Seasonal Cultivation : The Beginning of Spring
The Chinese use both a lunar and a solar calendar to mark time, and because of this there are two dates that are considered the beginning of Spring. One is called Li Chun, the “Beginning of Spring,” which is the next seasonal node. The timing of the seasonal nodes are based on the solar calendar since they are tied to the solstices and equinoxes. The solar beginning of Spring happens every year February 4th or 5th.
The second beginning of Spring is the lunar, also known as Chun Jie, the Spring Festival. This day is the Chinese Lunar New Year, and it falls on the second new moon following the Winter Solstice. This year the Beginning of Spring Seasonal Node and the Lunar New Year are only a day apart, the node being on Monday February 4th, and the Lunar New Year being on Tuesday February 5th (last year the dates were 12 days apart).
This time of year, the Beginning of Spring, is when the Yang influences are growing in the natural world. By now we are only about 6 weeks away from the Vernal Equinox , one of the times of year where the Yang and Yin are balanced and we have more equal day and night. Even with cooler weather lingering the days are getting longer and the songbirds are singing earlier in the morning. The increased activities in the natural world are also reflected in the names of the shorter 5 day segments that make up Beginning of Spring – The East Wind Liberates From Icy Shackles, Hibernating Insects Begin to Stir, and Fish Rise Up to the Ice.
Beginning of Spring is the time of year for new beginnings. It is also time to continue growing the ever-expanding Yang in our bodies so as to mimic the expanding Yang in the natural world. One of the basic health exercise recommendations for Beginning of Spring is to frequently comb the hair (or head if there is no hair). In Chinese, this is called Shu Fa, or “combing therapy.”
To apply Combing Therapy comb the hair (or scalp) daily, 100 times each sitting. This can be done either in the morning upon waking or in the evening before bed, and the traditional recommendation is to use a comb of either bone or wood. That said, simply combing with the fingers is even more effective since the fingers are living and contain Qi. This is such a simple exercise that anyone can be taught to do it.
Combing has several functions. By stimulating the head we are stimulating the top of the body, meaning the most Yang area of the body. Since Spring is a time of Yang growth and expansion, stimulating the Yang area of the body is appropriate. Gently working the surface of the body also stimulates Wei Qi movement in the head and channels of the head. This in turn helps expel wind, and avoiding wind is one of the basic “avoids” for the Beginning of Spring. Furthermore, the scalp is a microsystem of the entire body, so stimulating the channels on the scalp mobilizes Qi and Blood in the entire body.
Spring is the time associated with the Wood phase and the Liver, and the Liver is a Yang viscera (with Heart being the other Yang viscera). At the beginning of Spring nourishing the Liver is highly recommended. Diet recommendations at the Beginning of Spring then are designed to help and nourish Liver.
As a general rule this is the time to consume foods that help maintain normal Liver function, especially the Yang of Liver. Since the Liver governs free coursing, eating mildly acrid and warm foods will support this function. For example, appropriate foods this time of year include scallions, leeks, chives, cilantro, and garlic. Eat a lot of leeks and pork to nourish and protect the Liver yang and develop the nature of birth.
One more traditional dish for Beginning of Spring is Pork Bone Red Date Soup. Yes, even before bone broth became the latest health trend here in the US, it was considered an important food for health the world around. This dish can be taken daily; it builds blood, warms the interior without being too warming or drying, and can be taken both to prevent and treat colds.
Additionally, Spring is the time to eat plants that are young and thus have the quality of growth associated with Wood. These include young greens, sprouts, or sprouted grains. The specific grain of the Wood phase is wheat, which is also eaten in Spring provided the person eating it has no specific allergies or sensitivities. Seasonal foods that are harvested in Spring include chard, arugula, new potatoes, asparagus, and eggs.
One basic tea that supports Liver is the combination of peppermint and lemon. For this tea steep either bags of dried peppermint tea or, if available, crush fresh peppermint leaves in boiling hot water. Add to this liquid several thin slices of fresh lemon including the peel. Some sweetener such as honey can be added to taste. This simple tea combines the acrid flavor of peppermint with the sour citrusy lemon, a basic combination that courses and soothes Liver qi.
Just today as I was gathering fallen pinecones for firestarters I noticed the daffodils had already pushed through the ice and snow, moving the energy upward toward the sun!