Minor Heat 小暑 Seasonal Node

Here in the US Northeast we had a particularly wet and colder than usual June this year, and as a result it didn’t really feel like Summer. Now we’re a couple weeks out from the Summer Solstice (see our previous blog posts), and the weather has shifted significantly. The heat of Summer is definitely here. This is right on time, as Sunday July 7th started the next seasonal node of 2019 - Minor Heat (Xiao Shu 小暑).

The Minor Heat seasonal node marks an important change in the movement of Qi in the natural world. Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi 夏至) began the transition from Yang-expansion to Yin-contraction in the environment. Therefore, Minor Heat is the first seasonal node in the Yin time of the year. However, although we are transitioning into the Yin time of the year, it is still hot and getting hotter. Weather change happens slowly. Think of it like a train barreling ahead at high speed. Once the conductor decides to stop the train and put it in reverse, she first puts on the breaks. Even though the breaks are applied, it takes several hundred feet before the train actually stops. Only then will it very slowly start moving in reverse. The movement of the seasons is just like this. Once we have flipped the switch from Yang to Yin, the weather still continues to warm for some time before the very slow movement in the opposite direction begins.

The most important “to do” during this time is to nourish the Heart by maintaining an optimistic outlook. Why is this? June and July are the months associated with the Fire phase. Also, if we overlay the 12 time periods of the day with the 12 months of the year (i.e., the 12 two-hour periods of the day that each correspond to one of the primary channels), June is the time of the Heart channel and July the Small Intestine channel. Both are Fire phase. Since this is the Fire Phase time of year, it is the time of the Heart Zang. We nourish the Heart by keeping a calm mind and being optimistic. Pessimism or other negative emotional states can lead to patterns such as Liver stagnation, which in turn can transform into heat and harass the Heart. We can also nourish the Heart and regulate the Fire phases by doing some specific Qigong exercises. Over the last few weeks in our weekly Qigong classes on Thursday morning we have been doing exercises for the four Fire channels in the body. While these exercises are not yet posted, you can see other basic Qigong exercises on my Youtube channel by clicking here.

During this seasonal node, the first 5-day period is known as Wen Feng Zhi (溫風至), - Sultry Winds Arrive. This certainly describes what is happening in the weather right now, especially in the Northeastern United States! The weather has been hot, and very humid. Therefore, we need to be careful about environmental dampness damaging the body. As clinicians we should instruct patients who are prone to damp patterns on how to eat, dress, etc… In this light the main “to avoid” this time period is undue exposure to cold and excessive consumption of cold items (both cold temperature and cold thermal nature). While it may seem logical to be in cold places in cold weather, there is certainly a problem in the west with using air conditioners to cool rooms to temperatures lower than we’d feel comfortable with in winter! This time of year in our clinic we’ve seen quite a few patients with summer colds from frequently going between very hot and very cold environments. Furthermore, the overconsumption of cold (and especially cold and sweet) food and drink damages the Spleen leading to more damp accumulation. Instead, we should drink beverages that are cooling, as well as either bitter (to drain), or acrid (to move). This will cool the body without developing damp stagnation. Examples include green teas, or chrysanthemum and mint herbal teas. In China summer is the season to drink green teas such as the famous Dragon Well – Long Jing Cha 龍井茶.

Diet for Minor Heat

As we mentioned above, during Minor Heat there is significant dampness and heat in the environment. Therefore, we should consume foods that are cooling and either bitter or acrid. For example, this is the time of year to consume in-season fresh greens. In addition to chrysanthemum and mint we can also consume lotus leaf tea; lotus is a plant with a summerheat cooling nature that is also slightly bitter to drain heat and dampness. Advise patients to sip fluids throughout the day so they don’t dehydrate rather than drinking copious amounts of iced beverages all at once that may exacerbate damp conditions. If patients have damaged fluids, they can consume cooling and moist vegetables (such as cucumber) or fruits (such as watermelon).

One traditional recipe for this time of year is congee made from Yi Yi Ren (pearl barley) and adzuki beans. This basic combination is mild and neutral in temperature, and both the Yi Yi Ren and adzuki beans drain dampness. Yi Yi Ren strengthens the Spleen and adzuki beans clear heat as well.

Preparing for the Seasons to Come – A Medicated Liquor

One of the maxims in Chinese medicine is that it is usually best to treat disease before it arises, and part of that is being well prepared ahead of time. The second chapter of the Su Wen says, “Thus, the Sages did not treat disease that were already manifest, they treated disease that had yet to arise. They did not treat what was already in a state of disorder, they treated before disorder arose” (是故聖人不治已病,治未病,不治已亂,治未亂). It goes on to explain that doing this was akin to digging a well after one is thirsty, or forging weapons after war has already broken out. Both are too late to do as much good as possible.

In this spirit we can use this time of year to start preparing formulas to use in a few months, once the weather becomes cold again. A very traditional format of herbal formulas that is particularly suited to the colder weather is medicated wines (also called medicated liquors since they are made with distilled spirits, not actual wines). Ethyl alcohol is warm, acrid and sweet. This combination means that it can warm and course the Qi and Blood, as well as supplement at the same time. When herbal formulas are prepared in alcohol (i.e., ethanol) the functions of the ingredients are amplified in this therapeutic direction.

One very useful formula that we can start preparing now for use in colder weather is Song Ling Tai Ping Chun Jiu (松齡太平春酒), a formula I will translate simply into English as Great Harmony Eternal Spring Wine. Here are the ingredients…

Great Harmony Eternal Spring Wine 松齡太平春酒

Ingredients:

  • Shu Di Huang 250g

  • Dang Gui 125g

  • Hong Hua 15g

  • Gou Qi Zi 125g

  • Fo Shou 15g

  • Gui Yan Rou (i.e., Long Yan Rou) 250g

  • Song Ren (pine nuts) 125g

  • Fu Shen 50g

  • Chen Pi 25g

Directions:

  • Choose as best quality possible for each of the above medicinals. Place in a clean wide-mouthed jar with about 2.5 liters of vodka, or another distilled spirit of similar alcohol content. Allow the medicinals to soak for at least a month (although up to three months is preferable). Periodically the mixture be stirred with a clean spoon, or simply shaken a little to agitate the liquid. Once ready, take one or two shots per day as a dosage (spread out if two).

This formula was a favorite of the Emperor Qianlong (1711 – 1799; r. 1735 – 1796), one of China’s most important Emperors and one of the longest reigning monarchs in world history. The formula, crafted by Imperial physicians, was one of the Emperor’s longevity tonics. While we find a few variations on the formula today, in general the major ingredients and thus therapeutic thrust of the formula is the same. Overall the formula strengthens the Spleen, benefits the Qi, and nourishes and quickens the Blood. It is contraindicated for patients with significant internal heat patterns, and for those who normally cannot consume alcohol.

