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Spring 2023

lA bee

staggers out
of the peony.
-Matsuo Basho
Translated by Robert Hass

The spring is associated with the wood element in Chinese philosophy.
What the poet Dylan Thomas wrote of as “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower”.  On this hot day the spring newsletter finally hatches.  What a mild winter we’ve had. 
As the trees unfurl their leaves green is associated with this time of year. Wood is vibrant, green, insistent. It gives us the power to be decisive, have vision for our lives, to take action, and make plans. When we are in balance there’s a sense of vision, direction, and benevolence. We create boundaries, we know when things are not right, we create a better way, not by snapping, but by taking initiative, doing what is courageous and decisive.

An imbalance in this element manifests as irritation, frustration, resentment, or anger. We always want things to happen faster than they are unfolding. Wood is strong, but flexible, like a tree swaying in the wind. Wood finds imaginative solutions. Of course we cannot always live up to this ideal. We are like the spring weather, windy and stormy one day and hot and bursting of color the next. Like the wind, our emotions go up and down.

Our ability to take action in the spring depends on the energy that was stored over the winter, the basic relationship between rest and activity. Chinese philosophy always seeks the middle way, just the right amount of effort so we don’t overexert ourselves. Gently, but determinately, knowing what direction we want to go in and what we need to change in our lives. Spring is the time to renew our way of taking care of ourselves and begin new projects or doing something that’s been hanging over us for a long time.

By learning to adapt to external changes you will maintain your equilibrium. When you feel yourself getting crabby and out of balance, or seasonal allergies make you foggy, you can take steps to maintain your health. As the seasons change sometimes we encounter difficulty. Staying healthy through the spring means keeping your liver and your gallbladder cleansed with attention to nutrition, exercise, creativity, and expression. We cleanse any source of any lingering resentments and express our unspoken feelings. Spring is the season of beginning and creation. This is the time to be open to new ideas, to clear out the past.

The wood element refers to growing living entities trees, plants, and the human body. An imbalance in this element can result in irritation, resentment, spinal problems, poor flexibility, tightness, or arthritis.  The wood element governs muscles, ligaments, and tendons which hold us together and give us both strength and flexibility.

When we’re having pain issues on one side of our body,  it usually relates to the gallbladder meridian which zig zags down the side of the body. And like the spring with the windy warm days followed by cool days this pain can come and go. Other imbalances include depression, digestive issues, insomnia, allergies, skin problems and not being flexible when plans change and trying to control the situation.

In Chinese medicine, we see clearly how not only what we eat but our thoughts and feelings affect the liver. Repressed anger can lead to headaches or depression. Any emotional turmoil affects the liver.  Anger irritation or resentment are the emotions most closely associated with the liver.  When the wood is the element is not allowed to expand and stretch it can lead to a stunting of life on many levels.

So the function of anger is quite clear, anger creates the motivation to change your situation. When we are unable to act with clarity and flexibility in our life stagnation occurs. This may lead to an inability to relate to self and others or a feeling of hopelessness and depression. A healthy liver allows us to have flexibility and change our vision when things don’t go according to our plan.

The liver is the body’s largest internal organ and is located in the upper right abdomen. The liver stores and distributes nourishment for the entire body and is involved in the formation, break down, and filtering of toxins from the blood. It makes the bile that is stored in the gall bladder.  The liver aids in the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The liver is the grand filter for the blood, cleaning the blood of toxins. It becomes overwhelmed by excessive fatty foods, alcohol, and all the drugs ingested.

The nature of spring is described as beginning or birth.  Mentally this corresponds to the idea. The wood element reflects our mental clarity in our ability to focus, plan, and make decisions. A wood imbalance may manifest as poor judgment, a lack of planning, disorganization,  an inability to make decisions, and difficulty relaxing.

So what can we do at this time of year? Ideally, we take time out to eat and actually sit down at the table and relax before starting a meal. We all know what to eat: unprocessed foods, vegetables, fruits, whole-grain seeds and nuts. This time of year we try to eat light and simple. A pot of rice, steamed vegetables, and some avocado or hummus.

Everyone reading this knows to cut sugar , white flour, and limit caffeine and alcohol. Eating light and clean for one week can help the liver. Many of my patients drink water with lemon or if they’re having allergies hot water, lemon, maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne. Sour foods help cleanse the liver, as do milk thistle tea and dandelion tea.

As you eat cleaner and exercise more, you may start to feel your mind clear, gradually increasing your exercise and stretching, getting out and walking more. Decision making is easier and procrastination disappears. You will see yourself as healthy and vibrant and active in this life, despite the aches and pains!