The Chinese Calendar: resonance between heaven and the human being
In ancient times, the Chinese observed that there was a strict correlation between human and natural rhythms. Looking further, they also realised that at the basis of all life is the never ending cycle of day and night, from sunrise to sunset to night and to a new sunrise: people rise at sunrise and launch into activity, only to slow down as the sun starts to set into the night to seek restorative sleep, in order to be ready for more activity during the next day.
Circles representing cycles of life are always present in Chinese Medicine: i.e. the circles of Wuji, 無極 ,Taiji 太極, the Five Phases 五行 and the succession of the 6 Confirmations 六氣.
Studying the rhythms of the sun in the year and the whole day provided the ancient Chinese with insights into the rhythms of nature and how these were matched in human life.
Resonance, on a very basic level, means to fall asleep at night and be filled with vigour in the daytime. By default, in case of sickness, the rhythms of the sun also give a glimpse into the nature of a possible pathology: is this a pathology caused by the sun - Yang not rising or not setting? Or rising or setting too early or too late?
All other physiological functions i.e. the Zang Fu 臟腑 respond to and serve this rhythm. According to the Chinese Calendar, at the end of Winter Liver (Jue Yin) announces the imminent rising of the Yang whereas in Autumn the Lungs (Tai Yin) announces its incipient setting into the depths of the organism. All other organs, in between these two poles, announce either a greater increase of Yang and the consequent manifestation of form in all its details
The Chinese Calendar, the 24 seasons and the 24 hours of the day
Although the Chinese calendar is made of 12 months of about 30 days each, each month is further divided into two parts of 15 days, called 'small season' or 'solar terms', as they are determined by the sun's changes in the sky.
Each 'small season' gives a more accurate reading of the phenomena taking place in nature and, in the medical context, allows for a more detailed reading of a person's inner situation. Is this person in tune with the sun's rhythm? If yes, health prevails, if not disease lurks in the background. It goes without saying that, when resonance is broken, the first step in the healing process is that of recreating resonance. This is called 'working at the root' and can be equated to looking at ways of making the roots of the plant healthy, rather than pinching off its withering flowers and yellow leaves, a metaphor for what is done when treating a symptom, disregarding the fact that its appearance is a reflection of the condition of the roots.
Each small season has its starting and ending date, within which are the two Solstices ( Winter and Summer) as well as the two Equinoxes ( Spring and Autumn). Typically the year starts on the 5th day of February, a date the ancient Chinese arrived at through a complicated calculation. This date stands between the longest night of the year (21/12) and the Spring Equinox (23/03). By the 5th day of February, not only the time of light has become visibly longer, indicating that the sun's longer presence in the sky, but it is almost close to reaching the 1/2 and 1/2 quota of light/darkness characteristic of the upcoming Equinox.
The chart below gives the breakdown of the 24 'small seasons' of the Chinese calendar.
|Spring starts||lì chūn立春||4-5.02||Regardless of external conditions, this date is almost in the middle between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It indicates the time when the presence of the sun, the hours of daytime and warmth increase.|
|Rain Water||yǔ shuǐ雨水||19/02||In nature: frequent rain falls.|
|Awakening of Insects||jīng zhé惊蛰||6/03||In nature: thunder and the time when insects wake up, to foster pollination and the growth of plants.|
|Spring Equinox||chūn fēn春分||21/03||Daylight and night have the same length.|
|Bright and clear||qīng míng清明||5 /04||Clear and bight, light and life giving time both in nature and in the human body.|
|Rains grains||gǔ yǔ谷雨||20/04||This is the time when the plants sprouts and put out leaves and buds.|
|Start of Summer||lì xià立夏||5/05||Beginning of Summer, heat increases and light becomes stronger.|
|Tiny Fullness (Grain)||xiǎo mǎn小满||21/05||This is the time when some plants carry the first semi ripe fruits.|
|Ear of grains||máng zhǒng芒种||6/06||This is the time when the wheat is predominant and almost fully mature.|
|Summer Solstice||xià zhì