The very interesting name of the formula is deserving of a short discussion. The first word song (松) means a pine tree, and the second word ling (齡) means years of age. At first glance this is an odd combination of words – age of a pine tree. Put together it is a reference though to long life. The pine, as an evergreen, is a symbol of enduring life and youth, which is why pine nuts are seen as a longevity food. These two words are also reminiscent of the Chinese phrase song he yan ling (松鶴延齡) – “live as long as the pines and cranes.” Both of these are powerful symbols of longevity in Chinese culture. Finally, going back even to the works of Confucius, in the Analects there is a passage that says, “The Master said, "When the year becomes cold, then we know how the pine and the cypress are the last to lose their leaves” (子曰:歲寒,然後知松柏之後彫也). Thus, in old age (when the year becomes cold) it will be apparent who maintains youthful vigor. We know from history that Emperor Qianlong certainly did!

I hope everyone is staying cool and dry, and that we are all thinking of how we can start preparing for the colder months a little ways off in the future.

Henry

Three Cups of Tea for Health: A Nourishing Life Secret from Professor Lù Zhìzhèng 路志正 (Repost)

This is a repost from about a year ago. I was drinking different types of tea today and thinking of this article. So, enjoy again! (or for the first time if you’re a newer reader…)

I was up early this morning due to my nieces being dropped off while their parents are away for a few days. I ended up having more time than usual in the morning before my Thursday morning Qigong class, so I made some tea (on Thursdays I usually don't have any until I get into the office after Qigong). This morning I decided to have a really nice Huang Shan Mao Feng green tea that I purchased last summer in China. I don't usually drink green teas, so as I did I was reminded of a blog post I had put up last year sometime. Here it is again - a discussion of three cups of tea for health!

In June 2009 the Chinese Government named Professor Lu Zhizheng a National Master of Chinese Medicine (国医大师) in recognition of his contributions to the field of Chinese Medicine. Professor Lu was born in 1920 in Gaocheng City, Hebei Province. In 1934 he entered into medical school and became a disciple of Meng Zhengji. In 1939 he graduated school and started practicing medicine in his hometown. In 1973 he joined the Chinese medical research department at the Guanganmen hospital in southwestern Beijing. He went on to teach, and to publish scores of scholarly articles on books in the field of Chinese medicine. Even into his 90s Professor Lu was in radiant health, which he attributed to a few personal healthy habits he developed.

One of Professor Lu’s personal health maintenance routines that he followed for many years was the daily consumption of 3 cups of tea: green tea in the morning, oolong tea in the afternoon, and puerh tea in the evening. Think of these different teas almost as different types of herbs, and we’ll soon understand the rationale behind this interesting habit.

Green tea is tea in its most natural form, just picked and dried with minimal processing. This variety of tea, since it is most closely associated with the wood phase (even the color is the color of the wood phase), ascends Yang Qi to the Upper Jiao. It assists the Spleen and Stomach in moving and transforming the essence of water and grain, and wakes up the brain. Thus it is appropriate to the spring-like wood movement associated with the earlier part of the day.

Oolong tea is tea that is more processed in that the leaves are allowed to partially oxidize before being dried and sometimes even roasted. It has the ability to stimulate metabolism, regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol and improve digestion. In Chinese medical terms it strengthens the Spleen and disperses food accumulation – its focus is clearly on the Middle Jiao. This is particularly important if people eat slightly heavier food in the afternoon than in the morning, as is the case with the many who eat lighter breakfasts on the run.

Puerh tea is a type of black fermented tea from Yunnan province. This tea is the darkest and most processed of the three varieties here. It is even better than oolong tea at promoting digestion and is thus commonly drunk after heavy or fatty meals. Since poor digestion in the evening is a cause of poor sleep, ensuring good digestion at dinner is very important. Puerh tea has the ability to protect and nourish the Stomach, and in addition it enters the Lower Jiao and Kidney. Since evening is the time when Yang Qi moves to enter into storage, drinking puerh tea later in the day helps harmonize the body’s Qi with the natural movement of the environment at that time of day.

Aside from the type of tea, Professor Lu also takes care to drink each tea variety in the cup or bowl that best suits its unique brewing style. Green tea is best suiting for being drunk from either a ceramic or glass cup, and for being brewed in a small teapot. Oolong tea is best brewed in a Zisha clay teapot in what is known as Gongfu (Kung Fu) style, and drunk from small Chinese teacups. Puerh tea is best suited to being brewed in an Yixing Zisha teapot, in a side handled clay pot, or in a traditional lidded Chinese teacup (i.e., Gaiwan).

Please enjoy this rather fun and tasty health tip from one of the greats of modern Chinese medicine!

Summer Solstice 夏至 Seasonal Node

I’ve been a bit behind these last few weeks in my blog posts, meaning I missed the last seasonal node - Bearded Grain (Mang Zhong 芒種). Bearded Grain started this year on June 6th. The name, ‘Bearded Grain,’ is a reference to crops. The word Mang (芒) refers to the maturing crops, especially the winter wheat, which is harvested about this time of year. The word Zhong (種) is a reference then to the new rice crops that are planted at this time. This gives us the image of one thing coming to maturity (as in the growing Yang of the season) so that it can eventually perish (i.e., be harvested), then allowing a new crop to be started. The image of transfer and renewal is characteristic of the transition period that this time of year is.

This time of year damp and heat evils in the environment start to predominate, and even now as I’m writing this blog post this morning there is an incredible downpour of rain – I nearly needed a boat to get into the clinic today! This year here in New Jersey it has certainly been damp. In Chinese medicine the Spleen is susceptible to dampness, the disease evil associated with the Soil (i.e., Earth) phase. The Spleen governs the flesh and the four limbs. Damp evils encumber the flesh of the four limbs making them feel heavy and weary, leading our body feeling fatigued and without strength. Napping is a way to recuperate vitality, especially when done during the most Yang/hot time of day. Napping traditionally allowed people a rest from the summer heat and dampness, and offered a way to support the Latter Heaven (hou tian 後天) of the Spleen.

But moving on from Bearded Grain, today is a tremendously important day in the course of the yearly cycle. Tomorrow the days will slowly start getting shorter, heralding the cosmic transformation from Yang to Yin that has just been triggered… Today is the Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi 夏至).

In addition to being one very important day, the Summer Solstice is also the name of the current seasonal node. This node marks the apex of Yang in the natural world as well as the rebirth of Yin that will eventually culminate with the longest night on the Winter Solstice in December. In terms of the time of day, Summer Solstice corresponds to high noon, and is the time of the Heart channel. When we break down Summer Solstice into the smaller five-day periods of time, it includes the time periods know as Deer Shed Antlers (Lu Jiao Jie 鹿角解), Cicadas Begin Singing (Tiao Shi Ming 蜩始鳴), and Pinellia Grows (Ban Xia Sheng 半夏生). Notice that this time is when Ban Xia is growing, the king of drying damp and getting rid of phlegm turbidity (a Yang herb to treat a Yin pathology). Likewise, in China this is the time of year to harvest Aconite (fu zi 附子) to enhance its Yang nature.

In Yijing (I Ching) symbolism, this time period is represented by hexagram 44, made up of Qian-Heaven trigram (3 solid yang lines) over Xun-Wind trigram (1 broken yin line under 2 solid yang lines). Thus, the complete hexagram is 5 solid Yang lines over one broken Yin line at the bottom – Yin is being birthed once again. One of the translations for the name of Hexagram 44 is “The Queen,” also showing that this time of year begins the transition towards returning inward to the hidden, the Yin, the Blood, and the Dark Mother that is referred to in the first chapter of the Dao De Jing.

