Grain Rain 穀雨 Seasonal Node

Today Friday, April 20 is the beginning of the Grain Rain (Gu Yu 穀雨) seasonal node for 2018. Grain Rain is the last seasonal node of Spring, as early May marks the beginning of Summer in the Chinese calendar. Considering overall this April here in New Jersey was colder than most, it feels odd writing that Summer will begin in just 2 weeks. It was cool enough this year that New Jersey farmers are behind their usual schedule in getting plants in the ground, meaning our farmers’ markets will be a bit empty for the early weeks of their season. However, in the traditional Chinese calendar seasons are tied more to the changes of day length than actual temperature. Believe it or not, in only about 2 months from now the days start getting shorter again – so despite chilly outside get out and enjoy the sunshine!

Grain Rain is the 6th step of the 24 seasonal nodes thus corresponding roughly to the 3rd watch of the day (7-9am). Furthermore it is the time of transition from Spring to Summer correlating to the Earth phase (the Earth phase is the transition between seasons). Thus, Gu Yu is the time of year associated with the Stomach channel. The general movement of Spring is the movement of Liver-Wood, but the Earth phase is also in charge of movement and transformation. Because of this, during Grain Rain we need to ensure that Qi and Blood are moving smoothly. This year this is even more important in that the weather so far has been colder than usual, and cold means stagnation. Watch for signs of Qi stagnation in yourself and in your patients. This is why a good basic recommendations for this time of year is performing regular self-massage to ensure smooth circulation of Qi and Blood in the body.

One of the easiest points to massage for the average person is the collection of points known as the Shi Xuan 十宣穴. These points are located one at the tip of every finger and every toe. The word “Shi” means 10 – there is a point on each finger and toe adding up to 10 total. The word “Xuan” means to spread or diffuse. Since all the channels of the body connect to the fingers and toes, these points together spread or move all the Qi in all the channels of the body, and can be massaged as a general way to prevent and treat stagnation in the channels. To massage simply squeeze and rub the tip of each finger and toe in succession. Repeat throughout the day, but preferably at least once each morning and once each evening.

As the weather does get a bit sunnier and warmer it is important to increase outside activity – consider walking or gardening. However, since Spring is a time of temperature ups and downs, be careful to dress appropriately as dictated by each day. This is the tail end of the cold season, so pay attention to preventing colds, and seek treatment as soon as any cold or allergy symptoms start. Grain Rain is a time when Lung Heat is thought to be a potential problem (over the last week or two many allergy sufferers have been manifesting with Lung Heat signs and symptoms). Consider needling (if you’re an acupuncturist) or massaging (if a patient) Da Zhui DU-14 this seasonal node. Other points include needling or massaging Tung points Chong Zi 22.01 and Chong Xian 22.02.

Getting back to the idea of stagnation, it is vital that during Grain Rain we prevent stagnation in the Stomach (since this is the time of Stomach channel). To this end, the traditional thing to avoid this time of year is overeating or overdrinking. Similarly, this is the time of year to avoid oily and greasy foods. Other foods to avoid are very cooling fruits, such as a lot of citrus.

Start eating lighter and easier to digest items and in-season vegetables such as asparagus. Other foods to emphasize should help boost Qi and Blood, and gently strengthen the Spleen and Stomach (since the Yang of the Spleen/Stomach is still fragile now, especially since Liver-Wood can over-control Earth) – rice or rice congee, Bian Dou, yams, nagaimo (Shan Yao in Chinese), peanuts, and cherries (a slightly warming fruit). If you didn’t know, this is also egg season. Yes… Eggs have a season! Most chickens naturally lay eggs only when day length is about 10 hours or more (commercially grown eggs are available because farmers trick chickens with strong artificial lighting year round). One of my favorite early spring recipes is steamed asparagus with scrambled eggs – delicious and light, and good for you too!

Here’s a traditional Chinese recipe for Grain Rain – Tofu and Spinach Soup:

 

Tofu and Spinach Soup 菠菜豆腐湯

Ingredients:

  • One small bunch spinach
  • One block fresh organic tofu (about 4-5 oz.)
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • Salt
  • Toasted sesame oil

Directions:

  1. Wash spinach thoroughly and remove thick stems
  2. Drain tofu and cut into small cubes
  3. Place tofu and spinach in the broth, bring to a boil and simmer just until spinach is cooked through and tofu absorbs the flavor of the broth
  4. Add some salt and toasted sesame oil to taste, and serve; optionally can add some chopped scallions as garnish

This recipe boosts the blood, nourishes yin, and at the same time is easy to digest and strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. As an alternative a raw egg can be stirred in at the end to make a type of egg drop soup with spinach and tofu.

 

Another Spring herbal formula

Last blog post I posted a formula from the Zun Sheng Ba Jian (遵生八箋) – the Eight Treatises on Following the Principles of Life. Written by a scholar by the name of Gao Lian at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the text is an almost encyclopedic collection of all manner of Nourishing Life (養生) recipes, techniques, theories, etc… Here is another seasonal formula for spring from this text.

 

Xing Xing San (Clear Headed Powder) 惺惺散

Ingredients: Jie Geng 30g, Xi Xin 15g, Ren Shen 15g, Fu Ling 30g, Gua Lou Ren 15g, Bai Zhu (Tu Chao) 30g

Instructions: Grind all ingredients, make into honey pills, like size of pellet (crossbow pellet or Go piece), take down with warm water

This formula was indicated for a sense of heaviness or dullness in the head or eyes, dizziness, heat in the body, headache, lumbar pain, and symptoms looking like exterior patterns (in my opinion, allergy symptoms). The herbs Jie Geng and Xi Xin both treat the upper jiao and the exterior, while Ren Shen, Fu Ling and earth fried Bai Zhu supplement the middle. This addition of Spleen and Stomach supplementing herbs is particularly useful for Grain Rain because of the association with Earth phase that is discussed above. Gua Lou Ren transforms phlegm in the Lung and clears heat, but at the same time moistens, assisting with the treatment of the upper jiao as well as with making sure the bowels move appropriately.

This formula was originally prepared as a honey pill. For those of you who’ve never made honey pills it’s great fun. Our friend Lorraine Wilcox has a class on eLotus where she explains how to make and use them (click here to see that class). However, for modern consumption I would suggest substituting Bai Zhi for the Xi Xin. Bai Zhi treats the exterior, opens the sinuses and is useful for the seasonal allergies we are starting to see now. Xi Xin is mildly toxic, and while I think it is useful in decoction I would not take it as a honey pill. The aristolochic acid in Xi Xin (the nephrotoxin) is poorly water soluble. Thus, when decocted the toxic nature is minimized, yet when consumed as a whole herb it is absorbed at a much higher rate. Finally I would suggest substituting Dang Shen or Xi Yang Shen for the Ren Shen (ginseng). In the early medical literature such as the Shang Han Lun ginseng is seen as a mildly cooling substance, yet most high quality modern red ginseng is prepared in a way to make it warm. Dang Shen or Xi Yang Shen (American ginseng) are either moderate or slightly cooler in temperature, and thus I feel will work better in the formula.

Happy Spring!

Henry

World Tai Chi (Taiji) & Qigong Day

Qigong 氣功 and Tai Chi (Taiji 太極拳) are treasures of traditional Chinese health and physical cultivation culture. In the United States, the last Saturday of April each year is celebrated as World Tai Chi & Qigong day. This is done for several purposes:

  1. To educate the world of the profound health and  healing benefits of Tai Chi & Qigong for individuals, communities, and nations,
  2. To thank Chinese culture for creating and sharing these profoundly valuable gifts with the world; and
  3. To bring together people across racial, economic, religious, and geo-political boundaries, to join together for the purpose of health and healing, providing an example to the world. 

