Healthy Seminars (formerly Pro-D) is having their big Thanksgiving and Black Friday sale. Click on the image to go directly to my course page with them (they have lots of other great courses as well that I will also be taking advantage of). Sale ends November 23.
I have to admit to being remiss last month in getting my seasonal blog posts out. For those of us here on the east coast the weather wasn’t very seasonal. This led in my opinion to all sorts of patients complaining of unusual upper respiratory infections, and a lot of phlegmy coughs (for non-locals, the weather here was very, very wet). I’m going to try to get back in the swing of things though, particularly because the weather seems to have finally caught up with the seasons. Last week, Wednesday November 7th was the beginning of Winter in the Chinese calendar, and tomorrow we are forecast to have the first snow of the season! Right on time!
The beginning of Winter is also the Beginning of Winter (立冬) seasonal node. While in the west we consider Winter Solstice to be the start of Winter, in Asia the seasons are calculated by the balance of Yin and Yang in the natural environment as evidenced by the relative balance of day and night. Since Winter Solstice is the darkest time of year, it is considered to be the zenith of Yin, and hence mid-winter. Therefore, the early part of November is the beginning of Winter, the time of year that is darkest and most Yin.
Chapter 2 of the Huang Di Nei Jing says Winter is the time of “closing and storage” (閉藏). It is the season of hibernation and represents the death phase. However, this should not be construed as a bad thing. We need to enter the phase of ultimate silence and stillness, in other words the death phase, so that Yang (and Yang is life) can be reborn again. The organ associated with the Winter is the Kidney, and the phase is Water. Keeping this in mind will help us understand the basic health recommendations of this seasonal node.
The three Material Manifestations that make up the Beginning of Winter Seasonal Node are Water Begins to Freeze (Shui Shi Bing 水始冰), Earth Begins to Harden (Di Shi Dong 地始凍), and Pheasants Dive into the Watery Abyss to Become Giant Clams (Zhi Ru Da Shui Wei Shen 雉入大水為蜃). All three contain striking Yin images, specifically images of water, of earth, and of moving deep to a hidden and quiet place. In general the main seasonal manifestation of Winter is cold, and Chinese medicine teaches that cold creates hardness and stagnation. Thus, as expressed in these names, both water and earth become hard and impenetrable.
The first suggestion for this seasonal node is to nourish and protect the Yang, or warmth of the body (養陽護陽). This is especially true for seniors, since as we age the body become less tolerant of temperature extremes. Be sure to dress appropriately for the cooler temperatures. Likewise, foods should be cooked or warmed when eating. This is not the time for copious amounts of raw vegetables, juices, or chilled foods and beverages. Soups and stews are winter foods! While in some seasons eating too many warming foods can trigger internal heat, this is less so in Winter. Why? For one, Winter is cold. Eating warming foods is necessary to counteract the exterior temperatures as they drop. Second, the natural Qi movement in Winter is inward and downward. As already mentioned, this is the time of “closing and storage.” Eating more warming foods in the Winter allows the body to secure and store that warm vitality, thereby strengthening the body for the seasons to come afterwards. So, eating more warming foods in Winter has fewer side effects than doing so in other seasons.
Another recommendation for Beginning of Winter is the consumption of tonics. These are Chinese herbal formulas, often in pill form, that have an overall strengthening effect on the body. The specific tonic should be determined based on individual need, but in general formulas such as Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan can be taken in small but regular doses.
Since Winter is the season of the Kidney, the third recommendation for Beginning of Winter is to safeguard the Kidney and the Jing-essence. According to Chinese medicine there are three things that really deplete the Kidney and the Jing: (1) excessive sex, (2) staying up late and getting too little sleep, and (3) losing one’s temper. Excessive sex is certainly something that varies greatly from person to person. The question to ask patients is does sexual activity leave one feeling refreshed, or tired and worn out. If the latter, then it may be excessive. Staying up late goes directly against the movement of Winter, which is the movement of hibernation; Su Wen chapter 2 tells us that in Winter we need to get to bed a little earlier and sleep a little later, waiting until well after sunrise to get out of bed (早臥晚起，必待日光). Lastly, losing temper or having a generally angry disposition harms the Kidney. In the 39th chapter of the Su Wen it says that anger causes the Qi to rise (怒則氣上). Since the movement of Kidney is a movement of downward storage, anger forcing the Qi to rise depletes Kidney (i.e., it is the opposite movement of Kidney) and impairs the storage of Qi that is the natural and essential movement of Winter.
Over the last week or so here in northern New Jersey we’ve been seeing a lot of simple colds and coughs. Allergies are still plaguing some as well. Winter is the time of year for these conditions, and in Chinese medicine this means that the exterior layers of the body, namely the Taiyang channel, is being challenged. A great basic acupressure to teach patients to help both expel and protect against wind evils is stimulation of Feng Chi GB-20. Massaging this point on a daily basis can help ward off colds and relax stiffness of the next and back that is a main characteristic of Taiyang patterns. If there is concurrent nasal congestions, they can also include acupressure on Ying Xiang LI-20. For this, have them hold Feng Chi on one side of the head while simultaneously pressing into Ying Xiang on the other (for example, their right hand presses right Feng Chi, while the left hand presses left Ying Xiang). Hold until there is a sensation of clearing in the sinuses, and then switch sides.
Diet for Beginning of Winter
The basic idea for Beginning of Winter diet is to focus on foods that are nourishing and supplementing agents. In general then we want to focus on foods that are warming and nourishing, usually meaning more animal products. We can incorporate foods that are slightly oilier, while still consuming in season fruits and vegetables while they last (we are in the very tail end of apple season here in New Jersey). Foods to incorporate more regularly include lamb, beef, chicken, sparrow, soybeans, sesame, wood ear mushrooms, peanuts, sweet potato, and persimmon (fresh or dried). Warming spices to use include ginger or cinnamon. And patients who are dry or have Yin insufficiency can take either cow or goat milk
However, China is a land of multiple culinary traditions and thus seasonal eating recommendations vary from place to place. In the north of China people eat dumplings (jiaozi 餃子), especially those made of lamb and scallion (we’ll discuss a dumpling legend below). In the west of China where it is particularly cold people commonly eat more beef and lamb often in hot pots. In the areas of the high plateaus and mountains the weather is very dry and as such more fruits and vegetables that are still in season are consumed. In the south of China, where it is still relatively more warm even though it is Winter, duck, chicken and various types of fish are traditionally eaten now (i.e., foods that are supplementing but not overly warming).
One simple traditional recipe for Beginning of Winter is Ginseng Congee. To make this simply put 1 cup of rice in with about 8-10 cups water (increase or decrease based on how watery you like your congee), and 9-12g of high quality sliced and dried ginseng root. Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 40 minutes, or until the rice starts to break up to make a porridge like soup. Another idea that is easy to implement is adding Gou Qi Zi (Goji berries; 枸杞子) to a favorite chicken soup recipe. Doing so focuses the recipe on building the blood, and strengthening the Liver and Kidney.
Zhang Zhong Jing and the legend of dumplings…
Did you know that one of our most famous historical doctors, Zhang Zhong Jing, was not only a master of herbal medicine but also a culinary innovator? According to popular Chinese legend, Zhang was the inventor of the dumpling – jiao zi (餃子). Zhang held a mid-level government position in Changsha. The year he retired from political life he did so around the Beginning of Winter seasonal node. On his travels back to his hometown he came across many people who had suffered frostbite, and as a result had lost parts of their ears. This touched Zhang deeply as he felt sorrow for the suffering of those poor folk.
Once home he found his hometown suffering from an infectious epidemic. The people were starving from lack of food, and also suffering from frostbite. To remedy this he had his assistants set up a large pot on a public square to cook up a remedy. The formula he decided on was a combination of mutton with a number of very warm cold expelling herbs known as Qu Han Jiao Er Tang (去寒嬌耳湯) – Delicate Ears Expelling the Cold Decoction. After cooking the meat was chopped up and wrapped in small wheat flour skins in the shape of ears, and then cooked more and served to the people together with some of the soup. And thus the dumpling was born, as well as the tradition of eating them around the Beginning of Winter!