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Practically speaking, although this is a time of transition to Yin, this is still a hot and damp season. The first health recommendation for Summer Solstice is to focus on clearing summerheat and draining dampness. For example, various skin problems due to external contraction of summerheat damp are commonly seen now. It is also common to see other symptoms of summerheat strike such as malaise, fatigue, low-grade fever or heat effusion, low-grade headache, nausea, etc… There are several ways we can help ourselves as well as our patients when they present with summerheat damp symptoms. First, is to regulate diet, which we will discuss more below. We can also counsel basic lifestyle recommendations, such as dressing appropriately to the weather (such as wearing light clothes made of natural materials that breathe well), staying in shade in the midday when temperatures are highest, and drinking plenty of light and clear fluids. This is especially important for our older patients, since as we age we lose the normal ability to adapt to more extremes in temperature. Furthermore, seniors are more likely to be on prescription medications or may have chronic medical problems that inhibit perspiration or make extremes of temperature less tolerable. Some medications also increase sensitivity to sun raising risk of sunburns (examples include tetracyclines, quinolones such as Cipro, Celebrex, and some chemotherapeutic agents).

In terms of therapy, Dr. Zhong Yong Xiang of Taiwan suggests bleeding the jing well points on all the fingers for more severe cases of summerheat strike. This bloodletting method is described in my book Pricking the Vessels. We can also consider performing Gua Sha on the back to help move stagnant summerheat damp in the exterior muscle layer.

The next recommended “to do” during Summer Solstice is Shui Hao Zi Wu Jiao 睡好子午交. This means sleep well during both the Zi and Wu hours. Certainly, sleeping well is something we should be doing all year long. Zi and Wu refer to the time periods of midday and midnight, with Zi being the 11pm – 1am hour, and Wu being the 11am – 1pm hour (to be adjusted for standard time in locations that observe daylight savings time). In general it is important to get into bed before the Zi hour. Remember, the Zi hour is the time of transition from Yin to Yang, representative of the Winter Solstice. After this time period our bodies are already in a state of Yang expansion, the movement contrary to good sleep. Getting to bed and sleeping through this hour ensures that we really rest, that we really go into the state of storage that replenishes our vital substances.

The Wu hour is also a time of transition, and like the Summer Solstice, represents the change from Yang to Yin. The traditional recommendation is to take a short nap during this time to harmonize the body with this movement of Yang to Yin. That said, the recommendation is just a short nap of maybe only 30 minutes time (this is just the beginning of Yin after all). After that, don’t linger. Get up and back to normal activity.


Diet for Summer Solstice

As already mentioned, Summer Solstice is the time of transition from Yang to Yin in the natural world. That said, Summer Solstice is still a time of damp and heat in many places. Therefore, the basic strategy of clearing heat and draining dampness can help guide us in our diet strategy. It is important to keep in mind that during summer over-sweating and prolonged exposure to heat can deplete the Qi and fluids of the body. So, once we are clear of heat and damp, if there is vacuity we can focus on supplementation. However, since this is a hot time of year, cool supplementation is best.

In summary we can generalize this is the time to eat foods that clear heat (especially summerheat), drain dampness, nourish the Qi and boost fluids. Examples include cucumber, winter melon, luffa, tomato, honeydew melon, star fruit, peach, plumb, and mung beans. This is also a good time to eat bitter melon (ku gua 苦瓜). When I lived in Okinawa as a graduate student, bitter melon was a basic staple of food since Okinawa is a very hot and damp climate.

Here is one recipe that is appropriate to the season that includes mung beans…

Licorice and Mung Bean Congee (Gan Cao Lü Dou Zhou 甘草綠豆粥)

Ingredients:

  • Rice 150g

  • Mung Beans (lü dou 綠豆) – 50g

  • Chinese licorice root (gan cao 甘草) – 50g

  • Rock sugar to taste

Directions:

  1. Rinse the rice and mung beans, wrap gan cao in teabag to make removing easier (optional)

  2. Place gan cao in about 1750 ml (about 7 cups) of water, bring to a boil and simmer until water is a yellow color

  3. Add in mung beans, bring to boil again and then simmer on low for about 40 minutes until beans soften

  4. Add in rice and continue cooking for about 30 minutes until the rice starts to beak apart and mixture is the consistency of congee

  5. Remove from heat, add in rock sugar to taste (optional)

This recipe aromatically opens the Stomach, strengthens the Spleen and transforms damp, and clears heat and disinhibits damp. It should be used with caution in patients with Spleen and Stomach vacuity cold, or patients with chronic diarrhea.


Here’s a formula from the Zun Sheng Ba Jian (遵生八箋) – the Eight Treatises on Following the Principles of Life. Written by a scholar by the name of Gao Lian at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the text is an almost encyclopedic collection of all manner of Nourishing Life (養生) recipes, techniques, theories, etc… Here is a seasonal formula for summer from this text.

Cardamom Powder 豆蔻散

Ingredients:

  • Cao Dou Kou 草豆蔻 120g (toast until yellow together with 120g of fresh ginger, then remove the peel for use)

  • Mai Ya 麥芽 300g (dry fry until yellow)

  • Shen Qu 神曲 120g (dry fry until yellow)

  • Zhi Gan Cao 炙甘草 120g

  • Pao Jiang 炮薑 30g

Grind all ingredients to a fine powder. Take a small amount daily with water or tea. During summer as heat and dampness increases, occasionally this will negatively affect people’s digestive function and appetite. This formula opens the Stomach, increases appetite, treats abdominal distension and is particularly useful if weather is cooler or damper than usual.

I hope everyone is staying cool and dry. For those who would like to read more about Summer seasonal recommendations in general, please click here.

I also have a more comprehensive course on acupuncture and the seasons, including how to use diet, acupuncture (even Tung’s acupuncture) and other lifestyle recommendations to harmonize with all the seasonal nodes. For more information on that class, click here.

I hope everyone is having a great Summer and staying healthy!

Henry

Beginning of Summer 立夏 Seasonal Node

It may be hard to believe given the cold and somewhat wet April we’ve had here in the northeast, but today is the beginning of Summer in the traditional Chinese calendar, and thus the start of the Beginning of Summer (立夏 lì xià) seasonal node. By now the days are getting significantly longer, and the bursting out of life in nature is incredibly palpable. I’m eagerly waiting my tree peonies – it looks like they’ll be opening up soon! At this point in time (I know it’s a horrible thought), in only about 1 ½ months the days will start getting shorter again. Right now the Yang of the natural world is close to its fullest, and correspondingly the hexagram that represents this time of year is Qian Gua (乾卦) – six solid-Yang lines.