|21/06||Longest daytime and shortest nighttime. From the day after the light will start diminishing, gradually.|
|Minor Heat||xiǎo shǔ小暑||7/07||Strong heat arrives. The sun starts declining and, in doing so, it is closer to earth, heating it powerfully.|
|Major Heat||dà shǔ大暑||23/07||The hottest part of summer.|
|Start of Autumn||lì qiū立秋||7/08||The time when darkness is visibly growing whereas light receding, leading to the Autumn Equinox of equal light and darkness.|
|Limit of Heat||chù shǔ 处暑||23/09||Heat gradually diminishes and the climate becomes more temperate.|
|White Dew||bái lù白露||8/09||Heat is definitely receding to leave room for cooler days and nights.|
|Autumnal Equinox||qiū fēn 秋分||23/09||Day and night have the same length.|
|Cold Dew||hán lù寒露||8/10||The first dew appears on the fields, a sign of the colder nights.|
|Frost Descends||shuāng jiàng霜降||23/10||Beginning of frost now and again|
|Start of Winter||lì dōng 立冬||7/11||Here again, darkness is visibly taking over the light, leading gradually to the Winter Solstice's darkness.|
|Minor Snow||xiǎo xuě 小雪||22/11||The first snow could appear and the weather is definitely cooler.|
|Major Snow||dà xuě大雪||7/12||Cold makes its way with power, in places it may snow.|
|Winter Solstice||dōng zhì 冬至||22/12||The shortest daytime and the longest nighttime of the year.|
|Minor Cold||xiǎo hán 小寒||5/01||The weather becomes colder and colder|
|Major Cold||dà hán 大寒||20/01||'The coldest time of the year.|
The following drawing represents the movement of Yang Qi within the body during a calendar year.
Yang Qi rises from Winter to Summer and descends (goes into hiding) from Summer to Winter. The following statement from the "Huangdi Neijing - Sowen" ch.2 describes its continuous, endless cycle of waxing and waning beautifully when it says:
"When Yang is born Yin grows and when Yang declines Yin hides, 陽生陰長陽蔑陰藏“
Yang Qi , the power behind Yin Qi, encourages it to expand and show its form xing 形 , in the same way as in the first part of the year the increased presence of the sun in the sky makes all sap rise to feed the sprout and then the plant helping it to bloom and become able to bear its fruits. On the other hand of the spectrum, when Yang Qi declines, Yin also declines and its form contracts and hides, in the same way as in the second part of the year, the decreases presence of the sun in the sky makes fruits and leaves drop and trees become bare. This 'death' is however only transient event, as nature shows over and over again that the same tree returns to bear leaves and fruits in the next Winter-Summer cycle, only to slowly go back to hiding in the following Summer-Winter cycle. Human physiology resonates with it all, and it stays healthy.
The implications of this cycle are multiple and they determine the appropriate lifestyle in a given season as well as the correct emotion, the most appropriate food and the level of activity allowed. The "Huandi Neijing _ Sowen" ch. 2 gives precise instructions as how to handle each season in order to be healthy.
For instance talking of Autumn it says:
"The three months of autumn, denote taking in and balance. The qi of heaven becomes tense. The qi of the earth becomes bright. Go to rest early and rise early, get up together with the chicken. Let the mind be peaceful and tranquil, so as to temper the punishment carried out in autumn. Collect the spirit qi and cause the autumn qi to be balanced. Do not direct your mind to the outside and cause the lung qi to be clear. This is correspondence with the qi of autumn and it is the Way to nourish gathering. Opposing it harms the lung. In winter this causes outflow of [undigested] food and there is little to support storage." (1)
When human physiology is out of sink with it, illness comes. For instance, if Yang Qi does not surge on time (from 1am to 1pm) the body's ability to move an spread heat all over its surface during the day, when people should be up and about, is impaired leading to symptoms like painful movement, coldness, sleepiness .When , however, it does not descend on time (from 1pm -1am), it impairs the body's ability to retreat into rest and rebuild itself through sleep. The symptoms arising can all be erased when the periods Yang surge and decline are balanced and are on time.
(1) "Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen - An Annotated. Translation of Huang Di’s Inner Classic - Basic Questions " Vol I C 2 by Paul U. Unschuld, H. Tessenow with J.Zheng ed. University of California Press, S Berkeley Los Angeles, 2003, pg 48.
(2) Already mentioned, 2003