After Winter Solstice there are only two more Seasonal Nodes in the year before the Chinese New Year and the beginning of Spring - Minor Cold (小寒) and Major Cold (大寒). As is clear from the names, temperature is an important part of understanding the last two seasonal nodes of the traditional Chinese calendar. Over the last month or so temperatures have been up and down, although we have yet to see sustained frigid temperatures in the Northeastern United States. What is more important is that we are now in the time of year where the potential for sustained cold is very real as, even though we are moving into Spring, January and February are usually the coldest months of the year. Sunday night of this weekend when I’m posting this got down into the 20s (that’s below freezing for those of you using Celsius).
Most people don’t realize this but last week was actually perihelion, the exact day when the Earth is closest to the Sun. This happens each year about 2 weeks after the Winter Solstice. Warmth of the season though is determined by angle of sunlight, not proximity to the Sun, which is why even though we are close, it is still cold here.
This year the Minor Cold seasonal node started on Saturday January 5th, and the three shorter breakdowns of Minor Cold, the material manifestations, are Geese Head North (Yan Bei Xiang 雁北向), Magpies Begin to Build Nests (Que Shi Chao 鵲始巢), and Ring Necked Pheasants Begin to Crow (Zhi Shi Gou 雉始雊). In Chinese there is a saying that goes “Xiao han da han, leng cheng bing tuan” 小寒大寒冷成冰團 – “Minor Cold and Major Cold, coldness is here and ice abounds.” The previous seasonal node was Winter Solstice, the time of the year when yang qi is born again in the natural world. However, despite the growth of yang this month continues to become colder and colder. Why does cold continue to worsen even though we are moving to the Yang phase of the year?
Think of the movement of temperature as being driven by the fluctuations of yin and yang in the natural world. Even though the “switch” has been flipped from yin to yang, it takes time for the climate to catch up. Imagine driving a car at 75 miles per hour (I apologize to you all who use the metric system – I’m metric impaired). If you want to stop and go in reverse, first you have to hit the brakes. However, if you hit the brakes really hard, that car is going to continue skidding forward for quite a distance before you can start moving in the opposite direction. Thus, even though the brakes have been put on the Yin movement of the year, before we can really move towards the Yang we continue “skidding” colder and colder for awhile, before Spring truly warms up the Earth.
The health maintenance guideline for this season is similar to Winter Solstice. Specifically, during Minor Cold we should focus on (1) Nourishing the Kidney (Yang Shen 養腎), and (2) Safeguarding the Spleen and Stomach (Baohu Pi Wei 保護脾胃). Winter is the time for all the Qi to be stored away internally – my Neijing students will remember this discussion from Su Wen Chapter 2. Since Kidney is the root of storage, and the root of Earlier Heaven (先天) Qi, we nourish the Kidney to nourish the body’s ability to store Qi away (i.e., the movement of Winter – 藏). While Kidney is the Earlier Heaven root, the Spleen and Stomach are the Later Heaven (後天). So, protecting the Later Heaven helps to ensure that Earlier Heaven is not excessively tapped into. This is especially important for our patients with conditions of vacuity (especially either Kidney or Middle Jiao vacuity), or patients with cold conditions (for example patients with chronic arthritic conditions – Bi syndrome from Wind, Cold and Damp).
Continue having patients get to bed early. Also encourage warming therapies such as moxibustion, especially on points like Zu San Li ST-36, Guan Yuan Ren-4, Qi Hai Ren-6, and Huo Fu Hai 33.07. Patients who have long term Bi syndrome can do daily acupressure on Feng Fu Du-16. This is a special technique from the famous Chinese acupuncturist He Puren.
In addition to the acupressure mentioned above, consider using the Leg Nine Miles Dao Ma Group (足九里) from Tung’s system. This is one of the best groups to use for Bi syndromes when multiple areas of the body are affected, or when we’re not quite sure where to start with a patient. The three points in this group are Middle Nine Miles, Upper Nine Miles, and Lower Nine Miles (88.25, 26, 27), with the middle point overlapping Feng Shi GB-31. Patients can be taught to do Paida (拍打) in this area as a daily health maintenance regimen.
Dietary guidelines for Minor Cold are similar to Winter Solstice. Since we want to protect the Middle Jiao in particular, the first basic guideline is to eat foods that are easy to digest and take foods at regular intervals. Since most of us are coming out of holidays with lots of eating going on, it’s also a good idea to cut back on intake of meats and other heavier foods.
Patients with overall yang vacuity should consume yang warming foods such as lamb, venison, alcohol (in small quantities), and warming spices like cinnamon. Meats can be taken in moderation, but moderation is important. Traditional Chinese lists would add dog meat to the “should” list, but I have to admit that’s way out of my cultural comfort zone! These same patients should avoid cold foods such as duck, rabbit, chrysanthemum, mint, milk or yoghurts. Patients who are prone to cold damp conditions (such as arthritic patients) should do the same as already mentioned and especially avoid cold-damp producing foods such as oranges and orange juice, tropical fruits, and the overconsumption of refined sugars.
Instead of a traditional dietary recipe for this node I’ll offer readers a medicated wine. This formula is specifically for the treatment of Bi syndromes due to cold in the channels, and can be taken by patients over the age of 40 for the prevention of joint problems as well. The recipe is actually given to us by Tung in his original text from 1973. While he was an amazing acupuncturist, like all doctors in China, he was familiar with a number of Chinese medicine therapies (including the basic use of herbal medicines).
Tung’s Bi Impediment Wine 董氏痹症酒
Huang Qi 1 30g
Wu Jia Pi 30g
Placenta (powdered) 1.5g
Ge Jie 1 piece
Chuan Niu Xi 9g
Place all the herbs in an appropriate amount of grain alcohol (e.g., vodka), and let soak for about 1 month. Then, so consume about 1 shot per day or as otherwise needed. I have modified this from the original formula slightly so as to omit ingredients obtained from endangered species.
For patients with ongoing, active Bi syndrome pain, I suggest combining with external liniments (跌打酒). We will be doing a class through eLotus this August on Tung’s acupuncture and external herbs for injury management (click here for more information on that class).
I hope everyone had a great New Year. Stay warm!