Summer is associated with the Fire phase, although the 4th month belongs to the Spleen (the 4th month in the Chinese calendar is May, since February is the first month). This is interesting as in ancient times the Heart was associated with both the Earth phase and the Fire phase. For example, in the Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the Han Dynasty dictionary that gives the etymology of ancient characters, the definition of Heart is 人心土藏 – “human Heart, the Earth zang-viscera.” The Spleen channel also has a direct connection to the Heart Zang. Many of you who practice Tung’s acupuncture will notice that the main Heart Dao Ma group is located in the space between the Spleen and Stomach Channels; this Dao Ma group is the Zu San Tong consisting of Tong Guan 88.01, Tong Shan 88.02 and Tong Tian 88.03. In Tung’s acupuncture all of the major Heart points have some relationship with Pericardium channel, the original Heart channel from the Neijing (e.g., the Source point of Heart in the Ling Shu is Da Ling PC-7, not Shen Men HT-7). One needling technique we can use during this time of year with otherwise healthy patients is to incorporate Pericardium channel points (such as Nei Guan PC-6) or the Zu San Tong Dao Ma group into point prescriptions. These points help the body harmonize with the movement of the season right now.

This year one thing to keep in mind (for those of you on the East Coast of the US) is that the weather has been particularly cold and wet. Normally this is the time of rising Yang in the natural world, although I can say that it seems to be lagging behind a bit. The second chapter of the Su Wen says that when we don’t follow the guidelines of Spring then there is change to cold in the season that follows. Zhang Zhicong interprets this as the development of cold diseases (i.e., cold patterns). This is also the case though when the weather doesn’t behave – not just we humans not behaving. The continued cold and damp (both Yin evils) effectively restrict the Yang movement in our bodies. Thus, clinically I’ve been seeing a lot more joint pain, general aching, fatigue, digestive weakness, and diarrhea. For these patients consider doing moxa on points such as Zu San Li ST-36, or needling points such as Zhong Jiu Li 88.25 for general joint pain. Encourage patients to dress adequately for the weather on days where cold lingers.

To remind everyone, each of the 24 Seasonal Nodes has a traditional set of health guidelines where we should focus on certain things and avoid others. For Beginning of Summer the traditional things we focus on are preserving a good mood, nourishing the Heart, and thereby entering stillness (保持良好情緒,養心入靜). The things to avoid are allowing Heart fire to become too exuberant and intemperance in food and drink (心火過旺,飲食沒有節制).

As we just mentioned, the Heart is the fire organ. This means that occasionally it is prone to excess heat, signs of which include insomnia, irritability, dry and hard stool, red eyes, and thirst for cold beverages. One way to avoid excess Heart Fire is to dress appropriately for the warmer weather as it starts to come. Avoid strenuous work in direct midday sun, instead taking advantage of the slightly cooler temperatures in the early morning or later afternoon. Be sure to consume plenty of clear fluids such as water or herbal teas. Mint tea and chrysanthemum tea are both gently cooling to the body, and additionally they help with allergies that are so prevalent right now in northern New Jersey. These days I’m drinking my daily Pu Er tea mixed with organic Ju Hua flowers.

Another way to avoid problems of Heart Fire is closely tied in with traditional meditation and body cultivation practices (such as Neidan, or in modern terms, Qigong). Early medical texts such as the Ma Wang Dui manuscripts taught the importance of sinking the Qi down to the lower part of the body, a place in cultivation literature known as the Dan Tian (丹田; Tanden たんでん in Japanese). This idea later became vitally important in meditation schools such as those of Internal Alchemy, and then was inherited by modern Qigong practitioners. The flaring up of fire is seen to be an extremely harmful problem, and one of the main ways to counteract this is by focusing on the space in the abdomen – the Dan Tian. This can be done during standing meditations, such as standing post (站樁), or in seated meditations (坐禪). Doing these types of practices regularly is perhaps one of the best ways to deal with the upflaring of Heart Fire. For those in New Jersey or New York, we discuss these techniques frequently in our weekly Neigong/Qigong and Taijiquan classes.

Diet for Beginning of Summer

With the new seasonal node come new dietary suggestions. One of the first is to avoid intemperance in food and drink. Overeating, especially of very heavy, sweet or greasy foods, places a burden on the Spleen. Overeating these foods, and overconsumption in general, also create internal heat that can worsen Heart Fire. If patients experience digestive upset as a temporary measure we can needle points such as Ling Gu 22.05, Si Hua Shang 77.08 and Men Jin 66.05. If there is Heart Fire bleed the ear apex.

In terms of flavors, this time of year we should focus on eating slightly more sour, a little more bitter, and light or gently cooling foods. Eating sour foods helps build fluids and blood so as to nourish the Heart, and bitter can drain fire. As heat in the environment increases it is understandably important to eat more light / fresh vegetables and other foods that will gently cool the body. Specific foods to consider this Seasonal Node include bananas, peaches, plums, umeboshi (Japanese salted plums), asparagus, cucumber and corn. Since this time of year is associated with Fire and Heart, red foods are also good to incorporate – think of strawberries, tomatoes and hawthorn berries.

It is appropriate to increase slightly intake of water or herbal teas. Patients who tend towards excess heat can drink chrysanthemum tea. Even though the beginning of Summer means more heat, some patients still may be cold and vacuous internally. Since Summer in many places also has increased environmental dampness, these people can drink a very light ginger tea or fennel seed tea, sweetened if desired local honey. Allergy sufferers (right now in New Jersey we are in the middle of a allergy season) can take mint tea with local honey, as local honey is used as a traditional allergy remedy.

Two traditional Beginning of Summer recipes are Celery Congee (芹菜粥) and Suan Zao Ren Congee (酸棗仁粥). For Celery Congee take several stalks of celery, remove the leaves, clean and cut into small pieces. Take an appropriate amount of white rice and cook in water to make a porridge (i.e., congee), and then add celery for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste. This recipe clears heat and extinguishes fire, reduces blood pressure, and eliminates vexation. However, it should be avoided by those with Spleen-Stomach vacuity cold patterns. Celery Congee can be taken daily in the morning as a warm breakfast. This recipe originally comes from the Ben Cao Gang Mu.

For the second recipe, Suan Zao Ren Congee, use about 50g of Suan Zao Ren 酸棗仁 to about 100g of white rice. Add an appropriate amount of water and boil until you have congee. At the end, add a small amount of sugar or honey to taste. This recipe can be taken as an evening snack as it can treat Heart vacuity and vexation to help sleep.

And one last recipe for Beginning of Summer…

Pickled Cold Lotus Root

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. lotus root

  • 3 cups rice vinegar (or white vinegar)

  • ½ cup sugar

  • ½ tsp salt

  • 1 small red chili pepper

Directions:

  1. Peel lotus root and then slice into VERY thin slices; soak for a few minutes in a bowl of cold water with a little white vinegar to keep from discoloring

  2. Slice red chili pepper in to very thin slices, or julienne; if whole pepper is not available then substitute with red pepper flakes if desired

  3. Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer for just one minute, and stir to be sure salt and sugar have completely dissolved

  4. Bring another pot of water to boil and parboil lotus root for several minutes; then drain in colander and cool with cold running water

  5. Put cool lotus root and sliced chili pepper in a clean bowl and cover with the vinegar solution; cover and then refrigerate at least overnight or up to a few days before eating; to eat, remove from liquid and serve chilled

This recipe nourishes yin, clears heat, supplements vacuity and awakens the Spleen. It is good for those with poor digestion as well as those with dryness symptoms.

