Beyond Hand-Sanitizer: Alternative Options for Staying Healthy During a Santa Fe Winter

Staci Golar | - February 1, 2012

"...the city is a mecca for holistic/complementary healing additional options for staying healthy in the winter abound"

Ah, winter. The time of year when we are reminded to get our flu shots, wash our hands and try not to sneeze upon one another. As it turns out, we don’t get sick because we go outside when it’s cold (that’s pretty much a myth…sorry moms) but rather, because we stay inside when it’s frigid out. Staying indoors equates to being around a lot of other people on a more frequent basis, often within closed heating and air systems. Viruses then spread and people suffer.

In Santa Fe, one can buy some hand-sanitizer and hope for the best. However, the city is a mecca for holistic/complementary healing modalities (it’s said that more alternative medicine and bodywork is taught and practiced here than in any other place in the world), so, needless to say, additional options for staying healthy in the winter abound.

Try acupuncture, for instance. This 4000-year-old technique treats patients by inserting thin needles on certain points of the body to regulate incorrect balances of qi, or energy, based on the premise that bodily functions are regulated by the flow of this energy.

Ehrland Truitt, a doctor of Oriental Medicine who uses the Japanese Meridian Therapy style, notes that acupuncture keeps us healthy, particularly in the winter months, through balancing and strengthening all systems of the body. “East Asian medicine looks at the body as a whole, so everything is interdependent with everything else,” Truitt notes. “Acupuncture can help to strengthen the immune system, which can be particularly important in the winter. A stronger overall system will get sick less frequently and when illness does occur, treatment can help shorten the duration and lessen the intensity.”

Acupuncturists believe that the organs tied to winter are the kidneys. Truitt notes that it is helpful to keep our lower back, then, but also our head and feet, warm during these months. He also recommends getting enough rest and drinking miso soup. He also believes that drinking enough water is the single most important thing all of us who live in (or visit) this high desert climate can do, especially in cold winter months.

Daniel Gagnon, a practicing herbalist and owner of Herbs, Etc. agrees when it comes to keeping hydrated. “Because of the dry climate and high altitude, the ingestion of a sufficient amount of water is essential. I also suggest that a hot vaporizer be used in the bedroom to prevent lung dehydration.” He notes that it is not uncommon for Santa Fe households to register at less than 15 percent humidity when a 30 to 40 percent range is ideal. Gagnon also says that the lungs naturally excrete about one quart of water every 24 hours through exhalation. If one is sick and the lungs are inflamed, they can excrete even more. “Herbal teas are a great way to replenish fluids,” Gagnon says.

But when it comes to herbal medicines does one tincture fit all? Gagnon says both yes and no. “On a preventative basis, most of the herbs that are used for that purpose seem to help everyone. However, on an acute basis, when people get a cold, the flu or other infections, it is best when herbs are recommended for the specific problem at hand. For example, elderberry and echinacea are great at the beginning of a cold or flu. However, three or four days in, goldenseal, osha and lomatium are more appropriate. If the cold turns into a sinus or lung infection, then herbs like usnea or hops are the way to go. Toward the end, herbs like red root or ocotilo work to cleanse issues so that they can resume normal functions.”

What about those who don’t believe that herbs work? Gagnon says that while some may shun herbal medicine because they are unfamiliar with it, herbal remedies do indeed assist with healing. And, with a 40-year history in Santa Fe, Herbs, Etc. can’t be wrong, right? However, just like other essential elements such as exercise and rest, Gagnon says, they can rarely be looked at alone, especially in the winter. “I recommend good nutrition, regular exercise, plenty of sleep and staying away from sick people—but ok, that’s not always possible. Second best would be to take an herbal formula that contains medicinal mushrooms (like reishi or shiitake) as well as adaptogenic herbs (like ashwagandha or Siberian eleuthero) on a daily basis. Adaptogens help strengthen our resistance to stress.”

Speaking of de-stressing, bodywork is yet another way to keep illness at bay. Like the other modalities mentioned, bodywork helps keep our immune systems healthy during cold and flu season because it helps with relaxation and blood and lymph circulation. It can also help us feel energized in what can sometimes be sluggish winter months.

In Santa Fe, choosing someone from the hundreds of holistic bodywork professionals who are out there can be intimidating. Amelia Moody, a massage therapist and Ortho Bionomy practitioner, believes in word of mouth and referrals. “If I hear a name three or more times I am curious," she says. "I will also ask people I respect for referrals. It’s important to find the right style of work to meet each individual’s needs, but also the personality and professionalism of the practitioner is very important. You want to feel safe and nurtured to have a positive healing experience.”

If you’re feeling freaked out by the thought of a stranger touching you, Moody recommends trying a brief clothed and affordable session of bodywork. “If people can have a positive experience, they will feel for themselves the benefits of stress reduction and improved sleep from just a 20-30 minute session. Tactile experience is more relatable than just hearing about it.”

And you don’t have to stop there when it comes to alternatives to the predominant Western medicine model. Plenty of other integrative medicines and healing modalities are available in Santa Fe including naturopathy, light therapy, sound therapy, reiki, Rolfing, yoga, taichi and much more. With an open mind, and some time spent researching your options, you just might find a new way of becoming, and staying, well in the winter.