Last Thursday, April 20, 2017, was the beginning of the Grain Rain (Gu Yu 穀雨) seasonal node. Grain Rain is actually the last seasonal node of Spring, as early May marks the beginning of Summer in the Chinese calendar. Considering today was a slightly chilly Spring day here in New Jersey, it feels odd writing that Summer will begin in just 2 weeks. However, in the traditional Chinese calendar seasons are tied more to the changes of day length than actual temperature. Believe it or not, in only about 2 months from now the days start getting shorter again – so even though it’s still chilly outside get out and enjoy the sunshine!
Grain Rain is the 6th step of the 24 seasonal nodes thus corresponding roughly to the 3rd 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 one of the basic recommendations 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. Grain Rain is a time when Lung Heat is thought to be a potential problem (over the last week or two many allergy sufferers have been manifesting with Lung Heat signs and symptoms). Consider needling (if you’re an acupuncturist) or massaging (if a patient) Da Zhui DU-14 this seasonal node. Other points include needling or massaging Tung points Chong Zi 22.01 and Chong Xian 22.02.
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). To this end, the traditional thing to avoid this time of year is overeating or overdrinking. Similarly, this is the time of year to avoid oily and greasy foods. Other foods to avoid are very cooling fruits (such as a lot of citrus).
Start eating lighter and easier to digest items and in-season vegetables such as asparagus. Other foods to emphasize should help boost Qi and Blood, and gently strengthen the Spleen and Stomach (since the Yang of the Spleen/Stomach is still fragile now, especially since Liver-Wood can over-control Earth) – rice or rice congee, Bian Dou, yams, nagaimo (Shan Yao in Chinese), 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 recipe for Grain Rain – Tofu and Spinach Soup
Tofu and Spinach Soup 菠菜豆腐湯
- One small bunch spinach
- One block fresh organic tofu (about 4-5 oz.)
- 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- Toasted sesame oil
- Wash spinach thoroughly and remove thick stems
- Drain tofu and cut into small cubes
- Place tofu and spinach in the broth, bring to a boil and simmer just until spinach is cooked through and tofu absorbs the flavor of the broth
- Add some salt and toasted sesame oil to taste, and serve; optionally can add some chopped scallions as garnish
This recipe boosts the blood, nourishes yin, and at the same time is easy to digest and strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. As an alternative a raw egg can be stirred in at the end to make a type of egg drop soup with spinach and tofu.
I hope everyone is enjoying the Spring!