This year the Vernal Equinox Seasonal Node starts Thursday March 21. The actual Equinox as a solar phenomenon in Northern New Jersey was exactly at 5:58 pm EDT on Wednesday, March 20th. Last year this time we were in the middle of a particularly snowy March, but this year does feel more like Spring despite the cold mornings that we’ve had this week (this morning was 25 degrees when I left the house!) And also despite the cold, this week I have crocuses starting to push up out of the earth.
In the Chinese calendar we are now in the middle of Spring, but in the western calendar we celebrate Vernal Equinox as the beginning of Spring. In Persia this day was traditionally revered as the beginning of the year (called Nowruz), and Rosicrucian mystics count Vernal Equinox as the New Year as well. Why then does the Chinese calendar regard Vernal Equinox as the midpoint of Spring? Because we are now at the balance point of Yin and Yang. If the height of Yang is the longest day (Summer Solstice), and the height of Yin is the longest night (Winter Solstice), then the midpoints and thus points of balance are the Equinoxes. Even though the weather is still cold and there is snow on the ground, the gradual awakening of all life in nature is clear.
The three 5-day periods in this seasonal node are Swallows Arrive (xuanniao zhi 玄鳥至), Thunder Starts Resounding (lei nai fasheng 雷乃發聲), and Beginning of Lightning (shi dian 始電). In Yijing (I Ching) theory the Thunder Trigram (Zhen Gua 震掛) is a Wood trigram, linking thunder and lightning, yang activities of the heavens, with Spring. Zhen Gua is composed of one solid yang line on the bottom, with 2 yin (broken) lines above. This is the image of Yang emerging from underneath, continuing to grow up and out. Spring is exactly that time of year – the time when Yang of the natural world is slowly starting to push itself up and out of the Yin of Winter.
The main thing to focus on during this 15-day period is “Nourishing the Liver” (yang gan 養肝). One of the ways we nourish the Liver is to ensure normal Liver function. For example, this is the time of year to really ensure our patients' Qi is freely coursing (one of the main functions of Liver is to ensure normal coursing of Qi). The second “to do” during this time is to “both Clear and Supplement.” This means that when the Liver is hot or hyperactive, clear and sedate. When it is vacuous (e.g., has Blood vacuity), then supplement. Since any pattern of disharmony in Liver will impair some of its major functions, when we see Liver patterns during this seasonal node they must be treated. That said, this year, at least here where I am located, the weather is still chilly, especially in the mornings. As such we may have to protect the warm-Yang in the body at the same time we clear Liver or supplement the Yin-Blood. A beautiful example of this is harmonizing formulas such as Xiao Chai Hu Tang, or even Xiao Yao Wan. Both contain herbs that strengthen and supplement (e.g., Ren Shen, Bai Zhu) along side of herbs that course or clear Liver. We can also consider giving our vacuous patients pill-form warming and supplementing formulas along side of powders or decoctions that have a more Liver coursing or clearing function.
As mentioned already, the Vernal Equinox is the time of balanced Yin and Yang. It is appropriate at this time to also have balanced mind states. Thus, one of the “avoids” during the Vernal Equinox is extremes of the Seven Affects. Chapter two of the Su Wen says that Spring is the time to not be angry. We should try to relax, and not allow our emotions to run too far in any direction. The second thing to avoid during this seasonal node is overdoing “bedroom activity.” Since sex stirs the Yang to mobilize Jing-essence, to keep an overall balance in health we need to seek a balance in sex. As this time of year is a time of balance, too much sex may deplete the Yin-Jing. That said, no sex at all can lead to stagnation in the circulation of Qi and Blood.
Diet for Vernal Equinox
Diet for the Vernal equinox should mimic the balance that is present in nature at this time. In general, the continued use of mildly acrid foods such as ginger and scallions help ensures normal coursing of Liver qi. This is especially useful for patients with Liver depression patterns. Patients who tend more towards vacuity patterns, especially Liver blood insufficiency, can increase consumption of sour foods such as pickles or vinegar. This year since the weather is cold though, we should continue to eat slightly warming foods. However, it is best to avoid very greasy or cloying warm foods (such as an overconsumption of very fatty meats), or very salty meals. While salty and more greasy is ok in the cold of Winter, right now in Spring we need to be concerned with the normal and smooth movement of Qi and Blood in the body. The basic combination then is warming and acrid, such as the aforementioned ginger.
