It’s almost hard to believe that just a few weeks ago many of us on the East Coast were knee deep in snow. In New Jersey we even had several inches of snow earlier this week on Monday. Yet, we are beyond the Vernal Equinox and well on our way to longer days and shorter nights. In the traditional Chinese calendar we are 2 months into Spring, as May starts the beginning of Summer.
Today, Thursday April 5th is the beginning of the Clear and Bright (Qing Ming 清明) seasonal node. This seasonal node is also a traditional holiday in much of East 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, showing the beautiful integration and connection between Yin and Yang in all phenomena.
When looking at health and the season, the main idea of Clear and Bright is to start with paying attention to the Liver Yang. Liver, the internal viscera of the Wood Phase, is associated with Spring. Yang means several things. First, it is the upward and outward expansion of Qi in the body. Yang is also movement and coursing internally. Lastly Yang means internal heat. All these aspects of Yang will become important for understanding our health during Clear and Bright.
The last few weeks in New Jersey have seen dramatic ups and downs in temperatures and weather patterns. Every morning when I wake up I’m thinking the weather should be warmer, but early morning can still be quite chilly. 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.
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.
Another common issue for this time of year is the beginning of seasonal allergy symptoms. Nearly every day now in my clinic for the last week or so I hear people sneezing and blowing their noses. Right before the snow hit us this Monday morning, I started noticing the forsythias starting to bloom. This is the time of the year for basic formulas like Cang Er Zi San. Patients who are somewhat Qi deficient as well leading to being prone to 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 60g
- Bai Zhu 20g
- Fang Feng 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.
Herbal Formulas for Spring
Lately I’ve been spending time reading a text called the Zun Sheng Ba Jian (遵生八箋) – the Eight Treatises on Following the Principles of Life. Written by a scholar by the name of Gao Lian at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the text is an almost encyclopedic collection of all manner of Nourishing Life (養生) recipes, techniques, theories, etc… One section discusses seasonal health, and includes commonly used seasonal recipes that I will try to translate and include in some of my posts. Some of this information will also appear in upcoming online classes I have scheduled with eLotus.
So, to start us off, here’s a Spring formula…
Chrysanthemum Powder 菊花散
Ingredients: Ju Hua, Qian Hu, Xuan Fu Hua, Bai Shao, Xuan Shen, Fang Feng; each 30g
Instructions: Grind all ingredients to a fine powder. Take 6-9g of the powder as a dose, consumed with wine (i.e., alcohol). For those sensitive to alcohol take with thin congee, or hot water.
Comments: The original text says this formula is good for elderly people to use in Spring, and can treat wind and heat patterns in the upper body, neck pain, headache, swollen face, and red and irritated eyes. Sure sounds like allergy symptoms to me! In this formula the Ju Hua, Qian Hu, and Fang Feng treat the exterior. Xuan Fu Hua directs Qi downwards as well as assists in treating the exterior. The last two medicinals, Bai Shao and Xuan Shen, nourish the Yin and Blood, and Xuan Shen also assists in treating red and swollen eyes. So, give this formula a try when it seems appropriate.
Happy Spring everyone!