I hope you are all enjoying the gradually improving weather. Happy Summer!

National Mental Health Month Qigong Class

May 4-11 2019 is Madison, NJ's "INTOyellow," an annual, week-long series of arts, educational and social events that support and celebrate local community mental health resources in honor of National Mental Health Month (May). All events are programmed with the shared intention to shine a light on the stigma of mental health and inspire community connection through collaboration and creativity.

As part of this year's activities we will be sponsoring a FREE Qigong class on Wednesday evening, May 8th, from 7:30-8:30pm.. Please feel free to join us for the event! Click here, or on the image for more information.



World Taiji and Qigong Day 2019

My first year at Oberlin as an undergraduate a friend of mine gave me a book on Qigong. It had been given to him, and he didn’t really have an interest in it. Since I had practiced Okinawan martial arts and was teaching them at the time at Oberlin he figured I might enjoy it. While I had heard of Qigong I really didn’t know much about it, so I read the book with keen interest. What I didn’t know that day was that one book would eventually lead me down the path to completing a degree in East Asian Studies, then living in Japan, and eventually becoming a professional doctor of Chinese medicine. The reason I initially went to seek treatment from an acupuncturist was to treat a Qigong related injury I sustained. But that is a story we can go into more at a later date…

Even though people know me as a teacher of topics like Tung’s acupuncture and bloodletting therapy, some of my other favorite topics are Chinese longevity practices (known collectively as Yang Sheng), martial arts, and Qigong and Taiji. Every year the last Saturday in April is celebrated as World Tai Chi and Qigong Day (and it drives me absolutely crazy that the main organizers insist on mixing Wade-Giles and Pinyin romanization!!!). This year as we have in the past, we will be holding a free class tomorrow (Saturday April 27) from 9-10am at the Wushu Kung Fu Fitness Center where I regularly teach. If you are in the area please feel free to join us!

The first half of the class we will practice some Daoist Neigong in the tradition of Hu Yaozhen. These practices are a direct transmission from the Song Dynasty Daoist Chen Tuan (well, that’s the traditional lineage at least!). After that as a group we will go through the Chen Style Hunyuan Basic 24 movement form.

To read more about the event please click here!

Grain Rain 穀雨 Seasonal Node

Due to some recent travel out to teach for OCOM’s doctoral program as well as the end of my semester here in New York, I was remiss in getting out the last seasonal node update. About two weeks ago we hit Clear and Bright (Qing Ming 清明). This seasonal node is also a traditional holiday in much of East Asia – the Qing Ming Festival. In Okinawa, where I lived as a graduate student, the day is called Shimi in the local Hogen (indigenous Okinawan language). Qing Ming Festival is a time for Asians to visit graves and pay respect to the ancestors. Thus it is a time to remember the past while at the same time starting the new Spring, showing the beautiful integration and connection between Yin and Yang in all phenomena. This is also the time of year for cherry blossoms. The photo on this blog is one I took last weekend in Philadelphia when their cherry blossoms were at peak bloom.

This coming Saturday is the beginning of the Grain Rain (Gu Yu 穀雨) seasonal node, and true to the name we are expecting some rain these next few days here in the Northeastern United States. Grain Rain is actually the last seasonal node of Spring since early May marks the beginning of Summer in the Chinese calendar. In only about 2 months from now the days start getting shorter again – so get out and enjoy the sunshine!

Grain Rain is the 6th step of the 24 seasonal nodes thus corresponding roughly to the Chen (辰) watch of the day (7-9am). Furthermore it is the time of transition from Spring to Summer correlating to the Earth phase (the Earth phase is the transition between seasons). Thus, Gu Yu is the time of year associated with the Stomach channel. The general movement of Spring is the movement of Liver-Wood, but the Earth phase is also in charge of movement and transformation. Because of this, during Grain Rain we need to ensure that Qi and Blood are moving smoothly. Watch for signs of Qi stagnation in yourself and in your patients. This is why a good basic recommendation for this time of year is performing regular self-massage to ensure smooth circulation of Qi and Blood in the body.

One of the easiest points to massage for the average person is the collection of points known as the Shi Xuan 十宣穴. These points are located one at the tip of every finger and every toe. The word “Shi” means 10 – there is a point on each finger and toe adding up to 10 total. The word “Xuan” means to spread or diffuse. Since all the channels of the body connect to the fingers and toes, these points together spread or move all the Qi in all the channels of the body, and can be massaged as a general way to prevent and treat stagnation in the channels. To massage simply squeeze and rub the tip of each finger and toe in succession. Repeat throughout the day, but preferably at least once each morning and once each evening.

As the weather does get a bit sunnier and warmer it is important to increase outside activity – consider walking or gardening. However, since Spring is a time of temperature ups and downs, be careful to dress appropriately as dictated by each day. This is the tail end of the cold season, so pay attention to preventing colds, and seek treatment as soon as any cold or allergy symptoms start. For both allergies and colds consider using Tung’s Mu (木穴; 11.17) point. Located on the palmar surface of the proximal digit of the first finger, this point is also call the common cold point of the hand (手感冒穴).

Getting back to the idea of stagnation, it is vital that during Grain Rain we prevent stagnation in the Stomach (since this is the time of Stomach channel). With acupuncture treatment this means making frequent use of Men Jin (門金穴; 66.05), the Tung point overlapping the Shu-stream point of the Stomach channel. It is also important to generally avoid overeating, and in particular the overconsumption of oily and greasy foods.

During Grain Rain start eating lighter and easier to digest items and in-season vegetables such as asparagus. Other foods to emphasize are those that boost Qi and Blood, and gently strengthen the Spleen and Stomach; the Yang of the Spleen/Stomach is still fragile now, especially since Liver-Wood can over-control Earth. These foods include rice or rice congee, Bian Dou, yams, nagaimo (i.e., Shan Yao), peanuts, and cherries (a slightly warming fruit). If you didn’t know, this is also egg season. Yes… Eggs have a season! Most chickens naturally lay eggs only when day length is about 10 hours or more (commercially grown eggs are available because farmers trick chickens with strong artificial lighting year round). One of my favorite early spring recipes is steamed asparagus with scrambled eggs – delicious and light, and good for you too!

Here’s a traditional Chinese herbal formula for Spring:

Chrysanthemum Powder – Ju Hua San 菊花散

Ingredients

  • Ju Hua, Qian Hu, Xuan Fu Hua, Shao Yao, Xuan Shen, Fang Feng each 30g

Directions

  • Grind all herbs to a powder; take 6-9g at night with wine (or rice water)

This recipe is from the Zun Sheng Ba Jian (遵生八箋) – the Eight Treatises on Following the Principles of Life. Written by a scholar by the name of Gao Lian at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the text is an almost encyclopedic collection of all manner of Nourishing Life (養生) recipes, techniques, theories, etc… Ju Hua San is indicated for the treatment of Wind Qi and Heat Toxins attacking above, and the Zun Sheng Ba Jian specifically recommends it for treating allergies in the elderly patient.

