of warmth in someone.  Conversely, we describe people as ‘warm’ to express their caring nature, or an action giving you the ‘warm fuzzies’, or even ‘hot’ to express sexual desire.  When our ability to generate warmth declines, we can begin to feel separated from those around us.  Our ability to acknowledge the warmth of another can diminish proportionally to our own diminishing warmth.

Physically, warmth is most prevalent in the digestive system, where a lack of heat will lead to a decrease in our ability to derive nourishment from our food and, because the body tends to store what it cannot use, an increase in body mass.  A lack of heat in the digestive system can lead to difficulty taking in new ideas and information.  Also, as heat is necessary to move the bowels, it can make it harder to let go, physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Ironically, because heat is generated by both the breakdown of food and the use of those nutrients by the muscles, our diet has a major influence on our overall temperature.

In Chinese Medicine, the primary organs of digestion are the Stomach and Spleen.  If you think of the Stomach as the cook pot that the body breaks food down in, the Spleen is the fire under the pot.  While the Spleen provides the heat to cook the ingested food, the food after being broken down provides fuel for fire for the next time we eat.  So if we eat lots of food that take extra energy for the Stomach to break down, like rich heavy foods, or raw and/or chilled foods, we derive less energy from the food and have less energy for our next meal.  We can offset some of this loss through movement and exercise, but keep in mind that the energy fueling the Spleen’s fire is also what is driving the muscles.  Too much activity without proper nourishment will also deplete the body’s heat reserves.

The body can become too warm.  Spicy foods, excessive intake of beverages like coffee and alcohol, and long term exposure to hot environments can over heat the body.  This improper heat can cause the energy in the body to become agitated and reckless, drying up bodily fluids and in extreme instances, “burning” the flesh off the bones.  In keeping with one of the principles of Yin/Yang anything in extreme will turn into its opposite.  Thus excess heat can rapidly change into cold as our ability to physically hold onto warmth diminishes.

So how do we maintain warmth?

The easiest way to keep the body warm is to dress appropriately for the weather.  If the body is chilled from the outside we have to use extra energy to maintain internal warmth.  In the winter, the extremities are most susceptible to becoming cold, especially feet and knees, forearms and hands, and the head.  Keeping the feet warm and dry, and ensuring that the knees are covered keeps cold from invading the lower body, while long sleeved shirts under coats with good gloves will keep the arms and hands warm, and of course any one of all the fun winter hats available will keep the head warm.  Dressing in layers can be both fashionable and allow for accommodating interior and exterior temperatures.

Because our ability to generate warmth is directly linked to the food we consume it is important to avoid foods that cool the body.  Because the body has to warm everything we eat to body temperature, any cold beverages, raw fruits or vegetables, or chilled food of any sort should be limited if not outright avoided in cold weather.  Warming teas like Chai or cinnamon are excellent for warming digestion, while slow cooked soups and stews, casseroles, and crock pot meals are perfect in the winter time as the long cooking times help gently warm the body.

For other ways to stay warm, and or build warmth, contact a practitioner at Pulse today.

Here’s to warm fuzzies!

Nathan Mandigo