What is impalpable, neither solid or liquid
never stationary but is ceaselessly mobile?
It excites heat and fire, it dries up shallow waters,
moves streams and rivers, changes the seasons,
uproots trees and urges the clouds.
What can produce disease and plagues,
causes frost and thunder and makes the earth tremble?
Hint: I listen to the _____to the ______of my soul.
Wind is considered a pathogenic factor or an “evil” in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine. The ancients recognized the virulence of wind in nature and its ability to rapidly enter the body and cause us harm.
Have you ever seen the wind split a tree? Have you had a power outage on a windy night?
Based on this rapid inherent nature of wind, it is often considered the number one climactic evil of the 6 pathogenic factors: wind, damp, cold, heat and summer heat.
What is the wind? Aside from oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, the wind contains protozoa, bacteria, pollen, virus, insects, microbes, carbon emissions, industrial pollution, dust, smoke and mold.
The air all around us is communicating in our atmosphere as particulate matter. Particulate matter is the sum of all solid and liquid particles, both inorganic and organic suspended in air.
This fine particulate matter is defined as particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter. This PM2.5 travels through our respiratory airways to the deeper parts of the lung and can induce tissue damage or inflammation of the lung.
According to the World Health Organization, long term exposure to particulate matter is associated with allergies, strokes, respiratory illness and infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, exacerbation of asthma and pre-mature deaths in those with lung and heart disease.
During winter, cities like Salt Lake City and Denver have seen exceedingly high levels of PM 2.5, producing ammonium nitrate aerosols, a major component of particulate matter pollution. A paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Letters recognizes PM 2.5 as a major cause of premature deaths worldwide, particularly due to wintertime air pollution.
So what exactly do the winter winds bring us each year?
Seasonally, the winds change direction, and so does the particulate matter concentration. This change in the air exposes a duration or window of “seasonal sickness”. We know this as “flu season and allergy season.”
A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Science stated that, “The toxicological mechanisms of inhaled airborne particles activate our bodies pro-inflammatory mediators producing oxidative stress, cellular death and gene toxicity.” These ultra fine particles translocate into the bloodstream and organs, aggravating local oxidative stress and inflammation.
Does anyone else see the correlation between wintertime air pollution, the virulent seasonal wind and its capacity to obstruct our respiratory health every year?
The ancients didn’t have industrial pollution pumping through the air, but they did have plagues and diseases, killing both crops and villages. And these plagues and diseases were often noted in cycles, correlating with the changing seasons.
Through the diagnostic lens of Chinese Medicine, wintertime colds and flu’s are described as a wind-cold or a wind-heat pathogen. Affecting the upper respiratory and mucosal linings, this terminology encompasses symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and vomiting or diarrhea.
In a classical sense, wind can seem quite esoteric. Given the name of “ghosts” or “evil-spirit” the ancients described it as that which is unseen and causing of disease. You may have heard to “protect yourself from the wind,” or maybe your Grandma said, “Don’t leave the house without a scarf, if you do you’ll catch a chill.”
These evils or ghosts are the invisible robbers of vitality, entering the upper orifices of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. If we can not subdue the wind or halt the wind from entering, it has great potential to occupy and harm the body.
We may sing the famous lyrics by Cat Stevens “I listen to the wind to the wind of my soul” or maybe we have described an encounter as a “whirlwind.” The movement of wind, sometimes transitory or sometimes heavy and lurking, can move in rapidly or stick around like a dense fog. You know, that feeling of “something being in the air?”
These sayings are culturally embedded, understood as something suddenly arriving, causing a stir. Something that perhaps, was un-noticed or simply not there before.
My my what have the winds brought in this year?
To say that we’ve grasped the wind, is still quite apropos. The ancients also recognized that the wind evil was not always seen as a gust of wind, but instead an unknown entity that had been carried by the wind. Hence the name, ghost.
Interestingly it is still nomenclature of Western physicians to call a disease etiology unknown or idiopathic. Defined as a disease or condition which arises spontaneously, this medical terminology describes it is as though something has “come out of the air” to cause the disease. This too is a concept of wind.
