This Saturday, June 21, 2014, will start the next seasonal node (sometimes known as a Solar Term), the Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi 夏至). Summer Solstice is a very important seasonal node in that it marks the apex of Yang in the natural world and the rebirth of Yin. It is the longest day of the year, and starting the very next the days will get shorter and shorter culminating with the longest night on the Winter Solstice. In terms of the time of day, Summer Solstice corresponds to high noon, and is the time of the Heart channel. In Yijing (I Ching) symbolism, this time period is represented by hexagram number 44. Hexagram 44 is made up of Qian Heaven trigram (3 solid yang lines) over Xun Wind trigram (1 broken yin line under 2 solid yang lines). Thus, the complete hexagram is 5 solid yang lines over one broken yin line at the bottom – showing of course that the yin is being birthed once again. One of the translations for the name of Hexagram 44 is “The Queen,” also showing that this time of year begins the transition towards returning inward to the hidden, the yin, the Blood, and the Dark Mother that is referred to in the first chapter of the Dao De Jing.
When we break down Summer Solstice into the smaller 5 day periods of time, it includes the time periods know as Deer Shed Antlers (Lu Jiao Jie 鹿角解), Cicadas Begin Singing (Tiao Shi Ming 蜩始鳴), and Pinellia Grows (Ban Xia Sheng 半夏生). In the United States deer actually shed antlers earlier in the year. However, in New Jersey, this is cicada time. Last year around now we were in the middle of a 17 year cicada invasion, and in some parts of the state they weree as loud as trains! No wonder cicada shells (chan tui 蟬蛻) are good for conditions such as loss of voice. Notice also that this time is when Ban Xia, the king of drying damp and getting rid of phlegm turbidity (a Yang herb to treat a Yin pathology), is prevalent. Likewise, in China this is the time of year to harvest Aconite (fu zi 附子) to enhance its Yang nature.
Practically speaking, although this is a time of transition to Yin, this is still a hot and damp season. The first thing that is recommended during this time of year is to clear summerheat and drain dampness. For example, during this time it is common to see various skin problems due to external contraction of summerheat damp. It is also common to see other symptoms of summerheat strike such as malaise, fatigue, low-grade fever or heat effusion, low-grade headache, nausea, etc… There are several ways we can help both ourselves and our patients when they present with summerheat damp symptoms. First, of course is to regulate diet, which we will discuss in the next post. We can also counsel basic lifestyle recommendations, such as dressing appropriately to the weather (such as wearing light clothes made of natural materials that breathe well), staying in shade in the midday when temperatures are highest, and drinking plenty of light and clear fluids. This is especially important for our older patients, since as we age we lose the normal ability to adapt to more extremes in temperature. Furthermore, seniors are more likely to be on prescription medications or may have chronic medical problems that inhibit perspiration or make extremes of temperature less tolerable.
In terms of therapy, Dr. Zhong Yong Xiang of Taiwan suggests bleeding the jing well points on all the fingers for more severe cases of summerheat strike. This bloodletting method is described in my book Pricking the Vessels (click here). We can also consider performing gua sha on the back to help move stagnant summerheat damp in the exterior muscle layer.
The next recommended “to do” during Summer Solstice is Shui Hao Zi Wu Jiao 睡好子午交. This means sleep well, including the Zi and Wu hours. Certainly, sleeping well is something we should be doing all year long. Zi and Wu refer to the time periods of midday and midnight, with Zi being the 11pm – 1am hour, and Wu being the 11am – 1pm hour (adjusted for standard time in locations that observe daylight savings time). In general it is important to get into bed before the Zi hour. Remember, the Zi hour is the time of transition from Yin to Yang, representative of the Winter Solstice. After this time period our bodies are already in a state of Yang expansion, the movement contrary to good sleep. Getting to bed and sleeping through this hour ensures that we really rest, that we really go into the state of storage that replenishes our vital substances.
Likewise, the Wu hour is a time of transition, and like the Summer Solstice, represents the change from Yang to Yin. The traditional recommendation is to take a short nap during this time to get our body used to accentuate this movement of Yang to Yin. That said, the recommendation is just a short nap of maybe only 30 minutes time (this is just the beginning of Yin after all). After that, don’t linger. Get up and back to normal activity.
In the next post we’ll discuss diet for Summer Solstice.