Spring seems to have snuck in between the recent raindrops here. There are new blossoms on the trees, fragrance in the air, and young plants are bursting forth in my newly inherited vegetable garden.
In Chinese medicine, each of the seasons are symbolized by an element. Spring is associated with the element ‘wood,’ which represents the forceful power that impels plants to be born and spring out from the ground.
Each season is also connected with an organ pair and several other vital aspects as listed below for the wood element.
The element wood and its associations
- Season: Spring
- Organs: Liver and Gall Bladder
- Emotion: Anger
- Color: Green
- Sound: Shouting
- Taste: Sour
- Smell: Rancid
- Opening: Eyes
- Tissue: Tendons
- Climate: Wind
- Process: Birth
- Direction: East
Spring then is the ideal time to tune into the liver and gall bladder organs and meridian systems.
The liver and our emotions
The status of our liver has a tremendous effect on our emotional states for the better and for the worse. Those with a balanced liver are generally without stress and are not easily frazzled. They have a sense of confidence, power, decisiveness, and assertiveness as symbolized by the energy of wood.
On the other hand, tumultuous emotions can be the first sign of a liver in excess or stagnation. The emotions associated with the liver are those laying along the spectrum of anger: impatience, frustration, aggression, resentment, violence, arrogance, stubbornness, an explosive personality, hostility, or, conversely, feeling indecisive, overwhelmed, uptight, and tired. When repressed, these emotions can lead to depression.
Physical conditions associated with the liver
In Chinese medicine the body is seen as finely interconnected. Therefore, the health of the liver, or any organ for that matter, is seen as impacting particular tissues, sense organs, and so on that lie beyond the organ itself. Therefore, the effect of an imbalance can be far more widespread than is understood in Western medicine.
According to Beinfield and Korngold, authors of Between Heaven and Earth, A Guide to Chinese Medicine, some conditions associated with an imbalanced wood element, in addition to liver and gall bladder disorders, include vascular headaches, muscle spasms, high blood pressure, nerve inflammations, and migratory pain.
Paul Pitchford, author of Healing with Whole Foods says: “Our mental and physical flexibility, signs of stress, high blood pressure, allergies, spasms, cramps, pains and headaches (including migraines) that come and go, cancers, diabetes and large blood sugar fluctuations, arthritic disorders, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and a number of forms of heart disease are adversely influenced by liver/gallbladder imbalance.”
Since the liver’s primary role is that of detoxification, it is also of crucial importance to those coping with environmentally triggered illnesses.
Do any of these emotional or physical issues resonate for you?
Tips for supporting the liver this spring season
Now that I’ve caught up with the presence of spring, I myself have been reflecting on what steps I might take to support the health and rejuvenation of my liver. Here are a few possibilities.
1. Reduce or entirely avoid alcohol and other intoxicants.
2. Reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
3. Reduce exposures to the toxic chemicals found in everyday products, food, air and water. You might purchase green household products, consider organic foods, or look into water filters as a start.
4. Eat less, eat lighter foods, and don’t eat less than 3 hours before bedtime. Our bodies are ready to let go of the richer foods we needed for the warmth during winter!
There are many different foods that benefit the liver. One group in particular are the brassica vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnips, and others. Due to its association with birth, eating young plants like baby bok choy, baby carrots, and others can also benefit the liver. Greens, which boast the color of the season, are also a great liver food. Bitter and sour foods, if tolerated, are beneficial for liver excess, and mildly pungent foods like members of the onion family, mustard greens, and watercress improve stagnation. Raw foods can also stimulate the liver, but they are counter-indicated in people with weak digestion. You can read more about diet and the liver at the Liver Doctor or in Paul Pitchford’s book listed above.
At springtime, many people enjoy a simple fast of fruits and vegetables for a few days to cleanse their bodies naturally. Learn about cleaning your body with real foods at Simple Bites. Just remember that fasting is not always beneficial for people who are weak and deficient.
5. Consider a trial of liver-enhancing herbs like milk thistle, dandelion root, or chamomile flowers. These, however, would be counter-indicated for a frail, deficient person.
6. Spend time evolving an effective strategy when feelings—like impatience, frustration, irritation, and anger—pop or begin to mount. Meditation can help calm and soothe our emotional flare-ups.
7. Tune into the wood element. Take a walk in the forest. Create a visualization centered around wood, which is rooted and strong, but also flexible. Buy a wooden bowl or other item crafted from wood.
8. Decorate with the color green or wear clothes of this color.
9. Reflect upon what brings you a sense of rebirth and renewal and then implement one or two of your ideas.
And if this feels like too much, just start with one.
Most importantly, enjoy this new spring season with all its potentiality.
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