The reasons to practice Qigong and Tai Chi are numerous, and modern research has shown them effective in maintaining health as well as in treating a number of diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression, arthritis, knee pain, back pain, and fibromyalgia, just to name a few. The bigger picture is that Qigong and Tai Chi practice creates a dynamic balance in the body that supports our natural vitality.

This year we will celebrate World Tai Chi & Qigong Day on Saturday, April 28 from 9 - 11am with free classes that are open to all who would like to attend. People of all experience levels are welcomed, include those with no prior experience at all.

The first class (9-10am) will focus on Qigong. During that time we will explore various exercises that allow the body to absorb the core vitality of nature, and then learn how the powerful combination of movement, breathing and visualization can balance movement of Qi internally.

The second class (10-11am) will focus on Tai Chi (Taiji), and in particular Hunyuan Chen Style Tai Chi. We will start by warming up with silk-reeling exercises, gentle spiraling movements that stretch the connective tissue. After we will have a group practice of the basic 24 movement short form (beginners can follow along with the group), and then finish with an introduction to Tai Chi Push Hands practice.

Please join us on the last Saturday this April so we can all celebrate healing movement together! Classes will be held at the Wushu Kung Fu Fitness Center in East Hanover - click here for more information and location of the East Hanover school location. For more information please email us or call our office at (973) 660-0110.

For those of you who teach Qigong or Tai Chi to your own students or patients, I would encourage you to set up a free even on the same day. To read more about World Tai Chi & Qigong day click here.

Clear and Bright 清明 Seasonal Node

It’s almost hard to believe that just a few weeks ago many of us on the East Coast were knee deep in snow. In New Jersey we even had several inches of snow earlier this week on Monday. Yet, we are beyond the Vernal Equinox and well on our way to longer days and shorter nights. In the traditional Chinese calendar we are 2 months into Spring, as May starts the beginning of Summer.

Today, Thursday April 5th is the beginning of the Clear and Bright (Qing Ming 清明) seasonal node. This seasonal node is also a traditional holiday in much of East Asia – the Qing Ming Festival. In Okinawa, where I lived as a graduate student, the day is called Shimi in the local Hogen (indigenous Okinawan language). Qing Ming Festival is a time for Asians to visit graves and pay respect to the ancestors. Thus it is a time to remember the past while at the same time starting the New Year and the new Spring, showing the beautiful integration and connection between Yin and Yang in all phenomena.

When looking at health and the season, the main idea of Clear and Bright is to start with paying attention to the Liver Yang. Liver, the internal viscera of the Wood Phase, is associated with Spring. Yang means several things. First, it is the upward and outward expansion of Qi in the body. Yang is also movement and coursing internally. Lastly Yang means internal heat. All these aspects of Yang will become important for understanding our health during Clear and Bright.

The last few weeks in New Jersey have seen dramatic ups and downs in temperatures and weather patterns. Every morning when I wake up I’m thinking the weather should be warmer, but early morning can still be quite chilly. Not surprisingly then, the first “to do” during Clear and Bright is to protect being warm (bao nuan 保暖).  Spring is the time of growing Yang, and we don’t want to do anything that damages that internal warming Qi. The second chapter of the Su Wen admonishes us that if we don’t take care in Spring, then cold disease will arise in the Summer that follows. Since during the next few weeks typically temperatures will continue to fluctuate up and down, be sure to tell patients to dress appropriately for the day, and not to think that just because it’s supposed to be Spring, that every day will be warm enough for light clothing.

The second “to do” during Clear and Bright is be active in outdoor activities or exercise. With the continued growth of Yang in the natural world, it is important to increase our physical activity. Again, the second chapter of the Su Wen tells us that in Spring we should be sure to “move around throughout the courtyard with leisurely strides” (廣步於庭). The Wood phase and the Liver are responsible for the normal smooth circulation of Qi in the body, and similarly during Spring we should be sure to keep our bodies moving. Of course, exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be effective. Suggest to patients that just getting outside to do light yard work or gardening is a great idea. Practicing Taiji or Qigong outside is also appropriate. For those who are local to northern New Jersey and are interested in starting a traditional Qigong or Taiji practice, please check out our weekly classes.

One of the Nourishing Life exercises that is appropriate to Clear and Bright is pressing and rotating Shen Que REN-8 (i.e., the navel). Shen Que is obviously an important point on the body as the abdomen is the location of many important internal organs. Likewise, it is the area where some of the most important channels in the body originate – the Ren, the Du and the Chong. In Chinese these three extraordinary vessels are said to be “one origin and three branches.” For this exercise first rub hands together vigorously to warm them. Then place the warmed hands over the navel and slowly, with moderate pressure, rotate 50 times in a circle one direction, then 50 times in the other direction. Shen Que rotation helps warm the center and expel cold and is especially appropriate for patients who are cold and depleted, and for patients with clear nasal discharge such as seasonal allergies. Think of doing moxibusion at Shen Que for patients who are particularly or chronically depleted.

The flip side of this is to be cautious of patients with uprising Liver yang patterns, or patterns of internal wind; Clear and Bright is the time to guard against hypertension in patients who are prone to this condition. These patients should be counseled to get some more exercise, as this is an effective adjunct therapy for hypertension.

The “avoids” for Clear and Bright are mainly related to diet. First, Chinese medicine recommends that patients avoid very acrid and spicy foods. While somewhat acrid foods and herbs are appropriate to Spring (such as leeks or scallions), overly spicy foods may potentially either stir internal Yang or dissipate internal Qi. The second type of food to avoid is very sour or greasy foods. Both sour and greasy foods create stagnation, and thus inhibit the normal coursing of Qi. Since Spring is the time of Wood-Liver, it is important to keep Qi moving internally.

In general the diet for Clear and Bright should reflect the name of the seasonal node. Light and clear foods that neither block the Qi mechanism nor overly stimulate it are appropriate. Gentle movement and easy to digest should be the focus. As more vegetables become available, patients should increase consumption of fresh produce. Traditionally this is the time for greens such as spinach and mustard greens. In the west certainly April is the season for fresh asparagus. All these greens are beneficial to the Liver.

Another common issue for this time of year is the beginning of seasonal allergy symptoms. Nearly every day now in my clinic for the last week or so I hear people sneezing and blowing their noses. Right before the snow hit us this Monday morning, I started noticing the forsythias starting to bloom. This is the time of the year for basic formulas like Cang Er Zi San. Patients who are somewhat Qi deficient as well leading to being prone to allergies can try making Jade Screen Chicken at home.

 

Jade Screen Chicken – Yu Ping Ji 玉屏雞

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken (about 2 lbs.)
  • Huang Qi 60g
  • Bai Zhu 20g
  • Fang Feng 20g
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Rinse and clean chicken
  2. Take herbs and stuff inside, close chicken to retain herbs inside the cavity
  3. Place chicken in a slow cooker and cover with water, allow chicken to cook until done

This can take a long time to cook in a slow cooker, but I think it will yield the best results. I suggest this be set up overnight and put on the low temperature setting. By lunch the next day it should be done as cooking can take 8 hours or more. Other vegetables can be added to this soup as desired. Patients can both consume the meat as well as drink the resulting broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The recipe helps nourish Qi, secure the exterior and expel cold.

 

Herbal Formulas for Spring

Lately I’ve been spending time reading a text called the Zun Sheng Ba Jian (遵生八箋) – the Eight Treatises on Following the Principles of Life. Written by a scholar by the name of Gao Lian at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the text is an almost encyclopedic collection of all manner of Nourishing Life (養生) recipes, techniques, theories, etc… One section discusses seasonal health, and includes commonly used seasonal recipes that I will try to translate and include in some of my posts. Some of this information will also appear in upcoming online classes I have scheduled with eLotus.