Happy Spring, and a Happy Passover and Easter this weekend to all!

Henry

Cherry blossoms (Sakura) in Philadelphia - April 2019

Cherry blossoms (Sakura) in Philadelphia - April 2019

 

Vernal Equinox 春分 Seasonal Node & Super Moon

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:

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. Add in the Du Zhong liquid, and cook down in the pan with the kidney. Add scallions. Cook until kidneys are thoroughly cooked through.

  5. 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.

Henry

Awakening of Insects 驚蟄 Seasonal Node

Today, Wednesday March 6th is the start of the Awakening of Insects seasonal node (jing zhe 驚蟄), the third node of the year. This is the next segment of Spring, and although over the last two weeks weather has been particularly chilly, I’m starting to see buds setting on trees. Also, many mornings as I walk outside the house the birds are singing so loud it is hard to ignore them. The earth is slowly waking from Winter’s sleep. The three 5-day periods in this seasonal node are Peach Trees Begin to Blossom (tao shi hua 桃始華), Orioles Sing (canggeng ming 倉庚鳴), and Hawks Transform into Cuckcoos (ying hua weijiu 鷹化爲鳩).

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, especially this year, can be cold. Continue to dress appropriately, especially since there can be wide fluctuations in temperatures from day to day. As Yang qi continues to grow in the natural environment, now is 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 foods, 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.

One traditional dish for Awakening of Insects is Schizonepeta and Mint Congee (荊芥薄荷粥). Congees are simply rice porridges. To make this congee start with 10g Jing Jie, 6g Bo He, and 10g Dan Dou Chi. First, place the Dan Dou Chi in about 5 cups of water, bring to a boil and simmer on low for 30 minutes. Then, add the Jing Jie and Bo He, simmering only for 5 minutes. After this, strain out the herbs and retain the liquid. Place the liquid back in the pot and bring to a simmer again. Lastly, add in about ½ cup of rice and cook until the rice breaks apart and becomes porridge-like (this can take 30-45 more minutes of cooking). Add in extra hot water as necessary if the congee becomes too thick. Schizonepeta and Mint Congee expels wind, resoles the surface, clears heat and eliminates toxins. It is useful for treating early stage colds, seasonal allergies, or just as a daily early Spring food.

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. For the lower extremities start with tapping at Huan Tiao GB-30, moving down then to Zu San Li ST-36, and finally Cheng Shan BL-57. For the lower extremities, both sides of the body can be tapped at the same time.

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 (some of these are available on this website – click here to see). 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 their regular Qigong & Taiji class) and every Thursday morning at the Wushu Kung Fu Fitness Center in East Hanover, NJ.

Next installment we reach the Vernal Equinox!

Henry

Taking Action Class (ToDo Institute)

Our friends at ToDo Institute are running another great online course. Some of you may know that I did training in Japanese Psychology with them (which is partly the basis of the Emotional/Spiritual Healing Course I do at PCOM). This class is a great vehicle for tackling challenges, and i used it myself a number of years ago to get the Practical Atlas off the ground. Below is the description, and they are offering my students a 40% discount on the class. Just use the code McCann40 when registering.

Taking Action: March 1-30, 2019

The ToDo Institute is offering a 30 day program called TAKING ACTION, which begins on March 1st. If there's a specific project you'd like to take on in your life, this program can help you to actually do it! Any kind of project will qualify -- organizing your office, writing a book proposal, making a will, doing back taxes, creating a healthier lifestyle, starting a garden, you name it. Then throughout the month you will receive daily exercises, through email, that will help you to shape and structure your efforts. The foundation of the program is based on Japanese Psychology, which you will also learn about throughout the month. Gregg Krech, author of The Art of Taking Action, teaches the program. (A digital copy of this Amazon best-seller is included with registration.)

Click here to go directly to the ToDo Course information webpage.

Rain Water 雨水 Seasonal Node

Yesterday, Tuesday February 19th, was the beginning of the second seasonal node of the new-year and the new Spring – 雨水 Yu Shui, “Rain Water.” Here in northern New Jersey as I sit here writing this post (on Wednesday) we are in the middle of winter weather. A mix of snow and freezing rain is falling. However, tomorrow we are expecting temperature to rise into the 50s (about 12 degree Celsius). And, there will be more rain. Thus true to the name of the node, there is more moisture in the environment.

During Rain Water the expansion of Yang in the natural environment continues. So, while days can still be cold, we are definitely experiencing up and down in temperatures. The three smaller 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, attested to by my dog’s muddy paws as he come back in after his morning deer chase! 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 now.

The basic “to do” recommendation for Rain Water 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. In addition we need to protect the Spleen because of increased environmental dampness. At the same time, the Spleen is the viscera associated with transformation and transition, and even though we are in Spring we are in a period of weather transition. Thus, another reason Xuan Shu is important this time of year is because, in addition to it’s ability to supplement the middle jiao, being a point on the lower portion of the Du Mai it also can strengthen the Kidney.

Other points to consider in the clinic are Si Hua Shang 77.08 (i.e., Zu San Li ST36) in combination with Ling Gu 22.05 and Da Bai 22.04. Ling Gu and Da Bai have the ability to course Qi and Blood, regulate the Kidney (because of the connection between the Large Intestine and Kidney channels mediated through relationships on the diurnal circulation of Qi through the channels), and expel external cold. Si Hua Shang supplements the middle burner, especially when treated with direct moxibustion.

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.

Just about any ingredient can be added into this basic congee. 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. As such, 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 may be. Stay warm, and remember to use moxabustion as necessary on yourself and on your patients.

Here is a basic tea recipe associated with the current seasonal node. 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)

Ingredients:

  • 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

Instructions:

  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 tea leaf, 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).

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Instructions:

  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!

Pear Ginger Tea 梨薑湯

On Friday afternoons I typically visit with my Taiji master Wang Fengming so we can train. When I arrived at his house this past Friday, my Shimu 師母 (Taiji Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang’s daughter) had just finished cooking pear tea. I’m sure I had similar tea before, but probably not freshly cooked. Before we trained we drank some, and it was fantastic. So, I thought I would make some myself and then write about it for my blog and my patients.

There are many variations of how this tea can be made, but the main idea is simply boiling fresh Asian pears with other ingredients in water and then drinking the resulting liquid. There is no actual tea leaf in this tea (and thus it has no caffeine), and in Chinese it is really called a tāng 湯 – a soup. The resulting “soup” is quite tasty, and both refreshing as well as satisfying at the same time. In my experience few modern westerners think of fruit as something you can boil to make a tea or soup, but this is a fairly common thing in China and Korea (where this type of tea is also commonly drunk). The version I made myself at home included ginger to balance the sweet of the fruit with the spicy of ginger root. It can also be made with other Chinese herbs such as Gou Qi Zi (i.e., Goji berries 枸杞子).

This tea is traditionally used to both prevent and treat colds or flus, and it also has the ability to supplement and strengthen the Spleen, but at the same time gently nourish the Yin of the Lungs. It improves appetite, benefits fluids, treats nausea, and stops coughs or sore throats. Taken hot it can induce a mild sweat.

