On December 21, 2016
the Winter Solstice will be celebrated by cultures all over the world. This day
has been a significant one in the history of humankind ever since ancient
cultures started to track time and the movements of the sun and stars. In
China, the Winter Solstice Festival is called Dōngzhì, which translates as the “extreme
of winter.” Unlike in Western culture,
this date does not mark the start of winter, but the midpoint, or height of
winter and cold, thus the “extreme” rather than start of the season.
What does this
“extreme” indicate? It is also the extreme point of yin, as the Chinese see
this day as the return of yang. Since yin represents darkness, cold and
stillness, this day is celebrated as a return of light, warmth and movement on
our planet. Since it is the end of yin, it is also the darkest day of the year.
It is also the day our shadow is the longest or tallest. These all indicate the
extreme of yin.
philosophy views the yin/yang symbol as one of movement. Energy moves around
the outside of the taiji and when it reaches the top of the taiji circle we
have arrived at the summer solstice, or the time when yang is at its peak. The
bottom of the taiji circle represents the Winter Solstice, as this is the day
when yin reverts to yang. This endless interplay of yin and yang goes on
without end. One always turns into the other, just as fall always turns into
winter and winter into spring, etc. The seasons are part of a yearly cycle, and
the repeated patterns of nature allow us keep track of things on our planet.
The predictability of this is paramount to human life. Without such
predictability our lives would be full of chaos, as unpredictability would mean
we wouldn’t know when to plant seeds and harvest their bounty, for example.
Chinese medicine we often advise patients to “recharge their battery” this time
of year in order to get ready for the next year. This means, limiting strenuous
activities such as vigorous exercise to more gentle and nourishing spiritual
and physical activities such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation in place of
running and lifting weights, for example. Patients are told to try and go to
bed earlier and sleep in a little later to help preserve their qi for the more
active time of year- spring and summer. Yang is also preserved by keeping warm,
so bundle up in layers and don’t forget to wear your hat, gloves and scarf when
you go outside!
the clinic, moxa is a very popular treatment method the week before the
solstice because it is said to bring warmth and yang qi into the body. It helps
to tonify the body in order to reinforce this recharging of life. We can also
do specific points and needle manipulation techniques that are tonifying to the
body in order to strengthen the organ systems and increase the supply of blood
and qi in the acupuncture channels and other layers of the body. The treatment
point selections are also often influenced by the seasons and the state of yin
and yang in the body, so a skilled acupuncturist can modify the point
prescription to incorporate the influences of the seasons into the treatment