So, to start us off, here’s a Spring formula…

 

Chrysanthemum Powder 菊花散

Ingredients: Ju Hua, Qian Hu, Xuan Fu Hua, Bai Shao, Xuan Shen, Fang Feng; each 30g

Instructions: Grind all ingredients to a fine powder. Take 6-9g of the powder as a dose, consumed with wine (i.e., alcohol). For those sensitive to alcohol take with thin congee, or hot water.

Comments: The original text says this formula is good for elderly people to use in Spring, and can treat wind and heat patterns in the upper body, neck pain, headache, swollen face, and red and irritated eyes. Sure sounds like allergy symptoms to me! In this formula the Ju Hua, Qian Hu, and Fang Feng treat the exterior. Xuan Fu Hua directs Qi downwards as well as assists in treating the exterior. The last two medicinals, Bai Shao and Xuan Shen, nourish the Yin and Blood, and Xuan Shen also assists in treating red and swollen eyes. So, give this formula a try when it seems appropriate.

Happy Spring everyone!

A Qin Bowei Case Study

Here's a case study I translated and wrote some comments on for an article in the JCM that was published a few years ago... I thought a case study would be a nice way to kick off the holiday weekend.

Qin Bo Wei was one of the premier Chinese physicians of the 20th century and played an instrumental role in bringing Chinese medicine into the modern era. He was however profoundly steeped in classical thinking, and utilized a wide variety of traditional formula preparation methods. In his own published case studies he records his use of medicinal syrups with many patients. Here is one of his cases translated from his text of case studies.

Patient: Lu (Female, age not recorded). In 1939 Ms. Lu saw Dr. Qin complaining of an inability to use her right arm, mental dullness, palpitations, headache, abdominal fullness and poor appetite. The initial presenting symptom that preceded everything was dizziness. Her body was full and round. Qin surmised that Liver yang was effulgent with the Kidney root having been depleted for a long time. Spleen qi was vacuous and weak, leading to phlegm-damp retention obstructing the network vessels. Thus the patient had counterflow yang transforming into wind-phlegm-damp obstructing the network vessels. Dr. Qin’s strategy was therefore to calm the Liver, strengthen the Spleen, transform phlegm and free the network vessels.

Formula: Ren Shen Shu (Ginseng Radix whiskers) [cooked separately then added to the syrup] 30g, Chao Bai Zhu (Dry-fried Atractylodis macrocephalae Rhizoma) 30g, Chao Dang Gui (Dry-fried Angelicae sinensis Radix) 60g, Jiu Chao Bai Shao (Wine-fried Paeoniae Radix alba) 45g, Zhi Shou Wu (Polygoni Radix Preparata) 90g, Duan Shi Jue Ming (Calcined Haliotidis Concha) 120g, Wei Tian Ma (Simmered Gastrodiae Rhizoma) 45g, Lu Dou Yi (Glycinis Testa) 45g, Xian Ban Xia (Pinelliae Rhizoma preparatum) 60g, Ting Ji Li [i.e. Sha Yuan Zi (Semen Astragali Complanati)] 90g, Bai Ji Li (Tribuli Terrestris Fructus) 90g, Qing Zhi Qi (clear fried Astragali Radix) 90g, Fu Shen (Poriae Sclerotium pararadicis) 120g, Yuan Zhi (Polygalae Radix preparata) 45g, Chao Suan Zao Ren (Dry-fried Ziziphi spinosae Semen) 90g, Long Chi (Dens Draconis) 150g, Guang Ju Hong (Guandong Citri reticulatae Exocarpium rubrum) 45g, Guang Ju Luo (Guandong Citri Fructus Fasciculus Vascularis) 45g, Bai Zi Ren (Platycladi Semen) 90g, Huo Ma Ren (Cannibis Semen) 90g, Chao Zhi Ke (Dry-fried Aurantii Fructus) 45g, Chao Su Zi (Dry-fried Fructus Perillae Frutescentis) 90g, Xing Ren (Armeniacae Semen [peeled]) 90g, Chuan Duan Rou [i.e. Xu Duan (Dipsaci Radix)] 90g, Sang Ji Sheng (Taxilli Herba) 90g, Fu Ze Xie [e.g. Fujian Ze Xie (Alismatis Rhizoma)] 90g, Gan Ge Pu (Pueraria thomsonii) 45g, Jiu Chao Nen Sang Zhi [Wine-fried tender Sang Zhi (Mori Ramulus)] 120g, Long Yan Rou (Longan Arillus) 120g and He Tao Rou (i.e. He Tao Ren, Juglandis Semen) 120g.

The cooking method was to decoct the above ingredients twice, then strain the liquid and add E Jiao (Asini Corii Colla) 120g, beef extract (Xia Tian Gao) 120g and sugar 180g. The formula was then made into a syrup.

Dr. Qin’s discussion: If the Liver is effulgent there must be yin depletion. If the Spleen is weak dampness will accumulate. Yin depletion leads to counterflow yang transforming into wind. Damp accumulation congeals into phlegm. In previous years during the transition from spring into summer, the patient would experience headache, palpitations and abdominal fullness. This year her presenting signs were inability to use her left arm, mental dullness and sluggishness, difficulty breathing due to copious phlegm and poor appetite. The pulse image was bowstring and slippery, and the tongue coating was white and greasy in the center and rear. The plan then was to calm the Liver and extinguish wind so as to regulate the San Jiao’s upwards and downwards mechanism. Also, treatment was aimed at fortifying the Spleen and transforming phlegm so as to smooth the circulation of qi in the channels and network vessels. Because of the significant root condition of the disease it is by no means easy to treat. So, in setting up a formula to treat the origin of this condition, a Gao Zi is used as a substitute for a decoction, and the plan is to treat the condition slowly, little by little.

Comment: The formula presented here encompasses several complementary treatment strategies to treat both ben (root) and biao (tip) of the patient’s condition. In his commentary, Qin notes the complexity of the case, acknowledging that it will be a long and difficult treatment, and as such opts for a Gao Zi as the method of administering herbs. Gao Zi are easy to use long-term, and milder than bulk decoctions, making them suitable for long-term treatment, especially when the root of the pathology is a significant and long-standing vacuity patterns.

Case taken from: Qin, BW (2003). Qin Bo Wei Yi Xue Ming Zhao Quan Shu. Beijing: Chinese Medicine Antiquarian Book Publishers

Free Online Classes

Our friends over at eLotus have a great selection of short free classes. I currently have 4 one-hour long classes available there. Check some out if you have the time (to see the classes click on the image below)! I hope everyone has a great Passover and/or Easter weekend coming up.

The All Pervading Unity

Some discussions have recently been popping up on Facebook that relate to the nature of teaching and the nature of being a student. These discussions made me think of the person usually held up to be the greatest teacher of Chinese history – Confucius.

One of the most important Confucian texts is a book called the Analects (論語), which is a record of short sayings from the Master (i.e., Confucius), or conversations between the Master and his students, or just between his students. These lines touch on all sorts of topics related to how to live life well, how to order society, and the very nature of learning, teaching and studying.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the Analects (Book 7, Line 8) related to the process of being a teacher and being a student

子曰:不憤不啟,不悱不發,舉一隅不以三隅反,則不復也。

James Legge's translation: "The Master said: I do not open up the truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help out any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have presented one corner of a subject to any one, and he cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat my lesson."

This is an important set of ideas related to both student and teacher. The student must be eager to learn. And, the student should be able to grasp the principle well enough that the teacher shouldn't have to explain every detail. No teacher can possibly impart everything they know. But if they impart the inner principle well enough, the student should be able to understand everything. The teacher then has to assume and welcome the student understanding and interpreting. The idea that the student should only follow blindly what the teacher says means both the teacher and student have failed.

