Wind Cold: Greater Yang or Tai Yang stage

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Key Learning Points

  • Wind Cold is how Chinese medicine describes a ‘Chill’
  • Wind and Cold invading together
  • You may feel hot in yourself but you probably won’t have a fever.
  • Be quick! Catch it early and get rid of it.

Wind-Cold: when two of the external causes of disease combine, as Wind often does with Cold, you get the quickly penetrating powers of Wind with the cramping stabbing pains of Cold: ‘Wind Cold’. (Read more about Internal and External Causes of disease.)

Which symptoms you get depend not just on your constitutional susceptibility but on which of the two, Wind or Cold, predominates.

There are lots of possible developments here as the disease works its way inwards past your defences, so this page is not a straightforward ‘quick’ read.

In general this introduces you to how Cold forces its way in to your body. It describes what is called the Greater or Tai Yang stage, the first of the Six Stages of disease as Cold enters.

Suppose your Defensive energy against Wind-Cold is Strong

If you are strong, ie your defensive energy is strong (probably much the same as having a good immune system and a healthy, fit and not exhausted body) then the very first symptoms will be at the top and back of your body. These are the strongly Yang areas that are the first to be deployed by your body in its defence:

  • Stiff neck
  • Headache
  • Aversion to Cold
  • Restless, tense (that’s not in the original theory, but it’s my observation)
  • Pulse: floating, because your body is keeping the disease on the ‘outside’, meaning in the most Yang areas it can. A floating pulse is easy to feel. You hardly have to touch the skin before you feel it, probably bounding away there.


These are mainly Wind symptoms, in Chinese medicine.

What if your Defensive Energy vs Wind-Cold is NOT strong?

If your defensive energy is weak, no matter how strong the invading Wind-Cold, your reaction will be weak, with some at least of the following:

  • shivering (severe if Cold predominates)
  • slightly itchy throat (more itchy if Wind predominates)
  • runny nose: discharge is clear and watery
  • sneezing
  • headache usually at the back, the occiput
  • severe muscle aches, especially if Cold predominates
  • unable to raise a sweat if Cold predominates: if Wind predominates you may sweat a bit on chest, upper back and head
  • aversion to cold (great aversion to cold if Cold predominates) and preference for warmth. Usually, covering up, even with a hot beanbag or water bottle does not warm you up: you remain cold and shivering – especially where Cold prevails. (See below for what you should quickly do about this.)
  • aversion to Wind (all the more so if Wind predominates)
  • any fever is very mild. This sense of warmth, which may come between spells of Cold and shivering or sometimes even during them is subjective – a thermometer may appear normal or even below normal – but you feel hot, from time to time. (If you get alternate hot and cold spells, the disease is already nudging inwards to the next stage but this alternation is a sign of the action of Wind.) However, even during your cold moments your skin might feel hot to someone else who touches it.
  • not thirsty
  • urine: is clear, can be copious, with little or no smell
  • Pulse: floating, tight (floating because the attack remains at the exterior of the body; tight because of the Cold). The more Cold there is in the attack, the slower the pulse will be.
  • Tongue: tongue colour is usually unchanged from normal. Tongue coating is usually thin and white, but for many people this is also normal.

What is happening here?

What is happening here is that the invading pathogenic ‘evil’ – “Wind-Cold” – has blocked the way your defensive energy works (causing muscle aches and stiffness) and is disrupting the normal function of the Lungs (hence the runny nose, sneezing, lack of sweat and sore throat). That means it is already edging inwards.

Your body holds the invader in its Greater Yang, or Tai Yang areas. These are the most Yang parts of the two acupuncture channels (meridians) that include the words Tai Yang in their descriptions, being the

  • Arm Tai Yang channel, also known as the Small Intestine channel, and the …
  • Leg Tai Yang channel, also known as the Bladder channel


The invader is therefore held in the upper parts of these channels, especially on your upper back and neck and head – Yang areas.

What can an acupuncturist do about Wind Cold?

What your friendly neighbourhood acupuncturist will try to do when you have signs of Wind-Cold is, in Chinese medical jargon,

  • to ‘release the exterior’,
  • push out the Wind and the Cold,
  • get the Lungs back in order and


Ice on Trees makes for Wind Cold
Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash


  • regulate your Defensive energy and your Nutritive energy, which by definition, will be out of kilter.