Today was one of the first days it honestly felt like Autumn here. The high temperature of the day was no more than the high 60s, and dry leaves are starting to accumulate at the curbs in front of my neighbors’ lawns. This is appropriate since Autumn Equinox is here! This is the day midway between the solstices, and being the midway point, the equinoxes are the times of even balance between Yin and Yang. Furthermore, Sunday September 23 begins the next 2-week long seasonal node, also called Autumn Equinox. In the Chinese calendar we are in the eighth lunar month and the time related to the Kidney channel. The smaller 5-day segments of this seasonal node are called Thunder Begins to Retract its Sound (Lei Shi Shou Sheng雷始收聲), Hibernating Insects Reinforce their Shelters (Zhi Chong Pei Hu蟄蟲培戶), and Water Begins to Dry Up (Shui Shi He水始涸). The names of these 5-day segments of time all point to a similar phenomenon – this is the time of year when the Yin-contracting movement of nature is in full gear in preparing for Winter’s slumber.
During this time of year the Nei Jing suggests that we “nourish the Yin” (春夏養陽，秋冬養陰) by conforming with the Yin-contracting nature of Autumn. In practical terms one meaning is that we should start getting more sleep. As the days grow shorter so should there be less activity. Thus, the Nei Jing says that we can still wake at the cock’s crowing, but we should be in bed earlier.
During this seasonal node one traditional recommendation is to guard the Lungs, and in particular the Lung Yin. Autumn is the season associated with the Metal Phase and therefore the Lung. Furthermore, Autumn is associated with environmental dryness so protecting the Yin fluids of the Lung is important. Some of the foods that protect the Lung Yin are milk, peaches, pears, apples, soymilk, glutinous rice, sesame seeds, and honey. Those who are adventurous can cook rice congee using white wood ear mushrooms.
Another method for helping the Lungs is acupressure at Chi Ze LU-5 (尺澤穴). This point regulates Lung function and treats conditions such as cough, wheezing, asthma, the common cold and seasonal allergies. It is also the Water point on the Lung channel meaning that it is appropriate for both the season (Autumn relates to the Lung) and the Lunar Month (the eighth Lunar Month relates to the Kidney channel, which is the Water phase).
In addition to environmental dryness, this time of year sees temperatures dropping. Therefore, while we focus on protecting the Lung we should also be cautious about cold exposure. People who are cold and fatigued in general should focus on warming and supplementing the body this time of year. Wearing adequate clothing is an important part of this strategy. Additionally certain warming and supplementing Chinese herbs can be consumed as functional foods. For example, one traditional recipe for the Autumn Equinox Seasonal Node is Angelica and Codonopsis Lamb Soup. To make this, take 1lb organic lamb meat and cook in an appropriate amount of water with 10g Chinese Angelica (Dang Gui 當歸), 10g Codonopsis (Dang Shen 黨參), 30g Angelica Dahurica (Huang Qi 黃耆), 10g fresh ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. Other in season vegetables can also be added as desired. This recipe warms the Kidneys, supplements the Yang, quickens Blood and moves Qi.
A great tea for general use appropriate to this time of year is Chrysanthemum with Honey (菊花蜂蜜茶). To make, take about 1 tablespoon of dried chrysanthemum (the kind sold as a Chinese herb). Steep in boiled water for 3-5 min and then stir in some honey to taste. This tea can treat seasonal allergies such as dry, itchy eyes or headache. This recipe nourishes the Liver, brightens the eyes, moistens the Lung and awakens the brain.
As the weather gets colder and we move to the dark time, this is the time to start preventive moxa treatment for the Winter. This is especially important for patients who are cold and vacuous. Starting some weekly moxa at Zu San Li ST-36 (足三里穴) will go a long way to keeping vitality strong the in months to come. An alternate is to apply moxa to Huo Fu Hai 33.07 (火腑海) on a regular basis.
Qigong and the Seasons
When people think of Qigong practice, or Taiji practice for that matter, there is the image of Chinese practitioners up very early in the morning in parks going through their routines. Early morning is a traditional time for practice, but not the only best time. Generally speaking, practices such as Qigong are best practiced at four possible times of day: 5-7am, 11am-1pm, 5-7pm, and 11pm-1am (all adjusted for Daylight Savings Time).
Why these times?
These four times of the day are like the four cardinal directions. The hours around high noon and midnight both respectively are the most Yang and Yin times of the day. The 5-7 hours (either am or pm) are then the midpoints of the day when the movement of Yin and Yang is most balanced. Practicing during these times allows us to ride the movement of Yin and Yang to make our Qigong practice all the more effective.
These times are also representative of different times of the year. Noon corresponds to the Summer Solstice, Midnight corresponds to the Winter Solstice, 5-7am corresponds to the Vernal Equinox, and 5-7pm corresponds to the Autumnal Equinox. As the name suggests, the Equinoxes are the most balanced times of the year in terms of Yin and Yang. As such, on these days practicing Qigong with the effort of creating internal balance is very appropriate. In the system of Qigong I practice one of the fundamental exercises is the collecting the Qi patterns (採氣功). Around the Equinox we can all practice equal numbers of repetitions for all three of these exercises to balance the body overall.
So, I hope everyone is having a very peaceful and balanced Equinox! If you are local and would like to join us for Qigong practice, click here for more information.
By all accounts, this August was an uncomfortable one here in Northern New Jersey. It was fairly wet and rainy, and it was hot. All combined together, the humidity was oppressive, and all the moisture means mosquitoes everywhere! However, just on time, last night a high pressure system from Canada moved down into the northeastern US and the temperatures dipped into the low 60s overnight. Cooler and drier weather made sleeping much nicer, and it looks like the trend of cooler evenings will continue for at least a little longer. The reason I say this happened just on time is that today is the start of the first Seasonal Node after the beginning of Autumn – Chu Shu 處暑, ‘End of Heat’.
Autumn is the time of year when Yin grows. All things are moving towards the hibernation phase and many plants are being readied for harvest. The names of the smaller 5-day periods of this seasonal node are quite interesting and illustrative of what Autumn represents. The first is called Ying Nai Ji Niao 鷹乃祭鳥, Hawks Start to Sacrifice Birds. This time of year starts the slow march towards the death phase of nature, and many plants and animals with short life spans won’t make it to next Spring. The image of hawks harvesting or killing smaller birds then fits perfectly with this image. The next two 5-day time periods are Tian Di Shi Su 天地始肅， Heaven and Earth Become Austere, and He Nai Deng 禾乃登, Rice Plants Are Harvested and Presented as Offering. Just as this is the time of year for bringing things to harvest, it is also the time for us to start becoming quieter and more introspective, for us to take stock of what, out of the myriad things in our lives, is really important (i.e., we become austere like heaven and earth).
In more tangible respects there are things to keep in mind to maintain health this time of year. The first traditional recommendation for Chu Shu is Ben Franklin’s favorite – ‘early to bed, early to rise’ (zao shui zao qi 早睡早起). When Yin predominates in the natural environment we can mimic that in our own body by getting more sleep. In the summer it is permissible to stay up later and still wake up early. In the Yang time of year less sleep is just fine. However, now that Autumn (a Yin season) is upon us, we need to get a little more rest. My general recommendation to patients is to get into bed a bit earlier, preferably before 11pm or midnight. Here’s a little quiz for other Chinese medicine providers – why is it important to get to bed before this hour? (Hint – it isn’t because of the Liver hour just afterwards)
The weather pattern associated with Autumn is dryness and thus another caution during Autumn is not becoming too dry (although right now as I write this in NJ that seems like an unlikely scenario). One way we do this is through diet; now is the time to focus on shao xin, zeng suan 少辛增酸 – ‘less spicy, more sour’. Spicy flavors have a mild drying quality as well as a sweat promoting quality, both of which dry the body. To the contrary, sour foods are gently moistening and hold in sweat. Increasing the amount of foods such as vinegar, pickled vegetables, and fruits such as plums is appropriate to the season. Other moistening foods include milk, soymilk, and fruit juices (especially apple or pear). This recommendation should be taken less seriously for those with very damp constitutions or presentations.
One traditional recipe for this season is Pear and White Wood Ear Soup. This dish is just simply delicious, and it is effective for supplementing the Lungs, nourishing fluids, and moistening dryness (without being so cloying as to create dampness).
