Updated for February 3rd, 2021
Chinese Medicine teaches living in harmony with nature, and part of that involves paying attention to the natural rhythms of the seasons. For healing purposes, we primarily observe the sun’s cycle throughout the year, since the sun is a good source of energy for the body.
At midsummer, Michigan (and elsewhere in the Northern hemisphere) tilts more toward the sun. The days are longer, and the sun is higher in the sky, and therefore shines more light on us. Around the winter solstice, our position of the earth is tilted furthest away from the sun compared to the rest of the year. Therefore, the daylight is much shorter, and the sun doesn’t rise as high in the sky, so there is less light and heat in the atmosphere where we live.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine theories, the summer is like the peak of yang, and the winter is like valley of yin.
We further divide the year into four seasons, so that we get two equinoxes: spring and autumn. These are the midpoints between the two extremes of summer and winter, and are a time of balance between yin and yang. In the spring, the yang is increasing, and in the autumn, the yang is decreasing.
So we have: spring increasing yang, summer peak yang, autumn decreasing yang, winter weakest yang.
And of course it invariably follows: spring has decreasing yin, summer has the least yin, autumn has increasing yin, and winter has peak yin.
In our Western culture, the four seasons start on the equinoxes and solstices…but for Chinese Medicine purposes, we use the seasons a bit differently; they start earlier.
This year, on February 3rd, it will be the “Beginning of Spring” (lì chūn, 立春). Of course, it’s way too cold out for us to treat it as we would normally think of the season of spring! The reason why it’s called that is because the Chinese solar calendar considers the solstices and equinoxes to be the peak times of the seasons. For instance, the day which has the most daylight should of course be the peak of summer, in terms of yang.
So why does spring start on February 3rd in the Chinese solar calendar this year? It’s because that day is simply the midpoint between the winter solstice (it was December 21st, 2020) and the spring equinox (which will be on March 20th, 2021). It signifies that yang is little but is increasing.
Chinese culture also has their “Chinese New Year”, which has to do with their lunisolar calendar (which considers the moon phases, too). This year it’s on February 12th. In contrast to us starting our year on January 1st, which was originally done for political reasons in ancient Roman culture, the Chinese culture starts their year a bit later. It’s usually calculated as being the second new moon after the winter solstice; this generally gets it somewhat close to the spring solar season, although sometimes it happens while still within the winter season. Regardless, they call it the Spring Festival, because the Spring time is when they consider the year to be starting anew.
Here are the dates for the solar terms (periods of ~15 days) within spring 2021:
- Beginning of Spring (lì chūn, 立春): Wednesday, February 3rd.
- Rain Water (yǔ shuǐ, 雨水): Thursday, February 18th.
- Waking of Insects (jīng zhé, 惊蛰): Friday, March 5th.
- Spring Equinox (chūn fēn, 春分): Saturday, March 20th. This is when the spring season officially begins in our Western culture.
- Clear and Bright (qīng míng, 清明): Sunday, April 4th.
- Grain Rain (gǔ yǔ, 谷雨): Tuesday, April 20th.
- Then the summer solar season starts on Wednesday, May 5th (although in Western culture, summer will begin on June 20th, on the solstice).
The image below shows these solar terms (note that the dates on the image are slightly off, because the exact day these periods begin differ from year to year). It also shows the zodiac signs in relation to these solar terms…both systems are based on the solstices and equinoxes.
You may notice in the image above that just prior to the “Start of Spring” is called “Major Cold”. That indicates we’re just getting past the coldest time of the year, during typical years.
Ancient Chinese Medicine also has an explanation for why the temperature of the seasons doesn’t match the solar calendar. It has a theory of the “four ropes”, and a famous commentator named Wang Bing wrote regarding this question. He said, “The warmth of spring…begins in the second month of spring” and “The heat of summer…begins in the second month of summer.” Or in other words, it takes some time after the start of the solar seasons before the temperature reflects the true nature of that season.
So, it still definitely feels like winter outside despite it being the start of spring in terms of the sun’s cycle. But for healing purposes, for living in harmony with nature, we consider the sun’s cycle rather than the temperature, and simply bundle up at this time of year.
Here’s what the Huangdi Neijing Suwen says about the Spring time, with my own comments after each section:
“The three months of spring,– Huangdi Neijing Suwen, Chapter 2
they denote effusion and spreading.”
During the winter, we’ve been huddled up in our homes, due to the cold outside. Perhaps our emotions are “tense” as we’re ready for the warmth of summer to get here, anxiously waiting for the relaxed and carefree months of laying on the beaches when our tension is all gone. The spring is a time of starting to open up and go out. It equates to a sprout that is just emerging from the earth, or to the first budding of trees.
Just like nature manifests in those ways beginning around this time, so do we, in every sense. We are starting to leave our homes – we want to get out and walk, bike or run; we want to travel, etc. But we can’t quite do everything yet, since it’s still cold out. Especially as the spring time begins, it’s important to gradually increase our outdoor time, rather than try to do too much at once.
“Heaven and earth together generate life;– Huangdi Neijing Suwen, Chapter 2
the myriad beings flourish.”
