White Dew 白露 Seasonal Node

Yesterday, September 8, was the start of the name of the White Dew (Bai Lu 白露) Seasonal Node. We are now well into Autumn in the Chinese calendar, and the midpoint of Autumn, the equinox, is only about 2 weeks away. Autumn is one of the two Yin seasons (along with Winter), and in Five Phase theory it is associated with the Metal, the Lungs, and the direction West. The name White Dew is a direct reference to Five Phase association of Autumn, as white is the Metal Phase color.

According to the Su Wen, the movement of Autumn is the movement of harvest (收). All of nature is now in the stage of slowly winding down; for example it was only in the last few days I’ve been noticing that the mornings are not quite as bright when I’m waking up, and the sun is noticeably setting earlier. The names of the three smaller material manifestations of White Dew reflect harvesting of food for the Winter to come, and the return of birds in their migratory patterns: Hongyan lai 鴻雁來 (Swan Geese Pass Through), Xuanniao gui 玄鳥歸 (Swallows Go Back), Qunniao yangxiu 群鳥養羞 (Flocks of Birds Stockpile Morsels).

Even though we are in Autumn (a Yin time of year) it is clear that Yin and Yang are engaged in a closely intertwined dance. During White Dew, the days can still be quite warm. However, evenings are starting to dip in temperature. Therefore, one of the traditional prohibitions this time of year is wearing clothes that are too light or too exposing of the body. During the early morning hours or in the evening be sure to wear clothing that affords protection against the gradually cooling temperatures. In some places the weather continues to be fairly warm and thus slightly out of sync with this Seasonal Node. In those places guard against rapid temperature fluctuations as they may trigger colds or other upper respiratory problems.

Another caution this time of year is overconsumption of cold foods. Eating cold foods burdens the Spleen and Stomach, and this is more so during the Yin and colder times of the year when the body is trying to consolidate its Yang warmth. Thus in Chinese it is said, “bai lu shen bu lu, zhao liang yi xie du (白露身不露,著涼易瀉肚) – during White Dew be sure not to overexpose the body as cold can easily lead to diarrhea.

The conceptual idea to start focusing on during White Dew is Nourishing the Yin (養陰). Now, this doesn’t mean that we should all go out and start taking Yin nourishing herbs such as Di Huang! To understand this we need to think deeply about the real meaning of Yin and Yang beyond basic correspondences. The Su Wen tells us that the sage nourishes Yang in the Spring and Summer and nourishes Yin in the Autumn and Winter (所以聖人春夏養陽,秋冬養陰). Here, Yin means the movement of contraction/harvest (收) going towards storage (藏). These are the very defining concepts of the Autumn and Winter seasons. This time of year we should all start slowing down, going to bed just a little earlier, and taking stock of our lives (i.e., literally moving our minds inward in self-reflection).

In more concrete medical terms, some of the most common problems our patients will see this time of year are seasonal allergies and rhinitis, coughs and common colds. Here in New Jersey I’ve seen a significant rise in allergy complaints in the last week alone. Patients can be taught simple home remedies such as using a Neti pot to keep sinus passages clear and open. Alternately, they can do a steam inhalation with eucalyptus oil. Since Autumn is the season of dryness, if patients suffer from very dry nasal passageways, they can rub a small amount of coconut oil inside their nose on a daily basis.

When choosing treatment points we can focus on those that have a Lung association. In Tung’s acupuncture, some useful points include Mu (木穴; 11.17), and the Dao Ma combination of Chong Zi (重子穴; 22.01) and Chong Xian (重仙穴; 22.02). In both September and October, Mu is one of my most frequently used points. It has the association of Lung Channel in Tung’s Five Phase system, and it lies on the palmar surface of the index finger (thus placing it on the Hand Yangming – also a Metal channel). It treats a wide range of conditions of the upper burner related to Wind patterns such as the common cold, seasonal allergies, and sinus congestion. Patients can also be taught to massage these points as needed. For a more detailed discussion of these points please refer to the Practical Atlas of Tung’s Acupuncture (click here to find out where it can be purchased). Aside from acupuncture, this is the time of year to start doing preventive moxibustion on Zu San Lu (ST-36).

