The summer solstice

In Chinese thought and as understood by Daoists, the invisible life force, qi, pervades the entire universe, Heaven and Earth, and everything is interconnected by it. As the key attribute of nature is changeability, or transformation, so the flow and change of qi takes place according to the changes occurring between the two seemingly opposite but complementary energies, Yin and Yang. This idea is illustrated in the Taiji diagram (Taijitu), which almost everyone is familiar with, at least visually. Generally speaking, yin is characterized by the female aspect, darkness, cold, while yang is characterized by the male aspect, brightness and heat. Yin can be compared to the shadow side of a mountain, while yang can be compared to the sunny side of a mountain. Moon and sun, female and male, night and day, cold and hot are all a few of a multitude of examples of yin-yang dichotomy. The mutual distribution of yin and yang forces constantly changes as one season passes into another.

The Taiji Diagram

The Taiji diagram is a common diagram in ancient Chinese and medical works, but it is not yet known how it originated. Key evidence of its origin was found in astronomical observation data from the Han Dynasty. It was observed that the various characteristics of the day-night length curve are consistent with the S-curve of the Taiji diagram, and that it was most likely drawn up in antiquity according to the annual diurnal rhythm derived from observations of 24 lunar-solar periods. 

The Taijitu describes a pattern that is universal and eternal. In the image of the black fish (symbolizing yin) and the white fish (symbolizing yang) it contains universal laws and principles of co-relations between yin-yang opposites, mutual application, balance of increasing and decreasing, mutual transformation, etc. The eyes of the yin and yang fish indicate that the relationship between the two principles is complex, they are never the same and each contains the potential, the seed of a complementary force - yin contains yang and yang contains yin. 

Duan Wu, Double Fifth Day

This is the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, falling near the summer solstice and as many dates of days connected to the lunar calendar this date is changeable. It is the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and the day is called the Double Fifth Day or Duan Wu. This year it falls on June 3, while in other years it coincides with or is just before the summer solstice. 

The festival, now celebrated as a festival of fun and competition in boats on the river, evolved from the ancient practice of honoring the river dragon, which was seen as the benevolent spirit of the waters. In the Chinese understanding of harmony, the dragon represented the yang principle. People of old believed that the river dragon controlled the rain and therefore worshiped it during the summer solstice. They asked the dragon for balanced rainfall, sufficient to ensure a good harvest, without downpours that would lead to flooding. 

That day, determined by the rhythms of the moon, was one of the many important days on the map of the lunar calendar, by which people of old used to know the correct times for sowing, harvesting, of coming of frosts, dew or fog, the arrival of the rainy season, or the periods of migration of wild animals. 

According to Chinese medicine, the leaves of some medicinal herbs, such as mugwort, are best harvested around the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. It is believed that this is when the power of the herb has risen to the highest parts of the plant, the stem and the leaves, that the greatest amount of yang energy has been absorbed and thus the plant will have the most therapeutic effect. Therefore, the mugwort used for moxibustion is best harvested during this period. Afterwards, the life force of the plant will begin to descend back to the roots.

Summer solstice

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice falls on June 21 - the longest day of the year. In traditional cosmology this day is characterized by a shift in position between the two forces of yin and yang. With the arrival of the summer solstice, the yang principle reaches the climax of its growth and will begin to decrease, while the yin principle will gradually begin to increase.

According to Daoists, the key to maintaining and regaining health is the balance of yin and yang forces in our body as an energy system. The functioning of all living organisms is rooted in the cosmic yin-yang dynamic. Health can be seen as the harmonious integration and optimisation of all energy systems. This means that all living organisms achieve profound well-being only through harmonization with the omnipresent macrocosmic dynamics in which they live. In traditional Chinese medicine, the most important macrocosmic dynamics are the positions of the sun and moon, the planets and the seasons. In nature there is a whole range of cause and effect relationships resulting from yin and yang interactions and transmutations, and those relationships can be seen as an organic system of diverse processes. So when a change takes place in the global environment, it is inevitable that it will trigger a synchronous response to other processes. We are a microcosm in the macrocosm. So we are under the influence of summer solstice and our physiology will respond to it. It is essential to always strive for balance and stability, avoiding excess and scarcity.

The Dao of Heaven is like drawing a bow. 
What is high it draws down, 
What is low it lifts, 
What has too much it lessens, 
What doesn't have enough it adds to.

– Laozi Daodejing, 77

So if we had little movement in winter, summer is the time to fully activate the body; what was tense in winter can relax in summer; what was closed can now open in the warmth of the sun, what was shortened can lengthen. It is important, as with any change, to go through it smoothly. Summer is the season of yang fullness, expansion and flourishing, also the expansion of the inner mind space. The yang culmination can be used as a carrying wave for manifesting the seeds of earlier ideas and concepts, as well as for stabilizing qigong practice and taking it further by taking advantage of a more open body and the opportunity to practice more often outside, in nature. At the same time, the internal organ associated with this time of year is the heart. The heart is the seat of shen, and for this reason the heart has a special role, as it is also the ruler of emotions, thoughts and spirit. So making sure that it is bright and cheerful, free from anger, in balance with the yang dominating the environment at this time, will help maintain health, as an agitated heart can disrupt the whole system.

Practice a lot outdoors! The form "Cloudhands - 5 Directions" is not only the simplest form of Taiji and meditation in motion, but a cosmic phenomenon. If you immerse yourself in it regularly, it may help you to get in touch with the archetypal, universal, eternal pattern of changing seasons, solstices, equinoxes, and to make contact with something very special in yourself and in the nature of all things. 

The yang in full bloom, as it is in the time of our Summer Retreat, will help us to open all joints and cavities of the body and make tissues, tendons and ligaments longer and more flexible. The Six Dragons Exercise taught in the Retreat will be the perfect tool to achieve this aim.

Have a great summer and good qi!!

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Ron Timm Qi Gong Tai Chi Still Power