Saturday, July 7, was the beginning of the Minor Heat (Xiao Shu 小暑) seasonal node, the first after Summer Solstice. This important time period marks a major transition in the movement of Qi in the natural world. Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi 夏至) began the transition from Yang-expansion to Yin-contraction in the environment. Therefore, Minor Heat is the first seasonal node in the Yin time of the year. That said, it is still hot out! Even the name of this seasonal node acknowledges this. This past week here in New Jersey was the hottest one we’ve had all year, with temperatures soaring into the 90s.
Although we are transitioning into the Yin time of the year, weather change happens slowly. Think of it like a train barreling ahead at high speed. Once the conductor decides to stop the train and put it in reverse, she first puts on the breaks. Even though the breaks are applied, it takes several hundred feet before the train actually stops. Only then will it very slowly start moving in reverse. The movement of the seasons is just like this. Once we have flipped the switch from Yang to Yin, the weather still continues to warm for some time before the very slow movement in the opposite direction begins.
The most important “to do” during this time is to nourish the Heart by maintaining an optimistic outlook. Why is this? June and July are the months associated with the Fire phase. Also, if we overlay the 12 time periods of the day with the 12 months of the year (i.e., the 12 two-hour periods of the day that each correspond to one of the primary channels), June is the time of the Heart channel and July the Small Intestine channel. Both are Fire phase channels. Since this is the Fire Phase time of year, it is the time of the Heart Zang. We nourish the Heart by keeping a calm mind and being optimistic. Pessimism or other negative emotional states can lead to patterns such as Liver stagnation, which in turn can transform into heat and harass the Heart. We can also nourish the Heart and regulate the Fire phases by doing some specific Qigong exercises. Over the last few weeks in our weekly Qigong classes on Thursday morning we have been doing exercises for the four Fire channels in the body. While these exercises are not yet posted, you can see other basic Qigong exercises on my Youtube channel by clicking here.
During this seasonal node, the first 5-day period is known as Wen Feng Zhi (溫風至), - Sultry Winds Arrive. This certainly describes what is happening in the weather right now, especially in the Northeastern United States! The weather has been hot, and very humid. Therefore, we need to be careful about environmental dampness damaging the body. As clinicians we should instruct patients who are prone to damp patterns on how to eat, dress, etc… In this light the main “to avoid” this time period is undue exposure to cold and excessive consumption of cold items (both cold temperature and cold thermal nature). While it may seem logical to be in cold places in cold weather, there is certainly a problem in the west with using air conditioners to cool rooms to temperatures lower than we’d feel comfortable with in winter! This time of year in our clinic we’ve seen quite a few patients with summer colds from frequently going between very hot and very cold environments. Furthermore, the overconsumption of cold (and especially cold and sweet) food and drink damages the Spleen leading to more damp accumulation. Instead, we should drink beverages that are cooling, as well as either bitter (to drain), or acrid (to move). This will cool the body without developing damp stagnation. Examples include chrysanthemum and mint, or even green teas. In China summer is the season to drink green teas such as the famous Dragon Well – Long Jing Cha 龍井茶.
Diet (and a little Moxibustion) for Minor Heat
As we mentioned above, during Minor Heat there is still significant dampness and heat in the environment. Therefore, we should consume foods that are cooling and either bitter or acrid. For example, this is the time of year to consume in-season fresh greens. In addition to chrysanthemum and mint we can also consume lotus leaf tea; lotus is a plant with a summerheat cooling nature that is also slightly bitter to drain heat and dampness. Advise patients to sip fluids throughout the day so they don’t dehydrate rather than drinking copious amounts of iced beverages all at once that may exacerbate damp conditions. If patients have damaged fluids, they can consume cooling and moist vegetables (such as cucumber) or fruits (such as watermelon).
One traditional recipe for this time of year is congee made from Yi Yi Ren (pearl barley) and adzuki beans. This basic combination is mild and neutral in temperature, and both the Yi Yi Ren and adzuki beans drain dampness. Yi Yi Ren strengthens the Spleen and adzuki beans clear heat as well.
In contrast however, this time of year is also a time when warming therapies are traditionally used. This is a method of treating winter disease in the summer. Starting in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912) there has been a method of treating long standing cold disease by employing a type of moxibustion on the three hottest days of summer. These days are called the San Fu Tian, and the method of treatment San Fu Moxibustion, or San Fu Jiu.
San Fu Moxibustion was originally used to treat chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, although in modern times it has been expanded to other conditions. The basic theory of San Fu treatment combines the effective use of hot herbs applied to acupuncture points on the body during the hottest (i.e., most Yang) days of Summer. Doing so very aggressively expels cold that may linger in the body. Obviously however, this treatment is designed for patients who are vacuous and cold, and should not be performed on patients that in general have primarily hot conditions.
The actual treatment days are chosen based on Chinese astrology. The first of the San Fu days is the third geng (Yang metal) day after Summer Solstice in the Chinese calendar. The second day is 10 days after the first, and the third day is the first geng day after the Beginning of Autumn (which falls at the beginning of August). Usually there are three days in this method of day selection, but occasionally there is a fourth that can be used. This year the San Fu days are July 17, July 27, August 6, and August 16. The first of these days falls during Minor Heat. Around noon on these days (noon is a Yang time) a special paste is applied to acupuncture points on the upper back that all warm the Yang qi and expel cold. While recipes for this paste vary, they include very hot herbs such as mustard seed (bai jie zi), asarum (xi xin) and ginger juice. Ideally this paste is also prepared ahead of time and allowed to cure for a full year, but freshly made paste works as well. People interested in learning more about San Fu Moxibustion should read Lorraine Wilcox’s book on moxibusion - Moxibustion: A Modern Clinical Handbook. You can also visit the website of my student Dr. Heidi Lovie. She produces San Fu powder for those who are not inclined to grind for themselves.
Now, back to food… In Korea there is a traditional custom of eating ginseng and chicken soup on these same San Fu days, and this dietary remedy can be done by anyone at home as general health prevention and maintenance. Ginseng and chicken soup has a very nourishing and supplementing function, and eating it on the San Fu days can help build internal Yang qi to prevent disease in the colder seasons that follow. This is very useful for patients who generally have weak qi, especially of the Spleen or Lung. Again, patients who are very hot by nature should avoid eating this soup in the summer.
Here is a basic Korean soup recipe:
Korean Ginseng and Chicken Soup (Samgyetang)
- 1 small chicken (Cornish game hen)
- ¼ cup glutinous rice
- 1 – 2 small fresh ginseng roots (ren shen 人參)
- Several Chinese dried red dates (hong zao 紅棗)
- Several peeled garlic cloves
- Soak rice in a small amount of water for 1 hour
- Clean and rinse chicken and then stuff the cavity with the rice, ginseng, red dates and garlic. Place in pot and cover with water.
- Bring pot to a rapid boil and then continue boiling over high heat for about 20 minutes, skimming off the foam as necessary. Replenish water that has boiled off and then continue to simmer for another 40 minutes until chicken is falling apart or can easily be pulled apart.
- Garnish with freshly chopped scallions, salt and pepper to taste.