How This MD Uses The 5 Elements Of Healing To Support Immune Resilience
With over 150,000 cases of the coronavirus around the world, and more than 1,600 here in the U.S., we're are well aware of the importance of washing our hands and practicing social distancing. But at this point, what do we do when it comes to all the pent-up fear and anxiety surrounding the outbreak?
To get some insight, we spoke with Stephen Cowan, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician who's also certified in medical acupuncture. Cowan is no stranger to helping patients deal with fear.
And while we all try our best to keep our distance, Cowan says this is a good time to "prepare your body-mind-spirit [...] to mobilize without fear, since fear freezes immune resilience." Here are the five things he's doing to support his immune system, based on the five elements of healing in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM): wood, fire, earth, water, and metal:
Working with water.
In TCM, our immune system is governed by a specific type of Qi ("chi"), called "Wei Qi," or our energetic defense system. To work with water in a way that supports your Wei Qi, of course, Cowan recommends drinking more fluids. So keep your (hopefully clean) water bottle on hand always, and sip some herbal teas, too, for added benefit—like these eight for immunity.
In addition to that, getting a little more sleep than you usually might is a good way to ensure your body has plenty of time to rest, recover, and rejuvenate after each day.
The importance of movement.
Just as important as getting enough sleep, though, is moving your body while you're awake. To work with the element of wood, Cowan says he's always sure to move his body to get his blood pumping but "without exhausting it."
And since many gyms and yoga studios are on a bit of a hiatus right now, don't sweat it (until you're working out, that is). There are a ton of great at-home workouts that will still give you all the benefits of the gym, like this 12-minute HIIT routine and our complete guide to yoga.
Acupressure for immunity.
Fire is the next element in TCM, and we can work to bring the fire within us into balance through acupuncture. By activating certain acupuncture points that increase immune function and decrease stress, we can boost our Wei Qi.
Try it for yourself with this helpful guide that explains how to do it, plus three other acupoints to support immunity. Cowan explains massaging acupuncture points on the hand is a good way "to activate immune vigilance," and he's absolutely correct. Studies show getting acupuncture has a regulating effect on cellular immunity.
Enjoy slow, warm foods.
And to make sure we're all staying grounded and working with the Earth element, Cowan recommends warm, comforting foods "to nourish my reserves." For him, that means foods like soups and stews "that take time to cook, not cold foods or sugars." Of course, it never hurts to be generally mindful about eating a healthy diet, especially amid a viral outbreak.
This roundup of six immune-boosting soups is just what Cowan ordered, with tons of immune-boosting ingredients like garlic, bone broth, mushrooms, and turmeric.
Breathe for relief.
And lastly, Cowan recommends good old breath for working with the element of metal in supporting our immune system. "Breathe, practice qigong focused on long exhale," he says, adding that he finds these practices strengthen his lungs. He even recommends breathwork for his youngest clients and cites it as a way to help parents stop tantrums.
Try our Intro to Breathwork Crash Course to help get you started!
Chronic fear can affect cardiovascular and intestinal health, fertility, cognitive function, and of course, mental health including depressive symptoms and PTSD. We can all agree that's the last thing anyone needs right now, so take a word of advice from Cowan, (and the CDC, too) and help keep that immune system going strong.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.