Taiji (T'ai Chi) Mythology versus History

Today’s blog post is going to be a little different in that the topic will focus more on martial arts than Chinese medicine, although a lot of the ideas may cross boundaries, as boundaries between these two are sometimes fuzzy. As many know I am an avid martial arts practitioner, and it was martial arts that led me into Chinese medicine. I started learning Okinawan Karate back in 1982. In 1993 I spent 6 months in Osaka, Japan where I trained Shorinji-ryu, and in 1995-1996 I lived in Okinawa, where I continued my martial arts training in Kobayashi-ryu. Over the last decade or so I’ve dedicated myself to the practice of Hunyuan Chen Taiji (T'ai Chi), especially after it was a major factor in saving me from a severe bout of Lyme disease.

 Sun Lutang in 1930

Sun Lutang in 1930

In this post I want to explore some of the mythology of Taiji’s origin, which ties into lore and history of Chinese martial arts in general. After reading some fantastic blog posts about the legendary Taiji master Sun Lutang, I went back to my bookshelf to read some of his writing again for myself. Here is a long quotation from the introduction to his text on Taiji that was originally published in 1921:

Qian and Kun are the original creative principles. The original qi (元氣) flows as stillness and movement exchange to gradually produce the Ten Thousand Things. Things take form in their post-heaven states. The pre-haven original qi becomes the intrinsic essence of the post-heaven manifestations that have shape. These manifestations all include the pre-heaven original qi. Therefore, human form and life is the result of the unification of both pre-heaven essence and post-heaven form. People naturally have wisdom and emotion, and a combination of both yin and yang. The pre-heaven original qi slowly dissipates as the post-heaven qi slowly increases. The result is a weakening of the yang and a strengthening of the yin. This is the state that allows the invasion of the six types of qi [i.e., the Six Evils of wind, cold, heat, damp, dryness and summerheat]. The weakening of the yang and strengthening of the yin also results in the disturbance of the seven emotions. In this state, the body grows weaker by day and the hundred illnesses invade. The ancients were concerned about this. They tried to consume medicines in the hopes of curing illness. They say in meditation in order to cultivate the heart. Unfortunately, they were not able to make use of methods that involved both stillness and motion simultaneously. In order to fill this need the martial arts were created. They sought to recover the insubstantial qi [虛靈之氣; i.e., the pre-heaven source/original qi].


Mythology versus History

The origins of Taiji have been attributed to Daoist immortals such as Zhang San Feng, or to the Daoists of Wu Dang Mountain. These theories are quite modern, dating back to only the 19th century, and have been debunked by more than one historian. Western scholars such as Douglas Wile have written extensively on the origins of Taiji and other internal martial arts, none of which contain reference to Daoist immortals or priests on cloud capped mountains. Furthermore, Taiji’s origins date only to less than 400 years ago at best, and it originated with a retired military officer. The statement from Sun Lutang above that martial arts were created by the ancients to explore the combination of stillness and motion is clearly then a myth.

It is true that some in China did practice martial arts as a type of self-cultivation going back to the Ming period, and this is well documented in places such as the Shaolin Temple (for those interested in this history Professor Shahar’s work is required reading). Yet, this use of the martial arts seems to be a minor trend until the 19th century when martial arts, including Taiji, took on other meanings as an exercise in culture, health, and national identity. Originally the martial arts’ primary purpose was self-defense, and they were taught in places such as the military for the preparation of soldiers. In this context weapons practice was much more important than empty hand work as during warfare being without a weapon on the battlefield was, to put it mildly, not a good situation to be in.

Most likely Sun was aware of most of these facts. He was no stranger to the practical aspects of martial arts, in his lifetime fighting in challenge matches. He was at one point in his life employed to teach martial arts in the Presidential Palace of early Republican China, and he held the rank of Lieutenant in the Nationalist military. Yet, Sun was also deeply steeped in Daoist religious theory and cultivation techniques, and did famously tell his students that if they really wanted to fight they should get a gun. So, while martial arts were something quite practical, Sun felt that they were based on deeper principles that let it be more than just the one thing (i.e., self-defense) that they were originally created for.

So, now we come back to Sun’s preface. As I already mentioned, it seems clear to me that this is a type of myth. To a big extent, I think mythology is something important to us as humans, and we can and should be comfortable living simultaneously with both myth and actual history (as much as we can know history as a collection of verifiable ‘facts’). What a myth does is exemplify the unfolding worldview of a people, in this case those who practiced martial arts in the last few centuries. While martial arts were originally for military preparedness training, or personal self-defense, at some point they evolved to be something different and bigger. It seems to me that what is important is not that the ancients used martial arts as a way to explore self-cultivation that involved stillness and motion, but rather that today martial arts can serve this purpose, depending on the practitioner and their own goals for training. Indeed the martial arts for me are a way I stay healthy, a treatment for my own disease, and fundamentally a way of life (when I was younger living in Japan I practiced full-contact Karate, but I’ve aged out of that type of purpose to my practice!). I think it is pretty great that something that was once used only for the purpose of violence is now big enough to contain a lot: self-defense (it still works for that), health promotion, marker of cultural identity and aspiration, and practice of self-discipline and cultivation.

For me, contemporary Chinese internal martial arts are an offshoot of Chinese longevity techniques, as at some point in the last few centuries they started incorporating practices that came from Daoist methods of Yang Sheng. While not something they contained from time immemorial, internal martial arts are now a type of physical culture that allows the practitioner to embody, in a very real and tangible way, the core theories on which Chinese medicine are built. The mythology we have created surrounding them tells us not what they originally were in an historical sense, but what they have become and what our own aspirations as practitioners have turned to.

But the best thing to do is actually practice. Click here to read more about our Taiji classes.

Awakening of Insects 驚蟄 Seasonal Node

Today, Monday March 5th is the start of the Awakening of Insects seasonal node (jing zhe 驚蟄), the third seasonal node of the year. This is the next segment of Spring, and as the name suggests it is the time when we start seeing the very initial stirring of life in the world outside. The three 5-day periods in this seasonal node are Peach Trees Begin to Blossom (tao shi hua 桃始華), Orioles Sing (cang geng ming 倉庚鳴), and Hawks Transform into Cuckcoos (ying hua weijiu 鷹化爲鳩).

Last week I returned from a teaching trip to Australia. It was great there – the weather was warm and I got a short taste of summer (as well as some sunburn from the beach!). I was a little scared of returning to the cold weather, and the end of last week here in NJ we had a Nor’easter with mixed cold precipitation including some snow and heavy winds. However, the day I returned home I noticed the crocuses starting to push out of the ground in spite of the lingering cold. This early sign of Spring was just on time.

The first ‘to do’ for this period of time is to guard and protect the Yang qi. Even though we are in Spring, this early part of the season can be cold as we have seen this past week. Continue to dress appropriately, especially since there is going to be a wide fluctuation in temperatures from day to day. As Yang qi continues to grow in the natural environment, this is also the time to start doing slightly more gentle exercise. This recommendation comes from the second chapter of the Neijing Su Wen, the The Great Treatise on Regulating the Spirit with the Four Seasons (Si Qi Tiao Shen Da Lun). There Qi Bo recommends that during Spring we should “upon waking take a walk in the courtyard, loosen the hair and relax the body, thus focusing the will on life.” Movement, especially in the morning, is a Yang activity. The Neijing recommends that “in Spring and Summer nourish Yang, and in Autumn and Winter nourish Yin (春夏養陽,秋冬養陰).”

The ‘to avoid’ during Awakening of Insects is undo stress and strain. As Chinese medicine practitioners we all know the mental pattern associated with Wood phase, and thus Spring, is anger. Patients who are prone to Liver depression or Liver repletion patterns should be monitored during this time period to be sure qi is circulating smoothly. This is the time when formulas in the Chai Hu family are appropriate for many people. For patients prone to resentment and anger, contemplative practices such as Japanese Naikan are appropriate.

Diet for this time of year should help protect the Yang qi as well. I generally recommend that people eat warming foods such as leeks, chives, and scallions. Likewise, it is appropriate to drink a little alcohol, provided the patient does not have specific sensitivities, morbidities, or medications that require abstinence. All of these food, including alcohol, are warm and acrid, and thus course and warm the qi. I also suggest that everyone consume slightly more white noodles. In general, wheat husk (bran) is cooling, while the endosperm (inner white portion) is warming. White noodles, especially in soups, have the function of warming and supplementing the qi. I had a nice bowl of ramen in Sydney last week with an old friend, and it was the first bowl of authentic Japanese noodles I’d had in a long time.

