Ever wondered where the term spring cleanse comes from? In Chinese medicine the wood element represents the spring season and its related organs the liver and gallbladder. This time of the year is an ideal time to support your body with a gentle detox and cleanse so you can emerge out of winter minus the cobwebs.
Green is the colour associated with the wood element and is seen in abundance during the spring with new growth and colour blossoming all around us.
Now how does all this effect your body? Well the liver plays a major role in the free flow of qi (energy). When the liver energy is in balance, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we believe your body’s immune system is strong, you are emotionally sound and vibrant .
Liver qi stagnation is a very common TCM diagnosis that pretty much keeps Acupuncturists in business. It may manifest as numerous signs and symptoms which are managed with Acupuncture, Chinese herbs and lifestyle changes.
Some indications of Liver Qi stagnation are described below. In my experience these symptoms can be present at any time of the year however, quite often they are exacerbated during the spring-time when the liver energy is at its peak:
- Depression, anger, frustration, irritation
- Sensation of oppression in the chest
- Pre menstrual symptoms- breast tenderness, depression, irritability
- “Plum stone throat” A feeling of a lump in the throat and the need to keep swallowing
- Tight shoulders and neck
- Abdominal distension
- Hypochondriac pain
- Sour taste in the mouth
- Nausea/vomiting/ beltching
- Muscle cramps, muscle and tendon spasms
- Dark or dry nails
- Blurred vision
- Floaters (little worm like shape that appears when blinking.)
- Dry eyes
- Outbursts of anger, short temper
- Lack of direction, feeling stuck.
Oh and let's not forget about the Gallbladder, this is the liver’s paired organ and can too become unbalanced usually when the liver is out of whack. The most common indication I hear in the clinic from patients in relation to the gallbladder is difficulty to make decisions and this is a symptom I often notice in myself.
So with all of this facing us in the spring, what can we do to find equilibrium in the body?
Spring is about being cleaner
Spring cleanse your life and I don’t mean simply going on a cleanse diet. Look at all aspects of your life including food, thoughts, physical activity, your home and your work environment. Who are the people around you and what sort of activities do you do? These are all the questions to think about and then to act upon!
An ancient cleansing method performed first thing in the morning to remove toxins and bacteria. Either buy a tongue scraper or use the back of your toothbrush. Try it out for a couple of weeks and see if you notice a difference.
Organise and decide
Practice making decisions, plan out goals and set some events or activities you would like to do. Being direct and gaining clarity with what you want will make you feel in control and empowered plus it will motivate you to commit to things when you start achieving them.
Manage your emotions
Irritability and anger are the emotions of the liver. They can be difficult to safely release but my suggestion is to do just that. In TCM, exercise is thought to help move liver stagnation and prevent emotional outburst and frustration. Start getting your body moving more vigorously. Boxing and martial arts classes or a good run works for me, but find a recipe of success tailored just for you by giving many activities a go until you find your perfect fit.
The liver opens into the eyes, so in TCM, having clear bright, moist eyes is a display of a healthy balanced liver. Eye exercises are recommended during spring. There are many you can do to help increase your vision and focus also to strengthen your eye muscles. You can find some great exercises to get you started here.
Yoga incorporates lots of twists which help wiht stretching the intercostal muscles and the hypochondriac region (ribcage) which are where some powerful liver points are located. Twists exercise your eyes when you look towards the direction your twisting and some twisting postures also require you to focus and balance. Side opening stretches and squats also open up the liver and gallbladder meridians encouraging the free flow of qi.
Some postures I highly recommend incorporating into your day or into your current yoga practice for spring are:
- Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
- Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2 pose)
- Virasana (reverse warrior)
- Utthita Parsvakonasana (Side Angle pose)
Eat with the seasons
Seasonal eating has an important part to play in our health and wellbeing. Eating what is actually in season and not just what you can get form the supermarket are two different things. TCM encourages seasonal eating as a way of life. It also highlights the importance of the flavours. Each element has its own flavour, the liver being sour. Keeping this in mind we can look at the foods we eat and generally the varieties that are slightly sour will be beneficial for the liver/gallbladder.
Another interesting fact about the liver organ is it is responsible for cleansing our blood. So foods that are blood tonics and cleansers are going to be beneficial this time of year. Foods rich in chlorophyll like spirulina, leafy greens and wheat grass are what we need to be enjoying in abundance. According to TCM, some other foods good for the liver and blood are:
beetroots, nettle tea, fennel, celery, sprouts, chicken, liver, bok choy, chard, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, celery, citrus fruits - especially lemons, oranges, grapefruit - sour plum, pineapple, starfruit, sourdough bread, vinegar, yogurt, kimchi, pickles of all kinds, sauerkraut and olives. Lentils, Millet, Brown rice, chicory, parsley, tumeric, strawberries.
It is always important to remember that life is about moderation so don’t do anything in excess as it can cause imbalance. Keep giving your body a good wide variety of fresh foods and just add in a few more of your wood element options during the spring season.
Acupuncture/ Massage / Herbs
A Chines medicine practitioner provides balancing treatments, based on herbs, to help cleanse and tonify your body. If you are feeling a little out of whack and want to get back to feeling balanced, you may like to consult a practitioner near you for some treatment and health advice. If you are local to the Gold Coast, I would love to help you tune in to the buzzing spring energy. You can book in for your appointment here.
What comes up for you in spring? I’d love to hear your experiences so just leave me a comment below. As always, we learn by sharing as a community!