When the Neijing says that “heaven and earth generate life” at this time, they’re referring to the obvious fact that the trees start to get leaves on them again as spring eventually turns into summer. Things will become bountiful from this point forward. Instead of animals hibernating or instead of birds migrating South, animals come back outside and are more present where we live. This is all happening due to the increasing amount of sunlight at this time, as we can clearly notice our days gradually getting longer.
This “generation of life” is because of increased yang qi. There is a way for us to increase yang in ourselves, and that is through moderate exercise. Exercise circulates blood through all areas of the body, bringing greater warmth and life to them. Getting more sunlight also helps us increase our internal yang.
“Go to rest late at night– Huangdi Neijing Suwen, Chapter 2
and rise early.”
This line is really suggesting that we wake up early, and not sleep in too long. To take more advantage of the day, compared to in winter when we were in more of a hibernation and going-inward mode. So, get up in the morning instead of hitting the snooze button, and prepare yourself for the day. Just as the spring is the beginning of the year, the early morning is the beginning of the day, and the two times correspond.
“Move through the courtyard with long strides.– Huangdi Neijing Suwen, Chapter 2
Dishevel the hair
and relax the physical appearance,
thereby cause the mind [to orient itself on] life.”
To “move through the courtyard with long strides” means to leave your house, and go for a walk…but just a little bit. No going on long excursions here, during this season. I would say, it’s fine to walk a half hour away from your house, then walk back (a 1 hour hike), even if technically it’s only talking about the “courtyard” in this text.
We’re still not in the summer season, which would be when we’re meant to be traveling long distances, and be outdoors all day. In spring, we’re still halfway homebodies, emerging from the slumber of winter slowly, especially at the beginning of spring. Spring is more balanced, between going out and staying in. And it’s only natural to sometimes go out, because in the spring we still have some cold days, and some rainy days.
Disheveling the hair and relaxing the appearance both indicate a relaxation in your attitudes. In Chinese Medicine, it’s well known that the spring corresponds to the wood element; when out of balance, mental and emotional stress is the most common correlation. It’s so common in our society for acupuncturists to have to treat “liver qi stagnation” for stress. During the spring time, we’re called to develop a state of relaxation, in order to be in harmony with the gentle and easy going nature of the season.
“Give life and do not kill.”– Huangdi Neijing Suwen, Chapter 2
The spring is the season where life is coming back to the world, and just as that happens, so should we be life-giving toward others. It’s even hinted at in the Jin Gui Yao Lue (an early herbal text) that we should avoid consuming animal products during the Spring months, specifically. That would be one way of not taking life at this time.
“Do not kill” doesn’t only apply to not killing others, such as animals, but also applies to our attitudes. A very decisive and cutting attitude goes against the abundant and open attitude that spring is meant to naturally have. Another way we could say it is: try not to be harsh during this time. Instead, it’s good to be forgiving and kind toward others, and to ourselves.
“Give and do not take.”– Huangdi Neijing Suwen, Chapter 2
The season of “taking” is autumn, where we gather everything we’ve harvested and store it for winter. In spring, the heavens give rain to the earth, the earth gives life to the plants, and so on. In order to be in harmony with the season, we should develop this same demeanor of giving freely to all, according to our ability. Not in a forced way of pretending to be someone you’re not, but just as a natural expression if possible. Just like it’s natural for the sky to rain during early spring.
“Reward and do not punish.”– Huangdi Neijing Suwen, Chapter 2
This again has to do with the demeanor of spring. It’s said that in the opposite season, autumn, “killing winds” of dryness happen, and that harsh qi attacks our bodies and causes illness.
But in spring, in most years, positive qi is spread to all. In order to be in harmony with this season, we need to not be sharp toward others, but be beneficent and helping toward them.
“This is correspondence with the qi of spring and it is the Way to nourish life.– Huangdi Neijing Suwen, Chapter 2
Opposing it harms the liver.”
Opposing it harms the liver because the spring is associated with the wood element (which the liver and gallbladder correspond to). To go against spring is to go against the things within us which have correspondences to this season. The result of this is increased stress, and decreased ability to adapt to changes.
The spring is said to be the season of “nourishing life” (which is a translation of yǎngshēng, 養生). Yangsheng has been known in China for over 2,000 years as a way of positive cultivation and self-nourishment. It includes all the methods that help us live well and develop wellness of body, mind, and spirit; anything that’s known to be good for us is included and could be considered a yangsheng method. By developing balanced wellness of body, mind, and spirit, we lengthen our lifespan.
To sum it up, during the spring time we should:
- Begin to “open up”, and go out a bit more. Spread our influence to the world, instead of keeping it within. There are many different ways to do this in our current age.
- To generate and cultivate “life”, as opposed to anything that would correspond to death and dying. Also, to increase the life principle in ourselves through movement and exercise.
- To start getting up earlier and preparing for the day, as opposed to sleeping in too long. To appreciate the special time in the morning, as the sunlight is increasing.
