Today, Wednesday March 6th is the start of the Awakening of Insects seasonal node (jing zhe 驚蟄), the third node of the year. This is the next segment of Spring, and although over the last two weeks weather has been particularly chilly, I’m starting to see buds setting on trees. Also, many mornings as I walk outside the house the birds are singing so loud it is hard to ignore them. The earth is slowly waking from Winter’s sleep. The three 5-day periods in this seasonal node are Peach Trees Begin to Blossom (tao shi hua 桃始華), Orioles Sing (canggeng ming 倉庚鳴), and Hawks Transform into Cuckcoos (ying hua weijiu 鷹化爲鳩).
The first ‘to do’ for this period of time is to guard and protect the Yang qi. Even though we are in Spring, this early part of the season, especially this year, can be cold. Continue to dress appropriately, especially since there can be wide fluctuations in temperatures from day to day. As Yang qi continues to grow in the natural environment, now is the time to start doing slightly more gentle exercise. This recommendation comes from the second chapter of the Neijing Su Wen, the The Great Treatise on Regulating the Spirit with the Four Seasons (Si Qi Tiao Shen Da Lun). There Qi Bo recommends that during Spring we should “upon waking take a walk in the courtyard, loosen the hair and relax the body, thus focusing the will on life.” Movement, especially in the morning, is a Yang activity. The Neijing recommends that “in Spring and Summer nourish Yang, and in Autumn and Winter nourish Yin (春夏養陽，秋冬養陰).”
The ‘to avoid’ during Awakening of Insects is undo stress and strain. As Chinese medicine practitioners we all know the mental pattern associated with Wood phase, and thus Spring, is anger. Patients who are prone to Liver depression or Liver repletion patterns should be monitored during this time period to be sure qi is circulating smoothly. This is the time when formulas in the Chai Hu family are appropriate for many people. For patients prone to resentment and anger, contemplative practices such as Japanese Naikan are appropriate.
Diet for this time of year should help protect the Yang qi as well. I generally recommend that people eat warming foods such as leeks, chives, and scallions. Likewise, it is appropriate to drink a little alcohol, provided the patient does not have specific sensitivities, morbidities, or medications that require abstinence. All of these foods, including alcohol, are warm and acrid, and thus course and warm the qi. I also suggest that everyone consume slightly more white noodles. In general, wheat husk (bran) is cooling, while the endosperm (inner white portion) is warming. White noodles, especially in soups, have the function of warming and supplementing the qi.
One traditional dish for Awakening of Insects is Schizonepeta and Mint Congee (荊芥薄荷粥). Congees are simply rice porridges. To make this congee start with 10g Jing Jie, 6g Bo He, and 10g Dan Dou Chi. First, place the Dan Dou Chi in about 5 cups of water, bring to a boil and simmer on low for 30 minutes. Then, add the Jing Jie and Bo He, simmering only for 5 minutes. After this, strain out the herbs and retain the liquid. Place the liquid back in the pot and bring to a simmer again. Lastly, add in about ½ cup of rice and cook until the rice breaks apart and becomes porridge-like (this can take 30-45 more minutes of cooking). Add in extra hot water as necessary if the congee becomes too thick. Schizonepeta and Mint Congee expels wind, resoles the surface, clears heat and eliminates toxins. It is useful for treating early stage colds, seasonal allergies, or just as a daily early Spring food.
The last recommendation I’ll offer for Awakening of Insects is the traditional Chinese practice of Pai Da – stimulating acupuncture points and channels by patting. As mentioned above, Spring is the time to increase movement. Liver (the organ of Spring) ensures the free coursing of Qi and Blood in the body. Thus, any exercise or practice that opens and circulates the channels of the body will have a beneficial effect on the Liver. One basic Pai Da technique is to use the hands held in loose fists to pat acupuncture points on the upper limbs. Start by patting the shoulders – the area of Jian Jing GB-21. Alternate right and left while patting. Then, continue with patting the sides of the elbows at Qu Chi LI-11. Finish with tapping the He Gu LI-4 area. For the lower extremities start with tapping at Huan Tiao GB-30, moving down then to Zu San Li ST-36, and finally Cheng Shan BL-57. For the lower extremities, both sides of the body can be tapped at the same time.
In the Hunyuan system of Qigong and Taiji I teach there is also a much more involved set of exercises that incorporate Paida. In this series we have a standing and moving posture for each of the 12 primary channels as well as some of the extraordinary vessels (some of these are available on this website – click here to see). Then, in addition to the postures, we use a special sack filled with rice and a Daoist lineage herbal formula that contains herbs to move Qi and soften the sinews (for example, the formula contains Ji Xue Teng and Shen Jin Cao); this sack is used to pat and tap along the channels. The combination of physical movement, breathing, visualization, and then mechanical stimulation of the channels is a very effective way of moving the Qi and Blood internally to balance the channel system. I teach this set at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (for their regular Qigong & Taiji class) and every Thursday morning at the Wushu Kung Fu Fitness Center in East Hanover, NJ.
Next installment we reach the Vernal Equinox!