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When Does Spring Begin?

When Does Spring Begin?


Our standard western calendar says that spring begins on the Vernal Equinox, March 20, when the sun is directly over the equator at noon. The ancient Celtic and Germanic people celebrated the first of spring around the beginning of February on the “cross quarter day,” which is that midpoint between the last solstice and the next equinox (this then makes March 20 the middle of spring). It’s confusing and arbitrary. So how do we know when spring has really sprung?


When in doubt, always look to nature for the answers. The budding of new leaves on plants is the surest sign that spring is beginning. We usually think that the timing of this new growth is dictated by longer hours of daylight and/or warming temperatures. But is it?


I once had a lovely elm bonsai tree. It was about the size of a basketball and lived in a round ceramic pot. Like all deciduous trees this elm needed a dormant period to rest but it couldn’t tolerate prolonged freezing. So I put it in a small, dark closet attached to the outside of the house where the temperature stays around 40°F. Every February I looked forward to a miracle. This little tree, which had spent the winter in total darkness at a constant temperature, began to come alive with a multitude of new leaves in the first half of February. Sometimes it was a Valentine gift, sometimes it started earlier. When I peered into the dim light of the opened closet and saw little drops of green all over the bonsai tree I knew that spring had arrived. What caused this tree to bud out? As you have seen, it was not increasing periods of light or changing temperatures. What is it that empowered this plant to break out of its dormancy and burst forth with the green promise of new growth? The answer is that the Yang Qi of nature is rising throughout the world at this time of year while the Yin Qi that was dominate in winter is slowly waning. The bonsai tree, just like every living thing, is responsive to the Qi of nature.


The cyclic movement of Qi is what causes the seasonal changes. Qi is the vital animating energy that keeps all sentient beings alive on earth. Qi is the kinetic force that powers every type of movement in the cosmos. Qi never stops. It is constantly ebbing and flowing between its two phases: yin and yang. The yang Qi increases throughout the spring and reaches its zenith at the Summer Solstice. Then the yang Qi begins to wane and the yin Qi increasingly dominates the world until the Winter Solstice.


Because we are part of nature the essential seasonal movement of Qi also occurs within us. During winter the Qi was stored in our lower dan tian (lower abdomen), the kidneys, and the bones. Now as we transition into spring, the Qi is rising—it is now called Yang Qi—up through our bodies toward the middle dan tian in the chest. This natural movement of energy should happen without deficiency or stagnation. But it is often obstructed in its ascent by a heavy, sluggish liver. Our practice is to relieve the obstructions and increase our energy.

Words of wisdom from the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine:
“We will have better health if the Qi and
 the Blood are abundant
and freely circulating in body and mind.”

 

 

 

Relax Into Spring

Spring is the busiest time of year, and often the most frustrating. There is so much we want to do, especially outdoors, and yet the tumultuous weather often interferes with our desires. Expectations for a gentle unfolding of winter’s prolonged icy grip are frequently crushed with yet another blast of cold air. So we get tense, irritable and downright cantankerous. Call it “spring fever”. The remedy is to relax. Of course, you know that. We hear it all the time, “just relax”.

And yet it often seems nearly impossible. Like we actually don’t know how to relax the body and turn off the chatter of the mind. Getting the body and mind into a state of true quietness seems beyond our understanding and ability. So I want to share a simple and very effective technique from Daoist Qigong to help you enter a state of deep quiet. Why is this important?

The Qi can only circulate with maximum benefit when the organs, the surrounding muscles, the web of connective tissue, and the intrinsic vessels and nerves are calmly relaxed. This state of physiological quietness is unique to Qigong. It is a kind of alert peacefulness that melds the body and mind together into a complete whole.


Dr. Jiao Guorui, a well respected contemporary Qigong practictioner in China, calls this state entering quiescence. He describes it in his book Qigong Essentials for Health Promotion:

"Entering quiescence is a major requirement of qigong exercise. But how to achieve this is a common problem for beginners. First of all we must understand the quiescent state correctly. This state exists relatively as compared to the dynamic state. Life is movement and the quiescent state is actually stillness in movement. It is not motionless. Therefore, qigong exercise is essentially quiescent motions. When we enter the quiescent state we are entering a special state of movement within the body.
What then is quiescence? It is a special state of inward quietude. In this state the brain eliminates interferences from both inside and outside the body, providing favorable conditions for the central nervous system to carry out the active, natural regulation of body functions and mental abilities.
Some people, after entering quiescence during qigong, feel like a frozen river that is melting during the springtime...their whole body is completely relaxed and comfortable."

The state of being “completely relaxed” is especially important for the liver. This amazing visceral structure has more functions that any other single organ. During the process of filtering and detoxifying the blood, producing hundreds of enzymes and hormones, and regulating the volume of circulating blood, the liver tends to become congested. For it to work properly it must be decongested and supple. The Chinese say that a healthy liver is like “a free and easy wanderer,” responsible for the smooth and harmonious flow of blood and Qi throughout the body and mind.

Spring is the time of year when the concentration of Qi is rising up from the kidney area and into the middle chest. This rising Qi often becomes obstructed by a stagnant liver that is clogged with the debris of its functions. Qigong for Spring helps the liver to become free and easy by the use of special qigong exercises, herbs and foods. A special exercise to enable you to enter quiescence and benefit the liver is Inner Nourishing.


Inner Nourishing
This exercise may be done sitting or lying down. Rest and be comfortable but alert.
Start to inhale and think of bringing the qi up the back, over the head and to the mouth. While inhaling gently place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth and silently say, “I am calm.”
Then start to exhale and bring the qi down the front of your body to the lower dan tian. While exhaling let the tongue rest gently on the floor of your mouth and silently say, “and relaxed.”
Do this for a few minutes.


Inner Nourishing, "Nei Yang Gong", was a secret Daoist healing method developed during 
the Ming dynasty that was transmitted by qigong masters to only one select student. It enhances the Qi circulation through the two major meridians: Governing Vessel from tailbone up to the mouth and Conception Vessel from mouth to perineum. In 1947 Dr. Liu Guizhen began to teach this powerful qigong exercise to the public for the greater good of society. He knew that one of the greatest benefits of Qigong is the internal relaxation of the body.