He or she will do this by opening up some of the strong Wind points on the body, and using other points to balance the zang-fu. Points often used include Bl12 (cupped), Lung7, LI4, TB5, GB20, Du16.

If Cold prevails, he will also use moxa.

S/he will probably use cupping on your back. You could do this too, by showing someone at home what to do. It’s often very effective if you do it early enough.

What can YOU do?


BUT! …Preferably don’t stop your body’s healthy reactions by taking painkillers or antibiotics. These have a suppressive action and if you can recover without using them you will almost certainly be healthier, and less prone to disease, than before.

What’s the downside to that? Well, I admit, a day or two of feeling wretched!

The main thing to realise is that you don’t have, in this situation, what is called a ‘cold’, which would produce signs of Wind-Heat, with yellow mucus, sore throat, and all the rest of it.

Here you almost certainly simply have an invasion of cold, with wind: wind-cold. In effect, you caught a ‘chill’, but not necessarily a virus.

  • If Cold predominates, get into as warm a bath as you can manage, keep it warm by adding hot water, and stay there for a good ten minutes until you notice you are starting to sweat. To begin with, in spite of being in hot water, you may still feel cold, but stay there until you actually feel warm, and preferably sweating mildly. However, I don’t recommend remaining in the hot water for much more than 15 minutes. (And if you are pregnant, or have a heart or other serious pre-existing condition, this option may not be a good one. Take advice!)
  • A hot steam room may work just as well, or a sauna.
  • Take a warm herbal concoction. Originally, practitioners of Chinese herbalism could use a famous herbal recipe containing Ephedra, ma huang tang.

A Do-It-Yourself Remedy for Wind-Cold

  • I’ve put advice about a possible home-made herbal recipe to use here, about two-thirds of the way down that page. There’s a picture of the ingredients below, but for the recipe and how to use it go to the linked page.


Hot Toddy Ingredients for Wind Cold self-treatment
Hot Toddy Ingredients – Copyright


  • If you are young and fit, you may find that a game of squash, or any other intense short form of exercise that gets you extremely hot and makes you sweat heavily could also do the trick.
  • But don’t do this if you are already tired or it is late in the day, because your energy supplies will be low and you may not have enough to work so hard that you produce the heat.
  • Go to bed. Wear several layers of towelling. Take with you three hot water bottles, two warm beanbags, and preferably at least one hot friendly body to provide further warmth. Then just sweat heavily all night.
  • By the way, if you have the symptoms of Wind-Cold described above, you will almost certainly not be infectious. This condition comes not from catching a cold virus but from penetration of Wind and Cold – Wind-Cold – through your skin. Indeed, I would argue that if you have these Wind-Cold symptoms strongly you are not even susceptible to catching a cold. But if your body cannot vanquish the Wind-Cold it may become weakened and a few days later you may then be more susceptible to catching a (cold-)virus. 
  • The aim is to get so hot, in bed or from the herbal recipe, that you start sweating the Wind-Cold out.


  • Rest. Let your body handle it. Don’t bother to stuff yourself with health supplements, vitamin C, Echinacea and the rest, although there is some evidence that Zinc may help. (Why? Because it is nutritive and, particularly where Wind is the main aggressor, your susceptibility to Wind arises from a relative deficiency in what is called your Nutritive energy. So Zinc, which is at the root of some kinds of nutritional deficiency, may help here. But the theory suggests to me, at least, that Zinc will be less effective when Cold is the main aggressor.) By and large rest and keep warm, and avoid painkillers and medicines that reduce your temperature. You need a fever, if possible, for your body to succeed.

Other Advice for Wind-Cold conditions

  • Keep a supply of warm drinks nearby. (Not alcoholic! Though that first toddy, mentioned above, does contain a little alcohol, to warm and relax you. But if you keep taking alcohol you’ll suffer its downsides, one of which is to make you sweat, so losing energy, without reaching the required warmth beforehand.)
  • Don’t eat too much. If you do eat, choose warming foods. And don’t eat too fast! Chew well!
  • Sleep as much as you can. All being well, a healthy body will get hot during the night, sweat heavily, and wake the next morning feeling much better.
  • Continue to avoid cold if you can. When eating, avoid cold or raw foods. Eat food that is cooked and hot when eaten. Drink only warm drinks.
  • As you recover, allow your energy reserves to recover before you hit the gym or get active again.

What if the invader is strong or You are weak?

