In Chinese medicine, the same patterns that are observable in nature are observable within each of us. Seasonal shifts and patterns are reflected in our health and our moods. And while most humans view warmer weather and longer days favorably, the transition from winter to spring also is a tumultuous one. As an acupuncturist, I see patterns in the clinic that are as definitive a sign of spring as the sight of a crocus or a robin.
Winter is the season of ultimate Yin. We go within, we go deep, we get quiet. As we head into the Yang half of the year, the movement towards Spring's warmth, brightness and expansiveness after Winter's dormancy can be unsettling.
Spring is associated with the Wood element in Chinese medicine, which encompasses the Liver and Gallbladder organs and meridians. The Liver governs the smooth flow of qi in the body and of emotions, and it rebels when it is impeded. Imbalances in the Wood element are very prevalent in our modern life and they are exacerbated during its associated season of Spring.
So what do we see in the clinic at this time of year? Eye issues, like floaters, dry eye, itchy eyes, or watery eyes. Muscular tension, inflexibility and injury of the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Menstrual irregularity, PMS, and breast tenderness. Frequent sighing and a feeling of constantly needing to clear the throat. And most of all – irritability, short-temper, quickness to anger and frustration. Liver likes to flow freely and when it is obstructed it causes these kinds of symptoms.
So how can we care for our lovely Livers so we can enjoy the spring beauty? We can:
- eat fresh, lightly-cooked food and eliminate toxins (like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, additives, preservatives, food dyes, drugs, and alcohol, for example).
- take herbs that support Liver - either Chinese herbs that are prescribed by a licensed acupuncturist or herbalist, or Western herbs like milk thistle or dandelion root.
- manage our stress and our emotions by meditating daily and venting our frustrations safely through writing or talking with supportive friends.
- get moving by taking a walk outside or doing yoga, which is one of the best ways to smooth the flow of qi.
- get outside and breathe fresh air.
As for food, we can eat the green foods that start to appear at this time of year – asparagus, peas, scallions and lettuces. If your body is craving sour foods (like lemon or vinegar), you can add a moderate amount of them to your diet, along with gently warming pungent foods like ginger, garlic, fennel, horseradish and scallions. When Gallbladder is unhappy, you may find that you have shoulder tension, flatulence, indigestion and a bitter taste in your mouth, so care for your Gallbladder by avoiding heavy, fatty or greasy foods, and stop eating when you're about 80% full.
Acupressure can be really helpful for soothing the Liver. Liver-3, also called Great Rushing or Great Surge, is the most powerful point on the Liver channel. It can be found between the first and second toe, and is usually very tender to the touch, so rub with a gentle circular motion. I also encourage you to massage the tender points around your eyes as well as on the bony ridge around your ears, and if you can get someone to give you a shoulder and neck rub, all the better!
Most importantly, in my opinion, it is time to spring clean the soul. Where are the obstructions in your life? Where are the things that block your growth, your expansion, your vision? Reflect on these kinds of questions with an openness to finding ways to move or circumvent these blockages so you can manifest the changes that have been incubating all winter. When we care for the Liver, the Liver cares for us, leaving us to enjoy the flowers, birds and butterflies of Spring.
* names of organs and seasons are capitalized in Chinese medicine as they refer to not just the organs, but the meridians and emotional/spiritual functions of the organ system.
by Jessica DePete of Free Flow Acupunture
You can check out how TCM is applied in practice as Chris Loebsack leads you through Zen Flow on Monday evenings at 5:30 pm. Each class focuses on a different element and will work poses to strengthen and stretch the meridian lines and body pathways associated with that element.