Spring is here! You may be aware of longer days or seeds sprouting and flowers blooming. Whatever springs represents for you, it is the time of year for rebirth and transformation. There is a sense of renewal of life all around us. Spring (as well as the other seasons) represents an integral part of both the emergence and application of Classical Chinese Medicine. The seasons are representative of elements in nature as they transform from one into the other.
Principle of the Five Elements
The five elements as represented in Chinese Medicine refer to wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. The Principle of the Five Elements describes the flow of energy (qi) and the balance of yin and yang (polarities of nature).
The macrocosm (the universe) and microcosm (your body) are in dynamic relationship with each other. The dynamic changes occur in five distinct stages. Each stage is associated with a particular time of year, a specific element in nature, and a pair of organs in the body. These stages link together the seasons of the year, aspects of nature, your body’s organs, and physiological processes. A practitioner of Chinese Medicine uses these principles to diagnose and treat health problems. They use these parameters to prescribe specific foods, herbs, and acupuncture points to restore the balance between yin-yang and facilitate the flow of Qi (energy).
When looked at from this perspective, Spring is the ideal time for clearing out the old and bringing in the new. Therefore, focusing on cleansing and rejuvenation for overall health and well-being is recommended during this spring season. Spring is represented by the wood element, the color is green, its nature is Yang, the related organs are the Liver and Gallbladder, and the emotion is anger.
According to the philosophy of Chinese medicine, the liver is responsible for the smooth flowing of Qi (energy) throughout the body. When the liver functions smoothly, physical and emotional activity throughout the body are also smooth. Therefore, if you can do one thing to support yourself during this season, it is MOVE YOUR QI.
Put a little “Spring” into Your Step
While movement and exercise are beneficial during any season, movement is vital in the Spring.
For example, you can burn more fat and change your body composition quicker in the spring than any other season. It is like jump starting your metabolism! Here are some short practices that can help you get that “spring” back into your step.
Qi Gong and Stretching
Qi Gong is literally translated as the cultivation of qi. Regardless of the type of Qi Gong or exercise that you do (yoga, tai chi, etc.), stretching should ALWAYS be an integral part of it. The liver controls the tendons. According to Chinese Medicine, the liver stores blood during periods of rest and then releases it to the tendons in times of activity. This maintains tendon health and flexibility. Do your best to incorporate a morning stretch into your daily routine.
The liver opens into the eyes. Although all the organs have some connection to the health of the eyes, the liver is connected to optimal eye function. Some tools to help support his are remembering to take breaks when looking at a computer monitor for extended periods of time and practice gazing long distances.
Green is the color of the liver and of springtime. Eating young plants – fresh, leafy greens, sprouts, and immature cereal grasses – can all improve the liver’s overall function and aid in the movement of qi.
Foods and drinks with sour tastes are thought to stimulate the liver’s qi. Squeeze a fresh lemon into you water bottle for the day or, just a few slices squeezed in a glass of water can stimulate liver function and digestion. You may also want to use vinegar and olive oil for your salad dressing. One of my favorite spring concoctions are to take about a liter of water, squeeze a fresh lemon in, drop the whole lemon in (clean), add a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, and finally- add a three finger pinch of sea salt. The sour flavor supports liver function, the ginger supports digestion, and the salt is good for kidney function.
Get outside and MOVE
Being outside and breathing in fresh air helps the liver qi to flow. If you have been feeling irritable, angry, or frustrated- it can help to find an outdoor activity and do it. This will help to smooth out Liver Q stagnation. Some ideas are hiking, biking, golf, or just a nice walk can be quite beneficial.
Enjoy an nice relaxing herbal detox tea
Herbal teas that contain Dandelion, Milk Thistle and/or Burdock can help protect liver cells from environmental toxins as well as encourage the liver to cleanse itself of damaging substances, such as alcohol, medications, pesticides, environmental toxins, and even heavy metals such as mercury or lead.
Enjoy this spring season. Let down your hair and be free. One of my favorite Chinese Herbal formulas is called Xiao Yao Wan. It is also known as Free and Easy Wanderer. This formula can be bought over the counter and can help with many conditions associated with a liver that is out of balance. Indications for use of this herbal formula include dizziness, neck/shoulder tension, gas and/or bloating, anger/anxiety/depression, mood swings, PMS, headaches, circulation problems, fatigue, stiff joints, indigestion, sugar cravings and restless sleep.