Pear and White Wood Ear Soup 雪梨銀耳湯
- 1 large Asian pear 雪梨
- 2 dried white wood ear mushrooms 銀耳
- 1 small fresh edible lily bulb 百合
- About ½ cup white or rock sugar
- Soak wood ear for about 30 minutes, until softened
- Rip wood ears into bite sized pieces, peel and cut pear into medium bite sized chunks, and separate out lily bulb into individual corms
- In a pot, put about 6 cups of water together with all ingredients; bring to boil and simmer for 30minutes to 2 hours on a very low heat
For those who like wood ears crisper, go for the shorter simmer time. For those who like things softer and more gelatinous, cook longer. My suggestion is to take small tastes along the way. This soup can be served warm or chilled (depending on preference and outside temperature).
The last recommendation I’ll offer is for those patients who continue to experience symptoms of damp, heat, or the combination thereof in the form of summerheat. A traditional channel based recommendation for Chu Shu is regular acupressure on Cheng Shan BL-57. This point helps expel damp and clear heat, and treats many symptoms of lingering summerheat such as headache, body aches, heavy limbs, or diarrhea. Notice that this area of the leg is one of thick flesh, and remember that the seventh chapter of the Ling Shu describes a needling method based on the five tissues and their relationships to the five viscera. One of the passages from that chapter reads:
The fourth is called united valleys piercing. United valleys piercing is to pierce left then right from the same hole, like a chicken's foot. Pierce to the division between the flesh. This treats flesh block (bi). It is in resonance with the Spleen.
Here we see that needling into fleshy areas of the body treats problems of the flesh as well as treats problems of the Spleen. As dampness is the disease evil of the Earth phase (and thus the Spleen), this needling technique also has resonance with its treatment. For example, over the last few weeks, patients in my office have been complaining of aching and heaviness in the joints, especially of the knees, hips and in general lower extremities. This is because dampness, as a Yin disease evil, commonly moves down in the body. One of the points I’ve been using over and over again to work with this is Jian Zhong 44.06. The point, located on the shoulder, is in a fleshy area of the body just like Cheng Shan BL-57 is. Likewise, it treats damp accumulation of the joints and extremities. Other points in the shoulder area, such as Bei Mian 44.07, are specifically indicated for digestive problems such as abdominal distension, vomiting or enteritis. This is because, like Jian Zhong 44.06 and Cheng Shan BL-57, Bei Mian is in an area of thick flesh and thus treats problems of the Spleen. This time of year as we are still experiencing summerheat and dampness, these types of points can be frequently used.
Today is the first day of the seventh lunar month. In the traditional Daoist calendar this is the day that Yama, the King of Hell, opens the gates of hell to allow all the spirits of the deceased to wander the earth – basically a one-month vacation for ghosts. This happens until the gates are once again closed at the end of the lunar month. The culmination of the month is the 15th lunar day (this year August 25), which is known as Zhong Yuan Jie (中元節).
Throughout this month there are many taboos that Chinese culture observes. These include not allowing the elderly, the very young or generally physically weak people to do various activities outside at night. This is the time of day when ghosts are most active! Qigong should also not be practiced outside late at night during this time.
Whether or not we believe that this month is the time of ghosts, what this custom perhaps does is remind us of how the natural balance of Yin and Yang is shifting in a very real way this time of year. A few days ago I posted a blog about the beginning of Autumn. Even though days are still hot in August, it is true that we are in the beginning of the Yin portion of the year. After the Summer Solstice the days start to slowly get shorter. By August here in northern New Jersey plant growth is mostly over. Even the grass is growing more slowly than before. In the environment we are seeing a significant increase in dampness and humidity – water being a Yin substance. Now, one of the main pathological environmental factors our patients face is dampness, or summerheat-dampness (a combination of pathogenic Yin and Yang together).
When I look at customs like the ghost month, I see other interesting health recommendations. For example, I usually practice Qigong in the evening, but I am certainly not practicing outside at night this month (my kitchen is my usual practice spot these days). Ghosts or not, there are so many mosquitoes and insects outside that there’s no way I can practice Zhan Zhuang (standing post) outside! These types of insects, as vectors for disease, can cause serious problems in people who might be more vulnerable – such as the elderly, the young, or the sick. This week New Jersey had its first confirmed case of West Nile virus, a disease spread by mosquitoes. While most health people are fine when bitten by ticks or mosquitoes, people who are weaker, or those with some sort of compromised immune function are at greater danger. Interestingly, modern research has shown that some traditional taboos during ghost month actually lower mortality rate for the month (click here for some research).
Other health recommendations this time of year also focus on counteracting the growing Yin. In some parts of China around the time of Summer Solstice there is the custom of hanging herbs such as Ai Ye and Shi Chang Pu above doors. Both Ai Ye and Shi Chang Pu are aromatic, and the aromatic nature is Yang that can disperse Yin influences as well as ward off insects. Some people will also put powdered Xiong Huang (realgar) at the bottoms of doors to keep bugs out of the house (realgar is a very toxic medicinal).
In terms of internal herbal medicine, this is the time of year when a lot of patients benefit from formulas such as Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Tang. This formula contains aromatic and Qi moving medicinals such as Huo Xiang, Hou Po, Chen Pi and Bai Zhi to transform damp. It also includes medicinals that likewise strengthen the Spleen so as to allow for normal movement and transformation (the Yang functions of the Spleen). This idea of expelling the Yin and supporting the Yang is the same principle underlying the use of San Fu moxa (see previous blog posts).
So, please be careful out there and avoid the Yin, ghosts or not. But, just to be sure, I for one will be burning some joss paper outside later today to appease some ghosts!
I’m just getting back from a great two weeks in China with my Shifu, Wang Fengming, and this was the first time I took my son Henry along with me to train Taiji there. As we were taking the bullet train from Beijing down to Hangzhou I was reminded about last year’s train ride. I wrote about it in this blog at the time, but since it was so interesting I decided to repeat the material here again this year.
During that trip last July I sat next to a lovely older Chinese woman who, when she realized I spoke Chinese and was a professional doctor of Chinese medicine, was rather chatty. As she was from Fujian, her Putonghua (standard Chinese) was about as good as mine, so we were on pretty even footing there. We talked a lot about Chinese culture and health, which is a topic a lot of Chinese people really like to talk about. The reason I bring this up is because she had a personal Seasonal Node practice she was happy to share with me. It turns out when her son was younger he had some sort of chronic health problem (I think it might have been asthma). She took him to see a famous old Chinese doctor (老中醫), a term they use to describe a physician with many years of experience, who in addition to treating her child gave her a Seasonal Node regimen to follow.
What the old doctor told her to do was to take a chicken, and stew it with ginseng to make soup. This would be eaten on the beginning day of every Seasonal Node without fail, not being off by even one day. The recipe can be varied based on the individual characteristic of the person. For example, some people might not tolerate red ginseng and can substitute American ginseng. Blood vacuity patients can use Dang Gui instead. If people are particularly healthy already then just plain chicken soup is fine. But the important thing is without fail to do this the first day of each Node, for a minimum of three years (this is similar to the San Fu moxa being done over three years – a therapy the Chinese woman was also familiar with). She said she had followed this regimen now for several decades and hasn’t had a cold or other respiratory tract infection since she started. I thought this was a great tip to pass on to everyone.
Now, on to the current Seasonal Node… In the traditional Chinese calendar August is the beginning of Autumn, and this year Tuesday, August 7th, marked the beginning of the new season. Although in the western world Autumn is a summer month, the Chinese calendar is concerned with the relative balance of Yin and Yang in the natural environment, which is closely tied to day length. Summer Solstice in June was the longest day of the year. By now the days are getting gradually shorter, and we are only 6 weeks away from the Autumnal Equinox, a day of balanced light and dark. Even though August weather can still be hot we are in the time of Yin and contraction in the natural environment.
While the weather is beginning to shift to Yin, August can still be damp and humid. This week here in Northern NJ that is certainly the case! In Chinese medicine, weakness in the Spleen and Stomach leads to damp accumulation. In early Autumn we therefore should avoid dampness and simultaneously strengthen the digestive organs. One way to accomplish this is to eat light and clear foods, increase the amount of seasonal vegetables, and eat a little less meat. Vegetables can be consumed lightly steamed or stir-fried, or in the case of light salad greens, raw. In general avoid overly hot, spicy foods. Congees are appropriate to help strengthen the digestive organs and one traditional congee recipe for this seasonal node is Euryale Seed and Discorea Congee (Qian Shi Shan Yao Zhou 芡實山藥粥).