During White Dew the foods we eat should gently moisten dryness and protect the Lungs. While the days are still hot we can eat mildly hear clearing foods but again being cautious about eating very cold (or chilled) foods. In order to help build Yin in the body we also can increase mildly sour foods. White Dew is still a season of fresh fruits that fit these guidelines perfectly, such as peaches (although we are really at the tail end of peach season in New Jersey), apples and pears. Other foods to eat include watery vegetables such as zucchini. For those near Asian groceries, White Dew is the time to eat nagaimo (shan yao 山藥 in Chinese) and fresh lily bulbs (百合).

Rice congees are a perfect fit for White Dew in that they are gently moistening and, taken warm, supportive of the Spleen and Stomach. One of the traditional White Dew congees is Lily Bulb and Pear Congee. To make this take one large Asian pear and slice into bite sized pieces (the peel can be left on). Then take one fresh edible lily bulb and separate out the corms. Cook the pear and lily bulb in a medium sized pot of water and rice (with a rice to water ratio of about 1 to 6). Simmer until the rice starts falling apart and the mixture becomes like watery oatmeal. Finish by adding a small amount of local honey to taste.

To read more about general health tips for Autumn please click here.

Lung Healing Sound

Autumn is here in the Chinese calendar. An excellent practice for seasonal harmonization is the practice of the Six Sounds for Nourishing Life (六字訣養生功), also known as the Six Healing Sounds. Since Autumn is the time of the Lung, now is the time to start doing the Lung sound.

The Lung sound is “Si.” This can be used alone, or in combination with other Qigong-like movement patterns. We teach the Six Healing Sounds in the lineage of Hu Yaozhen in our Qigong courses, and our upcoming Qigong teacher training. Here is a short video on the Lung exercise.

End of Heat 處暑 Seasonal Node

Someone recently mentioned to me that they were going apple picking in a few weeks, and I thought to myself how is that possible? We’re still getting peaches here in Northern New Jersey, but I can see that they are nearing their end. This early morning as I write this essay the sky is somewhat overcast, but even given that, today was the first day I noticed outside was a little darker than it has been recently during my typical waking time. While this week we’ve seen some warm temperatures and high humidity, after the rain of the last few days this coming weekend promises to be much cooler – this morning the temperature was 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and evening temperatures this weekend are looking like they will drop into the 50s. While we will certainly have warmer days yet to come, the gradual cooling temperatures this time of year are indicative of the seasonal node that starts today – Chu Shu 處暑, ‘End of Heat’.

Autumn is the time of year when Yin grows. All things are moving towards the hibernation phase and many plants are being readied for harvest. This is why in the Neijing, the movement of Autumn is described as 收 – receiving, taking in, putting away, gathering in. The names of the smaller 5-day periods of this seasonal node are quite interesting and illustrative of this idea. The first is called Ying Nai Ji Niao 鷹乃祭鳥, Hawks Start to Sacrifice Birds. This time of year starts the slow march towards the death phase of nature, and many plants and animals with short life spans won’t make it to next Spring. The image of hawks harvesting or killing smaller birds then fits perfectly with this image. The next two 5-day time periods are Tian Di Shi Su 天地始肅, Heaven and Earth Become Austere, and He Nai Deng 禾乃登, Rice Plants Are Harvested and Presented as Offering. Just as this is the time of year for bringing things to harvest, it is also the time for us to start becoming quieter and more introspective, for us to take stock of what, out of the myriad things in our lives, is really important (i.e., we become austere like heaven and earth).

In more tangible respects there are things to keep in mind to maintain health this time of year. The first traditional recommendation for Chu Shu is Ben Franklin’s favorite – ‘early to bed, early to rise’ (zao shui zao qi 早睡早起). When Yin predominates in the natural environment we can mimic that in our own body by getting more sleep. In the summer it is permissible to stay up later and still wake up early because in the Yang time of year less sleep is just fine. However, now that Autumn (a Yin season) is upon us, we need to get a little more rest. My general recommendation to patients is to get into bed a bit earlier, preferably before 11pm or midnight. Here’s a little quiz for other Chinese medicine providers – why is it important to get to bed before this hour? (Hint – it is not because of the Liver hour just afterwards)