One traditional dish for Awakening of Insects is clear fried amaranth. Amaranth is called Xian Cai 莧菜 in Chinese, and in Chinese groceries it comes commonly in long bunches of beautiful dark green and purple leaves. Sometimes it is sold as “Chinese spinach.” Amaranth’s taste is mild. The basic preparation of the vegetable for this dish is to rinse clean (it often has a lot of grit), and then quick fry in an appropriate amount of cooking oil. Garlic or ginger can also be included for taste, and a small amount of salt and fresh ground pepper can be added at the end of cooking. In Chinese medical terms this dish clears heat and resolves toxins, disperses swelling and stops pain. People with spleen vacuity cold should be cautious with this recipe, unless a good amount of ginger is used in the cooking to counterbalance the cooling of the amaranth. If the weather is very cold still, I recommend that everyone use ginger or garlic in preparing the dish.

The last recommendation I’ll offer for Awakening of Insects is the traditional Chinese practice of Pai Da – stimulating acupuncture points and channels by patting. As mentioned above, Spring is the time to increase movement. Liver (the organ of Spring) ensures the free coursing of Qi and Blood in the body. Thus, any exercise or practice that opens and circulates the channels of the body will have a beneficial effect on the Liver. One basic Pai Da technique is to use the hands held in loose fists to pat acupuncture points on the upper limbs. Start by patting the shoulders – the area of Jian Jing GB-21. Alternate right and left while patting. Then, continue with patting the sides of the elbows at Qu Chi LI-11. Finish with tapping the He Gu LI-4 area. Practice this daily to help circulate Qi in the arms, and thereby encourage Qi circulation in the entire body.

In the Hunyuan system of Qigong and Taiji I teach there is also a much more involved set of exercises that incorporate Paida. In this series we have a standing and moving posture for each of the 12 primary channels as well as some of the extraordinary vessels. Then, in addition to the postures, we use a special sack filled with rice and a Daoist lineage herbal formula that contains herbs to move Qi and soften the sinews (for example, the formula contains Ji Xue Teng and Shen Jin Cao); this sack is used to pat and tap along the channels. The combination of physical movement, breathing, visualization, and then mechanical stimulation of the channels is a very effective way of moving the Qi and Blood internally to balance the channel system. I teach this set at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (for students and alums of that program), and every Thursday morning at the Wushu Kung Fu Fitness Center in East Hanover, NJ.

Next installment we reach the Vernal Equinox!


Rain Water 雨水 Seasonal Node

Today, Monday February 19th, is the beginning of the second seasonal node of the new-year and the new Spring – 雨水 Yu Shui, “Rain Water.” During Rain Water the expansion of Yang in the natural environment continues. And, true to the name, here in northern New Jersey the weather has been slightly warmer and somewhat rainy. In addition to the 24 Seasonal Nodes that we have been mentioning, each of the 24 periods can be further broken down into 3 five-day periods (making up the 72 Material Manifestations of the year). The 3 periods of Rain Water are “Otters Sacrifice Fish” (ta ji yu 獺祭魚), “Swan Geese Appear” (hong yan lai 鴻雁來), and “Vegetation Sprouts” (caomu mengdong 草木萌動). The swan goose is a rare large goose native to northern China. While we don’t have them here in the US, we do have other species of geese, and here in NJ we are seeing flocks of geese flying north again heralding the warmer Spring weather to come.

One of the statements in Chinese related to Rain Water says, “Yu shui lai lin shi qi zhong, dang xin pi wei shou shang hai” 雨水來臨濕氣重,當心脾胃受傷害 – “as Rain Water arrives damp qi is heavy, be careful not to damage the Spleen and Stomach.” When walking around outside, I’m struck by the shift in the feeling. The ground and air are both moist with the release of water that was trapped in frozen form and there is now significantly more dampness outside in nature. The point Xuan Shu DU-5 (懸樞穴) is located at L1, the vertebra associated with Rain Water. While this point treats the spine as a local or adjacent treatment, one of the other most important classical indications for Xuan Shu is undigested food in the stool. This vertebra and point thus treats manifestations of vacuity in the middle jiao, the very thing we need to be wary of this Seasonal Node; thus needling or moxa at this point is appropriate for this time of year

One of the basic “to do” recommendations for Rain Water. First is to supplement the Kidney and strengthen the Spleen. We do this because the weather is still chilly and can tax the Kidney as the viscera of cold and Winter. We need to protect the Spleen because of the increased dampness. The Spleen is also the viscera associated with seasonal transition, and even though we are in Spring we are in a period of weather transition. The point Xuan Shu DU-5 (懸樞穴) is located at L1, the vertebra associated with Rain Water. While this point treats the spine as a local or adjacent treatment, one of the other most important classical indications for Xuan Shu is undigested food in the stool. This vertebra and point thus treats manifestations of vacuity in the middle jiao as well as strengthening the Kidney because of its location on the Du Mai, the very things we need to be wary of this Seasonal Node. Thus needling or moxa at this point is appropriate for this time of year

Along these lines the basic “avoid” during Rain Water is “don’t rush to put away winter clothes.” The northeast US is starting to warm up. But, we are early enough in the year that we may see more cold, and the increased dampness in the environment makes the temperature feel a little chillier than it actually is. So, the recommendation to not rush to put away winter clothes is spot on. Even though we are enjoying warmer temperatures this weekend, and even though in the Chinese calendar we have passed the beginning of Spring, be cautious to protect yourself against the cold. Stay warm, and remember to use moxabustion as necessary on yourself and on your patients.

The second “to do” for Rain Water is eat congee! Honestly, is there a season when congee is bad? For those not in the know, congee is a type of rice porridge or soup (depending on how thickly you prepare it). And why eat congee now? Because it dovetails with the other recommendations for Rain Water. First, congee is warming and supplements the Spleen. Furthermore, congee is mildly damp draining so it protects the body against the increase in dampness in the environment. Congee is incredibly easy to make, and in China it is a common breakfast or brunch food. People of all levels of health can benefit from being taught to make and eat congee.

The base recipe for congee is to add 1 part rice to 6 to 10 parts water. For example, we can cook ½ cup rice in 5 cups of water. This is cooked until the rice basically starts falling apart so that the resulting product is creamy white. Depending on the type of rice you use, this can take anywhere form 45 minutes to 2 hours of cooking. What I do at home and what I recommend to patients is that they put all the ingredients into a slow cooker overnight on low heat, and by morning perfect congee is done.

Into this base congee just about any ingredient can be added. Herbs, vegetables, meats, other spices – its all possible. For patients with weak Spleens and damp accumulation, a basic congee starts with rice as described above. After that, add in several slices of fresh ginger, a handful of Yi Yi Ren 薏苡仁, and several Dang Shen 黨蔘 roots. Season with soy sauce to taste when finished. This basic Spleen-strengthening and damp-percolating dish can be eaten daily for breakfast.

During Rain Water, since it is a time period of early spring, we also need to stay warm and guard against Wind. Here is a basic tea recipe associated with Rain Water. Its function is to warm and resolve the exterior, strengthen the Spleen, and guard against Wind.


Five Sprits Tea (Wu Shen Tang 五神湯)


  • Jing Jie 荊芥 9g
  • Zi Su Ye 紫蘇葉 9g
  • Sheng Jiang (i.e., fresh ginger root) 生薑 9g
  • Tealeaf (green or oolong) 6g
  • Brown sugar 30g


  1. Place the herbs in a pot with 3 cups of cold water. Let soak for several minutes.
  2. Bring water and herbs to a rapid boil over a high flame. Then, reduce and simmer for 10 minutes uncovered.
  3. Strain out herbs and add in the tealeaf, letting the tea steep in the hot liquid for several minutes.
  4. Strain out the tea. Stir in brown sugar and drink warm throughout the day. Molasses or honey can be substituted for brown sugar (use to taste).
  5. Here’s another recipe, this time a soup…


Job’s Tear and Lily Pork Soup (Yi Mi Bai He Shou Rou Tang) 薏米百合瘦肉湯


  • ½ lb. lean pork
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 oz. Job’s Tear barley 薏苡仁
  • 1 oz. Lily Bulb herb 百合
  • ¼ cup (or a little more) of corn (or about ½ ear fresh corn)
  • Ginger
  • Salt


  1. Rinse Job’s Tear and Lily Bulb; place in a pan with about 4 cups of water and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat
  2. While cooking, prepare other ingredients by cutting up carrot and pork into bite-sized chunks; remove corn from cob if using fresh corn; peel and slice ginger (an appropriate amount to taste)
  3. Add carrot, pork and ginger to the soup (add a little more water if necessary); simmer on very low heat for about 2 hours; add salt to taste

This recipe removes phlegm, strengthens the Lungs, expels dampness and opens the Spleen. Moreover, this is a light soup that won’t create internal dampness or damage the digestive function. It is also not overly warming.

