After Winter Solstice there are only two more Seasonal Nodes in the year before the Chinese New Year and the beginning of Spring - Minor Cold (小寒) and Major Cold (大寒). As is clear from the names, temperature is an important part of understanding the last two seasonal nodes of the traditional Chinese calendar. And this year, true to these names, the weather in the Northeastern United States is right on target. While early 2017 had unseasonably warm January weather, 2018 is quite the opposite. Yesterday we experienced a punishing winter storm, and today the temperature high will only be 13˚F (-10˚C). Tomorrow the lows are predicted to dip down to -3˚F (-19˚C)! So, I hope everyone is having both a wonderful New Year and staying as warm as possible.
This year Minor Cold started on Friday January 5th, and the three shorter breakdowns of Minor Cold, the material manifestations, are Geese Head North (Yan Bei Xiang 雁北向), Magpies Begin to Build Nests (Que Shi Chao 鵲始巢), and Ring Necked Pheasants Begin to Crow (Zhi Shi Gou 雉始雊). In Chinese there is a saying that goes “Xiao han da han, leng cheng bing tuan” 小寒大寒冷成冰團 – “Minor Cold and Major 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 temperature 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 climate 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. Thus, 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 similar to Winter Solstice. Specifically, during Minor 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.
Dietary guidelines for Minor 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 Minor 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)
- 1-2oz water chestnuts
- ½ oz black wood ear mushrooms
- salt to taste
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.
I hope everyone is staying warm!