The weather pattern associated with Autumn is dryness and thus another caution during Autumn is not becoming too dry (although right now as I write this in New Jersey that seems like an unlikely scenario). One way we do this is through diet; now is the time to focus on shao xin, zeng suan 少辛增酸 – ‘less spicy, more sour’. Spicy flavors have a mild drying quality as well as a sweat promoting quality, both of which dry the body. To the contrary, sour foods are gently moistening and hold in sweat. Increasing the amount of foods such as vinegar, pickled vegetables, and fruits such as plums is appropriate to the season. Other moistening foods include milk, soymilk, and fruit juices (especially apple or pear). This recommendation should be taken less seriously for those with very damp constitutions or presentations, and can also be moderated when the outside weather is particularly damp.

One traditional recipe for this season is Pear and White Wood Ear Soup. This dish is just simply delicious, and it is effective for supplementing the Lungs, nourishing fluids, and moistening dryness (without being so cloying as to create dampness).

Pear and White Wood Ear Soup 雪梨銀耳湯

Ingredients:

  • 1 large Asian pear 雪梨

  • 2 dried white wood ear mushrooms 銀耳

  • 1 small fresh edible lily bulb 百合

  • About ½ cup white or rock sugar

Directions:

  1. Soak wood ear for about 30 minutes, until softened

  2. Rip wood ears into bite sized pieces, peel and cut pear into medium bite sized chunks, and separate out lily bulb into individual corms

  3. In a pot, put about 6 cups of water together with all ingredients; bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes to 2 hours on a very low heat

For those who like wood ears crisper, go for the shorter simmer time. For those who like things softer and more gelatinous, cook longer. My suggestion is to take small tastes along the way. This soup can be served warm or chilled (depending on preference and outside temperature).

The last recommendation I’ll offer is for those patients who continue to experience symptoms of damp, heat, or the combination thereof in the form of summerheat. A traditional channel based recommendation for Chu Shu is regular acupressure on Cheng Shan BL-57. This point helps expel damp and clear heat, and treats many symptoms of lingering summerheat such as headache, body aches, heavy limbs, or diarrhea. Notice that this area of the leg is one of thick flesh, and remember that the seventh chapter of the Ling Shu describes a needling method based on the five tissues and their relationships to the five viscera. One of the passages from that chapter reads:

四曰合谷刺,合谷刺者,左右雞足,針於分肉之間,以取肌痺,此脾之應也

The fourth is called united valleys piercing. United valleys piercing is to pierce left then right from the same hole, like a chicken's foot. Pierce to the division between the flesh. This treats flesh block (bi). It is in resonance with the Spleen.

Here we see that needling into fleshy areas of the body treats problems of the flesh as well as treats problems of the Spleen. As dampness is the disease evil of the Soil/Earth phase (and thus the Spleen), this needling technique also has resonance with its treatment. For example, over the last few weeks, patients in my office have been complaining of aching and heaviness in the joints, especially of the knees, hips and in general lower extremities. This is because dampness, as a Yin disease evil, commonly moves down in the body. One of the points I’ve been using over and over again to work with this is Jian Zhong 44.06. The point, located on the shoulder, is in a fleshy area of the body just like Cheng Shan BL-57 is. Likewise, it treats damp accumulation of the joints and extremities. Other points in the shoulder area, such as Bei Mian 44.07, are specifically indicated for digestive problems such as abdominal distension, vomiting or enteritis. This is because, like Jian Zhong 44.06 and Cheng Shan BL-57, Bei Mian is in an area of thick flesh and thus treats problems of the Spleen. This time of year as we are still experiencing summerheat and dampness, these types of points can be frequently used.

Beginning of Autumn 立秋 Seasonal Node (and Ghost Month!)

It’s hard to believe I’m writing this, but today, Thursday August 8, is the beginning of Autumn in the traditional calendar. Although in the western world Autumn is a summer month, the Chinese calendar is concerned with the relative balance of Yin and Yang in the natural environment, which is closely tied to day length. Summer Solstice in June was the longest day of the year. By now the days are getting gradually shorter, and we are only 6 weeks away from the Autumnal Equinox, a day of balanced light and dark. Even though August weather can still be hot we are in the time of Yin and contraction in the natural environment.

