I hope everyone has been having a happy, health and prosperous early 2017. Even though the weather has been unseasonably warm for the last few days, we are now starting to see the lower temperatures that are typical of winter in the Northeast. The topic of temperature is important this time of year, and the name of the next of the 24 Seasonal Nodes reflects the mercury dropping.
This year, Thursday January 5th marks the beginning of the penultimate Seasonal Node – “Small Cold” (Xiao Han 小寒). The next, and last, Seasonal Node of the year will be “Great Cold.” In Chinese there is a saying that goes “Xiao han da han, leng cheng bing tuan” 小寒大寒冷成冰團 – “Small Cold and Great Cold, coldness is here and ice abounds.” The previous seasonal node was Winter Solstice, the time of the year when yang qi is born again in the natural world. However, despite the growth of yang this month continues to become colder and colder. Why does cold continue to worsen even though we are moving to the Yang phase of the year?
Think of the movement of the weather as being driven by the fluctuations of yin and yang in the natural world. Even though the “switch” has been flipped from yin to yang, it takes time for the weather to catch up. Imagine driving a car at 75 miles per hour (I apologize to you all who use the metric system – I’m metric impaired). If you wanted to stop and go in reverse, first you’d have to hit the brakes. However, even if you hit the brakes really hard, that car is going to continue skidding forward for quite a distance before you can start moving in the opposite direction. So, even though the brakes have been put on yin, before we can really move towards yang we continue “skidding” colder and colder for awhile, before Spring truly warms up the earth.
The health maintenance guideline for this season is understandably not that different from Winter Solstice. Specifically, during Small Cold we should focus on (1) Nourishing the Kidney (Yang Shen 養腎), and (2) Safeguarding the Spleen and Stomach (Baohu Pi Wei 保護脾胃). Winter is the time for all the Qi to be stored away internally – my Neijing students will remember this discussion from Su Wen Chapter 2. Since Kidney is the root of storage, and the root of Earlier Heaven (先天) Qi, we nourish the Kidney to nourish the body’s ability to store Qi away (i.e., the movement of Winter – 藏). While Kidney is the Earlier Heaven root, the Spleen and Stomach are the Later Heaven (後天). So, protecting the Later Heaven helps to ensure that Earlier Heaven is not excessively tapped into. This is especially important for our patients with conditions of vacuity (especially either Kidney or Middle Jiao vacuity), or patients with cold conditions (for example patients with chronic arthritic conditions – Bi syndrome from Wind, Cold and Damp).
Continue having patients get to bed early. Also encourage warming therapies such as moxibustion, especially on points like Zu San Li ST-36, Guan Yuan Ren-4, Qi Hai Ren-6, and Huo Fu Hai 33.07. Patients who have long term Bi syndrome can do daily acupressure on Feng Fu Du-16. This is a special technique from the famous Chinese acupuncturist He Puren (I’ll talk more about him and his clinical ideas in future posts).
Dietary guidelines for Small Cold are similar to Winter Solstice. Since we want to protect the Middle Jiao in particular, the first basic guideline is to eat foods that are easy to digest and take foods at regular intervals. Since most of us are coming out of holidays with lots of eating going on, it’s also a good idea to cut back on intake of meats and other heavier foods.
Patients with overall yang vacuity should consume yang warming foods such as lamb, venison, alcohol (in small quantities), and warming spices like cinnamon. Meats can be taken in moderation, but moderation is important. Traditional Chinese lists would add dog meat to the “should” list, but I have to admit that’s way out of my cultural comfort zone! These same patients should avoid cold foods such as duck, rabbit, chrysanthemum, mint, milk or yoghurts. Patients who are prone to cold damp conditions (such as arthritic patients) should do the same as already mentioned and especially avoid cold-damp producing foods such as oranges and orange juice, tropical fruits, and the overconsumption of refined sugars.
Here is a traditional recipe for the Small Cold seasonal node…
Black Chicken Soup with Carrot 胡蘿蔔烏雞湯
- 1 black chicken
- 1 large carrot
- 1-2 oz mushrooms (such as shiitake, or dried Chinese mushrooms)
- 1-2 oz water chestnuts
- ½ oz black wood ear mushrooms
- If using fresh water chestnuts first peel, wash, and cut into pieces; soak wood ear mushrooms until soft, and soak other mushrooms until soft (if using dried)
- Cut up chicken into large pieces (leaving bones in), and cut carrot to chunks
- Put all ingredients except water chestnuts in a medium pot and bring to boil, then simmer for about 1 hour
- Add in water chestnuts, bring to boil once more, then simmer again for about 20 minutes (alternately put all ingredients in a crock-pot and cook overnight)
- Add salt to taste
Black chickens are also called silkie fowl. They are small chickens about the size of Cornish game hens, but have dark black skin. They are mostly darker meat, and great in soups. They can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores. The black chickens are thought to be sweet and neutral, entering the Liver, Kidney and Spleen channels. They are particularly good at supplementing the Blood. Overall this soup supplements the Kidney and Liver, nourishes Blood, transforms stagnation and frees the network vessels. Carrots are also beneficial for the eyes and this soup is said to treat night blindness and other types of poor or declining vision. For colder patients, consider adding ginger while cooking the soup to increase its warming function.
Last but not least here is a diagram of the Small Cold Daoyin (Qigong) exercise. We will be practicing this one this coming Sunday morning in our Qigong classes (click here for more information on our weekly Qigong classes).
I hope everyone is staying warm!