Acupuncture: Spring Element: Wood
“Men are born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.” – Lao Tzu
The Five Element Theory serves as a major diagnostic and treatment tool in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is based on the observation of the natural cycles and interrelationships in the environment and within ourselves. For example, there are five environmental elements – fire, earth, metal, water and wood – each corresponding with certain body organs, such as the heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines, stomach, urinary bladder and gull bladder. The five elements depend on each other. For example, the liver, belonging to the Wood element, directly affects the spleen, which belongs to the Earth element. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners try to maintain a balance among the body’s organs
According to the principals of Five Element Theory, all change – in the universe and in your body – occurs in five distinct stages. Each of these stages is associated with a particular time of year, a specific element in nature, and a pair of organs in the body. Change links together the seasons of the year, aspects of nature, and your body’s organs and bodily processes. A practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine uses this principle to diagnose and treat health problems, linking specific foods, herbs, and acupuncture points to the restoration of yin-yang and Qi.
While winter was a time to conserve energy and reduce activity, spring is a time of regeneration, new beginnings, and a renewal of spirit as the world wakes from winter’s slumber and is reborn. Thus, Wood is the season of rebirth and new growth. The energy rises up and out of the ground with strong, creative force, exemplified in the green sprouts of grass that shoot up from the ground. Spring is associated with the Wood element, which governs the liver and gall bladder, is associated with the color green. Strong winds are typical during spring. The blowing of wind in spring could over-strengthen the liver, which in turn could affect the spleen. If so, a disharmony of the liver and spleen occurs. TCM practitioners may detect this imbalance by observing symptoms such as stomach pain, acid regurgitation, stomach distention and diarrhea.
Allergy problems are also abundant during spring. If the liver is over stressed or unhealthy, it could affect the spleen and the lungs. Symptoms of this disharmony between organs include: chest congestion, sneezing, running nose, itching eyes and other symptoms that are associated with allergy problems. It is very important, especially during spring, to cleanse the liver and lungs and to bring a balance among them and other body organs. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help to accomplish this balance.
Spring is the ideal time for cleansing and rejuvenation for overall health and well-being. As spring is represented by the wood element and includes the liver and its complementary organ, the gallbladder, these two organs are usually the primary targets for springtime cleansing and health regimens.
The emotion associated with the liver is Anger. Anger is an important force. It can be helpful in our pursuits, but it can also stymy those pursuits it if becomes excessive. Properly acknowledging and channeling our anger can help us remain focused and flexible. We can balance the anger with forgiveness and understanding, thus aspiring to a state of benevolence. True leaders know when to bend because they do not fear being broken. They can adapt their plans as needed and still achieve their vision without ruling from a place of insecurity or desire for power. Acting for the good of others, without thought of benefit to the self, becomes the ultimate goal.
When the energy of our Wood element is flowing, we are capable of vision and creativity. We are able to make plans and execute them with determination and efficiency. Our sense of purpose in the moment and in life is clear. There is also flexibility to this energetic action, the same flexibility that allows the trees to bend in the wind without falling, the grass to sway without breaking. We move forward without hindrance, able to see obstacles and react accordingly.
When our Wood element is out of balance, though, our vision becomes clouded. We may procrastinate in the ensuing frustration of not being able to move forward or see the future. Alternately, we may push too hard, or become rigid and inflexible in our pursuits. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness of ever achieving our goals. It may make us stubborn or irrational. And our anger grows out of proportion and is no longer productive in achieving momentum.
What can you do to promote harmony and balance in your health and life in the Spring time?
Get Acupuncture treatments – Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help improve the overall health of your liver as well as treat stress, anger and frustration, which are often associated with liver qi disharmony. Even seasonal acupuncture treatments just four times a year can serve to tonify the inner organ systems and can correct minor annoyances before they become serious problems.
Stretch – The liver & gallbladder meridians governs the tendons. According to Chinese medicine, the liver stores blood during periods of rest and then releases it to the tendons in times of activity, maintaining tendon health and flexibility. Incorporate a morning stretch into your routine. Try yoga or tai qi.
Eye Exercises – The liver opens into the eyes. Although all the organs have some connection to the health of the eyes, the liver is connected to proper eye function. Remember to take breaks when looking at a computer monitor for extended periods of time and do eye exercises.
Eat Green – TCM practitioners believe that a person should cater his or her diet to the seasons. Because spring is associated with the liver, it is important to have a diet that strengthens and cleanses the liver. There are many foods serving the purpose of soothing and cleansing the liver. Green is the color of the liver and of spring. Green and leafy vegetables, especially if the plants are young, help by cleansing and freshening the body and benefit the liver’s overall well-being. Dandelion also works well as a spring cleanser. A balanced diet with a variety of juices such as citrus fruits, pear, apple, celery and carrot is very helpful. Eating young plants – fresh, leafy greens, sprouts, and immature cereal grasses – can improve the liver’s overall functions and aid in the movement of qi.
Taste Sour – Foods and drinks with sour tastes are thought to stimulate the liver’s qi. Put lemon slices in your drinking water, use vinegar and olive oil for your salad dressing. Garnish your sandwich with a slice of dill pickle.
Do more outdoor activities – Outside air helps liver qi flow. If you have been feeling irritable, find an outdoor activity to smooth out that liver qi stagnation. Try hiking or take up golf.
Enjoy milk thistle tea-Milk thistle helps protect liver cells from incoming toxins and encourages the liver to cleanse itself of damaging substances, such as alcohol, medications, pesticides, environmental toxins, and even heavy metals such as mercury.
Remembering that we are a part of nature, and that we too have seasons can give one a sense of being grounded and perhaps helps us to cope and flow with changes in our lives. Just as a farmer or gardener prepares the soil for planting in the spring, so must we prepare our bodies for the next season and its changes.