Euryale Seed and Discorea Congee (Qian Shi Shan Yao Zhou) 芡實山藥粥
1 cup rice (use glutinous rice if available)
- 200g Euryale seed (Qian Shi )
- 200g Discorea (Shan Yao )
- 200 g sugar
- Grind rice, Euryale seed, and Discorea to a powder. Mix the three together with sugar and blend well so evenly mixed
- In a pan, add 50 – 100g of blended powder to cold water, enough to make a thick soupy consistency
- Put over medium flame and warm for several minutes, stirring occasionally
- Enjoy in the morning on an empty stomach (consume warm)
This congee strengthens the Spleen, stops diarrhea. However it is contraindicated for patients with diarrhea due to infections, or with damp heat type diarrhea.
In addition to dietary recommendations we can perform acupressure on supplementing points such as Zu San Li (ST-36). If patients tend to cold and vacuous patterns of the Spleen and Stomach, gentle direct thread moxa at Zu San Li is also applicable. In terms of Tung’s acupuncture we can needle the Zu San Tong (足三通) Dao Ma group, consisting of Tong Guan 88.01, Tong Shan 88.02 and Tong Tian 88.03. These points are the main Dao Ma group for Heart, but really they function like Pericardium channel points, which is why they are indicated for Spleen and Stomach problems. Furthermore in terms of Five Phase theory, supplementing Heart will strengthen Spleen because of the engendering cycle relationship between Fire and Earth.
Autumn is the season associated with the Lungs, and thus even though we should avoid very spicy foods, mildly acrid foods are good this time of year for Lung function. These foods include ginger, scallion, leek, and black pepper. Mildly sweet and slightly sour fruits also help moisten and benefit the Lungs, including the now in-season stone fruits (i.e., plums and peaches). This recommendation however should be based on individual patient characteristics. For example, if patients have Spleen vacuity with dampness they should avoid overly sour foods.
In August we need to be cautious of sudden return of very hot and humid weather, the very weather pattern happening this week in New Jersey. In Chinese this is called “The Old Tiger of Autumn” (Qiu Lao Hu 秋老虎), and is similar to what in the west we would call an Indian Summer. When the old tiger rears its head again Summerheat pathogens are a risk – symptoms of this include headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, poor appetite, stuffy chest, heavy or fatigued limbs, and possibly diarrhea. If intense hot and damp weather returns, focus the diet on foods that are cooling and moistening. Foods to consider adding on a daily basis include all sorts of sprouts (e.g., mung bean or alfalfa), cucumbers, muskmelon, winter melon, tomato, and loofah. Mung beans are very cooling, and in hot weather they can be made into a sweet dessert soup. For more serious conditions consider giving patients formulas such as Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San.
Here’s 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… One of the formulas specifically for Autumn is called Conserve the Spleen Pill (攝脾丸). It treats damage to the Spleen that happens during the Autumn months that leads to abdominal bloating and diarrhea. The ingredients listed are Mu Xiang, He Zi, Hou Po (ginger fried), Wu Bei Zi (slightly toasted), and Bai Zhu (earth fried). These ingredients would be ground to a powder and made into pills the size of a Tung Tree seed, and 10 pills would be a daily dose.
I hope everyone is having a great end of Summer and start of Autumn!
I'm in Hangzhou, China as I write this with my Taiji and Neigong Shifu Wang Fengming. Before coming I was in Beijing for a few days, and when I'm there I usually like to visit the White Cloud Temple (白雲觀), the modern headquarters of Quanzhen Daoism and the Chinese Daoist Association. Unlike many of the other sights in Beijing, including most large Buddhist temples, the White Cloud Temple is usually an oasis of quiet in Beijing's sea of people.
At the temple there is one shrine devoted to medicine, where Zhang Zhong Jing, Sun Si Miao, and Hua Tuo are venerated in deity form and worshiped. Here is a photo of my son Henry outside of that small temple.
In the back area of the temple along one wall (the first time I went to the temple about 10 years ago I actually couldn't find it) are two stone steles that depict the inner landscape of Daoist cultivation. One, the Neijing Tu (Diagram of the Internal Pathways), is perhaps one of the most famous diagrams of Daoist Inner Alchemy. I first saw a rendition of it back in 1996 when I started my practice of Daoist meditation, and I also have a rubbing of the stele hanging in my office in NJ. The stele was carved back in 1886 and then installed at the current location in 1890.
And this last photo is one I really like. I took a few minutes this trip to really inspect the carving up close (you can walk right up to it in the temple and even touch it). This is a close up photo of the artist's representation of the Dan Tian in the stylized lower abdomen. The Chinese characters here read "True Dan Tian" (zheng dan tian 正丹田).
This coming fall I've decided to teach an ongoing course on Tung's acupuncture in New York City. Unlike most Tung classes, this one will be a weekly meeting to allow people to better absorb the material over time, rather than trying to get a lot of hours in a single weekend. So, this fall we will cover 30 hours total of training in the fundamentals of the Tung system over a period of 10 weeks. Class is filling up fast though, and there are only 2 or 3 more seats left. If you are interested, please let me know as soon as possible by contacting us through this website.
I am currently away in China training with my Shifu Wang Fengming. Since I know I won’t have time to write a new post for this seasonal node I’m simply reposting the same one from last year (with appropriate dates changed for 2018)…
For me, the days of summer seem to fly by very quickly (winter days don’t seem to suffer from this same phenomenon). As I looked out my back door this morning, I saw our cucumbers and bitter melons fruiting. All the lettuces are now done, and while plants are still green and full, they have reached their maximum growth. In stark contrast, just several weeks ago they seemed to be getting bigger and bigger even by the hour! This is characteristic of the Yin-Yang balance of the season. We are past summer solstice, the zenith of Yang and expansion in the natural world. In the Chinese calendar Autumn is little more than 2 weeks away, not because of temperature, but rather because of day length. The Chinese medical classics describe the movement of Summer as ‘zhang’ 長 – growth, increase, enhancement. The movement of Autumn is ‘shou’ 收 – collect, harvest, put away, take in. Now growth has slowed and the harvest is not long away, and indeed we are in the transition away from ‘zhang’ moving towards ‘shou.’
This year, today, Monday July 23, starts the last node of Summer in the Chinese calendar – Great Heat (Da Shu 大暑). The first word of the name “Great,” gives us the idea that this is the hottest time of the year. In some parts of the world it can also be one of the dampest times of year. As we’ve discussed before, each of the 24 seasonal nodes (jie qi 節氣) can be further broken down into 3 five-day periods of time, known as the 72 Material Manifestations (wu hou 物候). The 3 periods within Great Heat are Decaying Grass Transforms into Fireflies (fucao hua wei ying 腐草化為螢), The Earth Lies Wet Beneath Sweltering Heat (tu run ru shu 土潤溽暑), and Heavy Rains Fall Intermittently (da yu shi ying 大雨時行). In these rather poetic names we see the images of plant life coming to an end of growth (in particular, delicate plants such as grasses, or, in my garden, lettuces), and we also see references to the combination of both dampness and heat in nature. This year here in northern New Jersey we are right on schedule with this general prediction.
The health maintenance guidelines for Great Heat are to focus on clearing heat, boosting qi, and treating winter diseases ahead of time (冬病夏治). Clearing heat seems to be intuitive – too much heat in the body needs to be removed to keep us in balance. But why should we also boost the qi? The Yin Yang Ying Xiang Da Lun (Su Wen Chapter 5) says, “the qi of strong fire weakens” (壯火之氣衰), “strong fire feeds on qi” (壯火食氣), and “a strong fire disperses qi” (壯火散氣). The reason we need to boost qi this time of year is because too much heat in the environment drains and weakens the qi internally. Likewise, excessive sweating damages both the qi and the fluids. One potential general maintenance herbal formula this time of year is Sheng Mai San, the combination of Ren Shen, Mai Men Dong and Wu Wei Zi. When giving this formula during Great Heat, my suggestion to use either plain Chinese white ginseng, or American ginseng, as Korean red ginseng will be too hot. Sheng Mai San in small doses builds qi, clears heat, and nourishes the fluids with herbs that are not so cloying that they would worsen internal dampness.
