Spring and the Wood element
Everything goes through phases of growth, fruition, maturity, decline and completion; Spring is naturally the growth phase of our annual cycle. This is a time of year for movement after the stillness of winter, and the natural world manifests and promotes that in us in numerous ways.
Spring is associated with the appearance of new buds of growth, and the return of green leaves. We can see the power of this energy in the way plants can push through concrete to reach the sun. Growth and energy is part of our lives too, and in balance we respond to the awakening of the outer world ourselves with extra energy, activity and creativity.
Organ: liver and gall bladder
The liver is responsible for the movement of qi in the body. It is a very large and busy organ and anything that demands its time will divert resources from this movement, potentially leading to the emotions associated in Chinese medicine with liver imbalance: frustration, anger, or depression. The liver has an effect on a large number of physical processes and as a result you can affect the liver’s ability to move qi and store the blood in a number of ways, but the two most obvious are excessive alcohol or intoxicants and immoderation in eating.
Body part: Tendons and sinews
The liver is said to store the blood, and to be responsible for keeping the tendons and sinews soft and pliant. If you suffer from tightness you might therefore consider being kind to your liver and being moderate in eating and drinking, minimising alcohol and stimulants and not eating too late. Eating earlier will allow you to sleep more deeply and also permit the liver to function optimally at its most active time, 1-3am.
Emotion: anger, determination
Action: imagining, planning
Spring is a time of year to imagine what may come, and plan as best we can. In ancient Daoist thought it is the spirits that relate to the liver which are active when we dream. In the waking world, dreams and imagination are a precursor to planning, organising and setting your direction for the year. Without consciously planning and imagining, we can find ourselves being dragged along; frustration and anger can result. Take some time this spring to consider what’s to come, what your goals are, and how you can best move towards them, making each step conscious. Flexibility is always required, and you can review and change as the year goes on; but this initial step will help to point you in your desired direction.
Here are a few ways you can be kind to your wood element and liver this spring:
-Be moderate in eating and drinking, eat a variety of foodstuffs, and avoid eating late.
-Avoid eating whilst watching television, or when you are experiencing strong emotions, particularly anger.
-Minimise stimulants, especially later in the day.
-Exercise in a way that creates a healthy flow rather than an intense stop-start; tai chi and yoga are ideal ways of learning this kind of movement.
-Get involved in creative activities: art, music, or movement according to your preference; express emotion healthily rather than holding it in.
-Take some time to consider what your goals are this year, in the longer term, and how you can move in that direction. Be flexible with yourself and your goals, and remember to be aware of both opportunities and difficulties in planning.
All of the elements are all present all year round, but become more pronounced at their associated time of year. For example, migraines, dry eyes or irritable bowel symptoms can all point to a liver-related diagnosis in Chinese medicine and any of these conditions starting or worsening in spring points the finger even more strongly to an imbalance in the liver and gall bladder and their associated meridians. However these problems can happen all year round, and if they do you might find following a few of the above recommendations can provide some relief, whatever the time of year.
Hayfever and allergies
Spring and Summer are the time of year for heightened hayfever and allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes and congested nose. I have methods of treating these symptoms pre-season if you are not yet experiencing them, or of relieving them if they have already started. Treatment involves a combination of acupuncture and massage, and lifestyle advice.
There are a number of things you can do for yourself. I have learned from experience the things that affect my hayfever, and how. Some common stimulants and foodstuffs often have a detrimental effect if you suffer from allergies. I have listed some of the most common below:
Coffee: I would expect this to exacerbate eye symptoms, dryness, itchiness, redness, soreness. I would expect decaf coffee to have less pronounced effects, but possibly still cause some discomfort, depending on your personal tolerance.
Beer: This will primarily add to symptoms of congestion and lack of concentration (and not just while drinking it!)
Wine and spirits: These are similar to coffee, in that they can contribute to signs of heat and redness, and can also affect sleep.
Dairy and fried, fatty foods: Dairy products may add to a sense of congestion for some, as can fatty and deep-fried foods.
Sweets: Sugary foods can also contribute to a general sense of congestion.
You can benefit all-round by:
1) Getting your sugars from whole grains and vegetables rather than topping up with sugary snacks or crisps
2) Staying well hydrated
3) Eating a healthy breakfast
4) Not eating too much, too late
5) Doing some moderate, daily exercise
Tea is usually helpful for congestion, drunk without milk. This does not have to be green tea, black tea can also be helpful.
Please get in touch if you have any questions about any issues I raise in my recommendations. I will always do my best to explain things as clearly as I can.
I hope you have an allergy-free Summer.
What are the 'channels' in Chinese medicine?
Ancient Chinese doctors had no modern technology, so developed simple techniques to read what was happening inside the body via external changes, such as changes in the pulse, skin, muscles, temperature, emotions and so on. They noticed how changes in each organ affect certain external areas more strongly than others, and mapped these channels across the whole body. This understanding was developed until the channels connected the whole body in a flowing circulatory network, linking the internal organs to the external tissues and limbs; this is the channel network that we use in traditional acupuncture and tui na massage.
Early doctors used the analogy of wells, streams, rivers, lakes and seas for many of the important acupuncture points, each having a different quality and use in treatment. This idea of flow is intrinsic to health and balance in Chinese medicine.
Much as we are often not aware of being well, but are all too aware of the state of illness, channels only tend to become significant in imbalance; for example, stagnation might show up as bumpiness, cold or heat, but if there is no imbalance the channel will likely not be apparent.
Chinese medicine practitioners can use clues like changes in colour, texture, heat or cold in channels to gain an understanding of internal and external physiological processes, and how they are interacting. We can use the same channels to alter any imbalances in the flow via acupuncture, massage or recommending exercises, encouraging flow towards tissues that feel undersupplied, or away from an area of excess.
Because of the way the channels connect the body, it is possible for example to use acupuncture points in the legs and arms to have an effect on the whole body, or in the hands or feet to affect the head. Traditional practitioners often use points that are not solely in the area of any pain you might be experiencing. This is because of the understanding of the channels connecting your whole body.
When a Chinese medicine practitioner meets a patient we can often see the strongest elements, via the sound of someone's voice, their emotions, body shape, whether someone is boisterous or subdued and so on; everything is a clue to possible imbalance. The principles of yin and yang and the five elements are apparent in everything we do. They are a way of seeing reflections of the natural world within; our channels, our internal organs, the way we manifest in the world; these are all mirrors of the world and the part we have chosen in it. With the right understanding, they can all become part of healing any imbalances from within or from without.