Happy February!

Happy Lunar New Year & Online Course Sale

Hi all! The eve of the new Lunar New Year is upon us. I hope this year was a happy, healthy and prosperous one for all. Personally I'm looking forward to the year of the Earth Dog, and will be glad that the upheaval of the last two Fire years are going to pass. 

Healthy Seminars (formerly ProD) is running a sale on online courses for the New Year which includes the course I did with them last year. The sale will run from today February 15 through next Friday February 23. For more information on the sale please click the image below!

Beginning of Spring 立春 Seasonal Node

Yes, I know… It’s still really cold outside, especially in my neck of the woods here in the US Northeast. In fact, as I look outside right now typing this snow flurries are falling. However, today, Sunday, February 4 is the start of the Beginning of Spring (Li Chun 立春) Seasonal Node for 2018 and thus the beginning of the new solar year! The Lunar New Year (known as Chun Jie 春節 in Chinese) will start later on February 16. The start of the Earth Dog year is actually today, not necessarily later on the Lunar New Year (although to be fair, opinions on this varies).

The Beginning of Spring means that the Yang influences are growing in the natural world. By this date we are only about 6 weeks away from the Vernal Equinox (Chun Fen 春分), one of the times of year where the Yang and Yin are balanced and we have more equal day and night. But even now, with some cooler weather lingering the days are getting longer and in northern New Jersey where I am, in the morning I am hearing some songbirds starting to return. The very first thing I noticed this morning on my way to Qigong and Taiji class was a flock of geese migrating back north. The increased activity in the natural world are also reflected in the names of the shorter 5 day segments (the 72 Material Manifestations of the year) that make up Beginning of Spring – Dong Feng Jie Dong 東風解凍 (The East Wind Liberates From Icy Shackles), Zhe Chong Shi Zhen 蟄蟲始振 (Hibernating Insects Begin to Stir), and Yu Shang Bing 魚上冰 (Fish Rise Up to the Ice).

Beginning of Spring is the time of year for new beginnings in general. It is also time to continue growing the ever-expanding Yang in our bodies so as to mimic the expanding Yang in the natural world. One of the basic health exercise recommendations for Beginning of Spring is to frequently comb the hair (or head if there is no hair). In Chinese, this is called Shu Fa 梳法, or “combing therapy.” Combing therapy has been around since at least the Sui dynasty, and is found in both Yang Sheng texts as well as Tuina manuals.

To apply Combing Therapy comb the hair (or scalp) daily, 100 times each sitting. This can be done either in the morning upon waking or in the evening before bed, and the traditional recommendation is to use a comb of either bone or wood. That said, simply combing with the fingers is even more effective since the fingers are living and contain Qi, which bone and wood do not. This is such a simple exercise that anyone can be taught to do it.

Combing has several functions. By stimulating the head we are stimulating the top of the body, meaning the most Yang area of the body. Since Spring is a time of Yang growth and expansion, stimulating the Yang area of the body is appropriate. Gently working the surface of the body also stimulates Wei Qi movement in the head and channels of the head. This in turn helps expel wind, and avoiding wind is one of the basic “avoids” for the Beginning of Spring. Furthermore, the scalp is a microsystem of the entire body, so stimulating the channels on the scalp mobilizes Qi and Blood in the entire body.

Spring is the time associated with the Wood phase and the Liver, the first of the two Yang viscera (with Heart being the other). A traditional saying for Beginning of Spring is “Li chun yang gan shun tian shi, qu chu ji bing bao jian kang” – “At the beginning of Spring nourishing the Liver means to following the timing of Heaven, expel and rid yourself of disease and protect your health.” Diet recommendations at the Beginning of Spring then are designed to help and nourish Liver.

As a general rule this is the time to consume foods that help maintain normal Liver function, especially the Yang of Liver. Since the Liver governs free coursing, eating mildly acrid and warm foods will accentuate and support this function. For example, appropriate foods this time of year include scallions, leeks, chives, cilantro, and garlic.  Here is another phrase for this time of year: “Duo chi jiu cai chao rou si, yang hu gan yang zhu sheng fa” – “Eat a lot of leeks and pork to nourish and protect the Liver yang and develop the nature of birth.”  In the Huang Di Nei Jing the Spring is associated with the term sheng 生 or “birth.” This is the same sheng as in, for example, Sheng Jiang 生薑 – fresh (or living) ginger. Here is a very simple recipe that utilizes leeks to warm and move the Liver yang.

Take 100g of leeks and 50g of very thin pork strips. Shred the leeks and then stir-fry with the pork in cooking oil, adding soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste. This recipe nourishes the Liver and protects the Yang.

Patients with chronic Liver fire should take care this seasonal node as Yang is on the rise everywhere. A traditional Beginning of Spring drink for these patients is Yin Chen Da Zao Tang. For this drink take 20g of Yin Chen Hao and 30g of Da Zao. Place in a pot with about 2 ½ cups water. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes. Separate into 2 doses and drink in the morning and evening. This formula benefits qi, generates fluids, and protects the Liver.

One more traditional dish for Beginning of Spring is Pork Bone Red Date Soup. Yes, even before bone broth became the latest health trend here in the US, it was considered an important food for health the world around. This dish can be taken daily; it builds blood, warms the interior without being too warming or drying, and can be taken both to prevent and treat colds.


Pork Bone Red Date Soup 豬骨紅棗湯


  • Pork bone, about 3 lbs
  • Chinese dried red dates (Hong Zao, or Da Zao), about 6 pieces
  • Ginger
  • 1 Large scallion white
  • Salt


  1. Place washed pork bones into a slow cooker and add enough water to cover bones (about 2 quarts)
  2. Cut ginger and scallion into large pieces, place in slow cooker with bones; add dates as well to slow cooker
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours or more (the prep can be done in the evening and left to cook overnight)
  4. Drink broth daily


Other vegetables or ingredients can be added to this soup as desired. To read more about general Spring health care please click here. Over the next several weeks I’ll continue to discuss Spring recommendations, and sometime in March I’ll discuss a traditional Tibetan Spring fast.

Upcoming February Lectures

This is a reminder that at the end of February I'll be in Sydney talking about Tung's acupuncture for Internal Medicine and for Fertility and Reproductive Health. I'm looking forward to going somewhere warm for a week or so! Click here for more information on that class.

Also in February, eLotus will be airing two new classes which I think were really interesting. The first, on Saturday Feb 10, is Integrating the Classics with Tung's Acupuncture (click here to read more). In that class we will cover: core theory of Tung acupuncture, classic Five Shu Transport Points Theory, the relation of Tung’s points and the Five Shu points, Tung’s use of traditional acupuncture points, Dao Ma groups of traditional points, combining Tung’s points and traditional points in the same treatment, and guiding points for pain management and internal medicine.

The other eLotus class will be held Sunday Feb 11 on Tung's acupuncture for Internal Medicine conditions. Click here for more information on that class including class contents. 

Major Cold 大寒 Seasonal Node

It’s hard to believe, but we are already at the last Seasonal Node of Winter, and therefore the last Seasonal Node before the Chinese New Year – Major Cold. As the name suggests this node, at the end of January, is usually the coldest time of year in many places. While so far the beginning of January was a bit colder than it is now, it is hard to deny that in the US Northeast this has been a very, very cold month.

This year, in 2018, the exact date Major Cold started was January 20th (it usually falls on either January 20th or 21st). The three material manifestations of Major Cold are Hens Begin to Breed (Ji Shi Ru 雞始乳), Birds of Prey Act Fierce and Swift (Zhi Niao Li Ji 鷙鳥厲疾), and Rivers and Lakes are Frozen Within (Shui Ze Fu Jian 水澤腹堅). Notice here some of the imagery of the impending Spring. In Five Phase theory the domestic animal associated with Spring is the chicken, and now during this node we see that hens are getting ready to become pregnant with baby chicks that will hatch in Spring. So, even though the weather outside is still very cold, Yang is definitely on its way back as the gradually lengthening of the days attests to.

As the name suggests, the Major Cold Seasonal Node is the time of the year when the main environmental factor we contend with is cold. The first thing that Chinese medicine recommends for this time is to eat clear and easily digested foods (qing dan shi wu 清淡食物). Why is this? The Spleen and Stomach are the roots of Latter Heaven Qi. During the end of Winter even though the time of the year is still predominantly Yin, the Yang qi is being birthed. Eating clear and easily digested foods allows the Spleen and Stomach to move and transform appropriately, and to build Latter Heaven Qi. If foods are too heavy, such as overly greasy or sweet foods, then the ability of the Spleen and Stomach to move and transform is impaired. Easy to digest foods ensures that we continue to build Latter Heaven Yang Qi to get ready for the upcoming spring.

