Oriental & Chinese Medicine/ Acupuncture
Resonance - Winter Solstice 冬至 and Health
Chinese Medicine and, within it, acupuncture suggests that human beings, as all other earthly manifestations, can live a healthy life, when they live in harmony with the laws of nature. Fundamental to the understanding of health is, therefore, the discovery of the characteristics of the circular motion and changes within the year and its small season. In this way it is possible to discern how they embody the principle of oneness and yin yang.
This blog will discuss the meaning of the Winter Solstice 冬至 in nature and its significance for human health.
The Winter Solstice 冬至
The Chinese name for the Winter Solstice is 'Dong Zhi 冬至'. 'Dong 冬' means Winter and 'zhi 至' means 'extreme', 'utmost', 'peak', but also 'to arrive'. Thus, some people translate 'Dong Zhi' as peak of Winter and others as 'arrival of Winter'. These two renderings are clearly not simultaneously possible as the 'arrival' or beginning of Winter cannot at the same time be its peak. In order to understand what the Chinese mean one should look for the meaning of the word 'zhi' in context and from more than just one angle of observation. Let's try!
The 21st of December, the date of the Winter Solstice, is the longest and darkest night of the year expressing, in Yin Yang terms, the most Yin phase of the year. This is an extreme position that as come to its climax and destined to end. According to the Yin Yang principle, when Yin reaches its maximum, Yang begins to grow. In facts, after the 21st of December, the hours of daylight increase and the weather slowly becomes warmer. In the Western world, however, this is the date of the beginning of Winter. This is possibly one of the reasons why some translate 'dong zhi' as 'arrival of Winter'. Yet, how can this be? Given tha Yang starts increasing, how could be possible for the Winter Solstice to mark the arrival of Winter, rather than its peak and therefore, its end?
Considering the above statements from the point of view of the 'Yijing' 易經 (I Ching)", the energies at play on this day are represented by the hexagram 24, 'Fu 復' meaning 'to return'. Why 'to return"? Let's analyse this hexagram (see next image) made of one continuous line (Yang) below and 5 broken lines (Yin) above.
An hexagram is nothing else but a cryptic, synthetic language governed by precise rules, similar to the grammatical and syntactical ones that allow all languages and utterances to convey meaning. To help the readers who may not be familiar with the "Yijing 易經 (I Ching)", let's clarify here that 1. the lines should always be read from the bottom to the top.
Having establish this, the imaginary of hexagram 24 contains a Yang line below below 5 Yin lines, a proportion of Yang to Yin of 1:5. This is, therefore, a still tiny and timid Yang, a tiny spark on light and a hint of warmth, surging in the midst of a very dark, cold and still landscape. Imagine that moment of the night when the sky slowly drops a little its black cloak. There is some light there. It is not daybreak yet, but simply its first, almost intangible step.
Fu 復 means 'to return'. Why 'to return' and not, let's say, 'to appear'? Because, indeed, this little shade of light announces the 'return' of the sun (Yang) after the long nights of Winter. From this moment on, from Winter Solstice onwards, the sun cannot but become increasingly stronger and make daylight longer. On these grounds, Zhi 至 cannot signify 'the arrival' of Winter, because it it were like this, at this time, the sun would not 'return', or, in other words, the Yang would not start to grow.
Both from the perspectives of a seasonal reading and Yin Yang, Dong Zhi 冬至 expresses the pivotal day marking the highest point of coldness and darkness and, at the same time, announcing the beginning of warmth and light. It is not Yin that has 'arrived' but, on the contrary, it is Yang that is arriving and putting an end to Winter, just after this reaches its peak.
In the 1st chapter of the "Huangdi Neijing - Suwen" we found the following sentence
"Yang Sheng Yin Chang, Yang Sha Yin Cang 陽生陰長，陽殺陰藏 :
when Yang grows Yin expands, when Yang weakens, Yin hides."
According to this statement, the Yang emerging and returning from the dark abyss of stillness and coldness makes the Yin phase end. That Yin ends means that its naturally contractive nature is defeated and made to expand following Yang. Isn't this what happens in Spring? Isn't it so that as soon as the Yang sun gives more warmth and light to Earth, the seeds sprout, the flowers open, the bushes grow tall? Indeed this 'return' at the peak of Winter announces the coming Spring,
Dong Zhi 冬至 is the 22nd out of 24 Solar Terms. It is 2 Solar Terms before the start of the New Year on 5th of February. This date coincides roughly with the Spring Festival in the lunar calendar, whose date varies from year to year. This date also falls almost between that of the Winter Solstice and that of the Spring Equinox, after which the Yang's expansion, warmth, light and radiance will be preponderant in nature.
Although the full analysis of the second part of the Chinese sentence above is out of the scope of this blog, it should suffice here to say that it indicates the opposite phenomenon. When Yang is weak and loses its power to warm and give light after the peak of summer, all nature moves towards another winter.
The ideogram 'Dong' 冬 : winter
Etymologically, the ideogram dong 冬 derives from the old character (1) shown below, indicating the hidden sun
reminiscent of the trigramme 'Kan 坎'
where one continuous unbroken line (sun, Yang) is held in between two broken lines (cold, Yin). The etymology of the character 'dong 冬‘ signifies the Yang resting in the arms of the nourishing, still power of Yin, in order to gain strength and being born again in order to allow life to continue. Following from this, it would appear that 'Dong 冬" and 'Kan 坎' signify the same natural event. Winter's Yin, coldness and darkness holds within itself the seed of Yang, heat and light, according to the principle that Yin contains the seed of Yang and Yang the seed of Yin. Dong Zhi 冬至, the peak of Yin, is thus the time when this tiny Yang returns, acquiring that gradual strength without which the life of forms would not be possible.
Health advice for the days following Dong Zhi 冬至
Despite the increasing time of daylight, Dong Zhi 冬至 and te days immediately following are not meant to be lived by launching into frenzy activity as this would consume the still unborn Yang, still held in the womb of Winter.
Of dragons rising from the abyss and roaming in the sky
The dragon surging from below the horizon, from a dark abyss enveloped in the night is a symbol of the sun, Yang. In the "Yijing易經", it rises at daybreak and returns to its dark dwelling at sunset. The physiology of the 'ten thousand living beings' resonates with it. As the sun rises, all creatures spring into activity ('to use', Yang phase, North-South axis) and as the sun gradually sets, they all move into stillness ('to recharge', Yin phase, South-North axis). This time of recharging is Winter. Dong Zhi 冬至, is the time when recharging is almost complete and everything get ready to its timely awakening.