Time passes in a hurry, as does the golden age of life. People cannot help but say that “every moment is golden”. Taoist doctors, the earliest TCM doctor of Taoism in China, feature obvious time characters. WellBridge Academy shares with you the essence of traditional Chinese medicine
China’s culture consciousness features time characteristics, exploring the phenomenon of Nature and time while Western culture consciousness features space characteristics, believing that mental phenomena are closely connected to spatial awareness.
Time-characterized culture has such features as periodical change, continuation, unity, seeking of common ground, intangibles, one-dimension, infinity, dynamic and more while space-characterized culture features aperiodic variation, disconnection, separation, seeking of difference, tangibles, three-dimension, finitude, static and more. Therefore, we arrive at the conclusion: traditional Chinese medicine features characters of time culture while Western medicine conforms to space-characterized culture.
Yin-Yang and Five Elements
The Yin-Yang theory established by Taoist doctors was originally a time concept indicating the passage of the sun and moon and the turn of day and night. It was some time later that it was exalted to the level of natural philosophy to explain the relations and changes of different things, especially the periodical changing rules of them. According to Yi Zhuan: Xici I (The Remarks on the Book of Changes), “The law of Yin-Yang conforms to the rule of Sun-Moon.”
In Guanzi:Chengma (a collection of philosophical treatises during the Spring and Autumn period), it is written: “The turn of the four seasons is the passing of Yin-Yang; the length of farming days is the work of Yin-Yang; the alternation of day and night is the change of Yin-Yang.” It is clear that time changes reflect the stages, rhythm and sustainability of the movement of Yin and Yang.
For Taoist doctors, the time-characterized Yin-Yang theory lies at the root for wellness, health maintenance and diseases curing. As the core foundation of Tao medicine, Yin-Yang theory has become a powerful tool to reveal the periodical changing rule of the universe and human body.
Five elements is a natural cyclic time order with the four seasons at its core. Spring corresponds to wood, standing for east; summer fire and south; late summer earth and middle; autumn metal and west; winter water and north. Four seasons evolve to guide the five directions and lead to mutual promotion and restraint between the five elements, as well as their move in cycles. All living things on Earth thus grow and restrict each other in the framework of the five elements. All things are categorized into the five elements according to their relations with the four seasons’ evolution.
We can clearly see that the Yin-Yang universe theory and five elements system model in traditional Chinese medicine both have strong connections with the characteristics of time. By combining the two, a more detailed and accurate description is reached concerning the periodical change of things, and the order and sequence of their motions and variations. It ideally reveals the periodicity of time-characterized culture.
Unity of Man and Nature
From ancient time on, Taoism has been sticking to the idea of the “unity of man and nature”, believing that man is closely connected with all the things in the nature. Therefore Taoist doctors place the physical and pathological phenomenon in a broad realm, and approach them by considering their relations with the nature. So Taoist doctors form their basic principle of healing – “one should conform to the changes of nature and obey the rules of heaven and earth.”
Neijing (The Internal Canon of Medicine)emphasizes that man’s life is coherent to the rules of heaven and earth, and echoes with the turn of sun and moon. So it is obviously seen that man is a part of nature, whose physiological activity and pathological changes are continuously influenced by natural environmental factors such as seasons, climates, geography and more. To achieve the unity between man and nature is the prime key to maintain health.
Suwen (Plain Questions) – On Spiritual Cultivation Conforming with the Four Seasons also put forward: “So saints nourish Yang in spring and summer, and nourish Yin in autumn and winter. They follow the law of nature the same way as other living things on earth.” The fundamental connotation of “nature-man unity” is that man follows the path of nature, and the cycle of nature law shows time-characterized periodic change. So we say that the unity stressed by Taoist doctors matches the features of time-characterized culture.
Theory of Promordial Qi (Energy)
Taoist doctors are convinced that Qi is the origin of universe, meaning the fundamental property of universe is the movement and changes of Qi. The rise and fall and convergence of Yin and Yang qi, plus the interaction of the five elements qi generate all the things in the universe and drive their developments and changes.
In the outlook on substances, the Promordial Qi Theory maintains that qi is intangible continuous substance and qi gathers to form tangible things. There is no finitude of qi and it’s bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest. Separate things are connected by qi to be a closely related entirety while all the tangible things can also turn to intangible continuous qi. The continuity of substances is thus manifested.
Concerning motion, the Promordial Qi Theory explains the motion features of qi’s up and down, in and out, and the transformation between qi and concrete form. The “tangible, continuous and moving” characters of qi advocated by Taoist doctors all belong to the time-characterized culture realm.
Time Track in Health Maintenance and Disease Treatment
Taoist doctors lay much emphasis on the time factors in their wellness philosophy. They suggest adapting one’s mind state, daily life, diet and emotions to the natural environments and four seasons so as to achieve the goal of maintaining health and prolonging life.
Many old medicine classics have proposed the ideas of health preserving in four seasons. As mentioned above, Neijing pointed out “Saints support Yang in spring and summer and support Yin in autumn and winter. They follow the law of nature the same way as other living things on earth.” In addition, medical sage Zhang Zhongjing said: “nourish liver at spring for growth; nourish heart at summer for flourishing; nourish spleen at late summer for changes; nourish lung at autumn for harvesting and nourish kidney at winter for storing.”