In addition to cold, the other main environmental pattern seen during Major Cold is dryness. After all, all the water is usually bound up in snow or ice, making the air, and as a result our skin, dry. Thus, the second recommendation this time of year is to stay warm but also be sure to not be too dry. Staying warm is obviously important in this time of greatest cold. But since certain organs are harmed by excessive dryness, such as the Lungs, we also need to be vigilant there. For example, for those with forced hot air heating systems, it may be prudent to run a humidifier periodically. Also, sipping warm liquids such as herbal teas throughout the day can keep our internal environment appropriately moist.

With patients who are cold, or have Spleen or Kidney vacuity patterns, continue to warm and supplement. Moxibustion, especially at points like Zu San Li ST-36, Qi Hai REN-6 or Guan Yuan REN-4 is still appropriate. Acupuncturists can include Tung’s point San Cha San 三叉三穴 frequently in point prescriptions. This point has the ability to warm yang and supplement the Kidney. Furthermore, since it pierces through Ye Men SJ-2, “Fluids Gate,” it also benefits fluids, particularly of the upper orifices.

As already mentioned, with diet the thing to emphasize during Major Cold is easy to digest foods that protect internal warmth and strengthen the middle. Foods that satisfy this requirement include, for example, rice, glutinous rice (in moderation), yams (including nagaimo), peanuts, clear soups like chicken soup, and cooked vegetables. In general avoid raw vegetables, cooling fruits, very greasy meats, and very sweet deserts. When cooking make frequent use of fresh ginger, and other mildly warming spices like nutmeg.

In addition to protecting the Spleen with food, during Major Cold it is also important to consume foods that guard against dryness, and in particular Lung dryness. To this end traditional recommendations for food include consuming white wood ear mushrooms (Yin Er 銀耳) and pears, especially Asian pears.  A great traditional tea for Major Cold is Goji Berry and Red Date Tea (枸杞大棗茶). To prepare, take about 1 teaspoon Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zi) and 3 small red dates and place in a large mug. Cover with boiling hot water and let steep at least 5 minutes. After drinking about ½ the mug, refill once or twice more with boiling hot water. This tea supplements and moistens the Kidney and Liver, nourishes blood and supplements the Spleen.

As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, since I do so much acupuncture in my clinical practice and I teach Qigong regularly, I really like channel-based Yang Sheng practices in addition to lifestyle and diet that we usually discuss. One traditional recommendation for Major Cold is foot soaking and acupressure to support some of the goals we’ve already described above. The time of day associated with Major Cold is the Chou 丑 hour (1-3am). While I don’t recommend staying up too late, this practice can be done before bed, as close to that time as possible while still getting to sleep at a reasonable hour. Start by soaking feet in hot/warm water for 10-15 minutes, adding Epsom salts if desired. After that follow the soaking with acupressure on Yong Quan KD-1, Tai Bai SP-3 and Tai Yuan LU-9. This helps warm and strengthen the Kidney channel, and supplement the Spleen and Lung channels, thus corresponding to some of the basic recommendations discussed above.

The last recommendation I’ll offer is gentle massage of the lower back. We all know that the low back is the abode of the Kidneys, and gentle stimulation of the low back can thus relax and warm the Kidneys. Furthermore, Major Cold is specifically associated with the 3rd lumbar vertebra. There are 24 total vertebrae corresponding one to each of the seasonal nodes, and this association is well known in esoteric Daoist circles. When I visit the White Cloud temple in Beijing there is a diagram of the body carved in stone on the side of one of the walls that maps out the associations of the vertebrae with the nodes. So, in light of that correspondence, one great Yang Sheng practice for Major Cold is to sit quietly, starting with vigorously rubbing the palms together to get them as warm as possible. Then, place the hands on the low back in the area of L-3 feeling the warmth of the hands penetrating the back. After that rub the back to warm the area, or gently tap the low back. Repeat throughout the day when feeling cold or fatigued, or simply as desired.

Continue staying warm. I’ll blog more later around the time of the New Year!

 Stone carving on a wall at the White Cloud Temple 白雲觀 in Beijing

Stone carving on a wall at the White Cloud Temple 白雲觀 in Beijing

Minor Cold 小寒 Seasonal Node

After Winter Solstice there are only two more Seasonal Nodes in the year before the Chinese New Year and the beginning of Spring - Minor Cold (小寒) and Major Cold (大寒). As is clear from the names, temperature is an important part of understanding the last two seasonal nodes of the traditional Chinese calendar. And this year, true to these names, the weather in the Northeastern United States is right on target. While early 2017 had unseasonably warm January weather, 2018 is quite the opposite. Yesterday we experienced a punishing winter storm, and today the temperature high will only be 13˚F (-10˚C). Tomorrow the lows are predicted to dip down to -3˚F (-19˚C)! So, I hope everyone is having both a wonderful New Year and staying as warm as possible.

This year Minor Cold started on Friday January 5th, and the three shorter breakdowns of Minor Cold, the material manifestations, are Geese Head North (Yan Bei Xiang 雁北向), Magpies Begin to Build Nests (Que Shi Chao 鵲始巢), and Ring Necked Pheasants Begin to Crow (Zhi Shi Gou 雉始雊). In Chinese there is a saying that goes “Xiao han da han, leng cheng bing tuan” 小寒大寒冷成冰團 – “Minor Cold and Major Cold, coldness is here and ice abounds.” The previous seasonal node was Winter Solstice, the time of the year when yang qi is born again in the natural world. However, despite the growth of yang this month continues to become colder and colder. Why does cold continue to worsen even though we are moving to the Yang phase of the year?

Think of the movement of temperature as being driven by the fluctuations of yin and yang in the natural world. Even though the “switch” has been flipped from yin to yang, it takes time for the climate to catch up. Imagine driving a car at 75 miles per hour (I apologize to you all who use the metric system – I’m metric impaired). If you wanted to stop and go in reverse, first you’d have to hit the brakes. However, even if you hit the brakes really hard, that car is going to continue skidding forward for quite a distance before you can start moving in the opposite direction. Thus, even though the brakes have been put on yin, before we can really move towards yang we continue “skidding” colder and colder for awhile, before Spring truly warms up the earth.

The health maintenance guideline for this season is similar to Winter Solstice. Specifically, during Minor Cold we should focus on (1) Nourishing the Kidney (Yang Shen 養腎), and (2) Safeguarding the Spleen and Stomach (Baohu Pi Wei 保護脾胃). Winter is the time for all the Qi to be stored away internally – my Neijing students will remember this discussion from Su Wen Chapter 2. Since Kidney is the root of storage, and the root of Earlier Heaven (先天) Qi, we nourish the Kidney to nourish the body’s ability to store Qi away (i.e., the movement of Winter – 藏). While Kidney is the Earlier Heaven root, the Spleen and Stomach are the Later Heaven (後天). So, protecting the Later Heaven helps to ensure that Earlier Heaven is not excessively tapped into. This is especially important for our patients with conditions of vacuity (especially either Kidney or Middle Jiao vacuity), or patients with cold conditions (for example patients with chronic arthritic conditions – Bi syndrome from Wind, Cold and Damp).

Continue having patients get to bed early. Also encourage warming therapies such as moxibustion, especially on points like Zu San Li ST-36, Guan Yuan Ren-4, Qi Hai Ren-6, and Huo Fu Hai 33.07. Patients who have long term Bi syndrome can do daily acupressure on Feng Fu Du-16. This is a special technique from the famous Chinese acupuncturist He Puren.

Dietary guidelines for Minor Cold are similar to Winter Solstice. Since we want to protect the Middle Jiao in particular, the first basic guideline is to eat foods that are easy to digest and take foods at regular intervals. Since most of us are coming out of holidays with lots of eating going on, it’s also a good idea to cut back on intake of meats and other heavier foods.

Patients with overall yang vacuity should consume yang warming foods such as lamb, venison, alcohol (in small quantities), and warming spices like cinnamon. Meats can be taken in moderation, but moderation is important. Traditional Chinese lists would add dog meat to the “should” list, but I have to admit that’s way out of my cultural comfort zone! These same patients should avoid cold foods such as duck, rabbit, chrysanthemum, mint, milk or yoghurts. Patients who are prone to cold damp conditions (such as arthritic patients) should do the same as already mentioned and especially avoid cold-damp producing foods such as oranges and orange juice, tropical fruits, and the overconsumption of refined sugars.