We previously discussed the idea of treating winter disease in summer, one of the main methods being San Fu moxibustion and Korean Chicken Soup with Ginseng. The idea here is to use the warmth of the season to strengthen the Yang qi, and thereby prevent disease during the cold seasons. In addition to the two previous therapies, this time of year we can start applying regular moxibustion. The Bian Que Heart Classic (扁鵲心書) suggests that every year at the transition between summer and fall we should apply moxa to Guan Yuan REN-4. As part of the recommendation the text suggests the application of 300 cones every 3 years for people over the age of 30, every 2 years for people over the age of 50, and yearly once age 60 is reached. While 300 seems like a lot of cones, we don’t have to do them all in one sitting. Break up application of moxa into smaller amounts of cones and proceed daily for several weeks; in other words we are looking for a total of 300 over time, not 300 all at once. Other points to consider for moxibustion include Zu San Li ST-36, Shen Que REN-8 and Qi Hai REN-6.
The caution for Great Heat is to be on guard against damp-heat and its ability to damage the Spleen-Stomach and hamper appetite and digestion. One way to do this is through diet, which we discuss below. Another traditional recommendation to accomplish this during the current seasonal node is herbal foot bathing. One effective Great Heat footbath recipe includes Pu Gong Ying 30g, Su Mu 30g, Gou Teng 25g, Fu Ling 25g, Bai Fan 15g, Fang Feng 15g, Han Fang Ji 15g. Boil these herbs in about ½ gallon of water for 20-30 minutes. Then, cool until able to be used as a warm soak, and soak feet for about 30-40 minutes. These herbs are also effective for treating athlete’s foot, a common problem of this time of year, and a very obvious manifestation of excess damp-heat. For this condition use the same soak frequently, at least twice daily, with 3 days (of twice daily) being one course of treatment.
For practitioners of Tung’s (Dong’s) acupuncture, we can apply these same principles in general maintenance or preventive treatments. In point prescriptions consider adding points that have a general qi supplementing function such as Ling Gu 22.05 and Si Hua Shang 77.08. We also can choose points that generally clear heat such as Zhong Kui or the Wu Ling and Shuang Feng points along the back. In my bloodletting book I also detail another Taiwanese method of treating excessive summerheat by bleeding. Click here for more information on the book. For patients who tend towards being deficient, after bleeding in the clinic administer one dose of Liu Wei Di Huang Wan in tablet form (this was Master Tung’s practice in his own clinic).
Diet for Great Heat
Along with the guidelines described above, during Great Heat we should simultaneously clear heat and drain damp, while boosting the qi and protecting the Spleen and Stomach. Avoid overly spicy foods and foods which are overly heating. This is the time of year to eat in-season vegetables, especially those that clear heat and nourish fluids such as cucumber, raw tomato, and bitter melon. Gentle heat clearing herbs can be added to the diet such as mint and Huo Xiang (agastache), and this is the seasonal node when Huo Xiang congee is traditionally consumed. In China people drink winter melon juice during Great Heat. I honestly don’t find this too appealing so I suggest in the west we substitute winter melon juice with watermelon juice!
One fun recipe for Great Heat is stir fried lotus root…
Stir Fried Lotus Root
- 1 lotus root (about ½ lb)
- 1” piece of ginger, chopped
- 1 cup roughly chopped scallion
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- white vinegar
- cooking oil (sesame)
- soy sauce or tamari
- Peel lotus root and cut into slices about ¼ inch thick, submerge in water with a small amount of white vinegar to prevent discoloration
- Heat some cooking oil in a large frying pan, add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant
- Drain lotus root and place the slices in pan in a single layer; cook until they start to change color and become slightly translucent and then turn over and cook a few minutes longer
- Add in sesame seeds, a splash of soy sauce or tamari, and the scallions and fry a short while longer until the scallions start to wilt
- Remove from heat and enjoy
This recipe stops thirst, expels heat, and clears heat to engender fluids. Furthermore, it also supplements the center and nourishes the shen-spirit.
I hope everyone is staying cool and dry!
As I mentioned in my blog post on the Minor Heat Seasonal node it's San Fu time of year again! San Fu Moxibustion 三伏灸 was originally used to treat chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, although in modern times it has been expanded to other conditions. The basic theory of San Fu treatment combines the effective use of hot herbs applied to acupuncture points on the body during the hottest (i.e., most Yang) days of Summer. Doing so very aggressively expels cold that may linger in the body and also support the Yang and the Upright. Obviously however, this treatment is designed for patients who are vacuous and cold, and should not be performed on patients that in general have primarily hot conditions.
Treatment days are chosen based on the traditional Chinese calendar. The first of the San Fu days is the third geng (Yang metal) day after Summer Solstice in the Chinese calendar. The second day is 10 days after the first, and the third day is the first geng day after the Beginning of Autumn (which falls at the beginning of August). Usually there are three days in this method of day selection, but occasionally there is a fourth that can be used. This year (2018) the San Fu days are July 17, July 27, August 6, and August 16. Around noon on these days (noon is a Yang time) a special paste is applied to acupuncture points on the upper back that all warm the Yang qi and expel cold. While recipes for this paste vary, they include very hot herbs such as mustard seed (bai jie zi), asarum (xi xin) and ginger juice. Ideally this paste is also prepared ahead of time and allowed to cure for a full year, but freshly made paste works as well. People interested in learning more about San Fu Moxibustion should read Lorraine Wilcox’s book on moxibustion - Moxibustion: A Modern Clinical Handbook. You can also visit the website of my student Dr. Heidi Lovie. She produces San Fu powder for those who are not inclined to grind for themselves.
In Korea the San Fu days are a time to eat Ginseng Chicken Soup for the same reasons we do San Fu mustard plasters. Also, those of you who practice our lineage of Neigong should practice more Gathering the Yang of Heaven (see video below). Do just this one Gathering the Qi exercise on the San Fu days, and practice for a longer period of time. For example, consider 108 repetitions of just this posture, followed by a longer period of standing post.
This year I did once again prepare my own San Fu paste. Blow the Neigong video you'll see photos of the process of making the powder. Enjoy the hot summer days!
The long awaited 6th and expanded edition of the Tung Atlas by Dr. Ross and myself is now available. We are waiting to get the shipment of books into the US from Germany, but the main importer, Kamwo Herbs, is now taking preorders. Click here on the photo to go to their website. Some of the features of the new edition include:
- This new edition has several helpful new features:
- Expanded selection of points - almost double the points on the fingers and hands as previous editions, and more body points as well.
- Additional TCM style point functions for all points - to help bridge the understanding of the Tungs system for TCM trained practitioners.
- New chapter on palm diagnosis.
- Expanded indexes by disease.
Saturday, July 7, was the beginning of the Minor Heat (Xiao Shu 小暑) seasonal node, the first after Summer Solstice. This important time period marks a major transition in the movement of Qi in the natural world. Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi 夏至) began the transition from Yang-expansion to Yin-contraction in the environment. Therefore, Minor Heat is the first seasonal node in the Yin time of the year. That said, it is still hot out! Even the name of this seasonal node acknowledges this. This past week here in New Jersey was the hottest one we’ve had all year, with temperatures soaring into the 90s.
Although we are transitioning into the Yin time of the year, weather change happens slowly. Think of it like a train barreling ahead at high speed. Once the conductor decides to stop the train and put it in reverse, she first puts on the breaks. Even though the breaks are applied, it takes several hundred feet before the train actually stops. Only then will it very slowly start moving in reverse. The movement of the seasons is just like this. Once we have flipped the switch from Yang to Yin, the weather still continues to warm for some time before the very slow movement in the opposite direction begins.
The most important “to do” during this time is to nourish the Heart by maintaining an optimistic outlook. Why is this? June and July are the months associated with the Fire phase. Also, if we overlay the 12 time periods of the day with the 12 months of the year (i.e., the 12 two-hour periods of the day that each correspond to one of the primary channels), June is the time of the Heart channel and July the Small Intestine channel. Both are Fire phase channels. Since this is the Fire Phase time of year, it is the time of the Heart Zang. We nourish the Heart by keeping a calm mind and being optimistic. Pessimism or other negative emotional states can lead to patterns such as Liver stagnation, which in turn can transform into heat and harass the Heart. We can also nourish the Heart and regulate the Fire phases by doing some specific Qigong exercises. Over the last few weeks in our weekly Qigong classes on Thursday morning we have been doing exercises for the four Fire channels in the body. While these exercises are not yet posted, you can see other basic Qigong exercises on my Youtube channel by clicking here.