As a symbol of the growing Yin time of the year, the seventh lunar month (i.e., August), is the Ghost month 鬼月 in Chinese lore (ghosts being Yin entities). This year the seventh lunar month started exactly on August 1st, and in the traditional Daoist calendar this is the day that Yama, the King of Hell, opens the gates of hell to allow all the spirits of the deceased to wander the earth – basically a one-month vacation for ghosts. This happens until the gates are once again closed at the end of the lunar month. The culmination of the month is the 15th lunar day (this year August 15), which is known as Zhong Yuan Jie (中元節).

Throughout this month there are many taboos that Chinese culture observes. These include not allowing the elderly, the very young or generally physically weak people to do various activities outside at night. This is the time of day when ghosts are most active! Qigong should also not be practiced outside late at night during this time. Whether or not we believe that this month is the time of ghosts, what this custom perhaps does is serve as a reminder of how the natural balance of Yin and Yang is shifting in a very real way this time of year.

Now back to the Seasonal Node… While the weather is beginning to shift to Yin, August can still be damp and humid. This week here in Northern NJ that is certainly the case, for as I write this torrential rains have been falling on and off. In Chinese medicine, weakness in the Spleen and Stomach leads to damp accumulation. In early Autumn we therefore should avoid dampness and simultaneously strengthen the digestive organs. One way to accomplish this is to eat light and clear foods, increase the amount of seasonal vegetables, and eat a little less meat. Vegetables can be consumed lightly steamed or stir-fried, or in the case of light salad greens, raw. In general avoid overly hot, spicy foods. Congees are appropriate to help strengthen the digestive organs and one traditional congee recipe for this seasonal node is Euryale Seed and Discorea Congee (Qian Shi Shan Yao Zhou 芡實山藥粥).

Euryale Seed and Discorea Congee (Qian Shi Shan Yao Zhou) 芡實山藥粥

Ingredients:

· 1 cup rice (use glutinous rice if available)

· 200g Euryale seed (Qian Shi )

· 200g Discorea (Shan Yao )

· 200 g sugar

Directions:

1. Grind rice, Euryale seed, and Discorea to a powder. Mix the three together with sugar and blend well so evenly mixed

2. In a pan, add 50 – 100g of blended powder to cold water, enough to make a thick soupy consistency

3. Put over medium flame and warm for several minutes, stirring occasionally

4. Enjoy in the morning on an empty stomach (consume warm)

This congee strengthens the Spleen, stops diarrhea. However it is contraindicated for patients with diarrhea due to infections, or with damp heat type diarrhea.

In addition to dietary recommendations we can perform acupressure on supplementing points such as Zu San Li (ST-36). If patients tend to cold and vacuous patterns of the Spleen and Stomach, gentle direct thread moxa at Zu San Li is also applicable. In terms of Tung’s acupuncture we can needle the Zu San Tong (足三通) Dao Ma group, consisting of Tong Guan 88.01, Tong Shan 88.02 and Tong Tian 88.03. These points are the main Dao Ma group for Heart, but really they function like Pericardium channel points, which is why they are indicated for Spleen and Stomach problems. Furthermore in terms of Five Phase theory, supplementing Heart will strengthen Spleen because of the engendering cycle relationship between Fire and Soil/Earth.

Autumn is the season associated with the Lungs, and thus even though we should avoid very spicy foods, mildly acrid foods are good this time of year for Lung function. These foods include ginger, scallion, leek, and black pepper. Mildly sweet and slightly sour fruits also help moisten and benefit the Lungs, including the now in-season stone fruits (i.e., plums and peaches). This recommendation however should be based on individual patient characteristics. For example, if patients have Spleen vacuity with dampness they should avoid overly sour foods.

