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Feeling depleted and cold? Or, are you running HOT?

Are your hands always cold? Your feet? Or is your face red and you sweat a lot? You might tend towards one way or the other----but most likely there is something else going on from a Chinese medicine perspective.

Chinese medicine holds an individualized concept of health and this means there is a unique approach for addressing each of our individual physical, emotional, spiritual conditions. The theory of the medicine provides a personalized key to unlock your door to regaining that balance. And that balance impacts everything from how we digest food, to how we digest our emotions, to our pain, and to our energy level, including libido---basically, our ability to do and be joyfully in life.

What's Really Going On?

We might think men tend to "run hot" and women "cold." However, in my clinical experience, many men are actually running cold as well as many young women. And of course, women going through menopause often tend to run hot due to the loss of Estrogen, a "yin," cooling factor in Chinese Medicine. Most of us usually accept our being cold or hot as just the way we are and that we just have "poor circulation" or high blood pressure. But in the theory of Chinese medicine, these are clues to your own internal patterns. Your cold feet may have something to do with a tired Kidney and your cold hands your lung function or both hands and feet your Spleen.

But Why?

The short answer is that for many people it is a matter of lifestyle and diet, or aging. It's all a matter of yin and yang and whether you are depleted, balanced, or in excess. We are a "more is better" society. Slowing down is not a thing. Eventually, we run out of gas but don't notice or pay attention, end up running on fumes, and then the engine burns out.

Why "More is better" is not true:

Without very careful attention to balance, years of pushing hard and over-exerting which are "Yang" in nature, can exhaust our font of energy from a Chinese perspective. And many front line healthcare workers and teachers at this particular time in COVID19 are in big stress. Being able to rest, eat well, de-stress, sit in nature, is so key and may be so challenging to even get.

If we are in a "hot" mode of being for too long, working huge hours every day, imbibing too many cheesy, jalapeno fries and alcohol and not discharging high levels of stress, it is like turning the burner on the stove up to high for too long; careful! You'll burn the rice! And, in our over-doing, over-thinking, over-or-under exercising culture, many people eventually become depleted, exhausted and it turns into COLD in the body.

Running Cold

Cold constricts and causes pain especially in the knees and low back, it means the stomach isn't warm enough to transform food, you may experience poor appetite, poor libido and sexual energy, tiredness, abdominal distension and a poor immune system. Cold doesn't let qi and blood move and so it congeals "phlgem" and can create nodules. It often represents a lack of Spleen or Kidney Yang which then can also impacts vital energy. Soups, warm clothes, a warm rice sock on your feet and back, and lots of Moxa (a warming Chinese herb your practitioner can use or guide you to).

Running Hot

On the other hand, some folks are actually in a situation of excess and the signs are pretty easy to spot, feeling hot, red cheeks and nose, burning sensations, reflux, sweaty, maybe your emotions tend to run Hot too so the heat rises in you and you get headaches or rashes. You may feel more a more racing heart, your tongue may appear red. All the things you'd feel when you bang your knee or you catch the flu---hot and inflammed. Watch out for too much alcohol, and hot, spicy food.

What to do

Qigong is my current specialty along with acupuncture and both are beautiful modalities. Qigong is more and more available online now, with me or others, and is a moving meditation which helps by bringing in lots of oxygen which changes our chemistry and movement which regulates the meridians!

There are also other areas you can explore: diet, stress reduction, "yin" activities, processing emotions, exertion level, beneficial sexual activity, and learning about your unique patterns.

Diet Many times, modifying the diet can be very helpful. Foods have thermal properties, some cause stagnation or damp, others disperse it. For example, although you might believe that hot tea is warming, green tea is actually energetically "cooling" whereas black or rooibos tea is "warming." So if it is summer or you run "hot" green tea is great but if you run cold, a warming herbal tea or black tea might be more appropriate.

Following are a few generic tips which are a helpful start for anyone. And then you may wish to consult with your local or online Chinese medicine practitioner for more specific recommendations.

  1. Amount of food: The sages say "eat until your are 70% full" an age old understanding that our brain is slower than our stomach. It was advised to "eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and Dinner like a pauper." Ok they were a little patriarchal. But the basic wisdom is that your stomach is at it's peak between 7-9am in the morning when we should eat our larger meal, and at is absolute low point after 7pm at night when most people eat dinner. So the corollary is "eat a light supper before 7pm."

  2. Type of food: The stomach is considered to operate like a soup it wants to be at an optimum temperature and if you dump in ice cold drinks, and cold raw veg and fruit, it gets grumpy. So rules of thumb include the following:

  • Eat warm, lightly cooked foods. Lots of good soups with bone broth.

  • Lots of seasonal vegetables, cooked not raw which is hard to digest (have you noticed that most Indian vegetable dishes are cooked with plenty of herbs and spices and oil...absolutely yummy. The fats help the body to absorb the vegetable's fat soluable vitamins. So why in the west do we gag down boring, steamed vegetables and hate them?

  • Avoid (does not mean never, but avoid): cold, dairy, sugar, refined carbs and raw cold food and too much fruit, and fruit juice (the triple threat is a milkshake/frappucino/smoothie----every notice how you actually feel in your GI tract after one? )

  • Some protein of various kinds; we were designed to be omnivorous but Chinese dietary principles used meat more as a condiment rather than a 12 ounce steak. Keto folks just ensure you are getting enough vegetable matter.

  • Eat seasonally and think about how much you would eat if you had to pick it (e.g. would you actually eat 10 oranges at one sitting that go into making your 1 glass of OJ:?)