During this seasonal node, the first 5-day period is known as Wen Feng Zhi (溫風至), - Sultry Winds Arrive. This certainly describes what is happening in the weather right now, especially in the Northeastern United States! The weather has been hot, and very humid. Therefore, we need to be careful about environmental dampness damaging the body. As clinicians we should instruct patients who are prone to damp patterns on how to eat, dress, etc… In this light the main “to avoid” this time period is undue exposure to cold and excessive consumption of cold items (both cold temperature and cold thermal nature). While it may seem logical to be in cold places in cold weather, there is certainly a problem in the west with using air conditioners to cool rooms to temperatures lower than we’d feel comfortable with in winter! This time of year in our clinic we’ve seen quite a few patients with summer colds from frequently going between very hot and very cold environments. Furthermore, the overconsumption of cold (and especially cold and sweet) food and drink damages the Spleen leading to more damp accumulation. Instead, we should drink beverages that are cooling, as well as either bitter (to drain), or acrid (to move). This will cool the body without developing damp stagnation. Examples include chrysanthemum and mint, or even green teas. In China summer is the season to drink green teas such as the famous Dragon Well – Long Jing Cha 龍井茶.
Diet (and a little Moxibustion) for Minor Heat
As we mentioned above, during Minor Heat there is still significant dampness and heat in the environment. Therefore, we should consume foods that are cooling and either bitter or acrid. For example, this is the time of year to consume in-season fresh greens. In addition to chrysanthemum and mint we can also consume lotus leaf tea; lotus is a plant with a summerheat cooling nature that is also slightly bitter to drain heat and dampness. Advise patients to sip fluids throughout the day so they don’t dehydrate rather than drinking copious amounts of iced beverages all at once that may exacerbate damp conditions. If patients have damaged fluids, they can consume cooling and moist vegetables (such as cucumber) or fruits (such as watermelon).
One traditional recipe for this time of year is congee made from Yi Yi Ren (pearl barley) and adzuki beans. This basic combination is mild and neutral in temperature, and both the Yi Yi Ren and adzuki beans drain dampness. Yi Yi Ren strengthens the Spleen and adzuki beans clear heat as well.
In contrast however, this time of year is also a time when warming therapies are traditionally used. This is a method of treating winter disease in the summer. Starting in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912) there has been a method of treating long standing cold disease by employing a type of moxibustion on the three hottest days of summer. These days are called the San Fu Tian, and the method of treatment San Fu Moxibustion, or San Fu Jiu.
San Fu Moxibustion was originally used to treat chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, although in modern times it has been expanded to other conditions. The basic theory of San Fu treatment combines the effective use of hot herbs applied to acupuncture points on the body during the hottest (i.e., most Yang) days of Summer. Doing so very aggressively expels cold that may linger in the body. Obviously however, this treatment is designed for patients who are vacuous and cold, and should not be performed on patients that in general have primarily hot conditions.
The actual treatment days are chosen based on Chinese astrology. The first of the San Fu days is the third geng (Yang metal) day after Summer Solstice in the Chinese calendar. The second day is 10 days after the first, and the third day is the first geng day after the Beginning of Autumn (which falls at the beginning of August). Usually there are three days in this method of day selection, but occasionally there is a fourth that can be used. This year the San Fu days are July 17, July 27, August 6, and August 16. The first of these days falls during Minor Heat. Around noon on these days (noon is a Yang time) a special paste is applied to acupuncture points on the upper back that all warm the Yang qi and expel cold. While recipes for this paste vary, they include very hot herbs such as mustard seed (bai jie zi), asarum (xi xin) and ginger juice. Ideally this paste is also prepared ahead of time and allowed to cure for a full year, but freshly made paste works as well. People interested in learning more about San Fu Moxibustion should read Lorraine Wilcox’s book on moxibusion - Moxibustion: A Modern Clinical Handbook. You can also visit the website of my student Dr. Heidi Lovie. She produces San Fu powder for those who are not inclined to grind for themselves.
Now, back to food… In Korea there is a traditional custom of eating ginseng and chicken soup on these same San Fu days, and this dietary remedy can be done by anyone at home as general health prevention and maintenance. Ginseng and chicken soup has a very nourishing and supplementing function, and eating it on the San Fu days can help build internal Yang qi to prevent disease in the colder seasons that follow. This is very useful for patients who generally have weak qi, especially of the Spleen or Lung. Again, patients who are very hot by nature should avoid eating this soup in the summer.
Here is a basic Korean soup recipe:
Korean Ginseng and Chicken Soup (Samgyetang)
- 1 small chicken (Cornish game hen)
- ¼ cup glutinous rice
- 1 – 2 small fresh ginseng roots (ren shen 人參)
- Several Chinese dried red dates (hong zao 紅棗)
- Several peeled garlic cloves
- Soak rice in a small amount of water for 1 hour
- Clean and rinse chicken and then stuff the cavity with the rice, ginseng, red dates and garlic. Place in pot and cover with water.
- Bring pot to a rapid boil and then continue boiling over high heat for about 20 minutes, skimming off the foam as necessary. Replenish water that has boiled off and then continue to simmer for another 40 minutes until chicken is falling apart or can easily be pulled apart.
- Garnish with freshly chopped scallions, salt and pepper to taste.
I was up early this morning due to my nieces being dropped off while their parents are away for a few days. I ended up having more time than usual in the morning before my Thursday morning Qigong class, so I made some tea (on Thursdays I usually don't have any until I get into the office after Qigong). This morning I decided to have a really nice Huang Shan Mao Feng green tea that I purchased last summer in China. I don't usually drink green teas, so as I did I was reminded of a blog post I had put up last year sometime. Here it is again - a discussion of three cups of tea for health!
In June 2009 the Chinese Government named Professor Lu Zhizheng a National Master of Chinese Medicine (国医大师) in recognition of his contributions to the field of Chinese Medicine. Professor Lu was born in 1920 in Gaocheng City, Hebei Province. In 1934 he entered into medical school and became a disciple of Meng Zhengji. In 1939 he graduated school and started practicing medicine in his hometown. In 1973 he joined the Chinese medical research department at the Guanganmen hospital in southwestern Beijing. He went on to teach, and to publish scores of scholarly articles on books in the field of Chinese medicine. Even into his 90s Professor Lu was in radiant health, which he attributed to a few personal healthy habits he developed.
One of Professor Lu’s personal health maintenance routines that he followed for many years was the daily consumption of 3 cups of tea: green tea in the morning, oolong tea in the afternoon, and puerh tea in the evening. Think of these different teas almost as different types of herbs, and we’ll soon understand the rationale behind this interesting habit.
Green tea is tea in its most natural form, just picked and dried with minimal processing. This variety of tea, since it is most closely associated with the wood phase (even the color is the color of the wood phase), ascends Yang Qi to the Upper Jiao. It assists the Spleen and Stomach in moving and transforming the essence of water and grain, and wakes up the brain. Thus it is appropriate to the spring-like wood movement associated with the earlier part of the day.
Oolong tea is tea that is more processed in that the leaves are allowed to partially oxidize before being dried and sometimes even roasted. It has the ability to stimulate metabolism, regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol and improve digestion. In Chinese medical terms it strengthens the Spleen and disperses food accumulation – its focus is clearly on the Middle Jiao. This is particularly important if people eat slightly heavier food in the afternoon than in the morning, as is the case with the many who eat lighter breakfasts on the run.
Puerh tea is a type of black fermented tea from Yunnan province. This tea is the darkest and most processed of the three varieties here. It is even better than oolong tea at promoting digestion and is thus commonly drunk after heavy or fatty meals. Since poor digestion in the evening is a cause of poor sleep, ensuring good digestion at dinner is very important. Puerh tea has the ability to protect and nourish the Stomach, and in addition it enters the Lower Jiao and Kidney. Since evening is the time when Yang Qi moves to enter into storage, drinking puerh tea later in the day helps harmonize the body’s Qi with the natural movement of the environment at that time of day.
