Yes, I know… It’s still really cold outside, especially in my neck of the woods here in the US Northeast. In fact, as I look outside right now typing this snow flurries are falling. However, today, Sunday, February 4 is the start of the Beginning of Spring (Li Chun 立春) Seasonal Node for 2018 and thus the beginning of the new solar year! The Lunar New Year (known as Chun Jie 春節 in Chinese) will start later on February 16. The start of the Earth Dog year is actually today, not necessarily later on the Lunar New Year (although to be fair, opinions on this varies).
The Beginning of Spring means that the Yang influences are growing in the natural world. By this date we are only about 6 weeks away from the Vernal Equinox (Chun Fen 春分), one of the times of year where the Yang and Yin are balanced and we have more equal day and night. But even now, with some cooler weather lingering the days are getting longer and in northern New Jersey where I am, in the morning I am hearing some songbirds starting to return. The very first thing I noticed this morning on my way to Qigong and Taiji class was a flock of geese migrating back north. The increased activity in the natural world are also reflected in the names of the shorter 5 day segments (the 72 Material Manifestations of the year) that make up Beginning of Spring – Dong Feng Jie Dong 東風解凍 (The East Wind Liberates From Icy Shackles), Zhe Chong Shi Zhen 蟄蟲始振 (Hibernating Insects Begin to Stir), and Yu Shang Bing 魚上冰 (Fish Rise Up to the Ice).
Beginning of Spring is the time of year for new beginnings in general. It is also time to continue growing the ever-expanding Yang in our bodies so as to mimic the expanding Yang in the natural world. One of the basic health exercise recommendations for Beginning of Spring is to frequently comb the hair (or head if there is no hair). In Chinese, this is called Shu Fa 梳法, or “combing therapy.” Combing therapy has been around since at least the Sui dynasty, and is found in both Yang Sheng texts as well as Tuina manuals.
To apply Combing Therapy comb the hair (or scalp) daily, 100 times each sitting. This can be done either in the morning upon waking or in the evening before bed, and the traditional recommendation is to use a comb of either bone or wood. That said, simply combing with the fingers is even more effective since the fingers are living and contain Qi, which bone and wood do not. This is such a simple exercise that anyone can be taught to do it.
Combing has several functions. By stimulating the head we are stimulating the top of the body, meaning the most Yang area of the body. Since Spring is a time of Yang growth and expansion, stimulating the Yang area of the body is appropriate. Gently working the surface of the body also stimulates Wei Qi movement in the head and channels of the head. This in turn helps expel wind, and avoiding wind is one of the basic “avoids” for the Beginning of Spring. Furthermore, the scalp is a microsystem of the entire body, so stimulating the channels on the scalp mobilizes Qi and Blood in the entire body.
Spring is the time associated with the Wood phase and the Liver, the first of the two Yang viscera (with Heart being the other). A traditional saying for Beginning of Spring is “Li chun yang gan shun tian shi, qu chu ji bing bao jian kang” – “At the beginning of Spring nourishing the Liver means to following the timing of Heaven, expel and rid yourself of disease and protect your health.” Diet recommendations at the Beginning of Spring then are designed to help and nourish Liver.
As a general rule this is the time to consume foods that help maintain normal Liver function, especially the Yang of Liver. Since the Liver governs free coursing, eating mildly acrid and warm foods will accentuate and support this function. For example, appropriate foods this time of year include scallions, leeks, chives, cilantro, and garlic. Here is another phrase for this time of year: “Duo chi jiu cai chao rou si, yang hu gan yang zhu sheng fa” – “Eat a lot of leeks and pork to nourish and protect the Liver yang and develop the nature of birth.” In the Huang Di Nei Jing the Spring is associated with the term sheng 生 or “birth.” This is the same sheng as in, for example, Sheng Jiang 生薑 – fresh (or living) ginger. Here is a very simple recipe that utilizes leeks to warm and move the Liver yang.
Take 100g of leeks and 50g of very thin pork strips. Shred the leeks and then stir-fry with the pork in cooking oil, adding soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste. This recipe nourishes the Liver and protects the Yang.
Patients with chronic Liver fire should take care this seasonal node as Yang is on the rise everywhere. A traditional Beginning of Spring drink for these patients is Yin Chen Da Zao Tang. For this drink take 20g of Yin Chen Hao and 30g of Da Zao. Place in a pot with about 2 ½ cups water. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes. Separate into 2 doses and drink in the morning and evening. This formula benefits qi, generates fluids, and protects the Liver.
One more traditional dish for Beginning of Spring is Pork Bone Red Date Soup. Yes, even before bone broth became the latest health trend here in the US, it was considered an important food for health the world around. This dish can be taken daily; it builds blood, warms the interior without being too warming or drying, and can be taken both to prevent and treat colds.
Pork Bone Red Date Soup 豬骨紅棗湯
- Pork bone, about 3 lbs
- Chinese dried red dates (Hong Zao, or Da Zao), about 6 pieces
- 1 Large scallion white
- Place washed pork bones into a slow cooker and add enough water to cover bones (about 2 quarts)
- Cut ginger and scallion into large pieces, place in slow cooker with bones; add dates as well to slow cooker
- Cook on low for 8 hours or more (the prep can be done in the evening and left to cook overnight)
- Drink broth daily
Other vegetables or ingredients can be added to this soup as desired. To read more about general Spring health care please click here. Over the next several weeks I’ll continue to discuss Spring recommendations, and sometime in March I’ll discuss a traditional Tibetan Spring fast.