Friday, May 04, 2007

Warmth and Health

I thought it was time to bring up a little more anthroposophy, after too many silly little posts! That, and my paying work has slowed down. So, here are some recent thoughts about warmth.

Springtime is here, and the weather is warming up. However, despite the sunny skies around here, it's still chilly for most of the day. I'm fighting daily battles with SillyBilly, who wants to wear his shorts and t-shirts and sandals, to get him dressed warmly enough. And we are all still snorting and hacking our way out of that nasty cold virus we had last weekend.

Rudolf Steiner and other anthroposophical writers have said a lot about warmth and the human being. Steiner linked warmth and the blood directly to the activity of the human ego, also known as the "I" (this is distinct from the Freudian ego -- here we are referring to the immortal spirit of the individual). In the young child, warmth allows the physical body to develop properly, with good structure and function:

If the ego is to be able to perfect the organs so that they endure in good health throughout life, there must be a well-maintained deep body warmth. For...it is the warmth organization wherein the ego works....[In the adult] the ego is fully incarnated and is able to control the body temperature, whereas [in the child] the ego is in a process of incarnation and is not yet fully in charge.
--Joan Salter, The Incarnating Child
Steiner also described the 12 senses: the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, and the seven senses of warmth, life, self-movement, balance, word, thought, and the I and Other. We can see that in a baby, the sense of touch and warmth are pre-eminent, in the toddler the sense of self-movement leads to walking and the sense of word leads to talking, while older children work on balance in their see-sawing and tree climbing.

Young children do not have a mature sense of warmth, clearly seen in the child who is blue with cold yet refuses to come out of the swimming pool! Adults must help the child by providing appropriate clothing and environment. On another level, the sense of warmth relates to the emotional and spiritual atmosphere or mood: cold, impersonal and insincere, or caring, loving and genuine.
As adults we know how uncomfortable it is to feel cold and how it prevents us from working properly either physically or mentally. A baby feels even more uncomfortable and yet he cannot complain....The soul and spirit need sufficient warmth for their work of moulding and remoulding the body.
--Wilhelm zur Linden, When a Child is Born
I have read (not experiencing the difference myself as I have never traveled abroad) that Americans are particularly guilty of underdressing. I do remember that in Sacramento many times I would be wearing a wool sweater on a winter's day, and see other people running around in shorts! And certainly even on snowy days here in New York, not everyone wears a warm hat or even a coat. What are we doing to our health with this? I believe being chronically cold leads to bad health, because the body is too busy keeping up its internal temperature to do its other work, like immune functions, properly.

In the child, illness that may be brought on by being cold is often resolved via fever. The body brings on an elevated internal temperature in order to kill, or prevent proliferation of, the virus or bacteria. However there are other physical as well as spiritual aspects to fever:
Thermoregulation and fever also have a soul-spiritual aspect. Heat is more than just a quantitative factor measured with a thermometer. As such, warmth also manifests in the activity of the human soul and spirit. We "feel warm inside" when we meet a good friend or revisit the familiar landscape of our childhood....Conversely, fear anger, or great sorrow, or even hate, envy, or discontent in our surroundings, makes our blood "run cold."
...
Fever helps a child's I adapt its inherited body to its own purposes, making it a more suitable vehicle for self-expression....From a purely outer perspective, the rapid regaining of weight lost during a feverish illness is an indication that the body is being organically remodeled. The child has deconstructed some aspect of her inherited body and is rebuilding it under the independent direction of her own warmth organization.
--Michaela Glöckler, Wolfgang Goebel, A Guide to Child Health
So, here's what we do. My kids wear thin, soft wool underwear on all but the hottest days, and most nights. They wear long sleeves and pants through three seasons. When they go to daycare, and often at home, they wear slippers or booties to keep their feet warm. They wear hats most of the time outdoors (sunhats in summer of course). Tummy aches bring out the hot water bottle, one of our dearest friends! When the kids get a fever, we do not suppress it with medication -- we address any discomfort by sponging down or wrapping their calves with tepid lemon water cloths, and make sure they have extra fluids and rest. We make an effort to make their surroundings beautiful to warm their souls.

3 comments:

uumomma said...

hello, i just found your blog. i am a waldorf mom from Orange County Cal.
i have 2 boys 6 and 8 who go to waldorf school. and we just had a baby girl a month ago. one of the teachers today said that she should have a hat on at all times.( it was warm today, in the 80's) something about her etheric. Salem was warm ( her torso was very warm) i am new to anthroposophy, when i had my boys we did not practice waldorf in the home...we knew nothing about it!
so my question is this, should babys have a cap on, even when it is warm?
thanks!
uumomma from the OC

Henitsirk said...

Hello and welcome uumomma!

In my experience most newborns do well with some kind of cap on even in hot weather. You would of course need to use your judgment because each child is different. With my kids I would check hands and feet (they will often be cool but should not be cold) and then the back to see if it's sweaty. If they are sweating then perhaps the hat can be removed. But you might be surprised that even if Salem feels warm, she isn't necessarily too warm. Again, use your judgment and trust your instincts...of course babies can get too warm so you don't want to go to extremes!

For babies, as the teacher was trying to explain, they need protection on many levels. Hats not only help them regulate their temperature, but also provide a kind of "etheric" protection.

You could think of it that the baby has been in the womb, completely safe and enclosed. Now you would want to continue that protection until the baby develops enough to be able to handle more stimulation. This allows the baby's energy (which you could call etheric forces) to be directed to growing and developing instead of keeping warm.

Babies are open to every stimulus: they notice and are affected by even the feeling of cool air on the head, which we adults would hardly notice.

You can get very nice wool and silk bonnets from novanatural.com. Since where you live is fairly warm and temperate, you might consider just the silk ones unless you're traveling somewhere colder.

I'm glad you're seeking out answers! Sometimes teachers have been working with these ideas for so long that they might forget that new parents may not understand the more esoteric stuff. But do consult the people at your school as they are a great resource. I recommend (when Salem's older) a parent-tot group if your school offers one. It's a great way for parents to learn more and meet other parents as well.

uumomma said...

thanks! i went to a consignment store to day, and got a some caps..even a cuppla "biggins" she has one on now. its cotton so i dont think she will be too hot.
thanks again...i look forward to reading more of your blog...its my guilty pleasure...blogs!
erika