Aside from the type of tea, Professor Lu also takes care to drink each tea variety in the cup or bowl that best suits its unique brewing style. Green tea is best suiting for being drunk from either a ceramic or glass cup, and for being brewed in a small teapot. Oolong tea is best brewed in a Zisha clay teapot in what is known as Gongfu (Kung Fu) style, and drunk from small Chinese teacups. Puerh tea is best suited to being brewed in an Yixing Zisha teapot, in a side handled clay pot, or in a traditional lidded Chinese teacup (i.e., Gaiwan).
Please enjoy this rather fun and tasty health tip from one of the greats of modern Chinese medicine!
This winter I started making recordings of some of the important Qigong exercises we practice in our local classes. The next one is live as of today! For more information on classes please visit our courses section of this website.
The last month was a particularly busy one for me with two very close trips to the Bay Area to teach in doctoral programs at ACCHS and at ACTCM. I truly enjoy going out to teach at these programs (as well as the DAOM program in Portland where I teach), and I’m always very happy to work with students who are committed to real advanced education in our field. However, since things have been busy, I missed the last two seasonal nodes. Now that have arrived at a very important shift in the seasons I thought I really needed to post today.
If you hadn’t realized it, starting tomorrow the days begin to slowly get shorter again. This is because today, June 21, starts the Summer Solstice seasonal node (Xia Zhi 夏至). Summer Solstice is a very important seasonal node in that it marks the apex of Yang in the natural world as well as the rebirth of Yin. It is the longest day of the year; as already mentioned starting tomorrow the days will get shorter and shorter culminating eventually with the longest night on the Winter Solstice in December. In terms of the time of day, Summer Solstice corresponds to high noon, and is the time of the Heart channel. In Yijing (I Ching) symbolism, this time period is represented by hexagram 44, which is made up of Qian-Heaven trigram (3 solid yang lines) over Xun-Wind trigram (1 broken yin line under 2 solid yang lines). Thus, the complete hexagram is 5 solid yang lines over one broken yin line at the bottom – yin is being birthed once again. One of the translations for the name of Hexagram 44 is “The Queen,” also showing that this time of year begins the transition towards returning inward to the hidden, the yin, the Blood, and the Dark Mother that is referred to in the first chapter of the Dao De Jing.
When we break down Summer Solstice into the smaller five-day periods of time, it includes the time periods know as Deer Shed Antlers (Lu Jiao Jie 鹿角解), Cicadas Begin Singing (Tiao Shi Ming 蜩始鳴), and Pinellia Grows (Ban Xia Sheng 半夏生). In the United States deer actually shed antlers earlier in the year. However, in New Jersey, this is cicada time. Four years around this time we were in the middle of a 17-year cicada invasion, and in some parts of the state they were literally as loud as trains! No wonder cicada shells (chan tui 蟬蛻) are good for conditions such as loss of voice. Notice also that this time is when Ban Xia is growing, the king of drying damp and getting rid of phlegm turbidity (a Yang herb to treat a Yin pathology). Likewise, in China this is the time of year to harvest Aconite (fu zi 附子) to enhance its Yang nature.
In some parts of China people perform simple ritual activities designed to protect against the Yin that is about to start growing. This Yin can be seen as an increase in various disease carrying insects (such as mosquitos) that bring epidemic disease. To ward off Yin in the form of insects and disease, Chinese traditionally hang aromatic (i.e., Yang) herbs around the house, such as Acorus (Shi Chang Pu) or Mugwort (Ai Ye). Other aromatic herbs such as Angelica (Bai Zhi) and Atractolodes (Bai Zhu) are made into medicines and incense.
Practically speaking, although this is a time of transition to Yin, this is still a hot and damp season. The first thing that is recommended during this time of year is to clear summerheat and drain dampness. For example, during this time it is common to see various skin problems due to external contraction of summerheat damp. It is also common to see other symptoms of summerheat strike such as malaise, fatigue, low-grade fever or heat effusion, low-grade headache, nausea, etc… There are several ways we can help ourselves as well as our patients when they present with summerheat damp symptoms. First, is to regulate diet, which we will discuss more below. We can also counsel basic lifestyle recommendations, such as dressing appropriately to the weather (such as wearing light clothes made of natural materials that breathe well), staying in shade in the midday when temperatures are highest, and drinking plenty of light and clear fluids. This is especially important for our older patients, since as we age we lose the normal ability to adapt to more extremes in temperature. Furthermore, seniors are more likely to be on prescription medications or may have chronic medical problems that inhibit perspiration or make extremes of temperature less tolerable. Some medications also increase sensitivity to sun raising risk of sunburns (examples include tetracyclines, quinolones such as Cipro, Celebrex, and some chemotherapeutic agents).
In terms of therapy, Dr. Zhong Yong Xiang of Taiwan suggests bleeding the jing well points on all the fingers for more severe cases of summerheat strike. This bloodletting method is described in my book Pricking the Vessels. We can also consider performing Gua Sha on the back to help move stagnant summerheat damp in the exterior muscle layer.
The next recommended “to do” during Summer Solstice is Shui Hao Zi Wu Jiao 睡好子午交. This means sleep well during both the Zi and Wu hours. Certainly, sleeping well is something we should be doing all year long. Zi and Wu refer to the time periods of midday and midnight, with Zi being the 11pm – 1am hour, and Wu being the 11am – 1pm hour (to be adjusted for standard time in locations that observe daylight savings time). In general it is important to get into bed before the Zi hour. Remember, the Zi hour is the time of transition from Yin to Yang, representative of the Winter Solstice. After this time period our bodies are already in a state of Yang expansion, the movement contrary to good sleep. Getting to bed and sleeping through this hour ensures that we really rest, that we really go into the state of storage that replenishes our vital substances.
The Wu hour is also a time of transition, and like the Summer Solstice, represents the change from Yang to Yin. The traditional recommendation is to take a short nap during this time to harmonize the body with this movement of Yang to Yin. That said, the recommendation is just a short nap of maybe only 30 minutes time (this is just the beginning of Yin after all). After that, don’t linger. Get up and back to normal activity.
Diet for Summer Solstice
As already mentioned, Summer Solstice is the time of transition from Yang to Yin in the natural world. That said, Summer Solstice is still a time of damp and heat in many places. Therefore, the basic strategy of clearing heat and draining dampness can help guide us in our diet strategy. It is important to keep in mind that during summer over-sweating and prolonged exposure to heat can deplete the Qi and fluids of the body. So, once we are clear of heat and damp, if there is vacuity we can focus on supplementation. However, since this is a hot time of year, cool supplementation is best.
In summary we can generalize this is the time to eat foods that clear heat (especially summerheat), drain dampness, nourish the Qi and boost fluids. Examples include cucumber, winter melon, luffa, tomato, honeydew melon, star fruit, peach, plumb, and mung beans. This is also a good time to eat bitter melon (ku gua 苦瓜). When I lived in Okinawa as a graduate student, bitter melon was a basic staple of food since Okinawa is a very hot and damp climate. Here is a recipe for a very traditional Okinawan dish called Goya Champuru (‘goya’ is the Okinawan word for bitter melon and ‘champuru’ means something mixed together). This dish gently clears heat and drains damp, but also boosts Qi and yin-blood.
Goya Champuru (Serves 4)
- 2 bitter melon (about 400 g)
- 1 block of firm tofu (300 g)
- 2 eggs
- cooking oil
- soy sauce
- Cut bitter melons in halves lengthwise. Remove the seeds and fibers with a spoon. Slice thinly and sprinkle with salt to soften them. When soft, rinse with water, then squeeze out the extra water.
- Wrap tofu in a cloth or paper towel, place a light weight (a plate will do fine) on top, and leave for at least 2 hours to press out excess water.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a wok, crumble the tofu into fairly large pieces, fry well while adding salt to taste, then remove and set aside on a plate.
- Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to the wok, then stir fry the bitter melon slices. The longer you fry it and the thinner it is sliced, the less bitter it will be.
- Return the tofu to the wok and stir fry with the melon. Beat eggs and add to wok. Mix everything together well until eggs cook, and salt to taste.
- At the last moment, pour a small amount of soy sauce around the edge of the frying pan for extra taste. Mix all ingredients quickly and remove from heat immediately.
Here’s 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 a seasonal formula for summer from this text.