Here’s another quote from the Analects, this time from Book 15, Line 3…

子曰:賜也,女以予為多學而識之者與? 對曰:然,非與? 曰:非也,予一以貫之。

"The Master said: Ci [i.e., Zi Gong]... Do you think that I study many different things and keep it all in my memory? Ci replied, of course, isn't that the case? Confucius replied, that is not the case at all. I seek an all pervading unity." (my translation)

Here Confucius is telling us that it isn’t the details he’s remembered. Again, he focuses on principle, what the Chinese call Li (理). The Li is inherent pattern in something. It is the logic, and the reason. Confucius ultimately taught principle, not details, because this is what the best teacher does. His students needed to learn the same, because that is the job of the student. The details are just examples that illustrate larger principles. The teacher who wants the students to just do what they do, and never think for themselves or never expand the model, are failures as teachers. The students who want to just follow what the teacher does, and never think for themselves, or never expand the model are failures as students.

The best teachers are the ones that require students actually understand. Not an easy thing to do, but the thing that is most worthwhile. At the same time they inspire the student to want to understand, and not just memorize details. When I read ancient texts such as the Neijing, I am humbled by the depth of understanding the old doctors had. But the humbling makes me want to understand more, and as deeply as possible, which is hopefully why we all read and we all continue to study!

Vernal Equinox 春分 Seasonal Node

This year the Vernal Equinox Seasonal Node starts today, Wednesday March 21. The actual Equinox as a solar phenomenon in Northern New Jersey was exactly at 12:15 EDT on Tuesday, March 20th. It seems odd to write about being in Spring considering the month we’ve had in the Northeast, and considering there is more snow falling today. I don’t remember a March with this many Nor’easters and snowfall, especially ones that felled trees and knocked out power for so many people. As I was practicing Qigong outside this past weekend I was struck by the contradictory feelings. The light is clearly brighter during the day, and the days are now longer (especially with Daylight Savings time putting sunset later on the clock). There are more buds on the plants starting to set, and the crocuses and other early Spring bulbs are popping out of the ground. Spring is here in many regards. Yet, there is significant snow on the ground still and mornings are very chilly, often below freezing.

In the Chinese calendar we are now in the middle of Spring, but in the western calendar we celebrate Vernal Equinox as the beginning of Spring. In Persia this day was traditionally revered as the beginning of the year (called Nowruz), and Rosicrucian mystics count Vernal Equinox as the New Year as well. When then according to the Chinese calendar is Vernal Equinox is the midpoint of Spring? Because we are now at the balance point of Yin and Yang. If the height of Yang is the longest day (Summer Solstice), and the height of Yin is the longest night (Winter Solstice), then the midpoints and thus points of balance are the Equinoxes. Even though the weather is still cold and there is snow on the ground, the gradual awakening of all life in nature is clear.

The three 5-day periods in this seasonal node are Swallows Arrive (xuan niao zhi 玄鳥至), Thunder Starts Resounding (lei nai fa sheng 雷乃發聲), and Beginning of Lightning (shi dian 始電). In Yijing (I Ching) theory the Thunder Trigram (Zhen Gua 震掛) is a Wood trigram, linking thunder and lightning, yang activities of the heavens, with Spring. Zhen Gua is composed of one solid yang line on the bottom, with 2 yin (broken) lines above. This is the image of yang emerging from underneath, continuing to grow up and out. Spring is exactly that time of year – the time when Yang of the natural world is slowly starting to push itself up and out of the Yin of Winter.

The main thing to focus on during this 15-day period is “Nourishing the Liver” (yang gan 養肝). One of the ways we nourish the Liver is to ensure normal Liver function. For example, this is the time of year to really ensure our patients' Qi is freely coursing (one of the main functions of Liver is to ensure normal coursing of Qi). Patients who tend to Liver stagnation can be encouraged to perform regular acupressure on the Four Gates 四關 (i.e., He Gu LI-4 and Tai Chong LR-3).

The second “to do” during this time is to “both Clear and Supplement.” This means that when the Liver is hot or hyperactive, clear and sedate. When it is vacuous (e.g., has Blood vacuity), then supplement. Since any pattern of disharmony in Liver will impair some of its major functions, when we see Liver patterns during this seasonal node they must be treated. That said, this year, at least here where I am located, the weather is still pretty chilly. As such we may have to protect the warm-Yang in the body at the same time we clear Liver or supplement the Yin-Blood. A beautiful example of this is harmonizing formulas such as Xiao Chai Hu Tang, or even Xiao Yao Wan. Both contain herbs that strengthen and supplement (e.g., Ren Shen, Bai Zhu) along side of herbs that course or clear Liver. We can also consider giving our vacuous patients pill-form warming and supplementing formulas along side of powders or decoctions that have a more Liver coursing or clearing function.

As mentioned already, the Vernal Equinox is the time of balanced Yin and Yang. It is appropriate at this time to also have balanced mind states. Thus, one of the “avoids” during the Vernal Equinox is extremes of the Seven Affects. Chapter two of the Su Wen says that Spring is the time to not be angry. We should try to relax, and not allow our emotions to run too far in any direction. The second thing to avoid during this seasonal node is overdoing “bedroom activity.” Since sex stirs the Yang to mobilize Jing-essence, to keep an overall balance in health we need to seek a balance in sex. As this time of year is a time of balance, too much sex may deplete the Yin-Jing. That said, no sex at all can lead to stagnation in the circulation of Qi and Blood.

 

Diet for Vernal Equinox

Diet for the Vernal equinox should mimic the balance that is present in nature at this time. In general, the continued use of mildly acrid foods such as ginger and scallions help ensures normal coursing of Liver qi. This is especially useful for patients with Liver depression patterns. Patients who tend more towards vacuity patterns, especially Liver blood insufficiency, can increase consumption of sour foods such as pickles or vinegar. This year since the weather is cold though, we should continue to eat slightly warming foods. However, it is best to avoid very greasy or cloying warm foods (such as an overconsumption of very fatty meats), or very salty meals. While salty and more greasy is ok in the cold of Winter, right now in Spring we need to be concerned with the normal and smooth movement of Qi and Blood in the body. The basic combination then is warming and acrid, such as the aforementioned ginger.

A simple tea most patients can consume during this time is rose bud tea. This tea is made by steeping Mei Gui Hua 玫瑰花 in hot water. Mei Gui Hua is warm and sweet and is found in the Qi regulating chapter of the Materia Medica. It courses Liver as well as gently quickens the blood. It is especially useful for our female patients who have menstrual irregularities due to Liver stagnation. In the Baijiquan 八極拳 system of Chinese marital arts, Mei Gui Hua tea is used as a general Qi and Blood moving tea for injury. For patients who suffer from more internal cold, Mei Gui Hua can be combined with Gui Zhi (cinnamon twig) or Sheng Jiang (fresh ginger).

One traditional dish for Vernal Equinox is Stir Fried Pig Kidney with Eucommia 杜仲豬花. Here’s the recipe:

 

Stir Fried Pig Kidney with Eucommia 杜仲豬花

Ingredients:

  • Organic pig kidney ¾ to 1 lb
  • Eucommia bark (Du Zhong 杜仲) 6-9g
  • 1 scallion, 1 piece of ginger (about the size of your thumb or a little larger), 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • Cooking oil, salt, soy sauce

Instructions:

  1. Cook Du Zhong in about 1 cup of water by bringing to a boil and then simmering until only about ½ cup of liquid is left
  2. Cut kidneys into thin slices and then score one side of each slice; peel and slice the ginger, slice the garlic, and slice the scallion
  3. In a pan, add a small amount of cooling oil, and start by cooking the garlic and ginger just until fragrant and / or the garlic is transparent. Add in the kidney slices and cook for several minutes. Then add a small amount of salt and soy sauce.
  4. Add in the Du Zhong liquid, and cook down in the pan with the kidney. Add scallions. Cook until kidneys are thoroughly cooked through.
  5. Optionally can add Gou Qi Zi (i.e., Goji berries) at end as well before liquid has cooked down, cooking until slightly plump.

