We all feel the winds of change blowing—metaphorically certainly, but also literally—as November settles us firmly into the fall season. As we move into autumn, we must remember to keep our immune systems strong. Traditional Chinese medicine can help. Fortunately, there are wonderful resources here in the Canyon. 

I spoke with Topanga residents and veteran practitioners of Oriental medicine Nancy Marcucella and Carla Vidor. Marcucella owns and operates the beloved Topanga ABC clinic in Pine Tree Circle, and has been a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, and chiropractic for over 30 years. Vidor earned her doctorate in acupuncture and Oriental medicine with a speciality in reproductive health. She is also a fellow of the American Board of Oriental and Reproductive Medicine, and co-founder of Elysia Life Care wellness center in Santa Monica. 

Full disclosure: both women are colleagues of mine, and both have treated me, my friends, and my clients with great success. I believe them to be experts in their field, as their credentials attest to. 

Let’s begin with an understanding of what exactly Oriental medicine is. It is a term interchangeable with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). This ancient system connects humans with the larger surrounding universe, its system of diagnostics built upon the interdependence of the two. It aims to get to the root of a problem, whereas Western medicine is often criticized for simply addressing symptoms and putting a proverbial band aid on complex chronic issues. 

Perhaps most relevant to this writing, TCM changes with the seasons to reflect the body’s needs at different times. Practitioners of TCM believe there are five seasons—autumn, winter, spring, summer, and late summer. Behind each of these is an elemental energy, referred to as the five elements: fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. By observing nature, we find these five energies and elements in the world around us; we can see how they show up within our own bodies and personalities as well. As this goes to press, we are transitioning. It is time to shift focus, regroup, and take intentional steps to prepare for the coming cold months.

Chi, which is the body’s energy and vital life force, is the underpinning of all TCM. It is said to run through the body in invisible conduit lines called meridians, with individual energetic points dotting each meridian. TCM focuses on disturbances in one’s chi flow; the amount of movement determines the health of the body and mind.

I remember an instructor of mine once remarking that for TCM to work, the meridians have to be patent, that is, open and unobstructed. The fine needles used in acupuncture are one way to redirect energy, as is pressure on the same acu points by way of shiatsu massage. On this topic Vidor says, “I always start with lifestyle. This has to be the foundation, otherwise acupuncture and herbs will only do so much.” 

As we talk of the different kinds of chi, she continues, “Wei Chi is your shield, your protective barrier. Just like the lungs and the skin are the interface to the outside world, the wei chi circulates superficially, like an aura, to help our body fend off viruses and bacteria. To support wei chi, again we must start with lifestyle.”

The term lifestyle contextually encompasses—at the most basic level—sleep, diet, exercise, self-care. 

Advises Vidor, “If schedule permits, slow down earlier now that dark arrives by 5 p.m. Go to sleep no later than 10 p.m. and wake with the sun. This isn’t the time to force your body’s energy to move in step with summer’s tempo; we are more naturally active in summer months, but now is a time to slow down and rest. Just do your best. If sleep is an issue, acupuncture can be incredibly beneficial; it can actually be more restful than sleep since your body is in a completely relaxed state. 

“Sometimes when we sleep we are actually working on resolving problems and not resting. Acupuncture can create the same recovery from the day as a truly restorative sleep, and right now especially we all need that to stay resilient to whatever comes our way.”

Marcucella often counsels clients in nutrition. “TCM is deeply rooted in the idea that food is medicine,” she explains. “Food is divided into five natures: cold, cool, neutral, warm, and hot. When people eat mainly from one nature of food, their bodies will become imbalanced and that can affect the immune system. In Chinese medicine the goal is to keep the body neutral by eating all the different natures. This must be balanced by taking into account the season of the year. 

“Autumn is the gateway to winter, which TCM views as a time for retreat and reflection,” she says. “It is a time to fortify and protect energy reserves.”

In winter, stay away from too much greasy, sweet, or cold food, which can lead to chi stagnation and tax digestion. Warming foods are recommended such as root vegetables, leafy greens, aduki and black beans, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, winter squash, pumpkin, and walnuts. 

Preferred meats include beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, and salmon. “Eat a little more protein this time of the year and less raw foods,” Marcucella says. “Fruit should be eaten sparingly, cooked with spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. Other warming spices to add to your November pantry are garlic, onions, ginger, cumin, parsley, and basil.”

She recommends adding herbs to your plate, those that strengthen the immune system in particular. Many are anti-viral, antibacterial, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory, notes Marcucella, including echinacea, ginseng, garlic, astragalus, and reishi mushrooms.

We come now to the subject of exercise. The canyon has gifted us myriad hiking trails, so (after donning a mask for the safety and comfort of all) get outside and traverse them. This is the time for slow and steady movement. Vidor adds, “Chi gong is also perfect for now.”

Self-care may be the most challenging item on the list, given how our daily routines have been necessarily restructured. The most challenging, yet arguably the most important. You’ve heard the saying, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup.’

At a time when we are disconnected from so much, may November be a time to reconnect with ourselves, the nature surrounding us, and our own human nature.

Nancy Marcucella, D.C. LAc., can be reached at 310-455-2225. Alternatively, just walk upstairs next time you visit Canyon Gourmet; Nancy’s doors have remained open in service to clients during the pandemic. Carla Vidor has office hours Mondays and Wednesdays. On Thursdays she makes house calls for canyon clients. Find out more at www.elysialifecare.com, or call 424-744-8366.

By Jill Cotu