A simple tea most patients can consume during this time is rose bud tea. This tea is made by steeping Mei Gui Hua 玫瑰花 in hot water. Mei Gui Hua is warm and sweet and is found in the Qi regulating chapter of the Materia Medica. It courses Liver as well as gently quickens the blood. It is especially useful for our female patients who have menstrual irregularities due to Liver stagnation. In the Baijiquan 八極拳 system of Chinese marital arts, Mei Gui Hua tea is used as a general Qi and Blood moving tea for injury. For patients who suffer from more internal cold, Mei Gui Hua can be combined with Gui Zhi (cinnamon twig) or Sheng Jiang (fresh ginger).
One traditional dish for Vernal Equinox is Stir Fried Pig Kidney with Eucommia (杜仲豬花). Here’s the recipe:
Organic pig kidney ¾ to 1 lb
Eucommia bark (Du Zhong 杜仲) 6-9g
1 scallion, 1 piece of ginger (about the size of your thumb or a little larger), 1-2 cloves of garlic
Cooking oil, salt, soy sauce
Cook Du Zhong in about 1 cup of water by bringing to a boil and then simmering until only about ½ cup of liquid is left
Cut kidneys into thin slices and then score one side of each slice; peel and slice the ginger, slice the garlic, and slice the scallion
In a pan, add a small amount of cooking oil, and start by cooking the garlic and ginger just until fragrant and / or the garlic is transparent. Add in the kidney slices and cook for several minutes. Then add a small amount of salt and soy sauce.
Add in the Du Zhong liquid, and cook down in the pan with the kidney. Add scallions. Cook until kidneys are thoroughly cooked through.
Optionally can add Gou Qi Zi (i.e., Goji berries) at end as well before liquid has cooked down, cooking until slightly plump.
This recipe supplements the Kidney, boosts essence, and nourishes the Liver blood. It is good for lower back pain, knee pain, declining visual acuity, or other symptoms of Liver and Kidney vacuity. Because it is warming it is especially useful this year!
Acupuncture for Equinox
When considering acupuncture recommendations, first we should think about how Wood phase (for Spring) is functioning in our patients. Ideally, we should all be in a state of balance, neither in a state of insufficiency nor of repletion. Relative repletion, especially during the time of transition into warmer weather, frequently manifests as stasis. This is because the Qi of the body, as the time of year is becoming more Yang, wants to move. But since cold weather is still lingering, Qi has trouble moving and stagnation is the result. Another possible reason for stagnation is a failure to increase physical movement this time of year. If this is the case then points that course Qi and Blood throughout the body should be chosen. My recommendation is to consider the Metacarpal Three Needles (掌三針) consisting of Ling Gu 22.05, Da Bai 22.04 and Zhong Kui. On the lower extremities we can add Ren Huang 77.21. If the repletion also manifests with some internal heat, consider bleeding the apex of the ear.
The opposite situation is having a patient with insufficiency of Wood, either in the case of Liver Vacuity (especially patterns of Liver Blood vacuity), or of general vacuity of the Yang. For Liver vacuity we can consider points such as the Upper Three Yellows (上三黃; 88.12, 13, 14). Alternately, we can choose the Lower Three Emperors (下三皇; 77.17, 19, 21), one main Dao Ma group for the Kidney. Why the Kidney Dao Ma group? Strengthening Water-Kidney automatically strengthens Wood-Liver because of the Five Phase engendering cycle relationship.
This year the Equinox falls the same day as the last Super Moon of the year. A Super Moon is a visible large full moon, and it reaches peak just a few hours after the astronomical Equinox. The 26th chapter of the Su Wen says that, “all laws of piercing require an observation of the Qi of the Sun and Moon and Stars, and of the eight cardinal [turning points] of the four seasons” (凡刺之法 ，必候日月星辰四時八正之氣). Thus, we need to take the moon into consideration as well. That same chapter says, “when the disk of the moon is full, Blood and Qi are replete; the muscles and the flesh are firm” (月郭滿，則血氣實，肌肉堅), and thus we should focus more on draining that supplementing. This mean that this Equinox is the perfect time to be sure Liver is moving smoothly!
I hope everyone is having a great Equinox.