This recipe supplements the Kidney, boosts essence, and nourishes the Liver blood. It is good for lower back pain, knee pain, declining visual acuity, or other symptoms of Liver and Kidney vacuity. Because it is warming it is especially useful this year!

Happy Equinox!!!

New Qigong Videos

I've been working to try to get some new videos up demonstrating the basic movements in the Qigong exercises for the 12 Channels that I teach here in NJ and at PCOM in New York. Here's the one for Kidney Channel that we filmed in the middle of the last Nor'easter we had. I'll try to continue posting more over time. These videos are just a basic review for those who have learned the forms in person. If you're local and would like to learn them, please go to our courses page here.

Taiji (T'ai Chi) Mythology versus History

Today’s blog post is going to be a little different in that the topic will focus more on martial arts than Chinese medicine, although a lot of the ideas may cross boundaries, as boundaries between these two are sometimes fuzzy. As many know I am an avid martial arts practitioner, and it was martial arts that led me into Chinese medicine. I started learning Okinawan Karate back in 1982. In 1993 I spent 6 months in Osaka, Japan where I trained Shorinji-ryu, and in 1995-1996 I lived in Okinawa, where I continued my martial arts training in Kobayashi-ryu. Over the last decade or so I’ve dedicated myself to the practice of Hunyuan Chen Taiji (T'ai Chi), especially after it was a major factor in saving me from a severe bout of Lyme disease.

 Sun Lutang in 1930

Sun Lutang in 1930

In this post I want to explore some of the mythology of Taiji’s origin, which ties into lore and history of Chinese martial arts in general. After reading some fantastic blog posts about the legendary Taiji master Sun Lutang, I went back to my bookshelf to read some of his writing again for myself. Here is a long quotation from the introduction to his text on Taiji that was originally published in 1921:

Qian and Kun are the original creative principles. The original qi (元氣) flows as stillness and movement exchange to gradually produce the Ten Thousand Things. Things take form in their post-heaven states. The pre-haven original qi becomes the intrinsic essence of the post-heaven manifestations that have shape. These manifestations all include the pre-heaven original qi. Therefore, human form and life is the result of the unification of both pre-heaven essence and post-heaven form. People naturally have wisdom and emotion, and a combination of both yin and yang. The pre-heaven original qi slowly dissipates as the post-heaven qi slowly increases. The result is a weakening of the yang and a strengthening of the yin. This is the state that allows the invasion of the six types of qi [i.e., the Six Evils of wind, cold, heat, damp, dryness and summerheat]. The weakening of the yang and strengthening of the yin also results in the disturbance of the seven emotions. In this state, the body grows weaker by day and the hundred illnesses invade. The ancients were concerned about this. They tried to consume medicines in the hopes of curing illness. They say in meditation in order to cultivate the heart. Unfortunately, they were not able to make use of methods that involved both stillness and motion simultaneously. In order to fill this need the martial arts were created. They sought to recover the insubstantial qi [虛靈之氣; i.e., the pre-heaven source/original qi].

 

Mythology versus History

The origins of Taiji have been attributed to Daoist immortals such as Zhang San Feng, or to the Daoists of Wu Dang Mountain. These theories are quite modern, dating back to only the 19th century, and have been debunked by more than one historian. Western scholars such as Douglas Wile have written extensively on the origins of Taiji and other internal martial arts, none of which contain reference to Daoist immortals or priests on cloud capped mountains. Furthermore, Taiji’s origins date only to less than 400 years ago at best, and it originated with a retired military officer. The statement from Sun Lutang above that martial arts were created by the ancients to explore the combination of stillness and motion is clearly then a myth.

It is true that some in China did practice martial arts as a type of self-cultivation going back to the Ming period, and this is well documented in places such as the Shaolin Temple (for those interested in this history Professor Shahar’s work is required reading). Yet, this use of the martial arts seems to be a minor trend until the 19th century when martial arts, including Taiji, took on other meanings as an exercise in culture, health, and national identity. Originally the martial arts’ primary purpose was self-defense, and they were taught in places such as the military for the preparation of soldiers. In this context weapons practice was much more important than empty hand work as during warfare being without a weapon on the battlefield was, to put it mildly, not a good situation to be in.

Most likely Sun was aware of most of these facts. He was no stranger to the practical aspects of martial arts, in his lifetime fighting in challenge matches. He was at one point in his life employed to teach martial arts in the Presidential Palace of early Republican China, and he held the rank of Lieutenant in the Nationalist military. Yet, Sun was also deeply steeped in Daoist religious theory and cultivation techniques, and did famously tell his students that if they really wanted to fight they should get a gun. So, while martial arts were something quite practical, Sun felt that they were based on deeper principles that let it be more than just the one thing (i.e., self-defense) that they were originally created for.

So, now we come back to Sun’s preface. As I already mentioned, it seems clear to me that this is a type of myth. To a big extent, I think mythology is something important to us as humans, and we can and should be comfortable living simultaneously with both myth and actual history (as much as we can know history as a collection of verifiable ‘facts’). What a myth does is exemplify the unfolding worldview of a people, in this case those who practiced martial arts in the last few centuries. While martial arts were originally for military preparedness training, or personal self-defense, at some point they evolved to be something different and bigger. It seems to me that what is important is not that the ancients used martial arts as a way to explore self-cultivation that involved stillness and motion, but rather that today martial arts can serve this purpose, depending on the practitioner and their own goals for training. Indeed the martial arts for me are a way I stay healthy, a treatment for my own disease, and fundamentally a way of life (when I was younger living in Japan I practiced full-contact Karate, but I’ve aged out of that type of purpose to my practice!). I think it is pretty great that something that was once used only for the purpose of violence is now big enough to contain a lot: self-defense (it still works for that), health promotion, marker of cultural identity and aspiration, and practice of self-discipline and cultivation.

For me, contemporary Chinese internal martial arts are an offshoot of Chinese longevity techniques, as at some point in the last few centuries they started incorporating practices that came from Daoist methods of Yang Sheng. While not something they contained from time immemorial, internal martial arts are now a type of physical culture that allows the practitioner to embody, in a very real and tangible way, the core theories on which Chinese medicine are built. The mythology we have created surrounding them tells us not what they originally were in an historical sense, but what they have become and what our own aspirations as practitioners have turned to.

But the best thing to do is actually practice. Click here to read more about our Taiji classes.

Awakening of Insects 驚蟄 Seasonal Node

Today, Monday March 5th is the start of the Awakening of Insects seasonal node (jing zhe 驚蟄), the third seasonal node of the year. This is the next segment of Spring, and as the name suggests it is the time when we start seeing the very initial stirring of life in the world outside. The three 5-day periods in this seasonal node are Peach Trees Begin to Blossom (tao shi hua 桃始華), Orioles Sing (cang geng ming 倉庚鳴), and Hawks Transform into Cuckcoos (ying hua weijiu 鷹化爲鳩).

Last week I returned from a teaching trip to Australia. It was great there – the weather was warm and I got a short taste of summer (as well as some sunburn from the beach!). I was a little scared of returning to the cold weather, and the end of last week here in NJ we had a Nor’easter with mixed cold precipitation including some snow and heavy winds. However, the day I returned home I noticed the crocuses starting to push out of the ground in spite of the lingering cold. This early sign of Spring was just on time.

