To practitioners of Chinese acupuncture, and also patients who regularly have acupuncture, it is clear that our bodies adjust to each new season.
During each season, a particular organ is functionally prominent, and as each season changes, so too does the organ that is prominent. When this change happens, the process that takes place in a person’s body is similar to the process that takes place following a patient’s first acupuncture treatment. For a day or two following the treatment, their energy may drop; they may feel drained for the best part of those days, but then on the following day their energy returns and they feel different, more invigorated, as though all their senses and functions were suddenly working perfectly. In such patients these effects happen because their organ functions have been changed by the treatment and their body needs to get used to the new “pecking order”, as it were. With people whose organ functions are properly balanced (such as patients who regularly have acupuncture), when each season changes, they feel this same sensation, with very low energy for a day or two, and then their energy returns and they feel as though renewed. I often say that when this happens in myself, it seems akin to nature (via the change of season) having given me acupuncture.
Practitioners can clearly feel this change in the pulses of the patients we see just before each season changes, and in all the patients we see during each new season. In the days just before the seasonal change, a patient’s pulses can feel “uncertain”; there is a sort of wobble in all the pulses, as though they had been shaken up and were not yet settled back down; or were simply uncertain about what they should be doing (that is, the organs were uncertain about what they should be doing). And in all patients we see during each season, a particular organ often makes its presence felt in all the pulses. This is probably most noticeable in Spring, when the liver is prominent and all the pulses tend to have a “wiry” quality; and in Winter, when the kidneys are prominent and all the pulses tend to be deeper than usual.
This seasonal adjustment in our organ functions is also the reason why many people suffer colds and flu on the change of each season. This process of our body adjusting to the new season is demanding, and ideally you should relax and do as little as possible when the change takes place. But many people are already run down, due to their stressful lives and through driving themselves too hard; and when the season changes, they continue driving themselves too hard. Their body is so strained, it cannot maintain normal immunity, and they come down with a cold or flu.
There is no doubt that we humans are still very much attuned to the seasons, which raises the following question:
Why is it necessary for one of our main organs to be prominent in a certain season? With the other mammals, it is not difficult to see the necessity for this, since animals need to behave differently in each season. But our modern human life is no longer limited by the seasons. Yet, we are still clearly biologically synchronized with them. Why is this?
The reason for this becomes more evident when considering all mammals, rather than just humans. And this approach seems valid since all mammals have the same main organs, and any patterns in the organ functions, such as their synchronization with nature, would have been established in evolution well before humans even existed.
It is true that when considering humans, we usually imagine ourselves as being mainly mental creatures, not limited by our bodies or nature. But the fact remains that our mental world is produced by our physical organs, so that we are very much limited by the functions of our physical organs and are therefore not so different from other mammals as might be imagined.
On the other hand, it could be argued that since the organs of all mammals have the same physical functions, it ought to be possible for those functions to be used to produce “thoughts” in any mammal, just as they do in humans. It may be hard to imagine all other mammals having a mental life similar (though less developed in some areas) to our own, but I’m certain they do. Clearly other animals are not as culturally developed as humans and are (perhaps for the same reason) not as imaginative as we humans usually are. But other mammals have all the same basic emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness, affection for their fellow creature (which emotions are all produced by their main organs), and they also organize their activities and (where necessary) their environment, learn lessons, communicate with each other—which “thoughts” are also produced by their main organs, just as in humans. The differences between humans and other mammals are more a matter of emphasis than of substance.
The urge to survive in the world around us is the main driving force within all mammals. Therefore we closely monitor that world. Each animal’s main organs are major centres of activity within the creature, so that if the functioning of any one of those organs resonated with the current season (the outside world that the creature so closely monitors), this would naturally place some emphasis on that particular organ, so that the organ’s functioning would be stronger during that season.
During Spring, nature goes into a creative phase. There is new growth, which produces new energy; and there is a transformation of energy sources; animals change from relying on stored energy, to using this new energy. The liver is the most creative organ; it organizes our energy resources, and can also create new energy from stored resources; and due to this resonance, the liver becomes prominent in Spring.
In nature, Summer is a time of abundance, and this bounty is freely available to all. Of all our organs, the one that most closely mirrors this situation is the heart. It spreads nourishment to every other organ and tissue of our body, making the bounty available to all; and the heart becomes prominent in Summer.
In Autumn (or Fall), nature’s bounty comes to an end and to survive this season, animals must eke out nourishment from scarce resources. The organ whose function most closely mirrors this activity is the lungs. They find precious oxygen from an ethereal substance (the very air that surrounds us); that is, they find quality nourishment where none seems to exist, which is the function that most closely resembles the activity that the season demands. Therefore, the lung function becomes prominent in Autumn.
In Winter, nature goes into hibernation and seeds are stored, ready for new growth when the climate is more conducive (in Spring). The organ whose function most mirrors this activity is the kidneys; they store our energy, preserving it for later in life, to enable us to span many years, and also make it available in periods of sudden activity. Therefore, the kidney function becomes prominent in Winter.
Before each season changes, in order for animals to most prosper in life, they need to learn lessons from the present season, which then enables them to perform most effectively the following year. Hence, at the end of each season, there is a period of learning, of digesting any lessons that may have occurred; and the organ whose function most mirrors this activity is the pancreas. It enables the digestion of nourishment (by the small intestine), so that it can be put to best use—to make the body stronger or to be stored for use later. This process of digestion closely mirrors the activity demanded towards the end of each season, therefore the pancreas function becomes prominent at that time.
Whether in animals or humans, during each season, one of our organs is prominent, simply due to the resonance between that organ and the characteristics of the season.
Even though we no longer need to closely monitor the seasons for our survival, all our senses do still closely monitor the world around us, just as they have through evolution, and the resonance still exists between our organ functions and particular seasons, therefore these facts alone are enough to emphasize the function of a particular organ in a particular season. Hence, even though we human’s are no longer limited by the seasons, we are still just as closely synchronized to them as all other mammals are.
The feeling of adjusting to a new season, as described in the opening of this article, is the effect produced on us when the functional balance between our organs changes.
17 March 2016
Further details of the author's acupuncture research project.