While the Summer solstice on June 20 is widely regarded as the first day of Summer and the longest day of the year, it is not necessarily the best indicator of the first day of the Summer season. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Summer begins on May 6 and ends July 19.
TCM is a time-honored practice dating back to more than two centuries before the common era follows the principles set forth in the Wu Xing or the Five Element Theory. Many traditional Chinese fields use the Five Element Theory to help explain a wide array of phenomena from cosmic cycles to the interaction of internal organs and much more.
The philosophy of the Five Elements are also known as the Five Phases, the Five Movements, and the Five Processes, among others. In the Wu Xing which is an extension of yin/yang theory we are given the dates for the four seasons plus the dates for four "between season" periods. The name Wu Xing is the shortened form of the complete term "Wǔ zhǒng liúxíng zhī qì” which can be translated as "the five types of chi which are dominant at different times.”
These five phases function metaphorically, providing images that ancient theorists used to organize their thinking about the physical world. The five phases describe a cycle that represents the inherent existence of change and reflects yin and yang movements in nature.
–Sandy Fritz, Mosby’s Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage
Traditional Chinese thinkers were fond of pondering the cyclical aspects of nature with the repetition of days, moons, seasons and years as they observed the effects of those cycles on all living organisms. Humans, like animals and plants, are affected by nature’s cycles so it is not surprising that the study of nature was the first basis in their understanding of vital energy. Knowing that there can be no effect without a cause, the predictable seasonal patterns pointed to the existence of a cause.
Unlike ancient Greeks and Egyptians who attributed cause to the whims of various gods, the Chinese simply saw chi (energy) as the mover of matter but not as a deity. They saw this energy being responsible for cyclical and predictable stages and changes. They evolved the more complex and subtle Law of the Five Elements which includes the energies symbolically named Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water and the multiple aspects of their interrelationship with each other.
The ancient Chinese saw how the cycles of the seasons profoundly impact everything from weather to plants and crops, animals and even human mental well-being. They surmised that to each season corresponds a specific energy that influences all life forms.
They concluded that in addition to the cyclical movement of yin and yang, there must also be changing energies causing, and therefore related to, seasonal changes. They subdivided yin and yang into five phases, also called elements that they named: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.
In the Wu Xing, Summer begins May 7 and ends July 19. Shortly therafter and until August 6 is a "between seasons" period leading up to the Fall season.
According to the Wu Xing, the 72 day period of energetic Summer is a time of swelling and flowering full of energy and fire. The heart and the small intestine are the organs that require focus especially during energetic Summer so that their function may be balanced and in harmony with the season. The emotions of Summer are exuberance and joy.
Finding and feeling harmonious joy can be beneficial to the function of the heart.
When joy is not insistently accompanied by constant stimulus and sought as the only emotion to be had–which is to say, when it is spontaneous–it fortifies health. It distends and relaxes. It improves all the organs’ functioning and favors a smooth flow of blood, energy and fluids.
–Pablo Noriega, Bach Flower Essences and Chinese Medicine
It’s important to avoid prolonged exposure to strong sunlight especially on the head by wearing a hat or scarf. Avoid dehydration and avoid plenty of fluids during hot Summer weather which will help prevent imbalance. In Chinese medicine chrysanthemum tea is especially recommended at this time.
Hot or cold chrysanthemum tea cools and calms the nerves. It is especially beneficial for Water and Fire element people but suitable for all.
–Su-Mei Yu, The Elements of Life: A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions
Editor's Note: This post was originally published May 10, 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
Photo of Chrysanthemum Tea by Tim Chow at Unsplash.com
Sandy Fritz, Mosby’s Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage–Pageburst E-Book on Kno Retail Access Card Anatomy, Physiology, Biomechanics, and Pathology. Mosby Inc, 2016.
Yu, Su-Mei. The Elements of Life: A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions f. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.
Noriega, Pablo, and Loey Colebeck. Bach Flower Essences and Chinese Medicine. Healing Arts Press, 2016.