  • Spicy food and alcohol----GO EASY: Some is ok, but if you run "hot" then these two items will make you even hotter. Beer is cooling, wine is warming, spirits are HOT. But even if you run "cold" spicy food and alcohol also are drying and alcohol also impacts the liver as you know and also the kidney (Chinese medicine perspective). Pizza, Cheesy, jalapeno fries before bed---whoa, disaster.

  • And Qigong! Why because it helps tonify the organs of digestion, it brings in huge amounts of oxygen which are needed for efficient transformation of food, and it moves all the Qi: stomach and spleen and liver and gallbladder and kidney and heart.

Reduce Stress and Acknowledge emotions: "Stress" itself isn't bad: your heart gets a big stress about 60 times a minute but it relaxes in between. Your bones need the stress of walking to build new bone. What damages is unrelenting, pounding stress with no relaxation in between that keeps the stress hormones coursing through and damaging tissue and emotions. So we need to cajole the sympathetic system to chill so the parasympathetic nervous system can do its magic relaxing. There are many ways to do this but not typically understood or appreciated in our culture:

Do more "Yin" activities which calm and relax the nervous system.

  1. Meditation, yin yoga (not hot or really hard yoga), Qigong, acupuncture

  2. Nature, nature and nature.

  3. Laughter, joy, and loving relationship

  4. Close your eyes, breathe, and hold your Kidneys for a few moments multiple times a day (imagine them as cute little puppies or kittens or something lovable. The adrenals are there too and are the organs which crank out cortisol, the stress hormone)

  5. Loving touch (from someone or yourself, see #c above). You can hold one hand on your chest and one below your belly and breath. It generates Oxytocin!

  6. Reading for pleasure!

  7. Sleep: your brain cells shrink a tad during deep sleep allowing the brain to do a little de-toxification and wash metabolites down very teeny lymph and blood vessels. So if you aren't able to get to this stage, your brain cannot eliminate the waste which hampers the hormonal control centers resident in your brain. Some tips for sleep:

  • You need to bring all that Yang energy of the day IN and DOWN. So you need to wind down. Create a routine. Turning off electronics awhile before bed helps your brain chill. Do some guided mediation.

  • Use a rice sock to warm up your feet if they are cold and also bring the energy from the top to the bottom.

  • Try this qigong set:

  • Increase your selenium by eating 3-4 few brazil nuts an hour before bed

  • Don't eat to close to your bed time to reduce reflux and overly active gastric activity.

Emotions are just another form of energetic movement within you. But they can cause tremendous suffering because we associate the sensations that come with them with a fear or worry. Ensure you have a therapist to assist you if needed. Sometimes there are deep triggers embedded in the body from trauma. But basically emotions are just sensations in your body. Feel them, express them. "Shaking" qi gong is a beautiful way to discharge these emotions (see a sample to some drumming music here:

Level of exertion (work, exercise/type, burning the candle at both ends) : We're a do do do culture. But it can lead to over stressing especially the Kidney resources in Chinese medical theory. And this ultimately can turn into all types of depletion. So it is a matter of balancing activity. Contemplative activity like photography, art, singing, watching sun rises and sets, yoga, Qigong are all restorative. There is some recent evidence supporting Short High Intensity Workouts as opposed to long endurance in that it revs up the heartrate but for short duration. The "five taxations" in Chinese medical theory provide prescriptions:

  1. If you have been on your feet all day, it taxes the Kidneys, so seek activities that do not require being on your feet more, bicycling, swimming , seated QIgong, for example

  2. If you sit a lot it taxes your Spleen, and so find more active things like walking, getting up for a walk around every hour at work. Do a little Qigong shaking (above) or stretching.

  3. If you hunch over, like working on jewelry, or art, surgery, or a bicycle, it taxes the lungs. So seek ways to sit with the spine elongated and/or do counterbalancing activities like Qigong to support the chest and back.

  4. If you Read a lot (computers, books): it taxes your Liver which is responsible for the eyes so put on a timer and gaze away from the screen into the distance for a few minutes to rest your eyes. Hold your palms gently over your eyes breathe

  5. If you party hard, love roller coasters, and otherwise have an "excess of high intensity emotion of laughter and joy, believe it or not, it taxes your heart. You might notice that feeling of exhaustion----the low after the high. Just notice, be aware and rest the next day and just note that too much can digs into your precious resources. You knew that😉

  6. If you do long, hard endurance activities, you need to take extra, extra care that you do not exhaust your fluids and organs from Chinese Medicine perspective. It would be great to work with an acupuncturist/herbalist or Naturopath and/or nutritionist to ensure. Women especially should take care during their menstrual cycles which is already depleting and try to rest during those days as many, many cultural traditions over eons have practiced.

Sexual activity: As mentioned above, lack of sexual energy can be a sign of depletion. But Chinese medicine also understood that too much "sexual activity" itself can deplete our vital life force. For men that means "too much ejaculation" and "too much" is different for a young man than an older man. For women, it was understood that having many children depleted vital life force energy. In addition, down-bearing orgasm can exacerbate uterine prolapses.

But it isn't the end of the game because there are ancient practices for experiencing the wonders of intimate partnership that work with energy differently, create beautiful connection with your partner (or yourself) and recirculates the energy in such a way to tonify all of the organs. (See Passion Play by Felice Dunas).

Your unique organ patterns and history: Finally, there is your unique constitutional attributes and patterns which a Chinese Medicine practitioner can help you to understand and then provide acupuncture, dietary, herbal and qigong prescriptions which are specific to you.

If you have questions, or specific conditions, feel free to contact me privately via

Wishing you ease and health,

In loving partnership


Jan Bull, L.Ac

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