Shang Han Lun or Cold Injury Treatise is a 2000 year old ancient Chinese text pertaining to medical treatment. In this text unfolding are numerous descriptions of symptoms, diseases and their appropriate herbal remedies and occasional acupuncture, diet and emotional perspectives. Two of the symptoms mentioned are ‘aversion to wind’ and ‘aversion to cold’, which is the focus of this blog.
In China, the following 19 centuries were filled with practitioners of medicine and scholars who further reinforced the ancient notion of wind attack versus cold attack, two different kinds of external evil photogenic factors attacking the body from the outside creating a wind disharmony or a cold disharmony; a disease.
During the 20th century with the rapid development of science in medicine and its large scale introduction into an ever more modernized China, the ancient medical knowledge was challenged and gradually adapted its theories. Now, for example, external wind and cold attacks were seen in the prism of the body’s own immunity being compromised by severe weather that may lead to the culturing of bacteria and viruses.
Setting aside the modern adaptations of the ancient medical theories and the many influences leading to the birth of the modern Chinese medicine, let’s reflect back on the ancient medicine practitioner and what was in their heart.
The ancient text speaks of aversion to wind and aversion to cold and, despite including other symptoms, the focus here is on these two.
When a person catches a cold or a flu, they suffer body aches, feel chilly, have fever, runny nose, stiff neck etc symptoms, all mentioned in the ancient text as part of either the wind disease or the cold disease. But in reality, in our everyday life, when a person has a cold or flu they do not like to be out in the cold weather or in a windy weather. It is very uncommon, if not impossible, that a sick person will like wind but hate cold, or like cold but hate wind.
In order to understand this a few introductory words about Hunyuan medicine are needed. The Hunyuan principle explains that a human body is a vessel synchronizing with nature’s cyclical pattern like day and night. The body’s purpose is to create harmony with nature and the best way to describe this harmony is that the body moves on time with nature. When the body moves on time with nature there is a sense of well being, no pains no aches. In addition to the body’s synchronization ability, the person has a unification ability; an ability to connect to nature (like with food, air and drink) and recharge. The more recharging ability the stronger the person is. Finally, the person has a heart, an instrument separating energy from the unity, also called center, that then yields desires and emotions, this is how a person feels.
So what was in the heart of the ancient text speaking of wind and cold?
Unification being strong helps the body adapt to nature more easily and when the unification is weak, the person’s energy is low and adapting to nature becomes more difficult. Catching a cold, which is influenced by the external weather wind and cold, is however, determined by one’s unification ability being strong or weak. The relationship between the unification strength and the external weather being nice or rough is constantly being evaluated by our hearts, how we feel. If, for example, my unification is strong and my body synchronizes easily, then even if it is windy out I still feel comfortable. If, on the other hand, my unification is weak, my energy low and my synchronization ability compromised, then in a windy weather I feel uncomfortable, I feel like I am going to get sick, an ‘aversion to wind’. My heart recognized how strong I am versus how difficult the wind is for my body to synchronize. Likewise, if my unification is weak and the weather is cold out and I am not dressed warm enough, my heart will feel ‘aversion to cold’.
Wind and cold both represent two different calculations of the heart, how strong or rough is the weather and how strong I am.
In the heart of the ancient text is the heart of the person making the ultimate calculation of how to synchronize with nature. Falling out of synch means disharmony and disease, while recovering the synchronization means health and longevity. The ancient text does not reveal the principle behind the symptoms and formulas, it is likewise in the heart of the practitioner to discover the harmony.
Aversion to wind means either the unification is strong or the weather is not so bad, a small problem. Aversion to cold means either the weather effect is very bad or the unification is very weak, a big problem. This is why the text title is Cold Injury and Not Wind Injury Treatise.
Actually, when we catch a cold, we have aversion to both wind and cold. But when a disharmony is just about to start and I am not really sick yet, it just feels like it is about to come. This is what aversion to wind means, a small problem. At this time drink chicken soup, go to rest, stay warm, keep the heart calm so to allow optimal recharging, and then the disease is finished before it started.
If, to the contrary, I overlooked the initial phase of aversion to wind, I had to do other “more important” things, now aversion to wind turns into aversion to cold, a big problem. Now, my body hurts and I have fever, runny nose or even cough, I have aversion to wind and cold. At this time, a strong intervention is needed, with herbs that strengthen the unification and herbs that help speeding separation activity, with acupuncture and external heat or rubbing that help the body accelerate the separation speed. Now, simply resting and chicken soup is not enough.
The ancient text suggested the following remedies, when aversion to wind, the small problem, take cinnamon twig, peony root to do minor separation, add ginger, dates and licorice to help unification, boil to a tea and drink, and then rest in bed, keep warm and enjoy rice soup all strengthening unification. Get strong to solve the problem!
In the case of aversion to cold, the big problem, take cinnamon twigs, ephedra, which create strong separation, add licorice root and apricot seed, forcefully trying to bring the energy back to unification, a much larger intervention. The ancient text adds “if you sweat profusely, there will be no recovery”, so to say that if the two herbs cinnamon and ephedra separate too strong water is pouring out of the body and the energy does not come back to unification, and with weak unification no real recovery is possible.
Treating the disease just before it starts with minor intervention is the preferred option, catch the “cold” while it is still wind. In Hunyuan this is called ‘accomplish more with less’. When we learn the underlying principle then we can do it, we can resolve a disease before it starts. This is in the heart of the ancient text!
Is it wind or is it cold is a discussion about who can catch the disharmony sooner and finish it with less. This is why the crux of 'aversion to wind' and 'aversion to cold' is with this one word 'aversion'; what the heart feels. The refined heart feels it just when it has started, is wind, a minor problem. The coarse heart ignores it and only takes note when is cold. Truly, a good medicine starts by refining one's heart.