Everything in the nature are influenced by four seasons climate change – spring warmth, summer hotness, autumn coolness and winter coldness – which forms the natural law of spring growth, summer flourishment, autumn harvest and winter storage. So health maintenance should also be conducted according to the particular climate characters of four seasons.
In spring, Yang rises and all things grow. To maintain health, one needs to follow this seasonal pattern. It is recommended to have exercise moderately to ensure the smooth flowing of qi and blood. In daily life, sleep early and get up early. Have more sweet food and less sour food. Nourish the spleen and be careful of the liver-energy rising too much.
In summer, Yang prevails. It is important to keep a clear mind, gentle emotion and happy mood to let qi function smoothly. Get up early and retire from work when evening draws in to avoid heat. In diet, cut down greasy and heavy flavor and replace them with light diet. Avoid too much consumption of raw and cold food.
In autumn, all things begin to converge. One needs to calm mind, lower qi, moisten dryness, suppress lung and nourish liver to conform to the characters of autumn. In winter, Yang qi closes in and all things begin to be stored up. Every aspect of life – state of mind, sleeping and getting up, and exercising, needs to respond to this tendency. Warm and hot food is beneficial while cold food will hurt.
When it comes to cure diseases, it is particularly important to strictly obey the laws of the four seasons.
In spring and summer, Yang qi increases and Yin qi decreases while the opposite is found right in autumn and winter. Taoist doctors follow this pattern in disease treatments. For example, in spring and winter, they prefer to prescribe medicine of cold nature to those of warm nature in order to support Yin and suppress Yang and conduct the opposite in autumn and winter.
Li Dongyuan (1180-1251) of the Jin-Yuan dynasty had rich experience in prescribing medicine according to the season. In his book On Spleen and Stomach, he said: “No matter what the disease is, there are always some ‘right’ medicines. Add some medicine of cool nature to prescription in spring; of cold nature in summer, of warm nature in autumn and of hot nature in winter.” This means that every disease is influenced by the season’s characteristics. It is always beneficial to add in some medicine which can neutralize the seasonal problems.
There is also anti-season way of healing, usually for the “deficiency syndrome”. For example, patients of Yang deficiency will be treated in spring and summer when Yang prevails by supplementing the body with the elements of the seasons and thus achieve double effects. Likewise, patients of fire excess from Yin deficiency will be treated in autumn and winter when Yin increases to reinforce Yin. By treating with seasonal medicine in proper season will give remarkable result in curing disease.
In recent years, TCM doctors in different places increasingly resort to “winter disease cured in summer” approach on patients of asthma and chronic bronchitis due to Yang deficiency. They ask patients to take medicine of warm nature or apply the medicine on their Fei Shu point on the back in midsummer, and achieve amazing result.
To take medicine or acupuncture at the exact time during a day is also an expression of obeying natural laws of day-night, Yin-Yang alternation.
It’s better to take medicine that can warm Yang, benefit qi and strengthen spleen in the morning because that is the time when Yang qi gradually increases so that the medicine can take this tendency to play its full advantage. Similarly, it’s better to take medicine which nourishes Yin, blood, liver and kidney in the dusk and evening when the Yin qi increases to enhance the effect of the medicine.
There is as well the famous “acupuncture based on Midnight-Noon Cycle of Qi”. According to the old Taoist medicine, the twelve meridians of human body correspond to the twelve hours of the day. At different time, each meridian features different ups and downs of qi and blood flowing. To master its rule and thus seize the best time for acupuncture can bring forth surprising curing effects.
Another time factor is the moon phase.
Due to the relative displacement of moon, earth and sun, the moon shows monthly rhythmic variation, which will synchronously affect people’s qi-blood flowing and functional activities.
With the waxing and waning of the moon, qi and blood rise and fall accordingly. And Taoist doctors follow this pattern and insist “no catharsis method at first quarter moon when qi and blood just begin to grow; no tonifying method at full moon when qi and blood rise to the prime already; no acupuncture at new moon when there is a deficiency of qi and blood. Such is the way to heal according to the moon phase. Suwen(Plain Questions) – On Accupuntrue decides the number s of acupoints and times of acupuncture according to the moon phase. For example, when the moon goes from waning to full, the times of acupuncture and numbers of acupoints should progressively increase, and vice-versa.
Female’s menstrual period is also obviously influenced by the waxing and waning of the moon. Not only the period duration is similar, the exact dates also manifest close pertinence. Studies show that most females undergo menstruation within the period when the moon goes from new to full. So there are doctors advocating recuperating gynecological disease according to the moon phase positions. To put it specifically, apply warming, nourishing and tonifying methods when regulating menstruation at first quarter of the moon, and regulating, activating, dredging and clearing at full moon; apply astringing and maintaining methods to prevent miscarriage at the third quarter and dehumidificating, enhancing spleen and kidney methods to arrest leucorrhoea at the new moon.