Since when I cook I rarely use specific ingredient measurements, readers will have to make due with vague measurements…

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium to large Asian pear

  • 3-5 large Chinese red dates 紅棗

  • medium piece of ginger


Cooking Instructions:

1. Wash pear and dates, peel ginger root; slice the pear into medium slices or chunks (be sure to remove the core as boiled seeds will taste bitter in the final tea), cut the dates into slices (being sure to remove the pit), and slice ginger

Ingredients before slicing

Ingredients before slicing

 
Ingredients after preparation

Ingredients after preparation

 

2. Put all ingredients into about 3 quarts of water; bring to a boil and then simmer for 30-60 minutes (longer simmer is also ok)

Ingredients boiling in pot

Ingredients boiling in pot




3. Serve warm; optionally garnish with pine nuts and serve with a slice of red date in each cup (if pine nuts are not available optionally garnish with crushed walnuts). Enjoy!

Finished tea with garnish. Cup is from  Wing On Wo & Co., Chinatown, NYC

Finished tea with garnish. Cup is from Wing On Wo & Co., Chinatown, NYC

Beginning of Spring 立春 Seasonal Node & Happy New Year 新年快樂

The Chinese use both a lunar and a solar calendar to mark time, and because of this there are two dates that are considered the beginning of Spring. One is called Li Chun (立春) – the “Beginning of Spring,” which is the next seasonal node (of the twenty four that we talk about regularly here). The timing of the seasonal nodes are based on the solar calendar since they are tied to the solstices and equinoxes. The solar beginning of Spring happens every year February 4th or 5th.

The second beginning of Spring is the lunar, also known as Chun Jie (春節), the Spring Festival. This day is the Chinese Lunar New Year, and it falls on the second new moon following the Winter Solstice (with the rare possibility of it falling on the third new moon in some years with an intercalary month). The Lunar New Year is one of the most important traditional holidays, and is a time for people to visit with family and friends. This year the Beginning of Spring Seasonal Node and the Lunar New Year are only a day apart, the node being on Monday February 4th, and the Lunar New Year being on Tuesday February 5th (last year the dates were 12 days apart).

This time of year, the Beginning of Spring, is when the Yang influences are growing in the natural world. By now 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. Even with 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 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. 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, and the Liver is a Yang viscera (with Heart being the other Yang viscera). 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 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. Tung recommended eating beef stewed with garlic for the treatment of Liver Vacuity (Tung, 1973). While he didn’t mention it specifically for Beginning of Spring, we can say that this recipe is perfect for the warming and strengthening of the Liver Yang that is now appropriate.

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. In the clinic we can mimic this basic formula with points such as Mu Yan 11.20 or Gan Men 33.11.

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

Ingredients:

  • Pork bone, about 3 lbs

  • Chinese dried red dates (Hong Zao, or Da Zao), about 6 pieces

  • Ginger

  • 1 Large scallion white

  • Salt

Instructions:

  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.

I wish everyone a very happy, health, and prosperous Year of the Earth Pig. Happy New Year, and Happy Spring!

新年快樂!

Major Cold 大寒 Seasonal Node

Today, Sunday January 20th, is the start of the Major Cold (da han 大寒) Seasonal Node, and here in northern New Jersey it really arrives right on time. This morning we had a mix of snow and freezing rain, and tonight the temperatures are forecast to drop, with an overnight high of 8 degrees (-13 degrees Celsius). Days are slowly getting longer, but it is really cold now. Major Cold is the last node of the traditional Chinese year, and we are now about two weeks away from both the solar and lunar new year – the Beginning of Spring (this year they fall about the same time).

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 imagery of the impending Spring. In Five Phase theory the domestic animal associated with Spring is the chicken, and during Major Cold hens are getting ready to become pregnant with baby chicks that will hatch in Spring. Thus, 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. Even with wet snow on the ground this morning, lately my patients have been complaining of dry skin on an almost daily basis. Much of the environmental water is bound up in snow or ice, making the air dry. Knowing this, 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, during Major Cold we should emphasize consuming easily digested 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, and Epsom salts can also be added to the water 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 Kidney, and gentle stimulation of the low back can thus relax and warm the Kidney. 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. In 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.

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. Over the last month or so temperatures have been up and down, although we have yet to see sustained frigid temperatures in the Northeastern United States. What is more important is that we are now in the time of year where the potential for sustained cold is very real as, even though we are moving into Spring, January and February are usually the coldest months of the year. Sunday night of this weekend when I’m posting this got down into the 20s (that’s below freezing for those of you using Celsius).

Most people don’t realize this but last week was actually perihelion, the exact day when the Earth is closest to the Sun. This happens each year about 2 weeks after the Winter Solstice. Warmth of the season though is determined by angle of sunlight, not proximity to the Sun, which is why even though we are close, it is still cold here.

This year the Minor Cold seasonal node started on Saturday 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 want to stop and go in reverse, first you have to hit the brakes. However, 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 the Yin movement of the year, before we can really move towards the 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.

In addition to the acupressure mentioned above, consider using the Leg Nine Miles Dao Ma Group (足九里) from Tung’s system. This is one of the best groups to use for Bi syndromes when multiple areas of the body are affected, or when we’re not quite sure where to start with a patient. The three points in this group are Middle Nine Miles, Upper Nine Miles, and Lower Nine Miles (88.25, 26, 27), with the middle point overlapping Feng Shi GB-31. Patients can be taught to do Paida (拍打) in this area as a daily health maintenance regimen.

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.

Instead of a traditional dietary recipe for this node I’ll offer readers a medicated wine. This formula is specifically for the treatment of Bi syndromes due to cold in the channels, and can be taken by patients over the age of 40 for the prevention of joint problems as well. The recipe is actually given to us by Tung in his original text from 1973. While he was an amazing acupuncturist, like all doctors in China, he was familiar with a number of Chinese medicine therapies (including the basic use of herbal medicines).


Tung’s Bi Impediment Wine 董氏痹症酒

Ingredients:

  • Huang Qi 1 30g

  • Wu Jia Pi 30g

  • Placenta (powdered) 1.5g

  • Ge Jie 1 piece

  • Chuan Niu Xi 9g


Place all the herbs in an appropriate amount of grain alcohol (e.g., vodka), and let soak for about 1 month. Then, so consume about 1 shot per day or as otherwise needed. I have modified this from the original formula slightly so as to omit ingredients obtained from endangered species.

For patients with ongoing, active Bi syndrome pain, I suggest combining with external liniments (跌打酒). We will be doing a class through eLotus this August on Tung’s acupuncture and external herbs for injury management (click here for more information on that class).

I hope everyone had a great New Year. Stay warm!

Henry

Here’s a photo taken from the NYC Lantern Festival (taken January 6, 2019 in the evening, on Staten Island). The lights were bright, but true to the seasonal node it was cold and windy!

Here’s a photo taken from the NYC Lantern Festival (taken January 6, 2019 in the evening, on Staten Island). The lights were bright, but true to the seasonal node it was cold and windy!