In August we need to be cautious of sudden return of very hot and humid weather, the very weather pattern happening this week in New Jersey. In Chinese this is called “The Old Tiger of Autumn” (Qiu Lao Hu 秋老虎), and is similar to what in the west we would call an Indian Summer. When the old tiger rears its head again Summerheat pathogens are a risk – symptoms of this include headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, poor appetite, stuffy chest, heavy or fatigued limbs, and possibly diarrhea. If intense hot and damp weather returns, focus the diet on foods that are cooling and moistening. Foods to consider adding on a daily basis include all sorts of sprouts (e.g., mung bean or alfalfa), cucumbers, muskmelon, winter melon, tomato, and loofah. Mung beans are very cooling, and in hot weather they can be made into a sweet dessert soup. For more serious conditions consider giving patients formulas such as Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San.

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… One of the formulas specifically for Autumn is called Conserve the Spleen Pill (攝脾丸). It treats damage to the Spleen that happens during the Autumn months that leads to abdominal distension and diarrhea. The ingredients listed are Mu Xiang, He Zi, Hou Po (ginger fried), Wu Bei Zi (slightly toasted), and Bai Zhu (earth fried). These ingredients would be ground to a powder and made into pills the size of a Tung Tree seed, and 10 pills would be a daily dose.

I hope everyone is having a great end of Summer and start of Autumn!

Great Heat 大暑 Seasonal Node

For me, the days of summer seem to fly by very quickly (winter days don’t seem to suffer from this same phenomenon). As I looked out my back door this morning, I saw our cucumbers and bitter melons fruiting. All the lettuces are now done, and while plants are still green and full, they have reached their maximum growth. In stark contrast, just several weeks ago they seemed to be getting bigger and bigger even by the hour! This is characteristic of the Yin-Yang balance of the season. We are past summer solstice, the zenith of Yang and expansion in the natural world. In the Chinese calendar Autumn is little more than 2 weeks away, not because of temperature, but rather because of day length. The Chinese medical classics describe the movement of Summer as ‘zhang’ 長 – growth, increase, enhancement. The movement of Autumn is ‘shou’ 收 – collect, harvest, put away, take in. Now growth has slowed and the harvest is not long away, and indeed we are in the transition away from ‘zhang’ moving towards ‘shou.’

Today, July 23, starts the last node of Summer in the Chinese calendar – Great Heat (Da Shu 大暑). The first word of the name “Great,” gives us the idea that this is the hottest time of the year. In some parts of the world it can also be one of the dampest times of year. As we’ve discussed before, each of the 24 seasonal nodes (jie qi 節氣) can be further broken down into 3 five-day periods of time, known as the 72 Material Manifestations (wu hou 物候). The 3 periods within Great Heat are Decaying Grass Transforms into Fireflies (fucao hua wei ying 腐草化為螢), The Earth Lies Wet Beneath Sweltering Heat (tu run ru shu 土潤溽暑), and Heavy Rains Fall Intermittently (da yu shi ying 大雨時行). In these rather poetic names we see the images of plant life coming to an end of growth (in particular, delicate plants such as grasses, or, in my garden, lettuces), and we also see references to the combination of both dampness and heat in nature. This year here in Northern New Jersey we have hit Great Heat pretty much right on time. While today we have a brief reprieve from soaring temperatures, this past weekend we had dangerously high numbers – the heat index peaked at around 110 degree Fahrenheit!

The health maintenance guidelines for Great Heat are to focus on clearing heat, boosting qi, and treating winter diseases ahead of time (冬病夏治). Clearing heat seems to be intuitive – too much heat in the body needs to be removed to keep us in balance. But why should we also boost the qi? The Yin Yang Ying Xiang Da Lun (Su Wen Chapter 5) says, “the qi of strong fire weakens” (壯火之氣衰), “strong fire feeds on qi” (壯火食氣), and “a strong fire disperses qi” (壯火散氣). The reason we need to boost qi this time of year is because too much heat in the environment drains and weakens the qi internally. Likewise, excessive sweating damages both the qi and the fluids. One potential general maintenance herbal formula this time of year is Sheng Mai San, the combination of Ren Shen, Mai Men Dong and Wu Wei Zi. When giving this formula during Great Heat, my suggestion to use either plain Chinese white ginseng, or American ginseng, as Korean red ginseng will be too hot. Sheng Mai San in small doses builds qi, clears heat, and nourishes the fluids with herbs that are not so cloying that they would worsen internal dampness.