Here is a traditional recipe for the Minor Cold seasonal node…


Black Chicken Soup with Carrot 胡蘿蔔烏雞湯


  • 1 black chicken
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1-2 oz mushrooms (such as shiitake, or dried Chinese mushrooms)
  • 1-2oz water chestnuts
  • ½ oz black wood ear mushrooms
  • salt to taste


  1. If using fresh water chestnuts first peel, wash, and cut into pieces; soak wood ear mushrooms until soft, and soak other mushrooms until soft (if using dried)

  2. Cut up chicken into large pieces (leaving bones in), and cut carrot to chunks
  3. Put all ingredients except water chestnuts in a medium pot and bring to boil, then simmer for about 1 hour
  4. Add in water chestnuts, bring to boil once more, then simmer again for about 20 minutes (alternately put all ingredients in a crock-pot and cook overnight)
  5. Add salt to taste

Black chickens are also called silkie fowl. They are small chickens about the size of Cornish game hens, but have dark black skin. They are mostly darker meat, and great in soups. They can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores. The black chickens are thought to be sweet and neutral, entering the Liver, Kidney and Spleen channels. They are particularly good at supplementing the Blood. Overall this soup supplements the Kidney and Liver, nourishes Blood, transforms stagnation and frees the network vessels. Carrots are also beneficial for the eyes and this soup is said to treat night blindness and other types of poor or declining vision. For colder patients, consider adding ginger while cooking the soup to increase its warming function.

I hope everyone is staying warm!


Happy New Year! 元旦快樂!

Please accept my heartfelt wishes to everyone for a very happy, health, and prosperous New Year 2018! Thanks also for everyone's support over the years and I hope that we will all stay in touch in the years to come. I've also found out that my new course on ProD was their #2 most popular course for 2017! Thanks to Lorne Brown for all the work he does for the Chinese Medicine community, and thanks to everyone who took my classes to make this all a possibility! These ProD course are also NOW ON SALE until Friday January 12 for 20% off with the coupon code CELEBRATE. 

Click here to go to the courses on Healthy Seminars (formerly PRoD and Medigogy).

Medicated Liquor for the Cold Winter Weather

There’s a folk saying in Chinese that I’ve known for a long time that says if after eating a meal you take 100 steps (i.e., go for a walk), you’ll live to 99 years of age. In Chinese it rhymes so it’s more fun to say – fàn hòu bǎi bù zǒu, huó dào jiǔ shí jiǔ (飯後百步走,活到九十九). Well, there’s another phrase that I hadn’t read until just recently that’s similar in the rhyme structure, and it is appropriate to the season right now – hán dōng hē bǔ jiǔ, néng huó jiǔ shí jiǔ (寒冬喝補酒,能活九十九). This one means, if in the deep cold of winter you drink a little supplementing wine, you’ll be able to live to 99. Hey, that rhymes in English a little too!

The second phrase relates to a method of ingesting herbal medicines that has traditionally been popular in China, and especially popular in the colder weather – medicated wines, or medicated liquors. The simplest method of making medicated wines is to soak herbs in distilled liquor, like vodka or brandy. I typically recommend using a liquor of at least 80-proof (i.e., 40% alcohol by volume). Anything much lower in strength, like beer or wine, will simply not be a good preservative as it will go bad in a short time, and hence the name ‘medicated wine’ is a bit misleading (酒 in Chinese simply means any sort of alcohol, including wine or liquor). Higher proof liquor can remain for long periods of time at room temperature without spoiling. Traditionally some medicated liquor recipes used lower proof rice wine, but then included adding large amounts of dates, or even white sugar to the mixture. This in effect increased fermentation and the resulting alcohol per volume. Today we have easy access to inexpensive distilled liquor, so when coming across recipes with added fruit or sugar, simply omit those and use a good quality, high-proof liquor instead.

Why are medicated liquors popular in winter? First, as already mentioned, alcohol is a preservative. Today we have access to just about any herb any time of year due to modern agriculture and shipping methods. In ancient times this was not the case, and some herbs would need to be preserved and stretched out between growing and harvesting seasons. Also, hard to get or wild-harvested herbs might not be commonly available, so making them last a long time was important. Using a medicated liquor allows us access to important herbs during the time when there isn’t any harvest going on (i.e., in winter). Another important reason is the general nature of liquor. Alcohol is warm, acrid and sweet, meaning that is has the ability to warm the interior, move Qi and Blood (warm and acrid natures), and gently supplement the body (warm and sweet natures). This combination is particularly appropriate to cold winter weather. That said, in excess, alcohol consumption can create damp heat, and it is certainly contraindicated in patients for other reasons and while on certain pharmaceuticals.

Here are some typical medicated liquor recipes…

Huang Jing Liquor (黃精酒)

Take about 20g of Huang Jing to every cup of alcohol and place in a glass container. Soak for about 2 weeks before using (longer soaking is better if possible). Take 1 shot per day in the evening as a dose. This formula supplements the Spleen, moistens the Lungs, and nourishes the Kidneys. It can be used to treat weakness of the Spleen and Stomach, general weakness of the body, Lung yin vacuity or dry cough, Kidney jing insufficiency, and pain of the back or lower extremities.

Assist the Yang and Benefit Longevity Liquor (助陽益壽酒)

Ingredients: Dang Shen 20g, Shu Di Huang 30g, Gou Qi Zi 20g, Sha Yuan Zi 15g, Yin Yang Huo 15g, Ding Xiang 9g, Yuan Zhi 10g, Chen Xiang 6g, 10 pieces of dried lychee or 10 red dates (optional if using vodka)

Add the above ingredients to 6-8 cups of vodka, let soak for 3 days. Then, place open the container and place all the ingredients in a pot and simmer on a very low flame (just to warm, not to boil) for 30 minutes. Then, after letting the mixture cool, reseal in the original bottle and let sit for 3 weeks. Then consume 1-2 shots per day. This formula supplements the Kidney, invigorates the Yang, benefits the Liver, nourishes essence, strengthens the Spleen and Stomach and increases overall longevity.

There are many, many different medicated liquor recipes out there and these are just some examples. For the average person these are appropriate recipes, but for people with certain disease patterns, clearly the formulas should match the appropriate presentation.

Stay warm, have some medicated liquor, and Happy New Year this coming weekend!

Winter Solstice 冬至 Seasonal Node

Today, December 21 at 11:28am exactly (in Northern NJ), is the astronomical Winter Solstice. This was the moment when the elliptical orbit of the sun reached the point where, because of the tilt of the planet, the sun’s rays hit the Tropic of Capricorn at 90 degrees. This angling of the planet towards the sun means the least hours of daylight for the northern hemisphere out of any day of the year, and in the most northern latitudes there is 24 hours of darkness. However after today, the path the Earth takes around the sun changes such that the tilted northern hemisphere will gradually be hit more directly by the sun’s rays, slowly making the days longer and the warmer.

The Winter Solstice (dong zhi 冬至) seasonal node, the last node of 2017, begins tomorrow December 22. The Chinese term for Winter Solstice literally means the “extreme of yin” since Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Symbolically this node is represented by Hexagram 24, which is comprised of one Yang line at the bottom of 5 Yin lines. Hexagram 24’s name is Return – Fu (復). What is returning? The Yang and the light are returning. One of the basic laws of Yin-Yang theory is that of mutual transformation. When something reaches an extreme, then it naturally reverts to the opposite. Now is when Yin has reached its extreme thereby giving birth to Yang. This is why Winter Solstice is the time of many important holidays about birth and renewal. The Material Manifestations for this node are Earthworms Congeal (Qiu Yin Jie 蚯蚓結), Moose Deer Shed Their Horns (Mi Jiao Jie 麋角解), and Aquifers Stir (Shui Quan Dong 水泉動).

 Fu: Return

Fu: Return

During Winter Solstice we should consider the Chinese folk saying, “dong zhi yang sheng you da dao, xia bing dong zhi shi miao zhao” (冬至養生有大道,夏病冬治是妙招) – “Nourishing life at Winter Solstice is a great Dao, treating summer’s disease in winter is very clever!” (Yes… It rhymes better in Chinese…) What can we do then to stay healthy during this time period? The first basic recommendation is taken from the Su Wen chapter 1: “zao shui, wan qi” (早睡晚起) – go to bed early and sleep late. Winter is the time of year that is most yin, and ideally we should be sort of hibernating, both physically and mentally. Finding more time for rest and reflection puts us into harmony with the Yin of Winter.  That said, too much sleep is also not great. Sleep (which is Yin) when excessive damages the Yang, which is why the Su Wen says excessive sleep injures the Qi (久臥傷氣). The recommendation I typically give patients is that 7-8 hours of sleep is plenty for the average healthy person.