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 can be cold as we have seen this past week. Continue to dress appropriately, especially since there is going to be a wide fluctuation in temperatures from day to day. As Yang qi continues to grow in the natural environment, this is also 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 food, 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. I had a nice bowl of ramen in Sydney last week with an old friend, and it was the first bowl of authentic Japanese noodles I’d had in a long time.

One traditional dish for Awakening of Insects is clear fried amaranth. Amaranth is called Xian Cai 莧菜 in Chinese, and in Chinese groceries it comes commonly in long bunches of beautiful dark green and purple leaves. Sometimes it is sold as “Chinese spinach.” Amaranth’s taste is mild. The basic preparation of the vegetable for this dish is to rinse clean (it often has a lot of grit), and then quick fry in an appropriate amount of cooking oil. Garlic or ginger can also be included for taste, and a small amount of salt and fresh ground pepper can be added at the end of cooking. In Chinese medical terms this dish clears heat and resolves toxins, disperses swelling and stops pain. People with spleen vacuity cold should be cautious with this recipe, unless a good amount of ginger is used in the cooking to counterbalance the cooling of the amaranth. If the weather is very cold still, I recommend that everyone use ginger or garlic in preparing the dish.

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. Practice this daily to help circulate Qi in the arms, and thereby encourage Qi circulation in the entire body.

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. 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 students and alums of that program), and every Thursday morning at the Wushu Kung Fu Fitness Center in East Hanover, NJ.

Next installment we reach the Vernal Equinox!

Henry

Rain Water 雨水 Seasonal Node

Today, Monday February 19th, is the beginning of the second seasonal node of the new-year and the new Spring – 雨水 Yu Shui, “Rain Water.” During Rain Water the expansion of Yang in the natural environment continues. And, true to the name, here in northern New Jersey the weather has been slightly warmer and somewhat rainy. In addition to the 24 Seasonal Nodes that we have been mentioning, each of the 24 periods can be further broken down into 3 five-day periods (making up the 72 Material Manifestations of the year). The 3 periods of Rain Water are “Otters Sacrifice Fish” (ta ji yu 獺祭魚), “Swan Geese Appear” (hong yan lai 鴻雁來), and “Vegetation Sprouts” (caomu mengdong 草木萌動). The swan goose is a rare large goose native to northern China. While we don’t have them here in the US, we do have other species of geese, and here in NJ we are seeing flocks of geese flying north again heralding the warmer Spring weather to come.

One of the statements in Chinese related to Rain Water says, “Yu shui lai lin shi qi zhong, dang xin pi wei shou shang hai” 雨水來臨濕氣重,當心脾胃受傷害 – “as Rain Water arrives damp qi is heavy, be careful not to damage the Spleen and Stomach.” When walking around outside, I’m struck by the shift in the feeling. The ground and air are both moist with the release of water that was trapped in frozen form and there is now significantly more dampness outside in nature. The point Xuan Shu DU-5 (懸樞穴) is located at L1, the vertebra associated with Rain Water. While this point treats the spine as a local or adjacent treatment, one of the other most important classical indications for Xuan Shu is undigested food in the stool. This vertebra and point thus treats manifestations of vacuity in the middle jiao, the very thing we need to be wary of this Seasonal Node; thus needling or moxa at this point is appropriate for this time of year

One of the basic “to do” recommendations for Rain Water. First is to supplement the Kidney and strengthen the Spleen. We do this because the weather is still chilly and can tax the Kidney as the viscera of cold and Winter. We need to protect the Spleen because of the increased dampness. The Spleen is also the viscera associated with seasonal transition, and even though we are in Spring we are in a period of weather transition. The point Xuan Shu DU-5 (懸樞穴) is located at L1, the vertebra associated with Rain Water. While this point treats the spine as a local or adjacent treatment, one of the other most important classical indications for Xuan Shu is undigested food in the stool. This vertebra and point thus treats manifestations of vacuity in the middle jiao as well as strengthening the Kidney because of its location on the Du Mai, the very things we need to be wary of this Seasonal Node. Thus needling or moxa at this point is appropriate for this time of year

Along these lines the basic “avoid” during Rain Water is “don’t rush to put away winter clothes.” The northeast US is starting to warm up. But, we are early enough in the year that we may see more cold, and the increased dampness in the environment makes the temperature feel a little chillier than it actually is. So, the recommendation to not rush to put away winter clothes is spot on. Even though we are enjoying warmer temperatures this weekend, and even though in the Chinese calendar we have passed the beginning of Spring, be cautious to protect yourself against the cold. Stay warm, and remember to use moxabustion as necessary on yourself and on your patients.

The second “to do” for Rain Water is eat congee! Honestly, is there a season when congee is bad? For those not in the know, congee is a type of rice porridge or soup (depending on how thickly you prepare it). And why eat congee now? Because it dovetails with the other recommendations for Rain Water. First, congee is warming and supplements the Spleen. Furthermore, congee is mildly damp draining so it protects the body against the increase in dampness in the environment. Congee is incredibly easy to make, and in China it is a common breakfast or brunch food. People of all levels of health can benefit from being taught to make and eat congee.

The base recipe for congee is to add 1 part rice to 6 to 10 parts water. For example, we can cook ½ cup rice in 5 cups of water. This is cooked until the rice basically starts falling apart so that the resulting product is creamy white. Depending on the type of rice you use, this can take anywhere form 45 minutes to 2 hours of cooking. What I do at home and what I recommend to patients is that they put all the ingredients into a slow cooker overnight on low heat, and by morning perfect congee is done.

Into this base congee just about any ingredient can be added. Herbs, vegetables, meats, other spices – its all possible. For patients with weak Spleens and damp accumulation, a basic congee starts with rice as described above. After that, add in several slices of fresh ginger, a handful of Yi Yi Ren 薏苡仁, and several Dang Shen 黨蔘 roots. Season with soy sauce to taste when finished. This basic Spleen-strengthening and damp-percolating dish can be eaten daily for breakfast.

During Rain Water, since it is a time period of early spring, we also need to stay warm and guard against Wind. Here is a basic tea recipe associated with Rain Water. Its function is to warm and resolve the exterior, strengthen the Spleen, and guard against Wind.

 

Five Sprits Tea (Wu Shen Tang 五神湯)

Ingredients:

  • Jing Jie 荊芥 9g
  • Zi Su Ye 紫蘇葉 9g
  • Sheng Jiang (i.e., fresh ginger root) 生薑 9g
  • Tealeaf (green or oolong) 6g
  • Brown sugar 30g

Directions:

  1. Place the herbs in a pot with 3 cups of cold water. Let soak for several minutes.
  2. Bring water and herbs to a rapid boil over a high flame. Then, reduce and simmer for 10 minutes uncovered.
  3. Strain out herbs and add in the tealeaf, letting the tea steep in the hot liquid for several minutes.
  4. Strain out the tea. Stir in brown sugar and drink warm throughout the day. Molasses or honey can be substituted for brown sugar (use to taste).
  5. Here’s another recipe, this time a soup…

 

Job’s Tear and Lily Pork Soup (Yi Mi Bai He Shou Rou Tang) 薏米百合瘦肉湯

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb. lean pork
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 oz. Job’s Tear barley 薏苡仁
  • 1 oz. Lily Bulb herb 百合
  • ¼ cup (or a little more) of corn (or about ½ ear fresh corn)
  • Ginger
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. Rinse Job’s Tear and Lily Bulb; place in a pan with about 4 cups of water and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat
  2. While cooking, prepare other ingredients by cutting up carrot and pork into bite-sized chunks; remove corn from cob if using fresh corn; peel and slice ginger (an appropriate amount to taste)
  3. Add carrot, pork and ginger to the soup (add a little more water if necessary); simmer on very low heat for about 2 hours; add salt to taste

This recipe removes phlegm, strengthens the Lungs, expels dampness and opens the Spleen. Moreover, this is a light soup that won’t create internal dampness or damage the digestive function. It is also not overly warming.

