Today, Sunday January 20th, is the start of the Major Cold (da han 大寒) Seasonal Node, and here in northern New Jersey it really arrives right on time. This morning we had a mix of snow and freezing rain, and tonight the temperatures are forecast to drop, with an overnight high of 8 degrees (-13 degrees Celsius). Days are slowly getting longer, but it is really cold now. Major Cold is the last node of the traditional Chinese year, and we are now about two weeks away from both the solar and lunar new year – the Beginning of Spring (this year they fall about the same time).
The three material manifestations of Major Cold are Hens Begin to Breed (Ji Shi Ru 雞始乳), Birds of Prey Act Fierce and Swift (Zhi Niao Li Ji 鷙鳥厲疾), and Rivers and Lakes are Frozen Within (Shui Ze Fu Jian 水澤腹堅). Notice here imagery of the impending Spring. In Five Phase theory the domestic animal associated with Spring is the chicken, and during Major Cold hens are getting ready to become pregnant with baby chicks that will hatch in Spring. Thus, even though the weather outside is still very cold, Yang is definitely on its way back as the gradually lengthening of the days attests to.
As the name suggests, the Major Cold Seasonal Node is the time of the year when the main environmental factor we contend with is cold. The first thing that Chinese medicine recommends for this time is to eat clear and easily digested foods (qing dan shi wu 清淡食物). Why is this? The Spleen and Stomach are the roots of Latter Heaven Qi. During the end of Winter even though the time of the year is still predominantly Yin, the Yang qi is being birthed. Eating clear and easily digested foods allows the Spleen and Stomach to move and transform appropriately, and to build Latter Heaven Qi. If foods are too heavy, such as overly greasy or sweet foods, then the ability of the Spleen and Stomach to move and transform is impaired. Easy to digest foods ensures that we continue to build Latter Heaven Yang Qi to get ready for the upcoming spring.
In addition to cold, the other main environmental pattern seen during Major Cold is dryness. Even with wet snow on the ground this morning, lately my patients have been complaining of dry skin on an almost daily basis. Much of the environmental water is bound up in snow or ice, making the air dry. Knowing this, the second recommendation this time of year is to stay warm but also be sure to not be too dry. Staying warm is obviously important in this time of greatest cold. But since certain organs are harmed by excessive dryness, such as the Lungs, we also need to be vigilant there. For example, for those with forced hot air heating systems, it may be prudent to run a humidifier periodically. Also, sipping warm liquids such as herbal teas throughout the day can keep our internal environment appropriately moist.
With patients who are cold, or have Spleen or Kidney vacuity patterns, continue to warm and supplement. Moxibustion, especially at points like Zu San Li ST-36, Qi Hai REN-6 or Guan Yuan REN-4 is still appropriate. Acupuncturists can include Tung’s point San Cha San 三叉三穴 frequently in point prescriptions. This point has the ability to warm yang and supplement the Kidney. Furthermore, since it pierces through Ye Men SJ-2, “Fluids Gate,” it also benefits fluids, particularly of the upper orifices.
As already mentioned, during Major Cold we should emphasize consuming easily digested foods that protect internal warmth and strengthen the middle. Foods that satisfy this requirement include, for example, rice, glutinous rice (in moderation), yams (including nagaimo), peanuts, clear soups like chicken soup, and cooked vegetables. In general avoid raw vegetables, cooling fruits, very greasy meats, and very sweet deserts. When cooking make frequent use of fresh ginger, and other mildly warming spices like nutmeg.
In addition to protecting the Spleen with food, during Major Cold it is also important to consume foods that guard against dryness, and in particular Lung dryness. To this end traditional recommendations for food include consuming white wood ear mushrooms (Yin Er 銀耳) and pears, especially Asian pears. A great traditional tea for Major Cold is Goji Berry and Red Date Tea (枸杞大棗茶). To prepare, take about 1 teaspoon Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zi) and 3 small red dates and place in a large mug. Cover with boiling hot water and let steep at least 5 minutes. After drinking about ½ the mug, refill once or twice more with boiling hot water. This tea supplements and moistens the Kidney and Liver, nourishes blood and supplements the Spleen.
As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, since I do so much acupuncture in my clinical practice and I teach Qigong regularly, I really like channel based Yang Sheng practices in addition to lifestyle and diet that we usually discuss. One traditional recommendation for Major Cold is foot soaking and acupressure to support some of the goals we’ve already described above. The time of day associated with Major Cold is the Chou 丑 hour (1-3am). While I don’t recommend staying up too late, this practice can be done before bed, as close to that time as possible while still getting to sleep at a reasonable hour. Start by soaking feet in hot/warm water for 10-15 minutes, and Epsom salts can also be added to the water if desired. After that follow the soaking with acupressure on Yong Quan KD-1, Tai Bai SP-3 and Tai Yuan LU-9. This helps warm and strengthen the Kidney channel, and supplement the Spleen and Lung channels thus corresponding to some of the basic recommendations discussed above.
The last recommendation I’ll offer is gentle massage of the lower back. We all know that the low back is the abode of the Kidney, and gentle stimulation of the low back can thus relax and warm the Kidney. Furthermore, Major Cold is specifically associated with the 3rd lumbar vertebra. There are 24 total vertebrae corresponding one to each of the seasonal nodes, and this association is well known in esoteric Daoist circles. In the White Cloud temple in Beijing there is a diagram of the body carved in stone on the side of one of the walls that maps out the associations of the vertebrae with the nodes. So, in light of that correspondence, one great Yang Sheng practice for Major Cold is to sit quietly, starting with vigorously rubbing the palms together to get them as warm as possible. Then, place the hands on the low back in the area of L-3 feeling the warmth of the hands penetrating the back. After that rub the back to warm the area, or gently tap the low back.