The second recommendation is “chi xu yun dong” (持續運動) – persist in moving. Even though Winter is the time of yin quietude, as mentioned above the Winter Solstice marks the birth of yang.  Because movement is Yang it is important for us to “persist in moving” during this time of year. Appropriate exercises include gentle movement such as Taiji, Qigong or Yoga. We have ongoing regular Qigong  and Taiji classes here in Northern New Jersey for those who are local (click here for more information on Qigong classes).

To stay healthy this time of year there are also some things to avoid. Since this time of year has an abundance of Yin influences (i.e., the cold and dark) and a lack of Yang, the first admonition is to guard against weakening the Yang Qi. As Winter Solstice is the time of Yang Qi’s birth in the natural world, it is important to be sure that there is adequate Yang Qi in the body. For patients with Qi Vacuity cold it is especially important to avoid excess cold exposure. This is a time period where those patients can apply moxibustion at home on points such as Qi Hai REN-6, Guan Yuan REN-4, or Zu San Li ST3-6. Alternately, they can do moxibustion on Tung’s point Huo Fu Hai 33.07. Another traditional recommendation for this time of year is to try exposing oneself to sunlight as much as possible. If possible, traditional medicine recommends allowing the back to be exposed to the sun, and this can be done inside a warm room with large windows. Why the back? In Chinese medicine the back is seen as Yang while the anterior of the body Yin. Warming the back is a way to warm and strengthen the Yang of the body.

The second thing to be cautious of during Winter Solstice is excessive “bedroom activity.” Since Winter is the time of storage, a traditional recommendation for the season is to guard our sexual vitality. Jing essence is the stored and most precious form of Yang Qi, and is stirred during sex. Hence Chinese medicine suggests guarding against excessive sexual activity in Winter. However, we should be careful to not read this only literally. More broadly, sexual activity is a metaphor for expending our essence on all levels. This is why in many cultures around the world this time of the year is the time of reflection and planning for the next year to come. It is a time to step back and move inwards rather than to expend our vitality outwards.

In terms of diet, this is the time of the year to eat more foods that help supplement the Kidney and Spleen, such as rice congees, lamb, beef, shan yao (nagaimo), and winter squash. It is also appropriate to eat a small amount of mildly acrid foods such as fresh ginger, scallions and black pepper (to help keep things moving and to birth yang). Try to avoid cold foods in general, or foods that are difficult to digest such as greasy, raw, or very spicy foods. This is especially so for those patients who tend towards Spleen and qi vacuity patterns.

Here’s a traditional recipe for Winter Solstice. This recipe warms the interior and builds Qi and blood, and nourished the Heart to quiet the Spirit.

Longan and Lamb Soup 龍眼羊肉湯


  • 1 lb. Lamb (deboned and cut into chunks)
  • Dried longan fruit (龍眼肉) 15g
  • Fresh ginger (peeled and sliced) about 20g
  • Scallions (chopped)
  • Salt
  • Cooking wine


  1. Put lamb in a pot with 3 cups water, bring to a boil and simmer for just about 2 minutes; strain out lamb and discard water to remove the fat
  2. Place lamb back into pot with enough water to complete cover the meat (6-8 cups), the sliced ginger and scallions, dried longan, and a small amount of cooking wine
  3. Bring to a rapid boil on high flame, then reduce flame to a low simmer and cook for about 2 hours; remove from heat and add salt to taste

In the north of China there is a long tradition of eating dumplings around Winter Solstice. In Japan, where dong zhi is pronounced tōji (とうじ), a common tradition is to take baths in water scented with Yuzu citrus. One of the foods of choice in Japan is kabocha, where it is commonly stewed together with adzuki beans to create a dish called itokoni (いとこ煮). The red color, as a symbol of Yang, is thought to ward off evil and confer good luck. Similar to the tradition of eating adzuki beans in Japan, Koreans make a porridge of adzuki beans and rice cake balls called dongji patjuk. Below is a really fun video on how to make this dish.

So, stay warm and enjoy the gradually lengthening days!

Major Snow 大雪 Seasonal Node

The Major Snow seasonal node started last week on December 7, and here in New Jersey we did start having snow fall in the last week, with more snow to come in the next few days. The temperatures have also drastically shifted from what was an unusually warm autumn; the temperature this morning when I left the house coming was only 22 degrees Fahrenheit (about -5 Celsius). With the thermometer dropping I’ve wanted warm breakfasts. Yesterday I had a big bowl of congee in Chinatown and I’ve been having oatmeal more often, usually with some butter to warm and moisten (counteracting the cold dryness in the environment) and Gou Qi Zi (Goji berries) to help strengthen my Kidney.

Major Snow is the last Seasonal Node before Winter Solstice, representing the final stage of the most Yin time of year and symbolized by the hexagram Kun 坤, composed entirely of Yin (broken) lines. The two weeks of Major Snow are the longest nights of the year, culminating with the Solstice after which days will slowly be getting longer again. The Material Manifestations for Major Snow are Spangled Drongos Cease to Sing (He Dan Bu Ming 鶡旦不鳴), Tigers Begin to Mate (Hu Shi Jiao 虎始交), and Water Irises Grow (Li Ting Sheng 荔挺生).

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The main way to guard health in this period is to focus on warm supplementation, while at the same time avoiding exposure to cold. Thus the Neijing tells us during Winter it is appropriate to “avoid the cold and seek warmth” (去寒就溫).  Along these lines people can continue practices such as preventive moxibustion on points like Qi Hai REN-6, Guan Yuan REN-4 and Zu San Li ST-36. Another guideline from the Huang Di Nei Jing for the Winter is to “Nourish Yin” (秋冬養陰). While this may seem counterintuitive for the cold time of year, the meaning of ‘Yin’ in this passage refers to the body’s ability to store, and thereby regenerate, its vitality. Yin means being able to be in a state of quite, rest and solitude. Therefore, during this Seasonal Node try to get more sleep, attempting to get into bed earlier. Sleep is one of the best Chinese medical prescriptions for supplementing the Qi and strengthening the Kidney!

Another easy self-care regimen for Major Snow is daily acupressure on Yang Chi SJ-4, the source point of the San Jiao Channel. While in Chinese acupuncture traditions it is a seldom used point, in Japanese acupuncture traditions it is used for overall warm supplementation of the body. This point can be stimulated daily with acupressure, or direct thread or rice grain-size moxa to this point as a stand alone treatment, or before doing acupuncture treatment on other points. In some Japanese acupuncture traditions this moxa method is used on patients with very deep and weak pulses before any other treatment is given.

Medicated wines have a long tradition of use in Chinese medicine. They are a cost effective way to take a small dose of expensive or hard to find herbs, and alcohol itself is a preservative to stretch the shelf life of medicinal products. Since alcohol is warm, acrid and sweet by nature, it has the ability to warm and expel cold, and supplement the Qi and Blood while also circulating them. Thus, medicated wines are appropriate for Winter. One traditional medicated wine that is prepared during Major Snow is Gecko Wine (Ge Jie Jiu 蛤蚧酒). To prepare, soak one pair of Gecko (ge jie 蛤蚧) obtained from a Chinese pharmacy in 1000ml of grain alcohol of at least 80 proof (vodka is a good choice). Let sit for at least 1 month, and then take 1 small shot glass per day in the evening. Gecko has a Yang warming and Kidney supplementing effect.

In addition to medicated wines this is the time of year to eat warming, and especially Kidney supplementing, foods. Although many people think of Chinese herbs as the main way to supplement Kidneys, in Chinese there is a saying, “medicinal supplementation cannot be as good as supplementing with food” (cao bu bu ru shi bu 藥補不如食補). Foods appropriate for Major Snow include lamb, beef, chicken, venison, shrimp, and mussels. In addition to these animal products, foods to emphasize this Seasonal Node are walnuts, almonds, or other nuts, and warming spices such as ginger and cinnamon. Since this time of year can be cold and dry it is appropriate to cook soups or stews as they are both warming and moistening. Sipping warm water throughout the day is also an excellent recommendation for people who feel dry (i.e., our patients with Blood or Yin vacuity). Now is the time of year to continue using root vegetables such as yams or turnips that traditionally could be kept in cold storage for Winter consumption.

While warming foods are good for the season, the pitfall is overconsumption creating too much heat and stagnation in the digestive system. As such, if possible this time of year we should consume some foods that help gently clear heat, open the Stomach, and descend yang (to consolidate it).  In that vein, one traditional vegetarian recipe for Major Snow is Garlic Chrysanthemum Greens.

Garlic Chrysanthemum Greens (蒜泥茼蒿)


  • Edible chrysanthemum greens (Tong Hao 茼蒿) ½ lb.
  • 1 small garlic bulb
  • Sesame oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Rinse chrysanthemum greens and chop into 1 inch pieces
  2. Peel, crush then chop garlic
  3. Bring a pot of salted water to boil, then blanch chrysanthemum greens by immersing in water for about 3 minutes; then drain
  4. Mix greens with chopped garlic, and a small amount of salt, peper and sesame oil to taste; serve slightly warm or room temperature

This recipe loosens the center, rectifies Qi, disperses accumulated food and opens the Stomach.