Happy February!

Happy Lunar New Year & Online Course Sale

Hi all! The eve of the new Lunar New Year is upon us. I hope this year was a happy, healthy and prosperous one for all. Personally I'm looking forward to the year of the Earth Dog, and will be glad that the upheaval of the last two Fire years are going to pass. 

Healthy Seminars (formerly ProD) is running a sale on online courses for the New Year which includes the course I did with them last year. The sale will run from today February 15 through next Friday February 23. For more information on the sale please click the image below!

Beginning of Spring 立春 Seasonal Node

Yes, I know… It’s still really cold outside, especially in my neck of the woods here in the US Northeast. In fact, as I look outside right now typing this snow flurries are falling. However, today, Sunday, February 4 is the start of the Beginning of Spring (Li Chun 立春) Seasonal Node for 2018 and thus the beginning of the new solar year! The Lunar New Year (known as Chun Jie 春節 in Chinese) will start later on February 16. The start of the Earth Dog year is actually today, not necessarily later on the Lunar New Year (although to be fair, opinions on this varies).

The Beginning of Spring means that the Yang influences are growing in the natural world. By this date we are only about 6 weeks away from the Vernal Equinox (Chun Fen 春分), one of the times of year where the Yang and Yin are balanced and we have more equal day and night. But even now, with some cooler weather lingering the days are getting longer and in northern New Jersey where I am, in the morning I am hearing some songbirds starting to return. The very first thing I noticed this morning on my way to Qigong and Taiji class was a flock of geese migrating back north. The increased activity in the natural world are also reflected in the names of the shorter 5 day segments (the 72 Material Manifestations of the year) that make up Beginning of Spring – Dong Feng Jie Dong 東風解凍 (The East Wind Liberates From Icy Shackles), Zhe Chong Shi Zhen 蟄蟲始振 (Hibernating Insects Begin to Stir), and Yu Shang Bing 魚上冰 (Fish Rise Up to the Ice).

Beginning of Spring is the time of year for new beginnings in general. It is also time to continue growing the ever-expanding Yang in our bodies so as to mimic the expanding Yang in the natural world. One of the basic health exercise recommendations for Beginning of Spring is to frequently comb the hair (or head if there is no hair). In Chinese, this is called Shu Fa 梳法, or “combing therapy.” Combing therapy has been around since at least the Sui dynasty, and is found in both Yang Sheng texts as well as Tuina manuals.

To apply Combing Therapy comb the hair (or scalp) daily, 100 times each sitting. This can be done either in the morning upon waking or in the evening before bed, and the traditional recommendation is to use a comb of either bone or wood. That said, simply combing with the fingers is even more effective since the fingers are living and contain Qi, which bone and wood do not. This is such a simple exercise that anyone can be taught to do it.

Combing has several functions. By stimulating the head we are stimulating the top of the body, meaning the most Yang area of the body. Since Spring is a time of Yang growth and expansion, stimulating the Yang area of the body is appropriate. Gently working the surface of the body also stimulates Wei Qi movement in the head and channels of the head. This in turn helps expel wind, and avoiding wind is one of the basic “avoids” for the Beginning of Spring. Furthermore, the scalp is a microsystem of the entire body, so stimulating the channels on the scalp mobilizes Qi and Blood in the entire body.

Spring is the time associated with the Wood phase and the Liver, the first of the two Yang viscera (with Heart being the other). A traditional saying for Beginning of Spring is “Li chun yang gan shun tian shi, qu chu ji bing bao jian kang” – “At the beginning of Spring nourishing the Liver means to following the timing of Heaven, expel and rid yourself of disease and protect your health.” Diet recommendations at the Beginning of Spring then are designed to help and nourish Liver.

As a general rule this is the time to consume foods that help maintain normal Liver function, especially the Yang of Liver. Since the Liver governs free coursing, eating mildly acrid and warm foods will accentuate and support this function. For example, appropriate foods this time of year include scallions, leeks, chives, cilantro, and garlic.  Here is another phrase for this time of year: “Duo chi jiu cai chao rou si, yang hu gan yang zhu sheng fa” – “Eat a lot of leeks and pork to nourish and protect the Liver yang and develop the nature of birth.”  In the Huang Di Nei Jing the Spring is associated with the term sheng 生 or “birth.” This is the same sheng as in, for example, Sheng Jiang 生薑 – fresh (or living) ginger. Here is a very simple recipe that utilizes leeks to warm and move the Liver yang.

Take 100g of leeks and 50g of very thin pork strips. Shred the leeks and then stir-fry with the pork in cooking oil, adding soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste. This recipe nourishes the Liver and protects the Yang.

Patients with chronic Liver fire should take care this seasonal node as Yang is on the rise everywhere. A traditional Beginning of Spring drink for these patients is Yin Chen Da Zao Tang. For this drink take 20g of Yin Chen Hao and 30g of Da Zao. Place in a pot with about 2 ½ cups water. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes. Separate into 2 doses and drink in the morning and evening. This formula benefits qi, generates fluids, and protects the Liver.

One more traditional dish for Beginning of Spring is Pork Bone Red Date Soup. Yes, even before bone broth became the latest health trend here in the US, it was considered an important food for health the world around. This dish can be taken daily; it builds blood, warms the interior without being too warming or drying, and can be taken both to prevent and treat colds.

 

Pork Bone Red Date Soup 豬骨紅棗湯

Ingredients:

  • Pork bone, about 3 lbs
  • Chinese dried red dates (Hong Zao, or Da Zao), about 6 pieces
  • Ginger
  • 1 Large scallion white
  • Salt

Instructions:

  1. Place washed pork bones into a slow cooker and add enough water to cover bones (about 2 quarts)
  2. Cut ginger and scallion into large pieces, place in slow cooker with bones; add dates as well to slow cooker
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours or more (the prep can be done in the evening and left to cook overnight)
  4. Drink broth daily

 

Other vegetables or ingredients can be added to this soup as desired. To read more about general Spring health care please click here. Over the next several weeks I’ll continue to discuss Spring recommendations, and sometime in March I’ll discuss a traditional Tibetan Spring fast.

Upcoming February Lectures

This is a reminder that at the end of February I'll be in Sydney talking about Tung's acupuncture for Internal Medicine and for Fertility and Reproductive Health. I'm looking forward to going somewhere warm for a week or so! Click here for more information on that class.

Also in February, eLotus will be airing two new classes which I think were really interesting. The first, on Saturday Feb 10, is Integrating the Classics with Tung's Acupuncture (click here to read more). In that class we will cover: core theory of Tung acupuncture, classic Five Shu Transport Points Theory, the relation of Tung’s points and the Five Shu points, Tung’s use of traditional acupuncture points, Dao Ma groups of traditional points, combining Tung’s points and traditional points in the same treatment, and guiding points for pain management and internal medicine.

The other eLotus class will be held Sunday Feb 11 on Tung's acupuncture for Internal Medicine conditions. Click here for more information on that class including class contents. 

Major Cold 大寒 Seasonal Node

It’s hard to believe, but we are already at the last Seasonal Node of Winter, and therefore the last Seasonal Node before the Chinese New Year – Major Cold. As the name suggests this node, at the end of January, is usually the coldest time of year in many places. While so far the beginning of January was a bit colder than it is now, it is hard to deny that in the US Northeast this has been a very, very cold month.

