Chinese cosmology is a complex and interesting subject that has practical application for each individual’s Chinese medical treatment. Basically, there are “good” or “favorable” times of the year and day for treatment, and even better times for specific treatments, depending on your constitution and condition. This article is a brief overview of the two most familiar and utilized components of the Chinese cosmology system: Stems and Branches, and Seasonal Nodes. They are valuable to both practitioners and patients as they have direct, obvious impact on health, prevention of illness, and treatment. I will describe some of this throughout this article. By the end of reading this article, you’ll hopefully have a better understanding of why I suggest certain times of year for acupuncture treatment or herbal formulas, even when you’re feeling generally well.
Stems and Branches
In astrological and cosmological terms, the elements are referred to as the 10 Heavenly Stems. There are five elements, each of which has both a Yin and a Yang aspect; thus there are five elements and ten stems.
Beginning with the first stem, which is named Jia and is a Yang Wood stem, they cycle according to the pattern of Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, Yang Earth, Yin Earth, Yang Metal, Yin Metal, Yang Water and finally Yin Water which is the tenth stem and is named Gui. Each stem lasts for one lunar month. February 1 is the first new moon of the lunar new year in 2022, and is associated with the ninth Heavenly Stem, named Ren (which is Yang Water).
The animals of Chinese astrology are reflective of the 12 Earthly Branches. The first branch is Rat and proceeds with Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and finally Pig. As there are twelve branches and twelve months of the year, the correlation of branches and months is always the same, unlike the stems which shift as there are only ten of them. The lunar new year always begins with the 3rd branch – Tiger – which is called Yin (not to be confused with the term found in Yin-Yang as mentioned above).
February 2022 is a Water Tiger (Yin Ren) month, and it so happens that 2022 is a Water Tiger year. The stems and branches characterize not only the year and month, but also the day and hour according to the same repeating patterns. There are sixty possible combinations of stems and branches. Every sixty hours, days, months and years, one full cycle of stems and branches is completed. This could easily be extended to minutes and seconds as well.
There are 24 Seasonal Nodes that last approximately 15 days each. These reflect subtle changes in the atmosphere and environment as the seasons progress.
I have utilized these nodes in previous newsletters to indicate the changing Chinese seasons, which occur six weeks prior to the corresponding changes in the West. Chinese cosmology considers the beginning phase of a season rather than its mid-point as is done in Western cosmology. The seasonal node of Spring Begins does not correspond exactly with the first day of the lunar new year, but it is always close. Lunar new year begins this year on February 1, 2022; Spring Begins (the first day of spring) falls on February 4, 2022, approximately six weeks prior to the spring equinox on March 20, 2022. See Seasonal Treatment in Chinese Medicine to learn more about the relationship of stems/branches and seasonal nodes to treatment.