After the depth, introspection and hibernation of Winter, Spring is always a welcome sight. Here in Vancouver, we just had a late season snowfall that blanketed the entire city in a flurry that made me want to stay snuggled up in bed for just a bit longer. This week, however, we’ve had moments of blue sky peeking through the clouds. After living in California my entire life, moving to Vancouver has given me a fresh perspective on Springtime and how it influences and manifests in all of us. There are actually seasons here! I go for daily walks in my neighborhood with my pup and it is impossible to ignore the seeds that are germinating, the buds on trees that are bound tight with potential energy. The air seems to vibrate with a spirit that feels barely contained. WIthin us, if we have given ourselves the chance to rest in the winter, spring brings forth a fresh sense of renewal and energy. Creative energy bursts forth like so many brightly colored wildflowers.
THE WOOD ELEMENT
In Chinese Medicine, Springtime is associated with the Wood Element. When I am thinking about the Wood element, I am brought to one of my happy places: laying on the banks of a creek and gazing up at a ring of redwoods in northern California. From here, it is easy to marvel at the strength of Wood, but stay a bit longer and you see that the trees are not only strong, their strength is balanced with their suppleness and ability to bend flexibly with the winds. A healthy tree has its roots grounded firmly in the earth, and draws water from deep within to nourish its branches and leaves.
Each Element governs an aspect of the emotional and intuitive aspect of human nature. The emotion associated with Spring/Wood is Anger. There are no emotions that are considered to be “negative” in Chinese Medicine. Any emotion can be manifested in a healthy and unhealthy way. This seems counterintuitive in our western culture where we are discouraged from expressing anger. However, even anger has a place within our society. Every social movement is born from the expression of anger. From the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s to the LGBTQ movement of our own generation, all social movements start with the seed of acknowledging the Anger that is born from injustice. In our own lives, sometimes anger is necessary to create the momentum for transformation. Anger harnessed in the right way is a motivating force. Even thunderstorms are welcome sometimes.
When I chat with patients, anger is consistently the emotion that is the most difficult to contend with often because we were raised to stifle our shouts and angry tears from an early age. Oftentimes, anger gets bottled up, reflected inward and transforms into depression and anxiety. Other times, we may see anger expressed outwardly in the shape of blaming other people and events for our own suffering. Springtime is the hardest time of year to ignore the internal shout. Statistically, suicide rates are highest in the Spring. And this is the time of year I consistently expect to have patients coming in asking for support with frustration and anxiety.
PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH THE WOOD ELEMENT
Muscle tension (ligament/tendon issues)
Headaches, especially migraines
Unbalanced emotions (particularly outbursts of anger, self-blame, depression)
Menstrual irregularities (PMS)
High blood pressure
The Wood Element is all about renewal. It seems quite fitting that one of the organs associated with Wood is the Liver. The Liver can regenerate itself back to its original size as long as at least 25% of its mass is intact. Physically, the Liver is the powerhorse of the body. It has over 500 functions to perform including cleansing the blood, regulating blood sugar, manufacturing various proteins, regulating the balance of hormones and regulating cholesterol. The Gallbladder is responsible for the storage and secretion of bile which is necessary for digestion.
Spiritually, these two organs have important roles as well. The Liver is often referred to as the General in Classical Chinese Medicine texts. As the General, it is up to the Liver to make sure all the other organs of the body are working in harmony with each other to bring Visions to fruition. Its companion, the Gallbladder is often referred to as the Chief of Staff. Its role is to take a step back and judge from a grounded place in order to move towards the Liver’s vision with clarity and direction.
The gifts of Liver are vision and planning while the Gallbladder provides direction and decision. The combination of both gives us the ability to move forward in our lives with intention. Thus, when Wood is out of balance, there is frustration.
It is easy to see why our Liver and Gallbladder are so important so let’s talk about what self-care we should be implementing to support the health of our Wood Element.
FLOW WITH THE WOOD ELEMENT
Move! There is so much potentiated energy in Spring that sometimes the only way to flow with it is to move your body. If you have small people in your life, you may notice that they are a little more jittery and perhaps crankier than usual. Don’t stifle that spirit! Embrace your own inner child and take them for an adventure! Take advantage of this lovely stretch of sun we’ve been having and walk instead of taking the bus or driving whenever you can.
Sleep! The times most important to the Gallbladder and Liver is 11pm-3am. This is why your acupuncturist is always nagging you to go to sleep before 11pm. Taking the care to rest when your Liver is needing to be regenerated does your body good.
Sow! Long-term and short-term planning is associated with the Wood Element. This is the time to begin new projects. In the short-term, think of projects that can be planted for a summer or autumn harvest. Review your long-term projects. Since this is the time of year bursting with creative energy, it may give you some fresh perspectives to support your long-term goals.
Forgive! Be mindful of frustrations/anger that come up. Grudges, judgements and resentments are internalized anger. Move through these emotions with intentionality. Sometimes the air needs to be cleared with a thunderstorm. Other times, it is a more internal process to allow yourself to let go of emotions that no longer serve you.
Weed! This is the time to create order out of chaos.The warmth of spring combined with the nice long rains from the winter will be the perfect storm for an explosion of weeds. I attended a Feng Shui workshop this month with Marlyna Los and a beautiful piece of wisdom that she shared is that “You must let go of or transform the old in order to invite new energy in. This year, I’ve reorganized my desk to be more conducive to invite more writing in my life. I’ve released my clutter and surrounded myself with books that inspires me to write. I’ve also been going through my personal life and taking the time to acknowledge the wonderful people who love and support me and letting go of the friendships that no longer serve me with compassion. In addition, I just started my yearly cleanse this week. Time to get my gluten, alcohol and sugar cravings under control!
EAT FOR SPRINGTIME
Stay tuned as I will be posting spring recipes throughout the season. But here are some jumping off points:
Hydrate! Water is important through the year, but it is most important in the Springtime to feed the muscles, tendons and sinews that are starting to come alive and be used more. Remember that water is essential for a tree to remain supple and flexible. Our bodies and spirits are no different. A well-hydrated body will serve you well. A well-hydrated spirit will give you flexibility so you will be able to flow with whatever life throws at you.
Sour! The taste that will support your Wood Element is sour! I have just harvested a whole pile of rhubarb from the garden and I can’t wait to make rhubarb jelly (don’t worry, I’ll share the recipe with you!). Other notable favorites of mine: dandelion greens, arugula salads and peppermint/lemon water.
Kathleen Lee FABORM, RTCMP, L.Ac. MTCM
Photo credit: Demetrius Washington