Today was one of the first days it honestly felt like Autumn here. The high temperature of the day was no more than the high 60s, and dry leaves are starting to accumulate at the curbs in front of my neighbors’ lawns. This is appropriate since Autumn Equinox is here! This is the day midway between the solstices, and being the midway point, the equinoxes are the times of even balance between Yin and Yang. Furthermore, Sunday September 23 begins the next 2-week long seasonal node, also called Autumn Equinox. In the Chinese calendar we are in the eighth lunar month and the time related to the Kidney channel. The smaller 5-day segments of this seasonal node are called Thunder Begins to Retract its Sound (Lei Shi Shou Sheng雷始收聲), Hibernating Insects Reinforce their Shelters (Zhi Chong Pei Hu蟄蟲培戶), and Water Begins to Dry Up (Shui Shi He水始涸). The names of these 5-day segments of time all point to a similar phenomenon – this is the time of year when the Yin-contracting movement of nature is in full gear in preparing for Winter’s slumber.
During this time of year the Nei Jing suggests that we “nourish the Yin” (春夏養陽，秋冬養陰) by conforming with the Yin-contracting nature of Autumn. In practical terms one meaning is that we should start getting more sleep. As the days grow shorter so should there be less activity. Thus, the Nei Jing says that we can still wake at the cock’s crowing, but we should be in bed earlier.
During this seasonal node one traditional recommendation is to guard the Lungs, and in particular the Lung Yin. Autumn is the season associated with the Metal Phase and therefore the Lung. Furthermore, Autumn is associated with environmental dryness so protecting the Yin fluids of the Lung is important. Some of the foods that protect the Lung Yin are milk, peaches, pears, apples, soymilk, glutinous rice, sesame seeds, and honey. Those who are adventurous can cook rice congee using white wood ear mushrooms.
Another method for helping the Lungs is acupressure at Chi Ze LU-5 (尺澤穴). This point regulates Lung function and treats conditions such as cough, wheezing, asthma, the common cold and seasonal allergies. It is also the Water point on the Lung channel meaning that it is appropriate for both the season (Autumn relates to the Lung) and the Lunar Month (the eighth Lunar Month relates to the Kidney channel, which is the Water phase).
In addition to environmental dryness, this time of year sees temperatures dropping. Therefore, while we focus on protecting the Lung we should also be cautious about cold exposure. People who are cold and fatigued in general should focus on warming and supplementing the body this time of year. Wearing adequate clothing is an important part of this strategy. Additionally certain warming and supplementing Chinese herbs can be consumed as functional foods. For example, one traditional recipe for the Autumn Equinox Seasonal Node is Angelica and Codonopsis Lamb Soup. To make this, take 1lb organic lamb meat and cook in an appropriate amount of water with 10g Chinese Angelica (Dang Gui 當歸), 10g Codonopsis (Dang Shen 黨參), 30g Angelica Dahurica (Huang Qi 黃耆), 10g fresh ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. Other in season vegetables can also be added as desired. This recipe warms the Kidneys, supplements the Yang, quickens Blood and moves Qi.
A great tea for general use appropriate to this time of year is Chrysanthemum with Honey (菊花蜂蜜茶). To make, take about 1 tablespoon of dried chrysanthemum (the kind sold as a Chinese herb). Steep in boiled water for 3-5 min and then stir in some honey to taste. This tea can treat seasonal allergies such as dry, itchy eyes or headache. This recipe nourishes the Liver, brightens the eyes, moistens the Lung and awakens the brain.
As the weather gets colder and we move to the dark time, this is the time to start preventive moxa treatment for the Winter. This is especially important for patients who are cold and vacuous. Starting some weekly moxa at Zu San Li ST-36 (足三里穴) will go a long way to keeping vitality strong the in months to come. An alternate is to apply moxa to Huo Fu Hai 33.07 (火腑海) on a regular basis.
Qigong and the Seasons
When people think of Qigong practice, or Taiji practice for that matter, there is the image of Chinese practitioners up very early in the morning in parks going through their routines. Early morning is a traditional time for practice, but not the only best time. Generally speaking, practices such as Qigong are best practiced at four possible times of day: 5-7am, 11am-1pm, 5-7pm, and 11pm-1am (all adjusted for Daylight Savings Time).
Why these times?
These four times of the day are like the four cardinal directions. The hours around high noon and midnight both respectively are the most Yang and Yin times of the day. The 5-7 hours (either am or pm) are then the midpoints of the day when the movement of Yin and Yang is most balanced. Practicing during these times allows us to ride the movement of Yin and Yang to make our Qigong practice all the more effective.
These times are also representative of different times of the year. Noon corresponds to the Summer Solstice, Midnight corresponds to the Winter Solstice, 5-7am corresponds to the Vernal Equinox, and 5-7pm corresponds to the Autumnal Equinox. As the name suggests, the Equinoxes are the most balanced times of the year in terms of Yin and Yang. As such, on these days practicing Qigong with the effort of creating internal balance is very appropriate. In the system of Qigong I practice one of the fundamental exercises is the collecting the Qi patterns (採氣功). Around the Equinox we can all practice equal numbers of repetitions for all three of these exercises to balance the body overall.
So, I hope everyone is having a very peaceful and balanced Equinox! If you are local and would like to join us for Qigong practice, click here for more information.