This year, in 2018, the exact date Major Cold started was January 20th (it usually falls on either January 20th or 21st). 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 some of the imagery of the impending Spring. In Five Phase theory the domestic animal associated with Spring is the chicken, and now during this node we see that hens are getting ready to become pregnant with baby chicks that will hatch in Spring. So, 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. After all, all the water is usually bound up in snow or ice, making the air, and as a result our skin, dry. Thus, 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, with diet the thing to emphasize during Major Cold is easy to digest 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, adding Epsom salts 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 Kidneys, and gentle stimulation of the low back can thus relax and warm the Kidneys. 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. When I visit 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. Repeat throughout the day when feeling cold or fatigued, or simply as desired.

Continue staying warm. I’ll blog more later around the time of the New Year!

 Stone carving on a wall at the White Cloud Temple 白雲觀 in Beijing

Stone carving on a wall at the White Cloud Temple 白雲觀 in Beijing

Minor Cold 小寒 Seasonal Node

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. And this year, true to these names, the weather in the Northeastern United States is right on target. While early 2017 had unseasonably warm January weather, 2018 is quite the opposite. Yesterday we experienced a punishing winter storm, and today the temperature high will only be 13˚F (-10˚C). Tomorrow the lows are predicted to dip down to -3˚F (-19˚C)! So, I hope everyone is having both a wonderful New Year and staying as warm as possible.

This year Minor Cold started on Friday 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 wanted to stop and go in reverse, first you’d have to hit the brakes. However, even 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 yin, before we can really move towards 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.

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.

Here is a traditional recipe for the Minor Cold seasonal node…

 

Black Chicken Soup with Carrot 胡蘿蔔烏雞湯

Ingredients:

  • 1 black chicken
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1-2 oz mushrooms (such as shiitake, or dried Chinese mushrooms)
  • 1-2oz water chestnuts
  • ½ oz black wood ear mushrooms
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. If using fresh water chestnuts first peel, wash, and cut into pieces; soak wood ear mushrooms until soft, and soak other mushrooms until soft (if using dried)

  2. Cut up chicken into large pieces (leaving bones in), and cut carrot to chunks
  3. Put all ingredients except water chestnuts in a medium pot and bring to boil, then simmer for about 1 hour
  4. Add in water chestnuts, bring to boil once more, then simmer again for about 20 minutes (alternately put all ingredients in a crock-pot and cook overnight)
  5. Add salt to taste

Black chickens are also called silkie fowl. They are small chickens about the size of Cornish game hens, but have dark black skin. They are mostly darker meat, and great in soups. They can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores. The black chickens are thought to be sweet and neutral, entering the Liver, Kidney and Spleen channels. They are particularly good at supplementing the Blood. Overall this soup supplements the Kidney and Liver, nourishes Blood, transforms stagnation and frees the network vessels. Carrots are also beneficial for the eyes and this soup is said to treat night blindness and other types of poor or declining vision. For colder patients, consider adding ginger while cooking the soup to increase its warming function.

I hope everyone is staying warm!

Henry

Happy New Year! 元旦快樂!

Please accept my heartfelt wishes to everyone for a very happy, health, and prosperous New Year 2018! Thanks also for everyone's support over the years and I hope that we will all stay in touch in the years to come. I've also found out that my new course on ProD was their #2 most popular course for 2017! Thanks to Lorne Brown for all the work he does for the Chinese Medicine community, and thanks to everyone who took my classes to make this all a possibility! These ProD course are also NOW ON SALE until Friday January 12 for 20% off with the coupon code CELEBRATE. 

Click here to go to the courses on Healthy Seminars (formerly PRoD and Medigogy).

Medicated Liquor for the Cold Winter Weather

There’s a folk saying in Chinese that I’ve known for a long time that says if after eating a meal you take 100 steps (i.e., go for a walk), you’ll live to 99 years of age. In Chinese it rhymes so it’s more fun to say – fàn hòu bǎi bù zǒu, huó dào jiǔ shí jiǔ (飯後百步走,活到九十九). Well, there’s another phrase that I hadn’t read until just recently that’s similar in the rhyme structure, and it is appropriate to the season right now – hán dōng hē bǔ jiǔ, néng huó jiǔ shí jiǔ (寒冬喝補酒,能活九十九). This one means, if in the deep cold of winter you drink a little supplementing wine, you’ll be able to live to 99. Hey, that rhymes in English a little too!

The second phrase relates to a method of ingesting herbal medicines that has traditionally been popular in China, and especially popular in the colder weather – medicated wines, or medicated liquors. The simplest method of making medicated wines is to soak herbs in distilled liquor, like vodka or brandy. I typically recommend using a liquor of at least 80-proof (i.e., 40% alcohol by volume). Anything much lower in strength, like beer or wine, will simply not be a good preservative as it will go bad in a short time, and hence the name ‘medicated wine’ is a bit misleading (酒 in Chinese simply means any sort of alcohol, including wine or liquor). Higher proof liquor can remain for long periods of time at room temperature without spoiling. Traditionally some medicated liquor recipes used lower proof rice wine, but then included adding large amounts of dates, or even white sugar to the mixture. This in effect increased fermentation and the resulting alcohol per volume. Today we have easy access to inexpensive distilled liquor, so when coming across recipes with added fruit or sugar, simply omit those and use a good quality, high-proof liquor instead.

Why are medicated liquors popular in winter? First, as already mentioned, alcohol is a preservative. Today we have access to just about any herb any time of year due to modern agriculture and shipping methods. In ancient times this was not the case, and some herbs would need to be preserved and stretched out between growing and harvesting seasons. Also, hard to get or wild-harvested herbs might not be commonly available, so making them last a long time was important. Using a medicated liquor allows us access to important herbs during the time when there isn’t any harvest going on (i.e., in winter). Another important reason is the general nature of liquor. Alcohol is warm, acrid and sweet, meaning that is has the ability to warm the interior, move Qi and Blood (warm and acrid natures), and gently supplement the body (warm and sweet natures). This combination is particularly appropriate to cold winter weather. That said, in excess, alcohol consumption can create damp heat, and it is certainly contraindicated in patients for other reasons and while on certain pharmaceuticals.

Here are some typical medicated liquor recipes…

Huang Jing Liquor (黃精酒)

Take about 20g of Huang Jing to every cup of alcohol and place in a glass container. Soak for about 2 weeks before using (longer soaking is better if possible). Take 1 shot per day in the evening as a dose. This formula supplements the Spleen, moistens the Lungs, and nourishes the Kidneys. It can be used to treat weakness of the Spleen and Stomach, general weakness of the body, Lung yin vacuity or dry cough, Kidney jing insufficiency, and pain of the back or lower extremities.

Assist the Yang and Benefit Longevity Liquor (助陽益壽酒)

Ingredients: Dang Shen 20g, Shu Di Huang 30g, Gou Qi Zi 20g, Sha Yuan Zi 15g, Yin Yang Huo 15g, Ding Xiang 9g, Yuan Zhi 10g, Chen Xiang 6g, 10 pieces of dried lychee or 10 red dates (optional if using vodka)

Add the above ingredients to 6-8 cups of vodka, let soak for 3 days. Then, place open the container and place all the ingredients in a pot and simmer on a very low flame (just to warm, not to boil) for 30 minutes. Then, after letting the mixture cool, reseal in the original bottle and let sit for 3 weeks. Then consume 1-2 shots per day. This formula supplements the Kidney, invigorates the Yang, benefits the Liver, nourishes essence, strengthens the Spleen and Stomach and increases overall longevity.

There are many, many different medicated liquor recipes out there and these are just some examples. For the average person these are appropriate recipes, but for people with certain disease patterns, clearly the formulas should match the appropriate presentation.

Stay warm, have some medicated liquor, and Happy New Year this coming weekend!