- To go for walks in one’s neighborhood, or even just outside the house. Driving to a forest to hike is especially good. That is one way of getting some movement. Jogging is also good, but is more associated with the late spring to summer, since the early spring is still a bit too cold and sweating in that temperature is considered somewhat harmful in Chinese Medicine theories.
- Cultivating a state of relaxation, and a gentle and easygoing nature.
- Be more giving and generous, kind and forgiving, and beneficent toward everyone. Try not to have a “cutting”, “sharp”, or “harsh” attitude. Be soft. Try not to take from others, but instead, give to others what you have to give. Treat yourself just as well as you treat others, too!
Qigong for Spring
Go for a walk!
An especially good version of this is called “Forest Bathing”, which is simply hiking through the woods. It’s something which has been shown to lower cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) and increase NK immune cells, among other benefits. It’s been scientifically proven to be much more beneficial than walking within a city area.
Additionally, walking in nature helps your attention spread outside, which will help you to be more in alignment with the season of spring, in which growing yang is starting to emerge from the yin, just like a sprout of a plant begin to emerge from the ground. Being absorbed in the natural scenery around you is like having your attention emerge from being more internal, and it will cause the body’s energy to flow more freely, thereby helping to prevent stress.
If the weather is bad for walking, it’s okay to do qigong in the home. Just look for a YouTube video where they’re doing movements that are basically like a warmup for the body. Of course, normal exercise is great to do…I don’t believe that qigong is an alternative to good physical fitness, and it’s just something to do in addition.
Meditation for Spring
It’s the perfect time of year to practice loving-kindness meditation.
This is also called “maitri”, which is from India originally, and translates as loving-kindness. Since this is a season where “heaven and earth” are beneficent and life-giving, it helps us get into harmony with the season if we develop similar qualities. For instance, being harsh and unforgiving toward someone isn’t in line with the nature of spring time…but being generous and gentle toward them is.
The spring is also the season associated with the wood element, which typically has to do with anger (if it’s not in harmony). According to the meditation master, Gampopa, loving-kindness meditation is the primary remedy to counteract the poison of anger. In Chinese Medicine, liver qi stagnation is commonly associated with stress of various types, but what it boils down to is having a mind that’s averse to some aspects of life. This aversion is the same thing as “anger”. If we don’t like something that’s happening and are slightly bothered, that’s a version of it. If we fight against some aspect of life, that’s aversion. If we’re a bit tense, that’s the same thing. It’s simply a state of mind that isn’t totally natural, open, and relaxed…and this state of mind can have an impact on our bodies.
So, here is the remedy:
First you choose someone to focus your practice on. It can be yourself, a parent if you’ve had a good relationship with them, or someone else in your life who has shown you great kindness. Traditionally, one practices on themselves first…this is because many people have a tendency to not be gentle toward themselves. How can we be truly gentle toward others, if we can’t even do it for ourselves? Most likely, those people are very harsh toward the friends and family that are closest to them, since they will tend to treat close ones similarly to how they treat themselves – forcefully. So, learning to love and be kind to oneself can end up helping those around us, too. But it’s okay to start with someone else, too! Make sure it’s not with someone who is bothering you (that’s a more advanced practice), and start with someone who you’re on good terms with.
Now think of the person you chose. Recall something good they did for you, or others. It’s okay to think of more than one thing they’ve done. Just spend time paying attention to this redeeming quality of theirs, where they have shown great kindness. If you’re practicing toward yourself, then think of something kind you’ve done for another person.
“Since gratitude is the root of love, bring to– Gampopa, 12th Century CE
mind the kindness of sentient beings.”
When we pay attention to the redeeming aspects in others, our hearts naturally open toward them, and we view them as being deserving of all good things. We feel natural gratitude for them, and that’s the root of loving-kindness. So it’s very important to meditate on the good and redeeming aspects of a person. This is essential during this meditation, but also all throughout the day, it’s useful to pay more attention to the good in people, and to be forgiving of the bad.
When you have spent some time thinking about the person’s kindness, then make a wish for them to have true happiness. This is both happiness that arises without any cause (wishing for them to have inner peace and joy, which isn’t disturbed by life’s ups and downs), as well as happiness from having everything they need in life, such as a good home and food, and achieving their dreams in life. It’s also happiness due to living a life of deep meaning, fulfillment, and value. When you wish them happiness, it’s not just one of these in a limited way, but it’s for all of these types of happiness in a complete way.
You also wish for their happiness to not be temporary, but to increase as time passes.
All of this is summed up in the saying,
“May they be happy, and may they have the causes of happiness.”
So, to practice this, just:
- Choose someone to think about: yourself, or a dear family member or friend.
- Recall their redeeming qualities for a while and think about how kind and good they’ve been. This is the most important part of the practice!
- Wish them well by saying, “May they be happy, and may they have the causes of happiness.”
Practice this often throughout the day, even if you just take a minute or two at a time.
If you want to have a dedicated practice session, it’d be best to do it first thing in the morning for 20 minutes.
So, to reiterate the very simple life nourishing practices to get us in harmony with the spring season:
- Go for walks to improve your qi flow and health.
- Practice loving-kindness meditation to ease tension.
If you have any questions about this, feel free to reach out through the Contact page in the menu above!