This post is copied from our older, original blog. Original post date 03/14/2012.
By Marcie Bower, Lic.Ac.
Spring has…at least for the time being…sprung. And while springtime brings warmer weather, more sunshine, and a chance to be outside, it also brings its own energetic challenges, which we should all be aware of!
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each season is represented by a particular element – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, or Water. Springtime is the season of the Wood Element. Wood like to grow, to expand, to move (think of plants bursting forth through the dirt…that is the energy of Wood.)
Each element is also manifested in a pair of our energy systems (the systems that we stimulate with acupuncture needles.) The wood element manifests in the Liver and Gall Bladder systems (although we typically talk about the Liver energy most…think of the Gall Bladder energy as the Liver’s accomplice.) Now, when I talk about your Liver energy, I am not talking about your physical Liver organ that sits in your abdomen. Rather, I am talking about a particular kind of energy that flows throughout your whole body and serves specific functions. The Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine is in charge of regulating the smooth flow of “qi” (energy) throughout the whole body. This means that if there is a problem with the Liver energy system, the qi in our bodies does not flow properly, and symptoms of pain and tension occur. The most common Liver energy pathology that we see in clinic is called “Liver Qi Stagnation.”
Common symptoms of Liver Qi Stagnation are irritability, PMS, impatience, being easily frustrated or angry, neck and shoulder tension, chest tightness or difficulty taking a deep breath when nervous, trouble sleeping (perhaps waking between 1:00 and 3:00 am), digestive upset when stressed, muscle aches and pains, migraines, tension headaches, painful or delayed periods, feeling wound up. Sounds like the typical manifestations of stress, right? Correct! The Liver energy is the energy most easily affected by stress. Even feeling stressed – especially chronically – can be a symptom of Liver Qi stagnation.
Because springtime corresponds to the Wood element and therefore it is the season of the Liver, it is particularly important for us to pay close attention to keeping our Liver energy flowing freely in our bodies. (You will notice this energy shift if you pay attention. Notice how when the springtime weather begins, people are usually happier and more energetic than during the winter months, but are also much more likely to get agitated, frustrated, and angry more quickly. You hear a lot more honking in traffic once spring is in the air.) We are all more susceptible to Liver Qi stagnation during the springtime months than at other times of the year. And if you tend to Liver Qi stagnation anyway (which is by far the most common pathology we see in our clinic), you need to be particularly mindful of protecting your Liver Qi.
See our earlier blog post about healthy springtime eating. In addition to eating lighter meals, staying away from sugars and heavy meats, and incorporating more young grains and young plants into your diet, try these springtime behavior modifications to ensure a smooth flow of your Liver Qi all season long!
- The Liver loves movement. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise in every day.
- Do yoga. The Liver’ sister energy system, the Gall Bladder, controls our connective tissue. Keep it supple by incorporating a stretching routine into your day. Stretch all parts of your body and prevent the stagnation and tension from settling into your muscles, tendons, and joints.
- Bend and Twist. These motions are particularly helpful to moving Liver energy throughout the body. I recommend creating a simple 10 minute morning routine for yourself that includes some simple stretching (perhaps some yoga sun salutations) and ends with twisting your torso from side to side 20 times. I guarantee your will start your day more refreshed!
- The Liver’s psycho-emotional dimension is called the Hun. The Hun is part of our mental and spiritual make-up that is in charge of visioning and planning. In your personal and professional life, the spring is a good time to lay the groundwork for future projects – visualize your goals, make lists of what need to be done to achieve them, and set out to accomplish them.
- While the Liver is all about movement – both physical and mental – it also needs to be given time to relax. When we don’t give ourselves the necessary time to rest and relax, our Liver tightens, our energy gets stuck, we get stressed, and problems ensue. Take a day off work to do something you love. Go get a massage at least once a month. Give yourself a day to sleep in and do nothing around the house all day.
- The Liver seeks to be able to outwardly express its internal movement. Any forms of artistic expression can be nourishing to the Liver energy – whether that be art, poetry, dance, gardening, or writing. Whatever it is, think big and bright.
- Food is one of the most important pieces. Read the springtime eating blog for details. In short, cut heavy meats and dairy out of your diet. Focus on eating sprouted grains, young plants and sprouts, and lots of greens.
- You can incorporate some herbal teas into your diet that assist in moving Liver Qi. The best is herbal mint tea. Mint is used in TCM to circulate liver energy in the body, promote relaxation, and calm an overbusy mind.