We welcome spring, rejoicing in the longer days and the vision of growth and rebirth after the depth and introspection we experienced in winter. The seeds planted last autumn that have germinated over the winter become buds beginning to break through the frozen earth, and signs of renewal and hope start to stir within us; the seeds of change that we planted within ourselves now push through with the new energy we feel. A sense of renewal gives us the vision and inspiration to bring our goals and creative energy to fruition.
In the West, spring officially begins on March 21st, when the days and nights are exactly the same—the spring equinox. The Chinese feel that, energetically, spring begins with the Chinese New Year, in February, when the light begins its return, and the dormant forces under the frozen ground are called to life again. In both systems the basic energy remains the same: new beginnings and a fresh start.
As beautiful and welcome as spring is, in these early months of spring, some of us experience intense feelings of irritability, often accompanied with anxiety and depression. Statements like “Everyone else seems so happy, yet I feel jumpy and frustrated; something is wrong with me!” are common. Statistically the suicide rate in spring is the highest of all the seasons (with the exception of the week between Christmas and New Year).
It has been noted that these feelings are normal feelings to have, as the pressure of energy builds up within them. Traditional Chinese Medicine explains that, in early spring, as the virgin green color fills the branches and the tree fills with the sap of life, the tree feels its potential rising up within it, along with a profound sense of being pent-up. It feels, as we feel, this pressure gradually building within, but does not yet know what it is or how it will appear; for only when its leaves burst out in the latter months of spring will its manifestation become apparent. So with us, the rising sap is experienced both as joy as well as anger and impatience; but trusting that this will soon find resolution can be helpful. As a Zen koan says: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself.”
Sitting quietly is basically contrary to Western cultural patterns. Western culture reveres the qualities associated with the element of Wood: vision, leadership, and the ability to take control; we tend to pride ourselves on competition, and we like to “win.” An imbalance in Wood, however, can lead to impatience and either self-criticism or criticism of others.
With Spring comes the Element of Wood
The power of Wood is gentle, persistent, and filled with creative potential. It has the power of both being and becoming— of being true to your own nature and becoming more yourself by clearly expressing your inner needs and desires. Wood gently penetrates the earth to bring forth water, the source of all life. Drawing from our roots, we find the energy to push forward with strength and firmness of purpose, always remaining supple, yielding, and true to our nature.
The emotion associated with the element of Wood is anger. In its balanced state, anger can be a healthy emotion, for it can be understood as a natural reaction to stress, frustration, or injustice. When expressed with careful control, anger acts like a thunderstorm that clears the air; controlled anger can dispel tension and restore balance. An imbalance in Wood, however, often has the quality of out-of-control anger, and results either in excess or depletion. An excess, or pent-up quality of Wood, expresses itself as “quick to anger,” prone to volatile outbursts, irritability, and the tendency to judge others too quickly or harshly. The converse, deficient Wood, often expresses itself as difficulty dealing with anger at all. Swallowing your anger, you become anxious, irritable, and tend to blame yourself when things go wrong.
Liver (Yin Organ)
The Liver is the body’s largest organ; it is the body’s master laboratory, in which nourishment for the entire body is stored and distributed. The Liver has hundreds of essential functions, including the formation of blood and the cleansing and filtering of blood to help the body eliminate toxins and ensure its continued vitality. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the functions of the Liver go far beyond its purely physiological function and embrace emotional and spiritual qualities as well.
The Liver is said to be like a general who leads an army and excels at strategic planning. It is the role of the Liver to make sure that all the body’s troops are working together for the benefit of the whole. Its main role is to keep everything flowing and thereby avoid stagnation and friction. It is said in Chinese medicine that the Liver rules “flowing and spreading,” which means that the Liver is responsible for keeping the free and easy flow of blood, energy, and emotions throughout the body, mind, and spirit. The element of Wood abhors stagnation and inertia, which is associated with all forms of disease. Just as a mountain stream is safe to drink from if it is flowing freely, so stagnant pools of water create a breeding ground for bacteria and pathogens.