If your defence is weak or the Wind-Cold invader too strong, then the invader will march inwards past your body’s first resistance level.

This means that you may not get many Wind-Cold symptoms, or not for long. Instead, you’ll quickly get problems at a deeper level.

What happens then? There are lots of possibilities, and Chinese medicine has two huge lumps of theory devoted to this question of the invasion of disease into the body:

  • the Six Stages theory of penetration of disease: this mainly covers invasion by Wind-Cold.
  • the Four Levelswhich describes how Wind-Heat invades.


Acupuncturists can spend ages learning about the six stages. It’s a theory with plenty of experience, first set out by a famous practitioner called Zhang Zhong Jing in his book Shang Han Lun around AD 220.

Why bother with a book written 1800 years ago?

The considered opinion reached after a lifetime of treating a condition by a real expert probably still has a good deal to teach modern medicine! – even if he lived 1800 years ago.

Modern medicine sees disease from a very different perspective. It has a huge armament to ease symptoms and prevent death. Death was a real possibility for many people when they got sick 2000 years ago.

Zhang Zhong Jing in his seminal work ascribes levels of seriousness to some of the paths a disease takes as it marches inwards.

Not important? Actually yes!

Why? If the disease is forced out and retreats along a recognisable path, it may be reassuring to understand that someone 1800 years ago made sense of it and could tell you what was comparatively beneficial and, well, what was not!

1500 year update on Wind Cold!

So important was what Zhang Zhong Jing wrote that the next big book on the subject was not written until AD 1746, 1500 years later. That later book, on the Four Levels, deals with what happens when Wind-Heat invades.

Modern practitioners of Chinese medicine still use the formulas suggested in the original books. They are really effective!

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So, as Wind Cold penetrates, what happens NEXT?


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The Six Stages describe how Cold disease penetrates. Briefly, there are six stages – listed below – but there are all sorts of paths in the undergrowth and few insist that progress through them is straightforward.

For example, many people don’t have sufficient physical resources to mount a defence at the next stage, called the Bright Yang stage. In which case, the invader skips straight over it from this Wind-Cold syndrome to the Lesser Yang stage.

You may think that all acute illness-conditions (excluding eg trauma and poison) come from viruses or bacteria.

In our nice, warm, central-heated houses, Wind-Cold as a disease entity may seem remote!

Who gets COLD nowadays?

Well, I do for a start! I’m not talking here about the infectious virus-caused disease we commonly call a ‘cold’. I’m talking about actually being made ill by getting COLD.

Here’s what happened to me. As far as I remember I felt well when the day began. I didn’t hear the weather forecast and dressed normally for the kind of weather I expected. So off I went to my clinic.

I saw patients through the morning, as usual. By noon, they were complaining of the cold weather. My room had no outside window and when I went to reception I didn’t look out of the windows much. But I did feel a bit colder, as the central-heating tried to resist the rapidly-cooling air.

I should explain that where I worked at that time was in a basement. Very near my room was an outside door, an emergency Fire exit. Emerging from my room about 12.30pm, having left a patient there to rest while the acupuncture needles did their work, I noticed the Fire door had been removed, the temperature in the building was near freezing, and snow was coming in through the doorway. Hammering from outside revealed repairs being done to the door.

I was still wearing just a shirt and trousers. I had a full day ahead. As the hours proceeded I felt increasingly cold  and I started to shiver, at times uncontrollably, with my hands feeling very cold. I felt stiff and tense. Increasingly I craved heat from the radiators.

The door stayed off for almost five hours. I managed to cancel the last patient and went home. My symptoms were a

  • great sense of coldness,
  • serious shivering,
  • stiffness,
  • neck pain,
  • general aching,
  • craving for warmth.

Sick people take sick decisions!

Please take my word for it, if you are sick you tend to take sick decisions. Get someone else to observe and advise you if possible!

I know what I should have done, but I didn’t do it. Instead I tried to do some work at my computer! Eventually I gave in and decided to light a fire and watch television. But I still felt increasingly cold as the hours went by. So I went to bed with a hot water bottle…

The hot water bottle made no difference. I still felt freezing, even with several extra duvets and much clothing over and on me. This was now about midnight. (My wife was abroad, on business: otherwise I expect she’d have taken me in hand!)

Eventually, lying there and thinking, as you do, I worked out what what was going on.


