Spring into a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medine) and bring more zen to your yoga by Jessica Depete of free flow ACUPUNCTURE
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:
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.
I am a licensed osteopathic acupuncturist in the state of Pennsylvania, and am certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. I graduated from the Tri-State College of Acupuncture in Manhattan in 2005 and have been practicing in East Stroudsburg and Stroudsburg ever since.
March is a month of transition as we move from the season of vata to kapha. In Ayurveda the season of vata runs from fall to early winter and is dominated by the elements of air and space. During vata season we can expect dry cold and windy weather. The season of Kapha is dominated by earth and water and runs from late winter through spring. Wet, heavy and cool weather can be expected during kapha season. The increase of moisture in the atmosphere can be seen as the tipping point between the seasons.
Although each season has two dominating elements one element is more dominate than the other. Air dominates the season of vata, while water is kapha's dominating element. All elements like to reside in certain areas of our bodies and when those elements increase in nature, they can also increase in our bodies.
The colon is the main location for the air element, however it also likes to hang out in our joints, the area between the diaphragm and throat, the heart, head and small intestines. The main function of air is movement. Vata, which means "air" in Sanskrit, is responsible for all movement in our bodies. That includes, respiration, peristalsis, urination, excretion and birth and circulation of blood. An imbalance of air in the body can result variable digestion (Vishama Agni) leading to gas and constipation, stiffness in the joints, tremors, muscle spasms, loss of appetite and insomnia. The overall sense of excess lightness and instability can also lead to feelings of anxiety and mental spacyness.
Water is mainly located in stomach, but also likes to reside in our oral cavity, plural cavity, respiratory tract, joints, and nervous system. In Sanskrit kapha means "to bind" and is responsible for all bodily fluids( i.e. plasma, urine, saliva, gastric secretions, sweat, synovial, lymph, semen), immunity, structure, growth and support. An imbalance of water in the body can lead, to edema, weight gain, respiratory issues, mucous, lethargy, and decrease in digestion (madna agni) leading to constipation. An excess of water can also lead to dullness in the mind resulting possessiveness and depression.
During transitional times of the year it is important to become the constant observer of our minds and bodies to determine if there is an imbalance and what might be the cause. In Ayurveda a rule of thumb is that like increases like, so those who already have water or air in their mind/ body constitutions (doshas), may experience more symptoms of an imbalance than those who do not. For instance those with fire dominance (pitta) may be doing cart wheels this time of year. Once you've observed and discerned the imbalance the proper yoga asanas and pranayama can assist with in alleviating the imbalance.
The movement of the wind is erratic, so there can be excessive movement (i.e. tremors) or deficient movement (i.e. stiffness). An imbalance in air requires a calming and grounding approach, as well as warming the body and strength building. The end result of as satisfying practice should be a feeling of groundedness, calm and support.
For those with an imbalance in the air element nadi shodhana (alternate nostril) pranayama, is a excellent choice to calm and balance the mind. Focusing on the retention of breath after inhale helps to create heat. Also during practice a deep even breath or ujjjayi pranayama adds heat to the body as well as focus and calm the mind is preferred.
Asanas that help to ground the energy and move any stagnant air in the colon and lower abdomen while warming the body are best. The focus/ intent of the practice should be, strength, stillness, balance and grounding. The overall timing of the practice should be slow and mindful featuring long holds. Forward folds of all types help to contract the lower abdomen and colon helping to dispel gas and improve elimination. Standing poses connect us to the earth and move the energy downward (apana vayu), while strengthening the muscles. Twisting poses message the abdominal organs releasing tension. A long Savasana to balance vata should be (20 - 30 minutes), with the use of an eye pillow and blankets to provide a warm cocooning effect. The focus should be relaxing into stillness.
The slow, heavy, cool and dense feeling of water can be felt in the upper or lower part of the body. The accumulation of water is usually felt in the upper body where mucus accumulates in the chest, throat, as well as the head and can cause congestion around the heart. Kapha in the lower body presents as fat deposits in the abdomen and thighs or water retention in the lower abdomen and legs. The binding qualities of Kapha can also lead to over-attachment resulting in lethargy/dullness in the body and mind.
A Kapha balancing practice should result in reduction of mucus, water and body fat, as well as heat and strengthen the body. There should be a sense of lightness and renewed vigor as well as a feeling of detachment.
A heat building pranayama like Kapalabhati or Bastrika, help to reduce congestion and mucous; increase lung capacity; oxygenate the blood and strengthen abdominal muscles. Focusing on the exhalation helps the energy to move upward (udana vayu). Using a deep ujjayi breath during practice heats breath, encourages full expansion of the lungs, and brings focus to the breath, calming the mind.
Asanas that broaden and open the chest, increase stamina and strength as well as promote upward movement of energy are best. Backbends strengthen the back while stretching and opening the chest; promoting better breathing, reduction of mucous and congestion in the chest and upward movement of energy. Lateral asanas (i.e. virabhrdrasana ll and trikonasana) stretch the intercostal muscles between your ribs, and strengthens the diaphragm, abdomen, for better breathing. Twists not only massage the abdominal organs, but it also stokes digestive fire (jathara agni), heating stomach, helping to relieve congestion in the chest while improving digestion. Inversions; increase circulation providing more oxygen to the brain reducing dullness, allows lymph to more easily enter respiratory system, thereby boosting immune system, energizes the brain through increased blood flow and promotes upward movement of energy. The timing of the practice should be a vigorous pace, with long holds and repetition. Focus should be on strengthening, expansion, extending, and upward movement of energy. Unlike the cocooning effect for vata, kapha savasana can be done without props for 5 - 15 minutes with the focus n relaxing and releasing.
Through observation and self study (svadhyaya), we can discern if water or air is causing a imbalance in our constitution and act accordingly. Once again pitta (fire) is more than likely enjoying some of the more invigorating activities that they cannot in warmer weather. But pitas should remember to stay dry, and avoid a chill; water and wind can dampen fire. Cool is good, but cold not so much.
Boundless Yoga Staff & Students
We are continuously interested on how our reactions and responses to our personal journeys, albeit travel, adventure, new job, etc. mirror and reflect our social, emotional and spiritual ups and downs. We try every day to apply what we learn about ourselves on the yoga mat to our personal lives. Thank you for tuning in as we share some of those aspects with you.