Cardamom Powder 豆蔻散
- Cao Dou Kou 草豆蔻 120g (toast until yellow together with 120g of fresh ginger, then remove the peel for use)
- Mai Ya 麥芽 300g (dry fry until yellow)
- Shen Qu 神曲 120g (dry fry until yellow)
- Zhi Gan Cao 炙甘草 120g
- Pao Jiang 炮薑 30g
Grind all ingredients to a fine powder. Take a small amount daily with water or tea. During summer as heat and dampness increases, occasionally this will negatively affect people’s digestive function and appetite. This formula opens the Stomach, increases appetite, treats abdominal distention and is particularly useful if weather is cooler or damper than usual.
I hope everyone is having a great summer and staying healthy!
The days are slowly getting longer, and my tree peonies are looking like they will bloom soon. A lot of April was rather chilly this year, but in the last two days we have had a taste of warmer weather with the days being in the 80s and 90s. This weather is right on time because in the traditional calendar today, tomorrow, May 5th, starts the Beginning of Summer (Li Xia 立夏) seasonal node.
The bursting out of life in nature is incredibly palpable now. Plants are quickly sprouting up from the ground, and leaves are appearing on the trees. The days are really are much longer and brighter, and at this point in time, in only about 1 ½ months the days will start getting shorter again. Right now the Yang of the natural world is close to its fullest, and correspondingly the hexagram that represents this time of year is Qian Gua (乾卦) – six solid-Yang lines.
Summer is associated with the Fire phase, although the 4th month belongs to the Spleen (the 4th month in the Chinese calendar is May, since February is the first month). This is interesting as in ancient times the Heart was associated with the Earth phase as well as the Fire phase. For example, in the Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the Han Dynasty dictionary that gives the etymology of ancient characters, the definition of Heart is 人心土藏 – “human Heart, the Earth zang-viscera.” The Spleen channel also has a direct connection to the Heart Zang. Many of you who practice Tung’s acupuncture will notice that the main Heart Dao Ma group is located in the space between the Spleen and Stomach Channels; this Dao Ma group is the Zu San Tong consisting of Tong Guan 88.01, Tong Shan 88.02 and Tong Tian 88.03. In Tung’s acupuncture all of the major Heart points have some relationship with Pericardium channel, the original Heart channel from the Neijing (e.g., the Source point of Heart in the Ling Shu is Da Ling PC-7, not Shen Men HT-7). One needling technique we can use during this time of year with otherwise healthy patients is to incorporate Pericardium channel points (such as Nei Guan PC-6) or the Zu San Tong Dao Ma group into point prescriptions. These points help the body harmonize with the movement of the season right now.
To remind everyone, each of the 24 Seasonal Nodes has a traditional set of health guidelines where we should focus on certain things and avoid others. For Beginning of Summer the traditional things we focus on are preserving a good mood, nourishing the Heart, and thereby entering stillness (保持良好情緒，養心入靜). The things to avoid are allowing Heart fire to become too exuberant and intemperance in food and drink (心火過旺，飲食沒有節制).
As we just mentioned, the Heart is the fire organ. This means that occasionally it is prone to excess heat, signs of which include insomnia, irritability, dry and hard stool, red eyes, and thirst for cold beverages. One way to avoid excess Heart Fire is to dress appropriately for the warmer weather as it starts to come. Avoid strenuous work in direct midday sun, instead taking advantage of the slightly cooler temperatures in the early morning or later afternoon. Be sure to consume plenty of clear fluids such as water or herbal teas. Mint tea and chrysanthemum tea are both gently cooling to the body, and additionally they help with allergies that are so prevalent right now in northern New Jersey.
Another way to avoid problems of Heart Fire is closely tied in with traditional meditation and body cultivation practices (such as Neidan, or in modern terms, Qigong). Early medical texts such as the Ma Wang Dui manuscripts taught the importance of sinking the Qi down to the lower part of the body, a place in cultivation literature known as the Dan Tian (丹田; Tanden たんでん in Japanese). This idea later became vitally important in meditation schools such as those of Internal Alchemy, and then was inherited by modern Qigong practitioners. The flaring up of fire is seen to be an extremely harmful problem, and one of the main ways to counteract this is by focusing on the space in the abdomen – the Dan Tian. This can be done during standing meditations, such as standing post (站樁), or in seated meditations (坐禪). Doing these types of practices regularly is perhaps one of the best ways to deal with the upflaring of Heart Fire. For those in New Jersey or New York, we discuss these techniques frequently in our weekly Neigong/Qigong and Taijiquan classes.
Diet for Beginning of Summer
With the new seasonal node come new dietary suggestions. One of the first is to avoid intemperance in food and drink. Overeating, especially of very heavy, sweet or greasy foods, places a burden on the Spleen. Overeating these foods, and overconsumption in general, also create internal heat that can worsen Heart Fire.
In terms of flavors, this time of year we should focus on eating slightly more sour, a little more bitter, and light or gently cooling foods. Eating sour foods helps build fluids and blood so as to nourish the Heart, and bitter can drain fire. As heat in the environment increases it is understandably important to eat more light / fresh vegetables and other foods that will gently cool the body. Specific foods to consider this Seasonal Node include bananas, peaches, plums, umeboshi (Japanese salted plums), asparagus, cucumber and corn. Since this time of year is associated with Fire and Heart, red foods are also good to incorporate – think of strawberries, tomatoes and hawthorn berries.
It is appropriate to increase slightly intake of water or herbal teas. Patients who tend towards excess heat can drink chrysanthemum tea. Even though the beginning of Summer means more heat, some patients still may be cold and vacuous internally. Since Summer in many places also has increased environmental dampness, these people can drink a very light ginger tea or fennel seed tea, sweetened if desired local honey. Allergy sufferers (right now in New Jersey we are in the middle of a allergy season) can take mint tea with local honey, as local honey is used as a traditional allergy remedy.
Two traditional Beginning of Summer recipes are Celery Congee (芹菜粥) and Suan Zao Ren Congee (酸棗仁粥). For Celery Congee take several stalks of celery, remove the leaves, clean and cut into small pieces. Take an appropriate amount of white rice and cook in water to make a porridge (i.e., congee), and then add celery for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste. This recipe clears heat and extinguishes fire, reduces blood pressure, and eliminates vexation. However, it should be avoided by those with Spleen-Stomach vacuity cold patterns. Celery Congee can be taken daily in the morning as a warm breakfast. This recipe originally comes from the Ben Cao Gang Mu.
For the second recipe, Suan Zao Ren Congee, use about 50g of Suan Zao Ren 酸棗仁 to about 100g of white rice. Add an appropriate amount of water and boil until you have congee. At the end, add a small amount of sugar or honey to taste. This recipe can be taken as an evening snack as it can treat Heart vacuity and vexation to help sleep.
And one last recipe for Beginning of Summer...
Pickled Cold Lotus Root 清涼藕片
- 1 lb. lotus root
- 3 cups rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 small red chili pepper
- Peel lotus root and then slice into VERY thin slices; soak for a few minutes in a bowl of cold water with a little white vinegar to keep from discoloring
- Slice red chili pepper in to very thin slices, or julienne; if whole pepper is not available then substitute with red pepper flakes if desired
- Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer for just one minute, and stir to be sure salt and sugar have completely dissolved
- Bring another pot of water to boil and parboil lotus root for several minutes; then drain in colander and cool with cold running water
- Put cool lotus root and sliced chili pepper in a clean bowl and cover with the vinegar solution; cover and then refrigerate at least overnight or up to a few days before eating; to eat, remove from liquid and serve chilled
This recipe nourishes yin, clears heat, supplements vacuity and awakens the Spleen. It is good for those with poor digestion as well as those with dryness symptoms.
I hope you are all enjoying the gradually improving weather. Happy Summer!
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
- One small bunch spinach
- One block fresh organic tofu (about 4-5 oz.)
- 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- Toasted sesame oil
- Wash spinach thoroughly and remove thick stems
- Drain tofu and cut into small cubes
- 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
- 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.
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:
- To educate the world of the profound health and healing benefits of Tai Chi & Qigong for individuals, communities, and nations,
- To thank Chinese culture for creating and sharing these profoundly valuable gifts with the world; and
- 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.
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
- 1 whole chicken (about 2 lbs.)
- Huang Qi 60g
- Bai Zhu 20g
- Fang Feng 20g
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse and clean chicken
- Take herbs and stuff inside, close chicken to retain herbs inside the cavity
- 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!