Stay warm and happy Winter!

Pro D Black Friday Sale this week

Pro D Seminars is offering a Black Friday Sale this week. This year I did my first course with Pro D so this is a chance for those of you who are interested to get the class for a discounted rate. My course was a 6 hour exploration of Tung's acupuncture for gynecology. The course is NCCAOM, California, Florida, ABORM and other groups approved.

Here is the link to get to the course: www.prodseminars.net/bio/henry-mccann. 

Remember to enter the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2017 to get the 30% discount. 

Shaolin Acute Injury Formula

Here is a translation of an injury formula from the Shaolin Bronze Man Book of Secret Formulas (少林寺秘方銅人簿; Qing Dynasty). I’ll try to post more formula translations from the book as I work through it, and later I’ll talk a little more about this genre of book as well.

This is a basic injury formula for acute injury. As we can see most of the herbs quicken blood, relieve pain and reduce swelling. The formula is decocted in a combination of water and alcohol, which was a common method of preparing trauma formulas that I first learned from Dr. Ping Chan up in the Boston area. I particularly like seeing that same part of the body but different sides (i.e., right and left) get different single herb additions. Dosages are translated as the original, in ‘Qian.’ This makes me nostalgic, as when I was first in practice I would have to write all formulas in Chinese so that patients could go to Chinatown in Boston to have formulas filled. And those pharmacies didn’t take formulas with gram measurements, so I would have to render everything in traditional weight measures! Thanks also to Lorraine Wilcox who helped in the identification of some alternated herb names (it was common in the past to use alternate characters/names for herbs - things weren't as standardized as today).


Initial Stage Injury Formula (with modifications) 初打新傷方

Sheng Di 2 qian, Dang Gui Wei 2 qian, Tao Ren 0.5 qian, Hong Hua 1 qian, Ze Lan 1 qian, Da Huang 1 qian, Jin Bu Huan 0.5 qian, Zi Ran Tong 0.5 qian, Yu Jin 1 qian, Bing Lang 1 qian – decoct in mixture of alcohol and water


  • Head injury – add Chuan Xiong
  • Facial injury – add Bai Ju Hua
  • Eye injury – add Bo He
  • Chest injury – add Jie Geng
  • Left costal injury – add Qing Pi
  • Right costal injury – add Zhi Ke
  • Rib injury at the connection to the spine – add Xu Duan
  • For bleeding – add Hong Hua
  • Heart injury – add Chuan Lian, Mai Dong
  • Lung injury – add Sang Bai Pi, Chuan Bei Mu, Huang Qin
  • Liver and Gallbladder injury – add Long Dan Cao
  • Spleen injury – add Chi Shao
  • Stomach injury – add Bai Dou Kou
  • Small Intestine injury – add Mu Tong
  • Large Intestine injury – add Da Huang, Tao Ren
  • Bladder injury – add Huang Bai, Tong Cao
  • Kidney injury – add Di Gu Pi
  • Ming Men injury – add Mu Dan Pi, Ze Xie
  • Hand/arm injury – add Gui Zhi, Xu Duan
  • Leg injury – add Niu Xi, Xu Duan
  • Upper burner injury – add Da Huang
  • Middle burner injury – add Huang Qin
  • Lower burner injury – add Huang Bai
  • Entire body injury – add Jiu Ceng Ta Tou (i.e., basil), Jing Jie

Beginning of Winter 立冬 is here!

This year, 2017, the Asian calendar marks November 7th as the Beginning of Winter seasonal node. While in the west we consider Winter Solstice to be the start of Winter, in Asia the seasons are calculated by the balance of Yin and Yang in the natural environment as evidenced by the relative balance of day and night. Since Winter Solstice is the darkest time of year, it is considered to be the zenith of Yin, and hence mid-winter. Therefore, the early part of November is the beginning of Winter, the time of year that is darkest and most Yin.

Chapter 2 of the Huang Di Nei Jing says Winter is the time of “closing and storage” (閉藏). It is the season of hibernation and represents the death phase. However, this should not be construed as a bad thing. We need to enter the phase of ultimate silence and stillness, in other words the death phase, so that Yang (and Yang is life) can be reborn again. The organ associated with the Winter is the Kidney, and the phase is Water. Keeping this in mind will help us understand the basic health recommendations of this seasonal node.

The three Material Manifestations that make up the Beginning of Winter Seasonal Node are Water Begins to Freeze (Shui Shi Bing 水始冰), Earth Begins to Harden (Di Shi Dong 地始凍), and Pheasants Dive into the Watery Abyss to Become Giant Clams (Zhi Ru Da Shui Wei Shen 雉入大水為蜃). All three contain striking Yin images, specifically images of water, of earth, and of moving deep to a hidden and quiet place. In general the main seasonal manifestation of Winter is cold, and Chinese medicine teaches that cold creates hardness and stagnation. Thus, as expressed in these names, both water and earth become hard and impenetrable.

The first suggestion for this seasonal node is to nourish and protect the Yang, or warmth of the body (養陽護陽). This is especially true for seniors, since as we age the body become less tolerant of temperature extremes. Be sure to dress appropriately for the cooler temperatures. Likewise, foods should be cooked or warmed when eating. This is not the time for copious amounts of raw vegetables, juices, or chilled foods and beverages. Soups and stews are winter foods! While in some seasons eating too many warming foods can trigger internal heat, this is less so in Winter. Why? For one, Winter is cold. Eating warming foods is necessary to counteract the exterior temperatures as they drop. Second, the natural Qi movement in Winter is inward and downward. As already mentioned, this is the time of “closing and storage.” Eating more warming foods in the Winter allows the body to secure and store that warm vitality, thereby strengthening the body for the seasons to come afterwards. So, eating more warming foods in Winter has fewer side effects than doing so in other seasons.

Another recommendation for Beginning of Winter is the consumption of supplementing medicinals. These are Chinese formulas, often in pill form, that have an overall strengthening effect on the body. The specific formula should be determined based on individual need, but in general formulas such as Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan can be taken in small but regular doses.

Since Winter is the season of the Kidney, the third recommendation for Beginning of Winter is to safeguard the Kidney and the Jing-essence. According to Chinese medicine there are three things that really deplete the Kidney and the Jing: (1) excessive sex, (2) staying up late and getting too little sleep, and (3) losing one’s temper. Excessive sex is certainly something that varies greatly from person to person. The question to ask patients is does sexual activity leave one feeling refreshed, or tired and worn out. If the latter, then it may be excessive. Staying up late goes directly against the movement of Winter, which is the movement of hibernation; Su Wen chapter 2 tells us that in Winter we need to get to bed a little earlier and sleep a little later, waiting until well after sunrise to get out of bed (早臥晚起,必待日光). Lastly, losing temper or having a generally angry disposition harms the Kidney. In the 39th chapter of the Su Wen it says that anger causes the Qi to rise (怒則氣上). Since the movement of Kidney is a movement of downward storage, anger forcing the Qi to rise depletes Kidney (i.e., it is the opposite movement of Kidney) and impairs the storage of Qi that is the natural and essential movement of Winter.

Over the last week or so here in northern New Jersey we’ve been seeing a lot of simple colds and coughs. Allergies are still plaguing some as well. Winter is the time of year for these conditions, and in Chinese medicine this means that the exterior layers of the body, namely the Taiyang channel, is being challenged. A great basic acupressure to teach patients to help both expel and protect against wind evils is stimulation of Feng Chi GB-20. Massaging this point on a daily basis can help ward off colds and relax stiffness of the next and back that is a main characteristic of Taiyang patterns. If there is concurrent nasal congestions, they can also include acupressure on Ying Xiang LI-20. For this, have them hold Feng Chi on one side of the head while simultaneously pressing into Ying Xiang on the other (for example, their right hand presses right Feng Chi, while the left hand presses left Ying Xiang). Hold until there is a sensation of clearing in the sinuses, and then switch sides.

