The vernal equinox, March 20, is the time when the sun was directly over the equator at noon. According to the standard western calendar this is when spring begins. However, the ancient Celtic and Germanic people celebrated the first of spring around the beginning of February on the “cross quarter day” which is the midpoint between the last solstice and the next equinox. This then makes March 20 the middle of spring. Traditional Chinese culture celebrates the beginning of spring with its Spring Festival in early February; this too is based on the occurance of the cross quarter day on the lunisolar calendar.
It’s confusing when different people think spring begins at different times.
HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN SPRING HAS REALLY SPRUNG?
Seasons are determined by solar radiation. The sun is yang because it is fire; the earth is yin because it is mostly solid rock. As increasing hours of sunlight shine on the earth this rock warms; as sunlight decreases the rock cools. However, the earth and all its waters are yin, therefore they react slowly to the yang energy of the sun. That’s why we can have cool stormy weather in spring, even though there is more solar radiation. And that’s why, although the hours of daylight are decreasing, August and September can be quite warm. The interaction of yang and yin creates seasonal weather that is usually experienced as wind and temperature fluctuations.
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?
A REMARKABLE STORY OF SPRING BEGINNING
I once had a lovely elm bonsai tree. It was about the size of a basketball and lived in an oval 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 stayed around 40°F. Every February I looked forward to a miracle.
This little tree had spent the winter in total darkness at a constant temperature but it 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 and it powers the burgeoning energy in all living things. At the same time, 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 fiery heat of the sun is obviously yang energy. But the primordial Qi energy that activates life on Earth is present before and beyond what we receive from sunshine.
WE ARE LIKE THE TREES
Regardless of day to day changes in the weather, the predominant energy of spring is rising Yang Qi. It is the vital animating power that stimulates growth of all organic beings on earth and has a tremendous impact on our health and wellbeing.
Windy weather is a manifestation of yang qi and is often quite tempestuous in the spring. The same Yang Qi is moving through us. If it becomes restricted it causes problems that manifest as “wind” – in our mind it can be quick changes of mood and agitation; in our body it can cause sharp pain and muscle tension.
For us to be naturally healthy the movement of yang energy must happen without deficiency or stagnation. But it is often obstructed by a heavy, sluggish liver. This blood rich organ becomes congested during the winter, therefore we should relax and nourish the liver so the Qi and blood can flow through it. Yang Qi should be full and strong because it is the force behind the heart beat that powers the circulation of blood through body and mind.
The purpose of Spring Qigong practice is to relieve the obstructions to qi flow and increase our energy. Then, just like the bonsai tree in the closet, we can benefit from the vitality of Yang Qi regardless of the weather.