“Awakening of Insects” (jing zhe 驚蟄) is the third seasonal node of the year, and it started Sunday, March 5th. This is the next segment of Spring, and as the name suggests it is the time when we start seeing the very initial stirring of life in the world outside. Here in New Jersey the crocuses are just starting to push out of the ground in spite of the lingering cold, and the peony buds are doing the same. 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 can be cold as we have seen this past weekend here. Continue to dress appropriately. As Yang qi continues to grow in the natural environment, this is also the time to start doing slightly more gentle exercise. This recommendation conforms to what the Neijing says in the second chapter of the 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 of year where 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 can help protect the Yang qi as well. I recommend that people in general 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 substances 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 clear fried amaranth. Amaranth is called Xian Cai 莧菜 in Chinese, and in Chinese groceries it comes commonly in long bunches of beautiful dark green and purple leaves. Sometimes it is sold as “Chinese spinach.” Amaranth’s taste is mild. The basic preparation of the vegetable for this dish is to rinse clean (it often has a lot of grit), and then quick fry in an appropriate amount of cooking oil. Garlic or ginger can also be included for taste, and a small amount of salt and fresh ground pepper can be added at the end of cooking. In Chinese medical terms this dish clears heat and resolves toxins, disperses swelling and stops pain. People with spleen vacuity cold should be cautious with this recipe, unless a good amount of ginger is used in the cooking to counterbalance the cooling of the amaranth. If the weather is very cold still, I recommend that everyone use ginger or garlic in preparing the dish.
The last recommendation I’ll offer for Awakening of Insects is the traditional Chinese practice of Pai Da – stimulating acupuncture points and channels by patting. As mentioned above, Spring is the time to increase movement. Liver (the organ of Spring) ensures the free coursing of Qi and Blood in the body. Thus, any exercise or practice that opens and circulates the channels of the body will have a beneficial effect on the Liver. One basic Pai Da technique is to use the hands held in loose fists to pat acupuncture points on the upper limbs. Start by patting the shoulders – the area of Jian Jing GB-21. Alternate right and left while patting. Then, continue with patting the sides of the elbows at Qu Chi LI-11. Finish with tapping the He Gu LI-4 area. Practice this daily as you are able to circulate Qi in the arms, and thereby helping Qi circulation in the entire body.
Next installment we reach the Vernal Equinox!