Spring is here and it conjures up all kinds of visions in my head of eating outdoors, watching the trees leaf out and the flowers bloom, and trading in my jackets and sweaters for t-shirts and sandals. Who doesn’t love this time of year?
Spring has that optimistic feeling for a reason. It’s an expansive season, as we move from being inside, hunkered down, and staying warm to focusing on going outdoors. The energy is almost palpable—we want to go outside and walk and run and play this time of year—and for a good reason.
In Chinese medicine, each season has its own energy and tasks associated with that energy. You can get a feeling for what those tasks are just by watching the wildlife around your home. For example, in the fall most animals are concentrating on food. They are stocking up, getting fat on the summer’s bounty of food, and preparing for the coming winter. During the winter, those animals that haven’t migrated are focused on survival—either by hibernating or making do with what they have stored or what they can find in the frozen landscape. In the spring, the world comes back alive with birds singing, animals hatching babies, and plentiful food.
We humans also feel this energy, and in the spring our task is to embrace the openness of the season. We want to out outside, move our bodies, and try something new. Spring is a time of rebirth, young energy, and potential.
In Chinese medicine, each season is also tied to an element, such as fire, water, or the like, and spring is associated with the element of wood. In addition, its color is green, and together green wood brings to mind a couple of things. One is the new shoots and baby plants that herald early spring. In the spring we watch our world change color from brown to green over the course of a few short weeks, all due to the emerging plant life or young wood.
A second way to think about green wood is that it’s supple, living wood. If you’ve ever run off into the woods as a kid to find a stick to roast marshmallows, you may have discovered that some sticks are better than others. Those on living plants would bend willingly, but no matter how much you twisted and bent, you couldn’t break the stick off. However, when you found a stick on a dead tree or on the ground, you were in business, as they easily snapped and broke. The lesson here is that spring and your Chinese Liver are about flexibility and suppleness.
The seasons and elements are also related to each of your body’s organ systems. In this context, spring is associated with your Liver system. To explain, in Chinese medicine, each of your organs takes up a physical space in your body, and works on a physical, emotional, and symbolic level, but it also has an energetic component. It’s the energetic characteristics of each organ system that connect your body to nature in some very distinctive ways, which is how your body is related to the elements and seasons.
As an organ system, your Chinese Liver is responsible for the smooth movement of everything in your body. This includes the obvious—your bowels—but also digestion, blood in the vessels, the menstrual cycle, and even your emotions. It’s also associated with the abundance and health of your blood, your eyes and vision, and the health of your connective tissue—tendons and ligaments.
The emotional makeup of your Liver is strong and assertive. It wants to move forward unimpeded—much like plants pushing their way up through the ground in the spring. It’s human nature to want what you want, but when your desires are thwarted, your Liver stagnates, and anger and depression can be the result.
It’s during the spring that your Liver is at its strongest. The expanding energy of this time of year is all about your Liver. So how can you support the health of this vital organ during the spring months? Here’s a few suggestions:
- First, remember that your Chinese Liver system is all about movement and flexibility. Supple green wood bends when it’s stressed, but dry or inflexible wood will simply break. Flexibility in your thinking as well as physical flexibility are key to keeping your Liver healthy. Emotional flexibility involves the ability to see things from another point of view. Creativity and trying new things are also a way to stretch your flexibility muscles. As for physical flexibility, remember the Liver system is tasked with the health of your ligaments and tendons, so stretching, as well as flexibility exercises such as Yoga, Tai Qi, and Qi Gong are useful.
- Your Liver is one of the organ systems most affected by stress. Unrelenting stress has the ability to interfere with the Liver’s job of managing flow. So keeping your stress under control, managing situations that are stressful to you, and activities that are relaxing are all good for your Liver system.
- Green plants make good Liver food. Baby lettuces, early greens, and sprouts—all early spring foods–are nourishing to your Liver. In addition, because your Liver is associated with the health of your blood, foods that act as blood tonics are especially good right now. This includes darkly colored fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, eggs, lean meats, whole grains and legumes. Also good for your Liver are those foods that have the ability to cleanse, especially sour foods. They help your Liver to release toxins and stimulate your Gallbladder to produce bile which helps you digest fatty foods.
- Spring is a great time to move your body if you haven’t been all winter. Movement in the form of exercise helps move your body’s energy. You don’t have to run a marathon, but a brisk walk or some time in the garden will feel good and your body will thank you. Remember, you’re supposed to go outside in the spring, so you might as well move while you’re out there.
- Spend some time in nature. Several research studies have documented that time outside in the woods lowers your stress, decreases your stress hormones, lowers your blood pressure, and improves your immunity. And it’s good for your soul.
Cindy Chamberlain is an acupuncturist in Overland Park, KS and the founder of Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC. She is licensed in Kansas and Missouri and has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine since 1996.