A wide variety of healing therapies fall under the description of Chinese medicine. Practitioners of Chinese medicine have the use of acupuncture, herbs, and dietary therapy at their fingertips. They may also use heat therapy to effectively treat their patients for certain cold conditions.
Heat therapy counteracts the effects of cold, which can cause symptoms and illness in a number of ways. The basic understanding of Chinese medicine is that in order to be healthy, you must have adequate energy to fuel your body’s systems, and that the energy must flow. However, like a river that freezes in the winter, cold contracts and impairs the smooth flow of your body’s energy and functions. Think about it; when it’s cold outside, things like bodies and car engines slow down and arthritic joints flare up. In Chinese medicine, cold is considered to be a pathogen—something that can make you sick—and can cause muscle spasms, metabolic issues, digestive problems, cramping, and joint pain.
Heat therapy is a way to offset the effects of cold. While heat can be considered to be a pathogen in Chinese medicine, in the form of a fever or inflammation, it also has a powerful ability to counter the harmful effects of cold conditions. There are a number of ways that heat can be used to heal.
Moxibustion is an effective form of heat therapy and is an age-old way of applying heat in Chinese medicine. It entails burning the fuzz from the leaves of the artemesia plant, which is also known as mugwort. Moxibustion, or moxa, burns very hot, has a penetrating smell, and helps to increase the circulation and range of motion in your joints and muscles.
Moxa comes in a variety of forms, from loose wool that is burned directly on the head of acupuncture needles, to small prepared cones on a cardboard base that are placed on your skin and lit (the cardboard base prevents burns). One of the most common ways that moxibustion is administered, however, is through a long, cigar-like stick of compact-rolled mugwort. During a treatment, a moxa stick is lit and placed near your skin in a slow pecking motion until the area feels warm.
Moxa has a very strong, penetrating smell, which is a mixed blessing. Part of its therapeutic effect is the smell, which is said to enter and heal the energetic pathways of your body. However, the smell is strong, causing many modern practitioners of Chinese medicine who work in clinics or office buildings to abandon the use of moxa and look for other warming strategies.
Far Infrared Light
Many practitioners have turned to Far Infrared heat in the clinic as a substitute to moxibustion. Far infrared light (FIR) are light rays that exist beyond the red end of the light spectrum, and are invisible to the human eye. These FIR rays transmit heat, which can penetrate beyond the surface of your body, but don’t cause skin changes like UV light from the sun does. FIR light has been found to be therapeutic in a number of instances. Research on the use of FIR light has documented that it can increase circulation, decrease pain, help promote sleep, and decrease inflammation.
In a clinical setting, FIR is most commonly delivered through the use of lamps that look and feel like large heat lamps. However, FIR can also be delivered through heating pads, wraps, heaters, and even saunas.
Warming Herbs and Foods
In Chinese medicine, herbs and food therapy can also be a therapeutic way to counteract the pathogenic effects of cold. Herbs, and to a lesser extent, foods exert a variety of effects on your body. They can boost your energy, strengthen the nourishing quality of your blood, dry up phlegm, or drain excess water. Both herbs and food can affect specific organs, such as nourishing your liver or strengthening your lungs to build immunity. However, one of the most powerful actions of both herbs and the foods you eat regularly, is that they can affect your internal temperature.
To warm your body using Chinese herbs, your practitioner might prescribe a formula that includes hot or warm herbs, such as ginger, cinnamon, clove flower buds, fennel fruit, pepper, and very small amounts of aconite. Warming your body through diet can be far more creative and delicious. Meals that include warming foods, such as lamb, trout, salmon, chicken, walnuts, onions, garlic, scallions, and red peppers would be recommended. Cooking with warm herbs, like ginger or cinnamon, also enhance the warming effects of the meal. In addition, the longer a food is cooked, the warmer it becomes to your body. Therefore slow roasted vegetables are far more warming than a salad of those same vegetables.
If you’re chronically cold, suffer from aches and pains in the cold weather, or have tight and cold muscles, heat therapy can be an effective strategy. Warming your body or areas of injury can increase your circulation, improve your range of motion, and decrease your cold-related pain. Your body will thank you warmly!