This month has brought tragic wildfires to Northern California. We have all seen and heard the news of terrible loss of life, homes and livelihood for many thousands of people. The surrounding communities are lucky enough to avoid these dangers, yet feel the strong effects of smoke pollution. The smoke blows in on hot dry winds, and hangs in dark toxic clouds surrounding everything. The sky is a smudgy haze and the sun is an eerie blood red.
How should we protect our health during this time of wildfire smoke pollution? Today I would like to present a set of ten helpful tips to help us with our physical and emotional health during the sequelae of the Northern California wildfire disasters. These tips are derived from the teachings of Traditional Tibetan Medicine. If you are too busy to read all these tips, please skip to number ten, by far the most important!
Smoke Pollution Harms Our Fire Element
Tibetan Medicine is based on a system of five elements. Within our human bodies these five elements express as the three Nyepa, or elemental humors. The fire element expresses in our bodies as the Tripa Nyepa, or fire element humor. The system of Tripa comprises all our physiological systems related with the fire element or heat natured conditions. This includes many physiological systems such as our digestion, blood, lymphatic, hepatic, biliary systems, mental and emotional functions.
Tibetan Medicine teaches that environmental pollution such as fire smoke is harmful to our fire element Tripa system. It is disturbing to our liver/gallbladder and detrimental to our natural protective energies. Smoke pollution from wildfires is hot, dry and toxic. It is directly disturbing to our Tripa Nyepa. The rough, dry and light quality of wildfire pollution is also disturbing to our wind element Loong Nyepa. Externally, strong winds push and spread wildfires. Disturbance to the internal wind energy, the Loong Nyepa, aggravates the fire element, pushing and spreading the symptoms of Tripa imbalance.
The effects of smoke pollution are especially harmful during the autumn season.The autumn season is the time of year when the Tripa naturally arises and manifests symptoms. In autumn, the external environmental conditions tend to be warm, dry and sharp. These qualities match the characteristics of our internal fire element Tripa Nyepa. In the autumn, the qualities of the season match our elemental fire physiology, causing aggravation of Tripa symptoms. In the external environment conditions result in high danger of wildfires. This is an example of an important and profound concept in Eastern Medicine. Our external environment relates with our internal condition in a seasonal pattern.
Smoke pollution during the autumn season may result in the following signs and symptoms, which relate to disturbances of the fire element Tripa Nyepa and the wind element Loong Nyepa:
- respiratory disturbances, cough, congestion, irritation to the lung, nose and throat
- irritation to eyes & sinuses with allergic responses, itching, burning and discharge
- orbital, frontal and/or temporal headaches
- irritability, moodiness and mental instability
- anxiety or restlessness
- fatigue, depression or poor concentration
- bitter taste in mouth
- nosebleeds or exacerbation of other hemorrhagic conditions
- digestive symptoms such as loose stools, abdominal pain, constipation or intestinal heat and dryness
- nausea or acidic regurgitation
10 Tips to Protect Our Health From Smoke Pollution
The classical texts of Traditional Tibetan Medicine offer us guidelines for protecting our health in each season. They provide instructions for balancing our fire element Tripa Nyepa. Tibetan Medicine texts also offer advice on protecting health in daily life. They specifically mention taking extra precautions when in proximity to forest fires.
The following are 10 Tibetan Medicine tips for protecting our health during wildfire smoke pollution:
1. Use caution when working outdoors and minimize exercising. It is easy to understand that exercising and working outdoors in poor air quality is counter-productive for health. Physical activity increases our wind element Loong Nyepa in general. Combined with increased exposure to environmental toxins, we risk serious disturbance to our Loong humoral functions. To protect our health during wildfire season, reduce exercise and use caution with manual labor, lifting heavy objects and other strenuous tasks.
2. Avoid arguments and conflicts. The condition of smoke pollution and wildfires has strong negative effect on people’s emotions and mental stability. Disturbance to our fire element Tripa Nyepa increases emotions like anger and frustration. Disturbance to the Loong Nyepa increases anxiety and confusion. During wildfire time you will notice people behaving with unstable emotions, more argumentative, confrontational and irritable. When you see more people road raging and freaking out in grocery stores this week, you will know why.