Winter Solstice 冬至 Seasonal Node

Today, December 21 at exactly 5:23pm (Eastern Standard Time) is the astronomical Winter Solstice. This is the moment when the elliptical orbit of the sun reaches 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 Earth’s path 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. As an aside, today is also the 15th day of the lunar month, meaning it is a full moon.

The Winter Solstice (dong zhi 冬至) seasonal node, the last node of 2018, begins tomorrow December 22 (in China the astronomical solstice and beginning of the seasonal node fall on the same day because of the difference in time zones). The Chinese term for Winter Solstice literally means the “extreme of yin” as 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, such as Christmas. 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).

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.

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:

Longan and Lamb Soup 龍眼羊肉湯

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  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

This recipe warms the interior and builds Qi and blood, and nourished the Heart to quiet the Spirit.

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.

The Gallbladder and Winter Solstice

Yes, the Gallbladder channel has a lot to do with Winter Solstice, yet in my experience even many Chinese medicine practitioners are slow to make this connection. In Chinese medicine there are 12 main channels in the body, each linked with an internal organ. These 12 channels are also associated with the 12 watches (時辰), the 12 two-hours time periods that make up the day in the traditional Chinese method of counting time. Since there are 12 months in the year, the 12 watches of the day correspond each to one of the months. The Gallbladder channel is associated with the time 11pm – 1am, the Zi (子) hour. This time of day, because it is a Water phase earthly branch, is the time that goes with the second month of Winter, the month of the Winter Solstice.

This helps us see the Gallbladder channel in a new and interesting light. One of the things I mention when I teach is that we, as Chinese medicine practitioners, eventually need to deepen our understanding of Chinese medicine beyond the very basic things we memorize in our initial training. Our inability to do this (as I recently debated on a Facebook forum post) is what leads some to eventually adopt all sorts of supplementary ideas (let’s all do muscle testing, tuning forks, or use a pendulum to decide what herbs are good for a patient, as examples) that have nothing to do with Chinese medicine. For me, Chinese medicine is deep enough and rich enough of a medical system in its own right that not even 5 lifetimes would be enough to really study all of it!

So, back to the Gallbladder… In school we all memorize a Five Phase association with each of the organs and channels, but this is just the beginning of understanding the complexity of these theories (special thanks to Heiner Fruehauf for opening my eyes to looking at the channels in this layered way). To start then, we know that the Gallbladder is a Wood Phase channel. But that’s only step one!

As I just mentioned above, the Gallbladder is associated with the Zi Hour (11pm-1am), the time also associated with the second month of Winter and the Winter Solstice. This time of day is a Water time of day (not a Wood time of day). Thus, the Gallbladder channel, while primarily Wood in nature, also has a Water association. This helps us understand why the Jing Mai chapter of the Ling Shu (LS10) says that the Gallbladder channel governs disorders of bones, and why the Gallbladder is one of the Six Extraordinary Fu, and a Fu that stores clear essence (清精之腑).

In addition to the Water and Wood associations, Gallbladder is also a Fire organ. Why? The Gallbladder is the Shao Yang. Each of the six channel families is associated with one of the Five Phases, and the Shao Yang specifically has a Fire association. The Shao Yang is also one of the pivot channels (the Yang pivot channel), meaning it is also symbolic of the Winter Solstice – the time of year where all of nature pivots towards Yang.

Now, the theory is interesting but in the end if it has no practical application to medicine for us it is of no use. The Gallbladder association with Wood, Water and Fire though actually clarifies why some points on this channel actually do what they do. Let’s take Tung’s Nine Miles Dao Ma Group. The main point of the group, Middle Nine Miles (88.25 Zhong Jiu Li 中九里) overlaps Feng Shi GB-31. In Tung’s acupuncture one of the things this point treats commonly is pain (in multiple parts of the body). The Wood phase partly deals with the smooth movement of Qi and Blood in the body, and the Shao Yang as the pivot has the same function. The Gallbladder channel having a Water (and a bone) association then helps us understand why Middle Nine Miles is indicated for bone spurs (i.e., a type of stagnation at the level of bones).

Lastly, “lack of strength in the nerves” (神經衰弱) is an important indication for Middle Nine Miles. This term is actually a psychological symptom, often translated as the now out-dated term neurasthenia. Neurasthenia included a wide range of presentations such as insomnia, fatigue, depression and a wide range of anxiety based disorders. As we said above, the Gallbladder as the Shao Yang has a Fire association. Furthermore, we know that the Shao Yang communicates with the Shao Yin (Heart), the other pivot channel. The close connection with the Fire and Heart illustrates the use of this point in treating Shen-spirit disorders. This is why in my clinic the stressed-and-tired Winter Solstice treatment is the combination of Middle Nine Miles with the Lower Three Emperors (77.17/18, 19, 21), one of the main point groups for the Kidney.

Obviously there’s a lot more exploration we can do for any channel – looking at the other channel connections, names of points, etc… One of my resolutions for the coming year (and I encourage everyone else to do the same) is to try as hard as possible to look more and more deeply at Chinese medicine so we can better understand the system and how to use it in the clinic. Happy Solstice!

Bloodletting Safety Class

I just had a great weekend in the Los Angeles area doing some more webinars through eLotus. The folks there are just great, and this year we did some interesting topics - a deep dive into treatment based on the seasons and the 24 seasonal nodes, Tung’s acupuncture and bloodletting for the Evergreen herbal formula line, and, the topic of this post, a great review of bloodletting safety concerns based on the best evidence we have to date.

As a service to the profession, this recording of this class is now available online for FREE! Please click here to go directly to the course page. I hope everyone enjoys, and I strongly recommend that if you do any bleeding at all in your practice that you go watch the class.

Major Snow 大雪 Seasonal Node

The Major Snow seasonal node starts today, December 7th. While we don’t have snow right now here in New Jersey, I think the best way we should look at the names of this and the last seasonal node is figuratively. Certainly, in some places by now there is snow, but most of the snowiest weather in the Northeast US will most likely come later in the season. Right now what we do have is a dramatic turn towards much colder weather, and because of that we are in the time of year with the potential for real snow. In my opinion, this is the best way we can think of the nodes’ names – the potential for snow as a symbol for the seasonal change we are experiencing right now.

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).

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!

In terms of Tung’s acupuncture, Nourishing Yin (in other words, nourishing consolidation and containment) means we should focus on Zones 7 and 8 on the legs. The point groups that will focus on Kidneys, the organ of the season, are the Lower Three Emperors (Xia San Huang 下三皇), and the Penetrate Kidney Three Needles (Shen Tong San Zhen 腎通三針). These points are easily and quite effectively combined with the moxibustion suggestions above. Over the next several blog posts my goal is to start giving more specific recommendations about Tung’s points and treatment strategies for each of the nodes.

Aside from acupuncture and moxibustion, 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.

Along the lines now of incorporating more Tung points in these posts, here’s a quiz for readers… What Tung point closely mimics the herb Ge Jie? We’ll talk about this in an upcoming post!

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)

Ingredients:

  • Edible chrysanthemum greens (Tong Hao 茼蒿) ½ lb.

  • 1 small garlic bulb

  • Sesame oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  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!