Hot Bath, good for Wind Cold conditions
Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash


At that late stage – about 2am – I got into a hot bath, my aim being to get warm and to develop a sweat. (That’s not me in the picture, by the way!) After a longish time I just managed it. I then returned to bed.

Later I took herbs and made sure I ate warm food, as advised on this page. But it took me several days to recover!

The symptoms I suffered were mainly wind-COLD: in other words, Cold prevailed. I did have some shivering (Wind) but I had no perspiration and was much more affected by cold than wind. I do not remember feeling any fever alongside the chill but I certainly had plenty of general aching.

Why did it take me so long to recover? Probably because my body spent so long holding the disease at the outer level that it got exhausted. I was 69 and took longer to recover than I once did.

What I SHOULD have done…

Probably I should have leapt into the hot bath and taken the herbs immediately on returning home. In fact, probably I should have cancelled all the patients that day as soon as I realised what was happening to me.

But as I said, when ill, you don’t necessarily take sensible decisions.

Be Warned!

Long before modern medicine, ancient medical theories like Chinese medicine had to grapple with illnesses.

They had no microscopes, no chemical identifiers, no spectroscopes, no X-ray machines! So they paid great attention to what actually happened as you got ill.

Their written language used pictograms, with words for ‘wind’ and ‘cold’, ‘heat’ and ‘dryness’, to describe what they saw – there’s a list below.

They also had to elaborate on what they thought the organs of the body did.

For example, you might, as Wind-Cold invaded, go on to get Lung-Heat, which has symptoms quite like acute bronchitis. Or your defences might go towards Spleen-Yang deficiency with Cold, with symptoms of diarrhoea, no appetite, lassitude and a sense of fullness in your abdomen.

The Six Stages have some similarities to what are called the Four Levels, written about 1500 years later, which describe what happens when Wind-Heat type diseases invade your body. Wind-Heat covers what modern medicine recognises as invasion by bacteria and virus.

However, the Four Levels has some stages which are basically the same as some of the Six Stages, so there is some cross-correspondence. The thing to remember (I hope you’re remembering all this, there’ll be a test, later) is that the Six Stages start with Wind-Cold, the Four Levels start with Wind-Heat.

Tai (Greater) Yang Stage

This is the initial stage, described above. I’ve explained the  invasion of Wind-Cold in its two forms, one with Wind prevailing, the other with Cold prevailing.

Unfortunately that’s not the end of it. One path this stage can go down is when Water accumulates inside. Here you can’t pee and may find yourself vomiting fluids just after you’ve swallowed them.

The other is more serious. It causes swelling in your lower abdomen with a sense of explosive fullness, with blood in your urine and extreme anxiety and mental restlessness amounting to mania.

Fortunately this is rare, at least as far as most acupuncturists are concerned, because if you are like this you usually get taken to hospital as an emergency. There is however an 1800 year old way of treating it, which works probably as effectively as modern medical treatments but you need to see a professional acupuncturist or practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine for this.

The next stage occurs when the invading Wind-Cold prevails over your Greater Yang Tai Yang defences.

This is usually the Lesser Yang Shao Yang level, where the battle alternates between ‘inside and outside’, between Heat and Chills.

Sometimes the invader gets past this quickly and moves straight to the Bright Yang Yang Ming stage which feels hot.

What are The Six Stages as Cold penetrates?


Note that this is not the order mostly used since antiquity, but makes more sense to me. For nerds, I’m with Giovanni Maciocia on this one.


These Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat invasions are both yang in relation to  your body. In other words, they are forms of yang excess.

They are like aggressors in a calm, comfortable country. Your ‘country’ – your body – has to defend itself. The younger or fitter it is, the more able it is to mount a yang defence. By definition, yang and yin support one another, so you need a resilient, rested, well-fed body in the first place. This then has the resources to repulse the invader.

We’ve got a page specifically on yin and yang. Towards the bottom of the page is a list of the basic four ‘laws’ of yin and yang, listed under ‘Relative Concepts’. The second of these laws is that ‘each supports the other’. The other three laws repay careful attention and thought. The I Ching is the book of Change which sets out the ways yin and yang interact in life, the universe and everything.

Chinese medicine is almost all about yin and yang and the multitude of ways they interact in your body – all part of TCM theory.

The other main theory in Chinese medicine, that of the Five Elements or Phases, is less useful when treating invasion by Wind-Cold.

To read more about the external causes of disease click:


If you are serious about studying Wind-Cold and its origins in Chinese medicine:

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