For treating Winter diseases ahead of time, we are in the San Fu period now, the hottest time of year according to the Chinese calendar. This time of year there is the tradition of applying mustard plasters to acupuncture points on the back, a practice known as San Fu moxibustion. While called a type of moxibustion, the heat source for this treatment is not burning mugwort, but the heat derived from the mustard (and other herbs) plasters that are placed on the skin (click here to read more about San Fu moxa).

In addition to San Fu moxa , this time of year we can start applying regular moxibustion as well The Bian Que Heart Classic (扁鵲心書) suggests that every year at the transition between summer and fall we should apply moxa to Guan Yuan REN-4. As part of the recommendation the text suggests the application of 300 cones every 3 years for people over the age of 30, every 2 years for people over the age of 50, and yearly once age 60 is reached. While 300 seems like a lot of cones, we don’t have to do them all in one sitting. Break up application of moxa into smaller amounts of cones and proceed daily for several weeks; in other words we are looking for a total of 300 over time, not 300 all at once. Other points to consider for moxibustion include Zu San Li ST-36, Shen Que REN-8 and Qi Hai REN-6.

The caution for Great Heat is to be on guard against damp-heat and its ability to damage the Spleen-Stomach and hamper appetite and digestion. One way to do this is through diet, which we discuss below. Another traditional recommendation to accomplish this during the current seasonal node is herbal foot bathing. One effective Great Heat footbath recipe includes Pu Gong Ying 30g, Su Mu 30g, Gou Teng 25g, Fu Ling 25g, Bai Fan 15g, Fang Feng 15g, Han Fang Ji 15g. Boil these herbs in about ½ gallon of water for 20-30 minutes. Then, cool until able to be used as a warm soak, and soak feet for about 30-40 minutes. These herbs are also effective for treating athlete’s foot, a common problem of this time of year, and a very obvious manifestation of excess damp-heat. For this condition use the same soak frequently, at least twice daily, with 3 days (of twice daily) being one course of treatment.

For practitioners of Tung’s (Dong’s) acupuncture, we can apply these same principles in general maintenance or preventive treatments. In point prescriptions consider adding points that have a general qi supplementing function such as Ling Gu 22.05 and Si Hua Shang 77.08. We also can choose points that generally clear heat such as Zhong Kui or the Wu Ling and Shuang Feng points along the back. In my bloodletting book I also detail another Taiwanese method of treating excessive summerheat by bleeding. Click here for more information on the book. For patients who tend towards being deficient, after bloodletting in the clinic, administer one dose of Liu Wei Di Huang Wan in tablet form (this was Master Tung’s practice in his own practice).

Diet for Great Heat

Along with the guidelines described above, during Great Heat we should simultaneously clear heat and drain damp, while boosting the qi and protecting the Spleen and Stomach. Avoid overly spicy foods and foods which are overly heating. This is the time of year to eat in-season vegetables, especially those that clear heat and nourish fluids such as cucumber, raw tomato, and bitter melon. Gentle heat clearing herbs can be added to the diet such as mint and Huo Xiang (agastache), and this is the seasonal node when Huo Xiang congee is traditionally consumed. In China people drink winter melon juice during Great Heat. I honestly don’t find this too appealing so I suggest in the west we substitute winter melon juice with watermelon juice!

One fun recipe for Great Heat is stir fried lotus root…

Stir Fried Lotus Root

Ingredients:

  • 1 lotus root (about ½ lb)

  • 1” piece of ginger, chopped

  • 1 cup roughly chopped scallion

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  • white vinegar

  • cooking oil (sesame)

  • soy sauce or tamari

Directions:

  1. Peel lotus root and cut into slices about ¼ inch thick, submerge in water with a small amount of white vinegar to prevent discoloration

  2. Heat some cooking oil in a large frying pan, add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant

  3. Drain lotus root and place the slices in pan in a single layer; cook until they start to change color and become slightly translucent and then turn over and cook a few minutes longer

  4. Add in sesame seeds, a splash of soy sauce or tamari, and the scallions and fry a short while longer until the scallions start to wilt

  5. Remove from heat and enjoy

This recipe stops thirst, expels heat, and clears heat to engender fluids. Furthermore, it also supplements the center and nourishes the shen-spirit.

I hope everyone is staying cool and dry!

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.