THE PERCEPTION AND USE OF HOT AND COLD FOR HEALING
by Vago Damitio
In China, healers have used the concept of yin and yang to aid in diagnosis and healing for centuries. The Yin-Yang is symbol of harmonious balance between opposites. This balance of opposites is represented by the familiar Tai-Chi (grand-ultimate) which demonstrates the perfection of the whole. In healing, Yin is associated with internal “cold” and decreased function while Yang is associated with external “heat” and increased function. Symptoms of “cold” or external symptoms include: headaches, inability to perspire, and a coated tongue. Symptoms of inner coldness consist of : absence of thirst, vomiting, and diarrhea. For inner “heat” thirst and exhaustion are the indicators. Outer “heat” makes itself known through fevers and rashes .(Palos[1963 p93-95]). When an individual has too much “heat” or “cold” illness results.
Chinese culture is not alone in considering the roles of hot and cold in disease. The roles of hot and cold are considered in healing and in medicine throughout the world. Native American Shamans, biomedical doctors, and traditional Chinese healers all recognize and use the properties of hot and cold to promote wellness. They do not, however, use them or perceive them in the same way.
Healing does not conform to one model in native cultures. There are some practices, however, that occur in a majority of healing traditions. These practices have been generically categorized under Shamanism. It is generally believed in many Native American cultures that disease has its origins in and gains meaning from the spirit world, consequently much Shamanic healing is to preserve and nurture the soul. Shamanism conceives of illness as something that exists apart from the body. In most cases illness enters the body through a loss of personal power. Illness disrupts the balance of the body. Many Shamans use intensive temperature conditions to maintain and restore the body’s natural balance.(Achterberg 1987[pp103-123])
Healing based on the biomedical model is similar to Shamanism in many respects, among these: viewing illness as being primarily based on external causes – viruses, bacteria, etc.; using extreme temperatures to attempt to free the body of an external “enemy/disease”. In recent years biomedical science has discovered components to high and low body temperatures that liberate and protect the body so that it can function in a healthy state. Even the term “cold” has its roots in the body having an ideal balance of heat and cold.
In the biomedical worldview treatments which once would have been considered barbaric, backward, even dangerous are now being tested and used to cure some of the most complex diseases successfully. Some of these include the inhibition of cancerous tumors through raising core body temperature(Achterberg 1987[pp113], raising the temperature of the blood to 112 degrees has successfully pushed fully developed AIDS into remission (Rosen 1994[pp79-80], and operating rooms find that patients who are warmed during surgery recover nearly twice as fast as patients who are not heated (Discover v17 Nov 1996[pp26]).
The use of cold in biomedical healing is also becoming more common. Doctors have found that focusing intense bursts of cold on babies who are born premature, reverses the loss of vision caused by being kept in an oxygen tent (Science News Apr 1996[pp44]). Cryogenics (the deep freezing of bodies or parts of bodies) is giving doctors the time they need to save more lives than ever before.
Traditional Chinese medicine is enjoying a revival as practices once condemned by the biomedical establishment are validated and utilized with results. Often the concept is similar to a biomedical one, but the practice is culturally unacceptable. Moxibustion which provides direct heat to specific points through burning cones or satchels of herbs on the patient. Modern Chinese healers find that merely warming serves the purpose just as well as actual burning of herbal sachets. This is much more acceptable to the “western mind”. In concept moxibustion is very similar to using a heating pad on a sore muscle, only it acknowledges that certain points on the body affect different organs and areas.
In diagnosing the sick, the Chinese healer determines whether the symptoms fall into the hot/cold and internal/external categories. Certain organs are known to be Yin(cold) or Yang(hot). Based on the principle of balance the healer proscribes treatment accordingly. It is possible to have hot internal symptoms, cold external symptoms, or a mixture of any. The healer must be familiar with hundreds of combinations in order to diagnose many illnesses.(Palos 1963 [p94]).
Shamans often use sweat lodges in order to achieve an altered state of consciousness which allows the healer or, in some cases, the person being healed to confront the force which is causing the illness in the spirit world. It is interesting to note that increased temperature has been found to reflect the body’s natural reaction to toxins in biomedical research. Even the term Shaman comes from the Vedic word Sram which means “to heat oneself”.
It is natural that hot and cold should be used in healing traditions throughout the world because temperature is one of the bodies most powerful voices the body has to tell people when something is wrong. It makes sense that temperature can play a part in the healing of the body. These are only a few practices of a few cultures which use “hot” and “cold”. There are many more which I have not touched on today.
Achterberg, J. Imagery in Healing:Shamanism and Modern Medicine.
Boston/London: Shambhala, 1985
Palos, S. The Chinese Art of Healing
New York: Herder and Herder, 1963
Rosen, M. and Breau, G. Taking the Heat.
People Magazine: 01 August 1994.
Sternberg, S. Pinpoint cold saves sight, not acuity.
Science News: 20 April 1996
Hot Times in the Operating Room
1. 1. Discover: November 1996