3. Avoid disturbing sounds and images. Many people in our culture enjoy scary, violent movies and television shows, or intense aggressive music. Especially these things are popular around the Halloween holiday. However, with the current polluted conditions matched with the seasonal characteristics it is a great idea to skip the haunted house and horror movies for now. Disturbing sounds, words and images are antagonistic to our Loong, which can then drive the Tripa out of balance. With this environmental tragedy and other disasters, there is no shortage of disturbing news on TV. Please do not dive too deeply into news media If you are easily disturbed by the tragic and scary content.
4. Refrain from drinking alcohol. Tibetan Medicine seasonal guidelines advise minimizing alcohol consumption, or only having “watered-down beer” in the autumn season. Alcohol is drying, hot and sharp in nature. It irritates the Tripa and the liver/gallbladder system. These characteristics match the dry, sharp nature of the autumn season. For this reason, drinking in the autumn may be more detrimental to our health than usual. These Tripa-disturbing characteristics are very much increased and complicated by the presence of smoke pollution. When wildfires are close by the seasonal advice on alcohol is even more important than usual.
5. Take short, lukewarm showers or baths. Bathing frequently can be healthy for our fire element Tripa Nyepa. Cleansing sweat and dirt from the skin helps open the pores. This promotes the smooth movement of Loong in our system, and the healthy release of sweat promotes balance of the Tripa. Especially when there is air pollution present, promoting the balance of Tripa with proper bathing is very helpful. Especially it is healthy to rinse the head, face and eyes. Baths should be short and not too hot. Short, lukewarm showers are best. Hot water bathing in this time can aggravate symptoms such as headaches, dry itchy eyes, upset stomach, fatigue and irritable mood. One may simply rinse the body, or use gentle, moisturizing products which are not too harsh or drying.
6. Keep clothes and living quarters clean and fresh. Another useful practice for balancing the Tripa, especially in the autumn season, is to pay extra attention to the cleanliness of our clothes and homes. It is a good time to pick up that “floor-drobe” and make sure our garments are clean, fresh and hanging nicely. Wear thin fabrics and light cool colors such as white, light greens and blues. One may apply cool aromatic scents such as sandalwood, camphor, jasmine, honeysuckle and lavender. When it is very dirty outside, we can make conditions extra clean and fresh inside the home. Green plants and flowers, nice smells, cool bright colors, purified or humidified air all help support our physical and mental wellbeing.
7. Eat a light and cool diet. Which type of diet is best to help expel environmental toxins and balance our Tripa? We should avoid rich, oily, spicy foods and warm herbs. It is appropriate to eat light and cool foods with less spices. Thin plain rice soup, fresh noodles, fresh dairy products and fresh cooked vegetables are very good. Bitter, cool vegetables such as celery and dandelion are great choices.
8. Stay hydrated and use light herb teas. Keeping our bodies well hydrated is crucial for expelling toxins and maintaining health. Drinking cool boiled water is best. Ice water stresses our digestive system and can be counterproductive for our health. Homemade vegetable broth is excellent for hydrating the body and combating dryness. Less caffeine is advisable now. Light herb teas such as mint, licorice, chrysanthemum and green tea are great. A few strands of saffron steeped in warm water is fantastic. Saffron water sooths our over-taxed liver system, balances Tripa disturbance and calms our mood.
9. Spend time in pleasant relaxation. The Tibetan Medicine texts advise us to spend time relaxing in a cool, fresh place and talk about pleasant things with our beloved companions or friends. This simple practice helps to soothe vexing emotions, restore our fatigue and balance the Tripa system. Ideally, we can go somewhere with fresh air, green shady plants and flowing water. If we do not have this option we can stay in a cool building with humidified air and enjoy some respite from the smoke with our dear friends.
10. Cultivate compassion in thoughts and actions. The best advice we can apply for our health and wellbeing is to cultivate compassion in our thoughts and actions. When we see images of and hear about the tragic suffering resulting from these wildfires and other disasters it is natural to feel emotional responses. Fear, sadness, anxiety, depression and vexation can increase in response to terrible news around us. Tibetan Medicine offers us a very helpful piece of advice to deal with these disturbing emotions. Cultivating compassion and empathy for other suffering beings has an almost magical effect to resolve our emotional disturbances and promote our psychological wellbeing. Send positive intentions and prayers to those who are suffering. Get involved and do something to help them. Helping others is also helping yourself!