Spring into Wood  – Living with the Seasons

With Guest Writer, Brianna Brownfield, LAc

The shift from darkness to light, yang bursting from yin is officially upon us.  Spring brings a dramatic shift in seasons with longer days, warmer weather, budding blossoms, fresh earthly scents, and a rebirth of plants breaking through the soil.  Spring’s time of renewal, expansion, and growth offers many lessons to be learned from observing nature’s cyclical transitions.  Chinese Medicine is strongly based on the natural rhythms, expressions, and phases of nature.  Together with the philosophy of Yin-Yang, the theory of the Five Elements (Wu Xing) sets the foundation for Chinese medical theory.  Each season is viewed as possessing and expressing its own unique energy which directly influences all aspects of life, health, and balanced well being.  

This theory correlates an element and specific characteristics with each season:  Wood (Spring), Fire (Summer), Earth (Center point of transition between seasons), Metal (Fall), Water (Winter).  Five Phase theory evolved as an observation of nature’s phenomena, cyclical processes, and functions.  Similar patterns of transitions in physiology and seasonal characteristics were observed in humans. These observations became a comprehensive system of understanding how nature influences us all.  Each one of us is moving through these Phases, right along side nature, whether we realize it or not.  Living in accordance with the seasons lays the foundation of health and well being.

The Wood Element

Chinese Medicine attributes Spring to the Wood Element.  A time of expansion and new growth within nature brings forth a phase of renewal, vision, and forward momentum within people.  A shift outward from the inward directed energy of winter.  The Wood Element brings forth a sense of purpose and sturdiness, yet with flexibility, just as a tree is firmly rooted into the ground yet able to sway with the wind.  When a person’s Wood Element is in balance they have confidence and good judgement.  A sense of emotional maturity with the ability to express themselves appropriately and adapt to change as needed.  Wood in balance allows one to be firmly rooted in the past, stand tall in the present, and have a clear vision for the future.

Each Element has a strong influence on specific organ systems and their respective acupuncture meridians.  The Wood element’s Yin organ is the Liver.  According to Classical Chinese Medicine, the Liver stores the blood, ensures the smooth free flow of Qi, blood, and emotions throughout the entire body, regulates menstruation, and houses the  the Ethereal Soul (Hun).  The Hun plays a vital role in our mental/spiritual health by providing us with creativity, inspiration, and a sense of purpose and direction in life.  From a biomedical perspective the Liver is a vital organ responsible for numerous functions including detoxifying the blood to rid it of harmful substances, producing bile to aid in the breakdown of fats, converting several hormones and glucose into their active forms, breaking down hemoglobin, and storing several vitamins and iron.  Enormous jobs to say the least!

The Yang organ correlated with the Wood Element is the Gallbladder.  The gallbladder’s primary function is to provide the storage of bile and recognize when it is the appropriate time for release into the digestive tract.  The significance of the gallbladder’s decision making is viewed in Chinese Medicine as our ability (or lack there of) to not only make wise decisions, but the courage to act upon them as well.  The yang qi of the gallbladder is said to provide the capacity of movement and action to the Ethereal Soul (Hun).

During the Spring season it is common to see the Wood organ systems out of balance.  This disharmony in the Element can create both physical and emotional symptoms.  Anger is the emotion of Wood and stored in the Liver.  Anger is a natural and necessary emotion of life, a mixture of every emotion combined into one.  When Wood or Liver Qi becomes stagnant, however, anger can become aggressive, persistent, inappropriate, and even violent. Chronic anger and frustration can not only become mentally debilitating, but negatively impact the health of your liver, detoxification, and reproductive system.  Common ailments seen in the Spring (or when Wood is out of balance any time of year) include:

Physical

~Muscle tension, prone to have tendon and ligament injuries

~Sciatica (radiating pain from lower back into buttocks and down the leg – GallBladder Meridian)

~Headaches, especially migraines

~Impaired detoxification, allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities 

~Visual disturbances

~Menstrual irregularities, PMS, fibroids, 

~Digestive disturbances, including heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers

~High blood pressure, with tendency toward atherosclerosis

Emotional

~Outbursts of anger and irritability

~A blockage of forward movement and personal growth leading to frustration 

~Inappropriate expression of emotions

~Lack of vision, purpose, and inability to make decisions

~Inflexibility to change, lack of resiliency and ability to adapt

Maintaining Balance within Wood

Move

To stay healthy the Liver needs movement and so do you.  With the longer days and warmer weather it is a perfect time of year to get outside, take long walks in nature, observe and embrace the changes going on all around you.  Take a risk and try something new.  Take a new yoga class, try Qi Gong or Tai Qi, hop on a bike, or run on a new trail.  Movement comes in many forms.  Make a 3-month exercise plan to inspire yourself move more and feel great for the upcoming summer months.

Cleanse

Spring is the perfect time of year for a seasonal cleanse.  Clean up your diet to assist your body in purifying and rebuilding itself from the inside out.  Emphasize whole, organic, non-genetically modified foods (especially fruits and vegetables) that provide the vitamins, nutrients, enzymes and antioxidants the body needs for detoxification.  Give your overburdened Liver a break by eliminating all packaged, canned, processed, fried foods, gluten, sugar, and alcohol.  Focus on emphasizing a plant based diet, with healthy fats, quality sources of lean meats, and lots and lots of water.

Detoxify Your Environment

We are exposed to external toxins on a daily basis.  These include pollutants, pesticides, and man-made chemicals.  Reduce your toxic exposure in your home by filtering your tap water, using an air purifier, and removing all plastics from your home (tupperware, water bottles, sarane wrap, non-stick pots and pans).  Opt for non-toxic cleaning products, such as ones labeled “green”cleaners that don’t contain chlorine or ammonia.  Choose products that say “petroleum-free,” “biodegradable,” or “phosphate-free.”  Or better yet, make a cleaner yourself!  Trade out your synthetic bath and beauty products for those that contain only pure organic nutrients.  If you shouldn’t eat it, then it doesn’t belong on your skin either!

Plan

Use the visionary energy of Wood to plan for your future, set goals, and begin taking steps to achieve them.  Write down any new thoughts and ideas you have no matter how big or small.  Think of your ‘big picture’ goals for the upcoming year.  Break down the 12 months into actionable steps that you can take each month to help you get there.

Practice Forgiveness

Think of forgiveness as the opposite of Anger.  The ability to forgive ourselves and others keeps our Wood element healthy.  Forgiveness allows for forward movement and growth, without ruminating and getting stuck on bitter situations of the past.  True forgiveness is gratitude for the lessons that every experience and interaction gifts us. 

References

Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, CAc Nanjing. 2005.  Print.

Beinfield, Harriet.  Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, Ballantine Books. 1992

Brianna Brownfield, LAc is the owner of Whole Roots Health in Truckee, CA.  She integrates Classical Chinese Medicine with Functional Lab Diagnostics to provide a comprehensive, holistic approach to healthcare.  She specializes in Women’s Health, Fertility, and Digestive Disorders.  Learn more at www.WholeRootsHealth.com