Diet for Beginning of Winter

The basic idea for Beginning of Winter diet is to focus on foods that are nourishing and supplementing agents. In general then we want to focus on foods that are warming and nourishing, usually meaning more animal products. We can incorporate foods that are slightly oilier, while still consuming in season fruits and vegetables while they last (we are in the very tail end of apple season here in New Jersey). Foods to incorporate more regularly include lamb, beef, chicken, sparrow, soybeans, sesame, wood ear mushrooms, peanuts, sweet potato, and persimmon (fresh or dried). Warming spices to use include ginger or cinnamon. And patients who are dry or have Yin insufficiency can take either cow or goat milk

However, China is a land of multiple culinary traditions and thus seasonal eating recommendations vary from place to place. In the north of China people eat dumplings (jiaozi 餃子), especially those made of lamb and scallion (we’ll discuss a dumpling legend below). In the west of China where it is particularly cold people commonly eat more beef and lamb often in hot pots. In the areas of the high plateaus and mountains the weather is very dry and as such more fruits and vegetables that are still in season are consumed. In the south of China, where it is still relatively more warm even though it is Winter, duck, chicken and various types of fish are traditionally eaten now (i.e., foods that are supplementing but not overly warming).

One simple traditional recipe for Beginning of Winter is Ginseng Congee. To make this simply put 1 cup of rice in with about 8-10 cups water (increase or decrease based on how watery you like your congee), and 9-12g of high quality sliced and dried ginseng root. Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 40 minutes, or until the rice starts to break up to make a porridge like soup.  Another idea that is easy to implement is adding Gou Qi Zi (Goji berries; 枸杞子) to a favorite chicken soup recipe. Doing so focuses the recipe on building the blood, and strengthening the Liver and Kidney.

Zhang Zhong Jing and the legend of dumplings…

Did you know that one of our most famous historical doctors, Zhang Zhong Jing, was not only a master of herbal medicine but also a culinary innovator? According to popular Chinese legend, Zhang was the inventor of the dumpling – jiao zi (餃子). Zhang held a mid-level government position in Changsha. The year he retired from political life he did so around the Beginning of Winter seasonal node. On his travels back to his hometown he came across many people who had suffered frostbite, and as a result had lost parts of their ears. This touched Zhang deeply as he felt sorrow for the suffering of those poor folk.

Once home he found his hometown suffering from an infectious epidemic. The people were starving from lack of food, and also suffering from frostbite. To remedy this he had his assistants set up a large pot on a public square to cook up a remedy. The formula he decided on was a combination of mutton with a number of very warm cold expelling herbs known as Qu Han Jiao Er Tang (去寒嬌耳湯) – Delicate Ears Expelling the Cold Decoction. After cooking the meat was chopped up and wrapped in small wheat flour skins in the shape of ears, and then cooked more and served to the people together with some of the soup. And thus the dumpling was born, as well as the tradition of eating them around the Beginning of Winter!

Tung Acupuncture Historical Musings (Repost)

I originally posted this back in 2015, but the topic came up in a recent class I was teaching so I thought I'd post again with some edits... Enjoy!

The Tung (Dong 董) lineage of classical acupuncture claims a history that stretches back to the Han dynasty (206ACE – 220BCE). However, as is the case with many other private family lineages, we cannot with any academic certainty verify this claim. There are some hints however in how the system is organized and presented that tease us and perhaps point to a long pedigree.

First, of all the channels of regular acupuncture, the one that is least represented in Tung’s system is the Heart Channel. In fact, in Tung’s original book from 1973 there was only 1 point located on the modern Heart channel – Shou Jie 22.10 (overlapping Shao Fu HT-8). In the early medical classics, such as those unearthed at Ma Wang Dui in the early 1970s, there were 11 vessels, but no vessel that corresponds to the modern Heart channel. Likewise, the modern points of the Heart channel did not exist in the Huang Di Nei Jing or Nan Jing. For example, in the Jiu Zhen Shi Er Yuan (九鍼十二原, Ling Shu Chapter 2), the Yuan-source point of the Heart is listed as Da Ling PC-7 大陵穴. The modern Pericardium channel often was the acupuncture channel of choice for treating Heart.

In Tung’s acupuncture many of the points used to treat “Heart” problems such as cardiovascular disease, palpitations, or chest pain, are related to the Pericardium channel. Notice that Shou Jie 22.10, although located on the Heart channel proper, is not indicated for cardiac problems. For example, Ren Shi 33.13, a point that treats heart disease and palpitations, is located on the Pericardium channel (at least by some practitioners). Other points that treat Heart problems are notably located on the Stomach channel – Huo Bao 55.01, the Si Hua points, and the Zu San Tong Dao Ma group (i.e., 88.01, 02, 03). The Yangming Stomach channel treats Heart because it has a relationship to the Jueyin Pericardium (through the Wu Zang Bie Tong 五臟別通 pairings). In the early Chinese language dictionary the Shuo Wen Jie Zi the Heart is defined as the “the human Heart, the Earth Zang-viscera, located at the center of the body” (心:人心,土藏,在身之中), showing us that in very ancient times there was a close conceptual connection between the Heart and the Earth phase. In modern acupuncture theory the channel that most closely correlates to that constellation is the Pericardium. Thus, the location of “Heart” points in Tung’s acupuncture (mostly being related to Pericardium) may give away a hint at the system’s antiquity.

The other interesting piece of information on which to speculate is the “reaction areas” that were given in Tung’s original book. The term “reaction area” is an apologetic translation of Shen Jing 神經 – nerve. Nerve was the term that Tung chose to approximate, in modern ‘scientific’ language, the word “channel” – Jing 經. Therefore, Tung would have originally said that, for example, the Zu San Tong 足三通 points were the “Heart channel” since they are listed in his book as having the Heart reaction area. In modern acupuncture all the channels, with the exception of the Eight Extraordinary Vessels, are named after Zang or Fu, so some of the reaction areas in Tung’s acupuncture are easy to understand. That said, some points in Tung’s system are given reaction areas that are body parts other than the Zang Fu. For example, Ce San Li 77.22 and Ce Xia San Li 77.23 are listed as the reaction area of the teeth. Si Zhi 77.20 has a reaction area of the four limbs. So, does this mean that originally Tung considered them related to the Tooth Channel or the Four Limbs channel? That doesn’t sounds like Chinese medicine. Or does it?

It turns out that in the very early medical literature, there were some acupuncture traditions that named channels after body parts other than the Zang Fu. In the Ma Wang Dui medical manuscripts (that date to the turn of the Han dynasty) there is a manuscript called the Yin Yang Shi Yi Mai Jiu Jing Jia Ben (Cauterization Cannon of the Eleven Yin and Yang Vessels, Edition A 陰陽十一脈灸經甲本). That treatise lists a "shoulder vessel" (corresponding to the modern Arm Taiyang), an "ear vessel" (corresponding to the Arm Shaoyang), and a "tooth vessel" (corresponding to the Arm Yangming). So, in at least one very early moxibustion lineage/tradition, there was a custom of naming some channels after body parts rather than a Zang Fu or a channel layer. And there was a Tooth Channel! The Tung lineage custom of naming channels after body parts seems to be not so unique. Also, perhaps this again argues for the veracity of the Tung family's claim of how old their system is.

All of this is certainly wild speculation, and it isn’t historically convincing. Yet, the coincidences are fun to play with. Perhaps we are all practicing the descendant of something very ancient that has survived alongside many other, more dominant traditions. Perhaps it is a modern link to a very ancient system of practice, even older than other “classical” acupuncture. Or perhaps not…



Harper D. Early Chinese Medical Literature. London: Kegan Paul International, 1998; pp.206-207.

Tung, C.C. (1973) 董氏針灸正經奇穴學 [Tung Lineage Acupuncture Study of Orthodox Channel Curious Points]. Taipei: Hsin Ya Publications Ltd.

Autumn Courses Coming Up Soon

Hi all! This is just a reminder that my last few courses in 2017 are coming up soon. Later this month I'll be in Denver (click here for more information on Denver). And then in November I'll be at PCOM Chicago (click here for more information on PCOM Chicago). Both courses have limited spots available so please sign up soon.

In 2018 I'll be back in Germany, and early in the year I'll be making a trip to teach in Australia. Be on the lookout for more online courses as well. I'll post more about that when more information is available. 

Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Festival 中秋節快樂

Wednesday of this week was the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, a festival held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month each year. It is celebrated all throughout Asia, including in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The Mid-Autumn Moon always falls on a day of the full moon, and originated as a harvest festival that has been celebrated as far back as the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE).

As a harvest festival it is a time of family gathering, thanksgiving and prayer. One of the favorite foods of the holiday is mooncakes. These are tasty round pastries usually filled with sweet pastes made from lotus seeds or dates. Sometimes they also contain other things such as seeds, nuts, or salted egg yolks.  The round shape of the cakes mimics the shape of the full moon, and the round shape also symbolizes completeness, fullness, and therefore, family harmony and reunion.

I'd like to wish everyone a happy Mid-Autumn Moon festival and express my gratitude for beingpart of your extended family!

  My wife Jen's homemade mooncakes ready for the oven

My wife Jen's homemade mooncakes ready for the oven