Seasonal Cultivation : Winter Major Cold
Sunday January 20th, is the start of the Major Cold Seasonal Node. Major Cold is the last node of the traditional Chinese year, and we are now about two weeks away from both the solar and lunar new year – the Beginning of Spring (this year they fall about the same time).
The three material manifestations of Major Cold are Hens Begin to Breed, Birds of Prey Act Fierce and Swift, and Rivers and Lakes are Frozen Within. In Five Phase theory the domestic animal associated with Spring is the chicken, and during Major Cold hens are getting ready to become pregnant with baby chicks that will hatch in Spring. Thus, even though the weather outside is still very cold, Yang is definitely on its way back as the gradually lengthening of the days reminds us.
As the name suggests, the Major Cold Seasonal Node is the time of the year when the main environmental factor we contend with is cold. The first thing that Chinese medicine recommends for this time is to eat clear and easily digested foods. The Spleen and Stomach are the roots of Latter Heaven Qi. Eating clear and easily digested foods allows the Spleen and Stomach to move and transform appropriately, and to build Latter Heaven Qi. If foods are too heavy, such as overly greasy or sweet foods, then the ability of the Spleen and Stomach to move and transform is impaired. Easy to digest foods ensures that we continue to build Latter Heaven Yang Qi to get ready for the upcoming spring.
In addition to cold, the other main environmental pattern seen during Major Cold is dryness. Even with wet snow on the ground. Much of Nature's water is bound up in snow or ice, making the air dry. Knowing this, the second recommendation this time of year is to stay warm but also be sure to not be too dry. Staying warm is obviously important in this time of greatest cold. But since certain organs are harmed by excessive dryness, such as the Lungs it is wise to stay warm inside and out. Sipping warm liquids such as herbal teas throughout the day can keep our internal environment appropriately moist.
As already mentioned, during Major Cold we should emphasize consuming easily digested foods that protect internal warmth and strengthen the middle. Foods that satisfy this requirement include, for example, rice, barley, yams, clear soups like chicken soup, and cooked vegetables. In general avoid raw vegetables, cooling fruits, very greasy meats, and very sweet deserts. When cooking make frequent use of fresh ginger, and other mildly warming spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.
In addition to protecting the Spleen with food, during Major Cold it is also important to consume foods that guard against dryness, and in particular Lung dryness. To this end traditional recommendations for food include consuming white wood ear mushrooms and pears, especially Asian pears. A great traditional tea for Major Cold is Goji Berry and Red Date Tea. To prepare, take about 1 teaspoon Goji Berries and 3 small red dates and place in a large mug. Cover with boiling hot water and let steep at least 5 minutes. After drinking about ½ the mug, refill once or twice more with boiling hot water. This tea supplements and moistens the Kidney and Liver, nourishes blood and supplements the Spleen.
One traditional recommendation for Major Cold, that I enjoy at least once a day is foot soaking. The time of day associated with Major Cold is the Chou hour (1-3am), associated with the Liver. While most of us are asleep by then I find it best to soak your feet just before getting into bed in hot/warm water for about 15 minutes. Adding Epsom salt or any good quality bath salts is excellent.
Soaking the feet harmonizes the Kidney and the Heart. This alone can help support a good sleep and refreshed wake in the morning.
Gentle massage of the lower back is also highly recommended during this Seasonal Node. We all know that the low back is the abode of the Kidney, and gentle stimulation of the low back can thus relax and warm the Kidney. Furthermore, Major Cold is specifically associated with the 3rd lumbar vertebra. There are 24 total vertebrae corresponding one to each of the seasonal nodes, and this association is well known in Daoist circles.
To honor this correspondence, one good Yang practice for Major Cold is to sit quietly, starting with vigorously rubbing the palms together to get them as warm as possible. Then, place the hands on the low back in the area of L-3 feeling the warmth of the hands penetrating the back. After that rub the back to warm the area, or gently tap the low back.
Enjoy the last few weeks of Winter! - Spring is almost here!