Traditional Chinese medicine identifies several external pathogens that can invade the body and cause illness. These pathogens are named after the characteristic symptoms they cause- cold, heat, dampness, dryness, wind and fire. The key is to manifest enough defensive qi (“wei qi”) to ward off the threat of the pathogen (a virus, bacteria, etc.) Wei qi can be likened to the immune system in modern medicine. The body may be vulnerable to invasion if the wei qi is weak or if the external pathogen is very strong and able to penetrate. The idea that one can “catch cold,” for instance, is explicit: there are several meridian pathways that traverse the neck. If the neck is exposed to frigid temperatures, or a combination of what we call a “wind-cold pathogenic factor,” these channels are more readily invaded. (The names given to some of the critical acupoints on the back of the head and neck include the word “wind” in translation.) These points, along with the orifices- including ears, nose, mouth and the pores of the skin may also leave the body exposed. (Sweating from exercise leaves the pores of the skin more open and may also create a vulnerable situation, so always bundle up after a gym workout in winter.)
Once wind-cold penetrates and invades the head and neck area, it can travel quickly and attack the body causing typical symptoms of stiff neck, chills, cough, runny nose and so forth. Eventually, it may develop into a more serious illness called a wind-heat invasion with symptoms of fever, sweats, thirst, headache, nasal discharge, sore throat and so on. If a person’s defensive qi is low, it may take a long time to recover, or it may lead to deeper, more chronic illness and disharmony.
By keeping warm and covering up these vulnerable areas, you will help protect your body from illness. Be proactive and protect your head and neck with a simple solution: wear a hat and scarf in winter!