One of the best things about practicing Chinese medicine is explaining how it works to people who have never had acupuncture. Most people understand my explanations about Qi and Yin and Yang, stagnation and depletion. However, a couple of times in the past week I have tried to explain the pathogen called wind, only to be met with very blank stares. And to make matters worse, the more I tried to explain, the blanker the stare.
It’s hard to understand how a weather condition could be causing such misery. But it’s true, in Chinese medicine wind can be the evil force behind tremors, dizziness, numbness, and twitches. It can also cause seasonal allergies, colds or even the current flu that’s going around.
Let me explain.
First of all, wind is considered a pathogen, or something that makes you sick. Many of the concepts of Chinese medicine are based on the natural world, and what makes you sick is no exception. Pathogens are a little bit like bad weather in your body. When you have a fever or inflammation, you have heat; when your arthritis flares up during the cold weather, you have a cold pathogen; and when you retain lots of water, you have dampness. (This is a very simplified explanation.)
Wind is considered movement where there should be stillness. As a pathogen, wind is dry, light and active. It tends to be Yang in nature—like the sunny side of the hill—it’s slightly warm, and it generally moves upward and outward.
There are actually two kinds of wind—internal and external. Internal wind tends to affect your body on a deeper level. It’s frequently associated with a malfunction of the Liver system to control the smooth flow of energy in your body, and can cause symptoms associated with movement—vertigo, tremors, twitches, and seizures. Wind is usually the dark cocktail behind illnesses such as Meniere’s and Parkinson’s.
While frequently related to a Liver system malfunction, internal wind can also be caused by systemic dryness or malnourishment. Much like a dry tree, the brittle leaves at the top rattle in the wind.
Wind can also be external, affecting the outer layers of your body, which is the pathogen behind everyday colds, flu, allergies, and viral infections. In addition, the cause comes from your inability to fight off outside “influences”, such as viruses, bacteria, and pollen. True to its nature, the wind associated with a cold tends to affect the upper part of your body and move around—first you have a sore throat, then your nose is stuffed up, and then your cold sinks into your chest. External wind can also cause itching, hives, and rashes.
External wind tends to be associated with your Lungs, which encompasses your respiratory system and skin. In Chinese medicine, your Lungs are considered the most external of your organs, because with every breath, you come into contact with the outside world. So, external wind tends to affect the outermost part of your body—your Lungs and skin.
External wind usually teams up with other pathogens, such as heat, cold, or dampness. For example, if you have the flu with an extremely sore throat and a high temperature, you have external wind plus heat. If you get a cold that makes you feel achy and chilled, you likely have external wind plus cold.
Treatment for wind conditions depends entirely on the circumstances. Is it internal or external wind? Has it paired with other pathogens? What’s causing the wind in the first place? Your acupuncturist needs to take all of these factors into consideration before developing a treatment.
Because internal wind conditions tend to be caused by depletion, a treatment plan would entail building up the depleted substance(s), such as Yin, Blood, or Qi (energy), which would ideally relieve the symptoms of wind. This would likely be done using acupuncture, Chinese herbs, choosing the right foods, and getting adequate rest.
If you’re suffering from external wind, acupuncture combined with herbs would be a likely treatment protocol. For early stage external wind, when you feel like you’re coming down with something, you can sometimes head it off with herbs you have at home. Boil grated ginger and chopped scallions in a cup of water. You can add a little broth or flavoring if you like. Drink it down, wrap yourself up, and go to bed. The idea is that these warm herbs open your pores, causing you to sweat, which expels external wind.