Tuesday April 4th was the beginning of the Clear and Bright (Qing Ming 清明) seasonal node. Clear and Bright is the node just after the Vernal Equinox and the next step in the progression of Spring. This seasonal node is also a traditional holiday in much of 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 Year and the new Spring.
The last few weeks in New Jersey have seen dramatic ups and downs in temperatures, and even later this week the thermometer is expected to deep to just above freezing in the overnight hours. Not surprisingly then, the first “to do” during Clear and Bright is to protect being warm (bao nuan 保暖). Spring is the time of growing Yang, and we don’t want to do anything that damages that internal warming Qi. The second chapter of the Su Wen admonishes us that if we don’t take care in Spring, then cold disease will arise in the Summer that follows. Since during the next few weeks typically temperatures will continue to fluctuate up and down, be sure to tell patients to dress appropriately for the day, and not to think that just because it’s supposed to be Spring, that every day will be warm enough for light clothing.
The second “to do” during Clear and Bright is be active in outdoor activities or exercise. With the continued growth of Yang in the natural world, it is important to increase our physical activity. Again, the second chapter of the Su Wen tells us that in Spring we should be sure to “move around throughout the courtyard with leisurely strides” (廣步於庭). The Wood phase and the Liver are responsible for the normal smooth circulation of Qi in the body, and similarly during Spring we should be sure to keep our bodies moving. Of course, exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be effective. Suggest to patients that just getting outside to do light yard work or gardening is a great idea. Practicing Taiji or Qigong outside is also appropriate. For those who are local to northern New Jersey and are interested in starting a traditional Qigong or Taiji practice, please check out our weekly classes (click here for more information).
One of the Nourishing Life exercises that is appropriate to Clear and Bright is pressing and rotating Shen Que REN-8 (i.e., the navel). Shen Que is obviously an important point on the body as the abdomen is the location of many important internal organs. Likewise, it is the area where some of the most important channels in the body originate – the Ren, the Du and the Chong. In Chinese these three extraordinary vessels are said to be “one origin and three branches.” For this exercise first rub hands together vigorously to warm them. Then place the warmed hands over the navel and slowly, with moderate pressure, rotate 50 times in a circle one direction, then 50 times in the other direction. Shen Que rotation helps warm the center and expel cold and is especially appropriate for patients who are cold and depleted, and for patients with clear nasal discharge such as seasonal allergies. Think of doing moxibusion at Shen Que for patients who are particularly or chronically depleted.
The flip side of this is to be cautious of patients with uprising Liver yang patterns, or patterns of internal wind; Clear and Bright is the time to guard against hypertension in patients who are prone to this condition. These patients should be counseled to get some more exercise, as this is an effective adjunct therapy for hypertension.
The “avoids” for Clear and Bright are mainly related to diet. First, Chinese medicine recommends that patients avoid very acrid and spicy foods. While somewhat acrid foods and herbs are appropriate to Spring (such as leeks or scallions), overly spicy foods may potentially either stir internal Yang or dissipate internal Qi. The second type of food to avoid is very sour or greasy foods. Both sour and greasy foods create stagnation, and thus inhibit the normal coursing of Qi. Since Spring is the time of Wood-Liver, it is important to keep Qi moving internally.
In general the diet for Clear and Bright should reflect the name of the seasonal node. Light and clear foods that neither block the Qi mechanism nor overly stimulate it are appropriate. Gentle movement and easy to digest should be the focus. As more vegetables become available, patients should increase consumption of fresh produce. Traditionally this is the time for greens such as spinach and mustard greens. In the west certainly April is the season for fresh asparagus. All these greens are beneficial to the Liver.
Patients who are somewhat Qi deficient, or patients with seasonal allergies can try making Jade Screen Chicken at home.
Jade Screen Chicken – Yu Ping Ji 玉屏雞
- 1 whole chicken (about 2 lbs.)
- Huang Qi 黃耆 60g
- Bai Zhu 白術 20g
- Fang Feng 防風 20g
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse and clean chicken
- Take herbs and stuff inside, close chicken to retain herbs inside the cavity
- Place chicken in a slow cooker and cover with water, allow chicken to cook until done
This can take a long time to cook in a slow cooker, but I think it will yield the best results. I suggest this be set up overnight and put on the low temperature setting. By lunch the next day it should be done as cooking can take 8 hours or more. Other vegetables can be added to this soup as desired. Patients can both consume the meat as well as drink the resulting broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The recipe helps nourish Qi, secure the exterior and expel cold.
Here’s a second traditional recipe for Qing Ming, this one taken from the Qian Jin Yao Fang – Almond Kernel and Walnut Soup.
Almond Kernel and Walnut Soup – Xing Ren He Tao Tang 杏仁核桃湯
- Almond kernel (Xing Ren 杏仁) 25g
- Walnuts (raw) 25g
- Fresh ginger root 10g
- Peel and slice the ginger root and then crush the almond kernel and walnuts into very small pieces
- Place the ginger, almond kernels, and walnuts into a pot with several cups of water
- Bring to a rapid boil, then reduce to a medium heat and simmer for about 10 minutes
- Add honey to taste; drink twice per day, once in the morning and once in the evening
This recipe strengthens the Kidney and moistens the Lung to help stop coughing making it also good for seasonal allergies that happen around now.
Happy Spring everyone!