It’s spring! The days are beginning to get longer and the flowers are blooming. I’m starting to see people frolicking in the sun, lounging in parks and generally getting happy that the end of winter has finally arrived. I’ve definitely been kicking off my shoes and digging my toes into grass during lunchtime jaunts to the park. Isn’t it fabulous?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we think of the body as a small version of the universe around us - a microcosm of the macrocosm. As the seasons change, so should we. Humans should be adaptable; to flow with the seasons is to live in harmony. By doing this, we can avoid illness.
What happens to our Qi in spring?
Spring is the season of the WOOD element. The corresponding organ is the LIVER; the flavor is SOUR; the energetic movement is UP and OUT. This is a time of expansion, growth, and change. Think of the new growth that happens at this time – gardens are full of new shoots that are growing upwards and outwards. If we are moving in harmony with the seasons we should be doing the same – our Qi should be expanding and moving outward after hunkering down and hibernating all winter. We should start to feel more energy, and with this change, the ability to make plans and start new projects.
Wood Organ – the Liver
In a Western biomedical sense the liver has roughly 500 functions, including the synthesis of amino acids, the production of bile (to aid digestion), blood flow, insulin regulation and the degradation of toxins for excretion. Basically, it supports the function of all the other organs in the body.
From a TCM perspective, the Liver is a very Yin organ with a Yang function – it both stores the Blood (a Yin fluid) as well as making sure that it moves the Blood around the body (a Yang function). The Liver regulates the volume of Blood in the body (for menstruation) and it nourishes the sinews and tendons of the body for good joint strength. The Liver also regulates the smooth flow of Qi around the body, allowing for appropriate energy levels and even moods. The Liver most importantly houses the Hun (ethereal soul), which is the part of our mind that plans and finds a clear path in life.
As you can see, our Liver is a super important organ, no matter which perspective you look at it from!
What does it look like is the Liver is out of balance? Wood (and Liver) energy is dynamic, unstoppable and action-centered. If the energy meets an obstacle or isn’t able to flow correctly (through a sedentary lifestyle, strong emotions or excess stress), then the energy builds up and becomes blocked. This stagnancy can become Heat, which further slows down the Qi movement – it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. This problem will begin to present itself as a pain in the ribs, stressful emotions, depression, sore muscles (especially the shoulders and neck), irregular menstruation and cramps, migraines, red sore eyes and tinnitus.
If you tend towards these problems they can become heightened in the spring as your Qi naturally tries to move but comes into contact with internal blockages. When you come up against these symptoms it is generally your Liver yelling ‘Hey! Look at me! Fix me!’ and trying to make itself heard so that you can make the necessary lifestyle changes.
As spring is the time of the Liver organ it’s the perfect time to make a few small changes so that you can avoid these kinds of Liver stagnation issues.
Emotional health in spring – setting intentions
As the Qi of spring is constantly growing and moving outwards the main themes of the season tend to revolve around, SELF-ASSERTION, BIRTH and RENEWAL. If the Liver is balanced and the body is harmonious then you should be feeling kindness and forgiveness. However if the Liver is unbalanced and the Qi isn’t moving then the dominant emotions will be anger and frustration. Like that feeling when a new project doesn’t unfold as we want it to – our forward momentum is set back and the resulting emotional conflict builds up leading to disappointment (and later, stagnant Qi).
The Liver and its corresponding Yang organ the Gall Bladder are both concerned with decision-making, judgment and clarity. This is a time to let go of old thought patterns, create new visions and begin new projects. The Liver organ is in charge of our eyes, the health of our vision and how we see the world. It is also important to understand that this is more than just WHAT we see – it’s also HOW we see and what we ENVISAGE i.e. what we want to do with our future and how we can make that happen.
Basically, this is a perfect time to create mood boards, set goals, define your values and figure out what you want from the coming days and months.
Spring health tips
MOVEMENT – of all of the elements, Wood is the one that likes to move the most. In fact, movement is it’s natural state. One of the best ways to avoid the negative parts of the Wood element is to stretch and move your body. Stretching and exercising (even gentle walking) improves blood flow to all parts of your body and can help to unwind some of those physical and energetic knots in your body. Yoga can be good, but if that’s not your thing pick something that floats your boat – jogging, walking, hiking, weights or cycling are great as long as you enjoy them.
LET GO – spring is the time of new beginnings. Let go of anything that was weighing you down during the previous heavy winter months. Take some time to sit down and clarify your goals and values. What brings you joy and happiness? Are you able to replace any of the things that have been negative in your life with these new positive aspects? The Liver is a very emotional organ that loves to hold on to old anger and worries. Let these go! Take this season as an opportunity to emotionally relinquish things that are no longer serving you – situations, relationships and emotions – and welcome in the space for new exciting times.
EAT FRESH, GREEN + SOUR – this is the time to lighten your digestive load after the heavier eating of winter. Start making some swaps for fresher and lightly cooked foods. One of the easiest ways to get sour foods into your diet is to add a fresh squeeze of lemon juice over your vegies or have a shot of apple cider vinegar in warm water 30 minutes before meals.
GET ACUPUNCTURE - Acupuncture is an amazing and gentle way to even out any ‘stuck bits’ in the body – be it physical, emotional or energetic. If you’re feeling sick, stuck, sad or just plain confused, see your local acupuncturist for a seasonal tune-up. You might find that while you’re doing all the above things in the right way a good Acupuncture session or two can really help to turn things around. There are also some fantastic herbal formulas that might be up your ally too.
ANYTHING GREEN – lots of fresh greens and herbs (the more varieties the better), cucumbers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, sprouts, peas and fennel – the list could go on forever! Green veggies are generally filled with magnesium + chlorophyll that alkalize the blood, relax muscles, calm the mind and help the Liver regulate and excrete toxins.
ANYTHING SOUR – sour apples, lemons, limes, grapefruits, kiwis, honeydew melon and apple cider vinegar. Sour is the flavor of Wood and the Liver. It helps to pacify angry, stagnant Liver Qi and gently move it where it needs to go.
FOODS TO AVOID – anything dense, heavy and stagnating can clog your Liver’s ability to move freely. Spicy foods, alcohol and coffee tend to aggravate the Liver so it’s best to keep these things in moderation. Instead, why not have a cup of green tea? It contains L-theanine – an amino acid that increases positive neurotransmitters, alpha brain waves and dopamine. All of which will help to improve your clarity, concentration and put a bit of pep in your step!
COOK LIGHT – Instead of eating anything too oily, fried or spicy, stick with light and fresh foods. Prepare meals simply, and cook them quickly – stir-fried, steamed and lightly sautéed foods are definitely best at this time.
Welcome to spring!
PLEASE NOTE: In saying all of this, its super important to listen to your body. What does it want? What is it telling you? Is it saying that you need something in particular? It’s really important to gather information to make the choices that are right for you and your body. This information isn’t personal medical advice – rather it’s a guideline on ways that could help you to live a healthier, happier lifestyle. It is always wise to consult with a qualified health practitioner before starting any new herbs, supplements or dietary and lifestyle programs.