According to the Chinese Solar Calendar, the "beginning of summer" or “Lixia 立夏, falls on the 5th of May, 2021 and it is the first "Small Season" or "Solar Period" of Summer, but the 7th since the beginning of the New Year on the 5th of February.
Why does 'Lixia, start of summer' fall on the 5th of May?
First of all, it is important to understand why the Chinese summer starts on the 5th of May, rather than on the 21th of June as proposed by the Gregorian calendar?
The “Spring Equinox” falling on the 23rd of March is a day characterized by equal times of light and darkness, a stage determined by the increasing presence of the sun in the sky, since the “Winter Solstice” f(21st of December). Following from it, the hours of daylight and warmth (both Yang qualities) have also increased gradually. Light (more Yang) gradually has won over darkness (more Yin) and warmth (more Yang) over coldness (more Yin).
After the “Spring Equinox”, the heat and light (both more Yang) have increased even further, gaining a definite advantage over darkness and coldness (both more Yin). At this time, matter is energised, expands and manifests, revealing itself. We observe it in nature: matter comes to life, is born again.
Out of this we can formulate a general rule, namely that ‘Yang makes Yin expand and manifest which is like saying that Yang makes Yin's contractive coolness recede as inert (Yin) matter is filled with life (Yang) and more matter is generated and expanded.
From this time on, the temperature will climb sharply (more Yang) and there might be some rainfall caused by the evaporation of the water of lakes, seas and rivers as they are hit by the hot sun rays.
Rain at this time of the year, helps the growth of vegetation, prevents the damage of the drying effect of the sun and, most of all, prevents shortage of water.
LI Xia marks the start of the 4th month of the year and also the beginning of a period of 15 days where these changes establish themselves. From the perspective of the so-called Chinese clock, the 4th hour corresponds to the time between 9-11 am.
As this is the beginning of the summer, it also has the characteristics of Fire. These two climates thus mingle as damp – heat.
What happens in nature, happens also in our bodies.
As the seasonal heat increases, our bodies tend to become warmer, and the body fluids circulate both within and on the surface, providing hydration and producing the sweat needed for thermoregulation.
In human physiology, the 4th hour of the day (9 am-11 am) is ruled by the Spleen and, by extension, the 4th month of the year is also ruled by the Spleen.
Why does Spleen rule the 4th month and the 4th hour?
Looking at the Chinese clock above, we can see that the Gallbladder peak time is between 11 pm and 1 am and that the Liver peak time is between 1 am and 3 am.
The Chinese place the beginning of the new day and of the New year, during the peak time of the Lungs. At this point, things could become very complex and advanced. Let’s not get there. For the purpose of this article, it suffices to say that the time we start our autonomous life as matter-body starts precisely with our first breath. At this time, we connect with cosmic Life and remain connected to it all our lives, only to disconnect from it as we exhale our last breath as matter-body.
Another aspect worth noting about the Chinese way of counting the hours is that 1 Chinese hour is made up of 2 regular hours, as we calculate them. This way of counting time divides the day into 12 parts, which correspond to the 12 months.
It goes without saying that, if Lungs’ peak time marks the first Chinese hour (3-5 am), this corresponds to the first month of Spring, starting on the 5th of February according to the Chinese solar calendar (and either slightly later or earlier according to the Chinese moon calendar).
Given what I said above, counting from the first hour 3-5am or from the 1st month of spring, as the time of Spleen is 9-11 am it follows that this organ will also be at its peak the 4th month of the year.
Another note that’s worth mentioning is that the Chinese clock does not follow the order of the Five Phases/Elements. In Chinese medicine, the Chinese Clock is called the “Law of midday and midnight” and it emerges from another perspective than that of the Five Phases/Elements. Both are valid perspectives very much used in Chinese Medicine.
Back to Spleen
Amongst other functions, Spleen moves the fluids and produces the ‘lightest and cleanest’ product of food and drinks. Thus, it both humidifies and nourishes the whole body, including the blood. This is why it is important to keep it strong in order to be able to perform all its tasks. A hot and humid climate can easily damage it, resulting in body heaviness and swelling and weakness of the limbs as well as more frequent incidence of diarrhoea to name only a few symptoms.
However, the 4th month, starting with “Li Xia, beginning of summer” pertains also to Fire and heat. At this time, we expect heat to surge gradually, as in the 24 hours Qi moves towards Midday and in the year towards Summer becoming warmer and warmer.
At a glance, we can now see how, from the Winter Solstice Yang Qi had been rising more and more, marking periods of 15 days to reach the last Small Season of Spring called “Rain of cereals, Gu Yu 谷雨”, through a process of gradual warming and upwards surging, physiological for a season characterized by the birth and growth of plants. Now, from LI Xia, it will continue its progress further to reach its apex at the Summer Solstice.
The Zang associated with Fire is the Heart. Heart is born in Fire and yet does not like heat to be excessive: at this time, if the body is not able to thermoregulate adequately, people with a weak heart, can suffer a stroke or a heart attack.
Heat and damp, therefore, although physiological at this time of the year, can harm people with weak heart and spleen, or if excessive for the season, weaken the defensive system of the body and cause diseases. In order to prevent excessive accumulation of damp and heat in the body, it is useful to take some precautions.
We must therefore prevent damage by making wise lifestyle choices.
The diet ought to be light and consist mainly of foods that are digested easily. At this time, avoid eating the meat of large and heavy mammals, large fish, animal fat, or make excessive use of spicy and fried food.
As heat rises, people tend to reach for frozen drinks, which is harmful to health as cold freezes and prevents the smooth circulation of blood helping fluid stagnation and steaky damp to accumulate. It is precisely damp that burdens the body, accentuates bloating and swelling, by harming the Spleen that ends up not being able to extract the nutrients needed for life and circulating fluids.
More specifically, traditionally at this time of the year, it is appropriate to mix yellow, black, green beans and peas with rice (Five colour rice), eat nutritious eggs cooked in water with walnut shells or green tea, and prepare for the heat in order to protect the heart, by eating soups.
Eating less is also indicated, as according to the Chinese, in order to benefit from this season, we need to: “Eat one meal and drink two soups”
On hot days, it is useful to drink Chrysanthemum tea mixed with a light green tea and freshly cut apples or on its own.
Sleep and lifestyle
As for rest, as summer sets in, going to bed a bit later is allowed. Chinese doctors suggest that a good time to go to sleep in summer is about 11 pm, whereas a good time to start the day is at about 7am. In the old days, however, people would start their day at 5-6 am, joining others in parks to do Taijiquan or Qigong, uniting with nature and gently waking up the body’s energy in view of the day.
Another good practice, which may be difficult to follow in our busy lives, is to protect the heart by taking a short nap during its peak time (11 am-1 pm), at about 12 noon.
LI Xia 立夏 will only last 15 days, and it will be followed by another Small Season or Solar term called “Xiao Man 小滿 small plentifulness”, which will bring the process mentioned above to another stage of manifestation.
Copyright©Academy of Oriental Medicine 2021