Gallbladder (Yang Organ)
The Gallbladder is a small organ that stores and intensifies the bile that was created in the Liver, and pumps it into the body and bowel as needed. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Gallbladder has the role of the Wise Decision Maker, which “occupies the position of an important and upright official who excels through his decisions and judgment.” The Gallbladder helps to utilize the Liverʼs vision and make the proper judgments and decisions to bring those visions to fruition. At times, in my practice, when clients come in after having had their gallbladder removed (although the energetic function remains), when asked about decision-making, they often smile discreetly and confess to having more difficulty making decisions.
Problems Associated With Imbalances in the Wood Element
- Muscle tension, prone to have tendon and ligament injuries
- Sciatica (radiating pain from lower back into buttocks and down the leg)
- Headaches, especially migraines
- Irritability and outbursts of anger
- Visual disturbances
- Menstrual irregularities, PMS, fibroids
- Digestive disturbances, including heartburn (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers
- High blood pressure, with tendency toward atherosclerosis
How to Keep Healthy and Joyful During Spring
- Move: The Liver needs movement and so do you; so get outside and take long walks in nature, observe the changes going on all around you, and invite change in. Join an exercise or yoga class.
- Recreate Order Out of Chaos: Go through your home and office and get rid of stuff that you donʼt need; have a garage sale or give it away and create the space for the new to come in. Allow new things into your life. Imagine what you would like to create in your life and find ways to make plans to actuate these dreams.
- As Without, So Within: Spring is the time to start a healthier diet and flush out the toxins so that the Liver can do its job more effectively. Begin by eliminating foods that stress the Liver, such as fried or very fatty foods. Sugar and white flour should be eliminated or minimized, and foods with chemical preservatives and food coloring should be avoided. Donʼt overeat. Try to eat slowly, savoring the flavors. Enjoy the abundance of fresh foods that are beginning to come to market.
- Let Go of Old Resentments and Start Fresh: Grudges and resentments are indigestible and can do damage to Liver energy. Practice forgiveness.
- Take a Risk and Try Something New: Think of what you would like to try, even if it seems silly or scary. The small delicate sprout would never know its potential if it stayed safe within its seed…begin sprouting and be playful.
- Hydrate Your Body: Drink eight to ten 8 oz. glasses of water daily. Use filtered water, not carbonated. Adding some lemon juice gives it a nice taste, and lemon nourishes the Liver.]
Eating for Spring
In March, the spring energy is getting stronger and stronger. This is the time your liver energy is starting to become most prominent. Under the Five Element theory the color of liver energy is green, just like springtime. As spring becomes more prominent so does your liver energy. This is the time to make sure you are getting more green in your diet, more green foods and leafy vegetables.
This is also the time to put a little bit more spice in your food to help to balance and enhance that energy. Specifically, ginger root, green onions, garlic, and onions. Also, add some hot red peppers to your diet once a week – if you feel you can handle them. They will be good for your protection and for your immune system.
Hot red pepper can also help to detoxify, heal flu and help the digestive system. If you don’t eat hot red peppers then have more green onion, ginger root, and garlic.
Adding at least a little green onion, ginger root and garlic to your food every day is a very healthy thing to do. Definitely, I would encourage you to use green onion and ginger root as often as possible, even just a little bit can help a lot.
Green onion and ginger root help balance the lung energy, the digestive system, and help prevent colds and flu because they can really activate the lung’s energy.
Keeping some root vegetables in your diet, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, any root vegetable, along with green vegetables is even better because root vegetables support the kidney energy. Kidney energy is still very strong and will be until the liver energy becomes dominant in the weeks ahead as we move fully into spring.
Stay light and Eat Light!
Eating light and staying light is so very helpful to get the greatest benefit from the energy of food this time of year.
You don’t want to overeat or eat foods that are heavy, greasy, spicy, fried or deep-fried. All these can make you sluggish and slow your digestion, both of which are a major drain on your body’s energy at a time when your energy wants to be alive and active.
Limit your consumption of red meat and chicken. And limit your consumption of sugar, as well. This is especially important for anyone with high blood pressure.
Foods that are especially good for you at this time of year include:
|Green leafy vegetables||Spinach Chives||Asparagus|
|Red Bell Pepper||Tomatoes||Bok Choy|
|Lotus seeds, roots and flowers||Seaweed||Watercress|
Prepare yourself like this and when summer is in full swing you will be ready to take full advantage and full benefit of summer’s fire energy.