How many different kinds of warmth can you think of? There is the warmth of a sunbeam, the warmth of a fire, warmth of interest, warmth of heart, warmth of anger, warmth of fever, and the fiery warmth of enthusiasm! Warmth is powerful–integrating and overlapping–and a tool that our body intentionally creates during an inflammation. Anthroposophic medicine places a lot of focus on warmth because it plays such a key role in processes of transformation.
Why think so much about warmth? Here’s a starting example: a specific part of the brain, the “insula,” lights up on a functional MRI (indicating that that region is especially active) both when we perceive physical warmth (like standing near a fire) as well as when we work to sense the generosity or morality of another person (social/emotional warmth). These are two kinds of potentially very different “warmth” perceptions, but they are recognized in an overlapping way. This likely means if you are simply looking at a functional MRI scan, without any other information, you might not be able to determine if a person is being stimulated by physical or social warmth. Isn’t that fascinating? It immediately opens up therapeutic possibilities, because those two realms also develop and influence each other in parallel ways:
- What happens when we routinely medicate every temperature elevation? What is the effect of “fever phobia” on our social and moral development, and on the ways we are able to sense another person?
- And when we have lost our inner warmth or moral orientation, let’s say during a depression, a shock, or even an addiction, how can therapeutic experiences of warmth (through a special oil application, or taking a medicine with warmth-loving plants or other similar warmth-supporting substances) help us reawaken that “warmth” part within us?
These are some of the reasons we should protect and value experiences of warmth.
Here’s are some more interesting factors to consider:
- Childhood illness with fever, as well as a more recent inflammation (like having had flu with fever in the last five years), both seem to have protective health effects. Childhood inflammations correlate with lower allergy rates in school-age children, and a recent flu with fever correlates with a lowered cancer risk (in the study, of laryngeal cancer). Both allergies and cancer can be understood as challenges of immune differentiation between self and not-self. Strong warmth experiences help strengthen and reinforce our knowledge of that boundary.
- And when very experienced meditation practitioners, like Buddhist monks, meditate while being examined with a functional MRI, there is also a particular part of the brain that lights up—you guessed, it, the insula! But the insula lights up, not when they are in perfect balance, but rather when they get distracted and consciously steer back to their intended focus. That is also a process of self and not-self, but on a the level of self-conscious awareness.
- I haven’t yet found a study about strong warmth experiences and enhanced meditative capacities, but I’m sure there is a link. It will undoubtedly appear as a new research discover one of these days…
What’s the take-home message?
On a body-soul-spirit level, warmth is an essential way that we perceive and differentiate connections between ourselves and the outside world. Here are a few suggestions:
- Try to develop a different relationship to fever! You can and should foster warmth, even before a fever has started, with things like: extra layers of clothes, a hat, hot tea, and blankets. The body creates fever to work through an illness, and can be helped in its work by proactively “bathing” the body in a condition of warmth. Children generally need at least an extra layer of clothing compared to the adults around them (e.g. if you are comfortable in a shirt, put your child in a shirt, sweater and hat). This is a great thing to do when you feel someone is on the edge of “getting something” and is achy, grumpy, or chilled
- The warmth provided by natural fibers is special; wool and silk are best. Small children really do well with an extra layer on their chest, under their other clothes, in late Fall, Winter, and much of Spring.
- Limit medications that suppress fever. Speak with Dr. Blanning about good alternatives to routine dosing of Tylenol and Ibuprofen.
- Cultivate social warmth on a regular basis. Genuine laughter is another way to create warmth. Who and what warms your soul, makes you feel connected, helps build interest and enthusiasm?
“Warm” greetings in this new year,