Friday March 21 was the Vernal (Spring) Equinox this year. I’ve taken some time away from writing about the different seasonal nodes mostly because (on top of my teaching schedule) this year has been unseaonably cold! A lot of the typical recommendations for early Spring have not been applicable this year. Clinically this has made a difference for many of our patients. Those people we treat with conditions such as arthritis, or patients with a general Yang or Qi insufficiency, have been harder to manage. Their bodies are ready for the warmer weather, but it has yet to show up. Even though this morning on the east coast was rather chilly, later this week we finally warm up at least a bit.
In the Chinese calendar the Vernal Equinox is the fourth step of the year, the midpoint between the beginning of Spring and the beginning of Summer. 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). Patients who tend to Liver stagnation can be encouraged to perform regular acupressure on the Four Gates 四關 (i.e., He Gu LI-4 and Tai Chong LR-3).
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.
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. The Neijing 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.
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.
One traditional dish for Vernal Equinox is Spinach and Tofu Soup. Here’s the recipe:
- Tofu 250g
- Spinach 250g
- Shrimp (precooked) 25g
- 4 – 5 cups clear broth (either clear chicken or vegetable stock)
- Oil, salt, soy sauce and shredded ginger and scallions to taste
1. Wash spinach thoroughly to remove any dirt. Blanch very quickly in boiling hot water and reserve for later. Cut tofu into slices of about ½” thick
2. In a pan or wok, heat a small amount of cooking oil. Cook tofu so that the slices have become slightly golden-brown.
3. Into same pan or wok, add clear broth, shrimp, and ginger and scallion shreds. Bring to a simmer for several minutes.
4. Add in spinach to warm. Add salt and/or soy sauce to taste. Remove from heat before spinach looses its bright green color.
This dish can be eaten daily, although patients with Stomach vacuity cold or diarrhea should be careful about not eating too much. The functions of this soup are to clear the Liver and drain fire, lower blood pressure and nourish the blood.