When we consider the ancient and modern sense of wind, we can begin to grasp the concept of wind as it relates to our internal landscape. The wind interacts with our own unique biome, through our skin and pores. It affects the space between the skin and muscles, the cou li.
Think goose bumps. You feel the surface of your skin rising, your hair standing straight up, a slight chill coursing the space just below your skin. This is the cou li. It is the layer in which the Wei Qi resides. Wei Qi resides in the cou li during the day and at night it retreats inward to the Ying level, our nutritive level.
Wind frequently can invade our body’s Wei Qi, which is synonymous with immunity. Both Wei Qi and immunity are a complex system, describing numerous functions and actions, but both act as our bodies shield and defender against pathogenic influences.
The ancients called our Wei Qi a “jade screen” for it was a strong protector of the heart and synonymous with vitality. This capacity to defend against an invasion of wind is crucial to our health or disease state.
The wind can affect the body in various ways depending on individual constitution. Wind may arise from the exterior, producing chills, stiff neck, runny nose, muscle aches or headache. This aspect of wind makes me think of a strong gust of wind that can sweep through the cracks of your house. If the wind invades your body, you might wake up with a stiff neck, sinus congestion, headache or a feeling of chills, dull pain and aches, a tickle in the throat or perhaps even sudden loss of voice. Have you ever felt a few of these symptoms from sleeping next to an air conditioner, or with the window open on a windy night?
Wind can also arise from an interior deficiency of blood or yin, producing spasms, convulsions, paralysis or numbness in extremities. Just as the dry wind sweeps across the Sahara, stripping the land of moisture and nutrients, long term exposure to wind can damage our blood, fluids and yin.
Wind can affect the muscles and joints causing stiffness, blockage or pain. Frozen shoulder and stiff joints could be a result of long-term wind damage to the fluid layer. Wind can also arise suddenly causing a wind stroke or tremor if the ying level is not nourished. Bells Palsy is one example of this aspect of wind.
The uses of wind-dispelling herbs and acupuncture points are included the treatment of pain, spasms, paralysis, headaches, skin disorders as well as a variety of conditions affecting the respiratory system.
Grasping for a more complete understanding on the laws of nature, the marriage of these concepts as described by the ancient and modern medical languages can provide us with a more holistic understanding to disease approach, etiology and treatment.
The Chinese Medicine concept of wind and the scientific context of wind, as it relates to the changing seasons both externally and internally is just one example of how we can merge the two languages of medicine to improve health and resilience against disease.
Divine in its attribute, the wind is capable of going everywhere. It is omnipresent and embraces all things.
Are you listening to the wind?
- Dashtdar, M., Dashtdar, M., Dashtdar, B., Kardi, K., & Shirazi, M. (2016, December). The Concept of Wind in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Retrieved December 08, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5234349/
- Marchetti, S., Hassan, S., Shetaya, W., El-Mekawy, A., Mantecca, P. (2019, October 9). Seasonal Variation in the Biological Effects of PM2.5 from Greater Cairo. Retrieved December 08, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6829270/
- Stein, T. (2019, May 08). A New View of Wintertime Air Pollution. Retrieved December 08, 2020, from https://research.noaa.gov/article/ArtMID/587/ArticleID/2450/A-New-View-of-Wintertime-Air-Pollution
- Subhuti Dharmananda, P. (n.d.). FENG: The Meaning of Wind in Chinese Medicine. Retrieved December 08, 2020, from http://www.itmonline.org/articles/feng/feng.htm
- Vatakalakaliya Adhyaya. “Virtues and Nature of Wind.” Retrieved December 08, 2020, from https://www.carakasamhitaonline.com/mediawiki-1.32.1/index.php/Vatakalakaliya_Adhyaya
- Yu, W., Guo, Y., Shi, L., & Li, S. (n.d.). The association between long-term exposure to low-level PM2.5 and mortality in the state of Queensland, Australia: A modelling study with the difference-in-differences approach. Retrieved December 08, 2020, from https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1003141