For centuries, the Chinese have followed a unique system of time that divides a year into 24 equal-length segments, otherwise known as the 24 solar terms. Many have called this the Fifth Great Invention of Ancient China (after paper-making, printing, gunpowder, and the compass), and this system has numerous living applications as the Chinese have developed traditions, social and agricultural practices around this concept. The qi in our environment changes as one solar term transitions into the next, and under TCM principles, this movement of qi is interconnected with our body’s qi. When it comes to qi, balance is always key, and there are some best practices we can follow to ensure that our bodies are aligned with nature.
The Awakening of Insects (March 5th) and the Vernal Equinox (March 20th) have just passed, and with these two solar terms comes the long awaited arrival of spring. The Awakening of Insects is especially remarkable as it marks the phenom of when spring rain and thunder awaken the insects. Similarly, this is the time when our bodies begin to “wake up” from our relative sedentary lifestyles during the winter months. During this time, it is important to rejuvenate the liver and nourish our stomach’s qi. Rejuvenating the liver helps us detoxify, reducing our toxin build-up as we cut back on our physical activities during the cold months. Nourishing our stomach’s qi, on the other hand, gives our digestive and immune systems a big boost as we move into the spring season.
To jumpstart your spring health, we would suggest that you:
- Go to bed before 11pm to give your liver a proper rest cycle
- Go on long walks to tune in with nature’s spring energy
- Avoid high-fat food and eat more green-colored and / or sour-tasting foods to help rejuvenate the liver, e.g. spinach, artichoke, etc.
What to Eat: Spring Greens
Spinach is not just Popeye’s power food, but also a cooling food in TCM known to ease constipation and relieve anxiety. Moreover, it helps clear “heat” from one’s liver, and a clear liver is believed to help clear the mind and vision.
Seaweed, a “cooling” food, is a pantry staple in Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisines which gives soups and dishes a meaty or “umami” taste. During spring, the body can accumulate excess moisture from the atmosphere (i.e., a body state known as “phlegm-dampness”), and the retained moisture can cause coughs, fatigue, swollen eyes, and a slower metabolism. All these symptoms could eventually result in a weakened immune system, and seaweed could help expel phlegm and dampness accumulated in the body by removing excess water from the liver and kidney.
Artichoke is a “neutral” food (i.e., neither “warm” nor “cool”) that has earned universal praise as a superfood. Just as artichokes have been used to treat liver diseases for centuries in Europe, they have been used to make tea in China as they help detoxify the liver, remove excess damp heat, and treat bloated stomachs.
Green onion is a “warming” food that is believed to be an immunity-boosting remedy for cold and flu. Its white root is generally more potent (and more fragrant as well) than its green stalk, but both are usually chopped and boiled in soup to treat symptoms of fever, sore throat, and cold limbs. Although it is most popular as a garnish, you can also try adding a larger quantity of green onions to your dips, eggs, or salad to warm up your stomach and energize your daily workout. It might just save you some extra Kleenex.