The trials and tribulations of Spring
Spring is the season of awakening. All things in nature are reborn, revitalised, awoken. The seeds break open their shells and the plants begin their journey towards the light. Birds and animals are more vocal and they start shouting and fighting to prove themselves worthy of the favours of a potential mate.
In Chinese Medicine, spring is associated with the element of Wood: green and vibrant, with the roots firmly grounded in the Earth, drawing its life-force from Water and with the branches soaring towards the Heavens and the Sun.
Anything green growing in nature plans ahead when to start germinating and growing from a seed. It usually needs at least one cold spell before starting sprouting. A tree will first develop roots, then a trunk and only then it will grow a full canopy. The plan is very precise, the root system matches that of the canopy, so the tree will keep growing below the ground as much as it will grow above it. Every stage is carefully planned and the tree will make sure it has got enough resources to complete each stage and the resources reach all the branches and leaves without any obstacles.
The organ system most affected by Spring in Chinese Medicine is the Liver-Gallbladder. Let’s take a closer look at what Wood is about in TCM
In traditional Chinese medicine, Wood is considered the General. Just like its military counterpart, Wood in the human body is responsible for planning and regulating all the body’s activities. Wood is the one that stores the Blood, the source of all the nourishment around the body. When the body is resting, Wood stores the Blood in the Liver, its major internal organ. When the body is active, both physically and mentally, Wood uses the Liver and its functions to distribute the Blood where it is needed. Just like a General ensures all the operations run smoothly and without obstacles, Wood in the body is responsible for the smooth and free flow of the Qi, because the Qi is the moving force and the energy behind all the functions of the body, both physically and mentally.
At a physical level, the internal organs that belong to the Wood phase are the Liver and the Gallbladder. Wood governs over the joints, tendons and ligaments, the parts of our body that ensure our mobility. Just like a General, Wood is a visionary, therefore it governs over the sense of sight and the eyes.
At an emotional level, Wood relates to anger, frustration, and jealousy. At a cognitive level, Wood controls creativity, initiative, decision making and planning. The spirit of the Wood is Hun, the ethereal soul, our intuition, the part of us that outlives our body. The virtue that keeps Wood in check is patience.
Now let’s take a look at some of the things that could go wrong in the Liver system by looking at the Wood element in Spring.
Much like the Sun at rising point, Spring causes nature to wake up from slumber and raise. This upward movement of the energy can be seen in all aspects of nature: we enjoy more daylight, the Sun shines its light at a higher angle, the plants start to grow, the trees produce buds, the bees get busy, the birds and the animals come out of hibernation and become more vocal and more active.
Humans feel the rising energies of Mother Nature as well: we feel more energetic, more active. A healthy and balanced person will enjoy and will harness the rising energies of Spring by starting eating more green foods, drinking more water, spend more time in nature, meditate and do light exercise like stretching and practice patience and equanimity.
Failing to control this rising energy or trying to supress it will lead to symptoms and diseases that will affect the body in the long run.
When a person fails to temper this eruption of exuberant energy, the energy in their body will rise abnormally upwards, towards the head. This is called Liver Yang rising or Liver Fire.
This can translate into:
- vision problems
- outbursts of anger, jealousy, frustration
- dream disturbed sleep
When a person tries to block this eruption of exuberant energy instead of managing it, the energy in their body will stagnate. When the Qi in the body stagnates, everything else stagnates: Blood, Bodily Fluids, hormones and emotions. The main symptom of stagnation in the body is pain. The main symptom of stagnation at a mental level is translated in mood, emotional and mental disorders.
When the Liver fails to ensure the free flow in the body we have Liver Qi Stagnation and various symptoms and complaints such as:
- dysmenorrhea (painful periods)
- irregular periods
- muscle cramps
- emotional and mental disorders
- improper time and money management
While there is no Air element in TCM, Wood is strongly related to Wind. In Chinese Medicine, Wind is regarded as one of the “evils” that can cause disease in the body.
As an external pathogen, External Wind is most likely to attack the Lung system, our first line of defence, causing colds, flus, sinusitis, sore throat, coughs, itchy skin, hay fever, etc. All of them very specific for the spring season.
As an internal pathogen, Internal Wind is mainly related to the Liver system because the Liver is responsible for the free flow. There are many diseases caused by Wind, and they are not all related to the spring season, but they might be triggered in spring or by emotional imbalances and most acupoints used to manage them belong to the Liver and Gallbladder meridians. They usually appear suddenly and most of the times have a seasonal or migratory nature:
- passive-aggressive and bi-polar disorders
- arthritis pain that moves from joint to joint
- moving pain of any kind
- headaches or migraines accompanied by dizziness and nausea
- vertigo, BPPV
- tremors and shaking, essential tremors, Parkinson’s
- muscle spasms, epilepsy
- stroke, paralysis
- rashes, itchy skin or genitalia
A few words about Anger
Many people say that Anger weakens the Liver. Truth is Anger is just a response, a symptom, a message that something is not right and the Liver system is not balanced. Many people may not even have very clear cut physical symptom that can be linked to the Liver. I’ve had patients complaining about not being happy about how they manage their tasks and time at the office or about how aimless their lives feel, about not being able to make decisions or not being able to go with the flow. I’ve had people complaining about feeling trapped or stuck, having nightmares or they simply complained about waking up every night between 1 and 3 am. All these are red flags for me that there is lack of free flow somewhere.
Anger is the most powerful driving force in the Universe. Anger is neither good nor bad. Anger becomes a problem when it is untamed, suppressed or repressed. Without a bit of frustration, the seed will always remain in the form of a seed, failing to fulfil its intended purpose. Without a bit of anger, the little tiny plant that emerges from the seed will never find the power to penetrate the hard shell of the seed and push itself upward through the hard soil towards the light. Without anger and a bit of jealousy, birds and animals will never engage in the loud and sometimes violent act of finding a mate and they will never have the power to defend their chicks and younglings. Without anger and frustration we will always be confined to the same unfulfilling environment, relationship or workplace, we will never find our voice and our battle cry.
At a physical level, eat appropriate foods in spring. All year round, eat foods that support the free flow of the Qi and nourish the Blood. Also, increase the time spent in nature and introduce slow exercising, such as Tai Chi, QiGong and Yoga. Walking in nature benefits both the joints and the mind.
At a mental and emotional level, spending time in nature and contemplating the vegetation coming back to life is very beneficial. Mindfulness is a must and you should try to integrate it into your daily routine, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, especially in the morning, to help with the flow of the Qi.
You should embrace activities and hobbies that support creativity, intuition and patience, such as growing and nurturing plants from seeds, painting flowers, and the practice of self-compassion.