Health for All Seasons: Spring
Welcome back to my ongoing blog series, Health for All Seasons, looking at how to optimize health with the changing of seasons and understanding our different needs through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Something that TCM excels at is approaching health seasonally and really trying to support the body and mind in ways that work holistically with nature. Here at the end of April in New York, we are now fully present in the Spring season with all of the opportunities and special considerations that entails.
Spring is a transitional season characterized by growth, change, and renewal. We are transitioning from the cooler, darker, inward and still Yin energy that characterizes Winter and into more warm, bright, outward, and moving Yang energy of Summer. In nature buds are blooming, shoots are bursting forth from the earth, and animals are emerging from their winter hibernation full of new energy and activity. For most of us we too have spent the last few months more dormant than usual: cocooned in our warm homes, eating comforting and calorie dense foods, less active, more restful. But in the Spring, we start to transition too, desiring more activity, more time outside in the fresh air and sun, and more fresh foods.
Spring in TCM is closely related to the health and strength of the Liver and Gallbladder. In Five Element theory, the Liver and Spring are also related to the Wood element, the color Green, and Anger or Frustration as the prevailing emotion. The Liver is responsible for positive responses to stress and also controls eye and tendon health. When thinking of a healthy Liver and Gallbladder think of the Wood element as a young sapling: flexible and full of potential, bursting forth with creative energy and growth. If our Liver is strong and balanced we would expect to see these signs of wellness: clear vision, flexible and strong muscles and tendons, even-keeled emotions, and an ability to "roll with the punches". Conversely, signs of Liver imbalance in TCM might include: compromised vision (not one's usual nearsightedness that they've had since childhood), rigid tendons or persistent muscle tension, mental tension, frustration, anger, depression, or otherwise inflexible and unhealthy responses to stress.
So how best might we go about supporting and nourishing our Liver and Gallbladder during their most important season, Spring?
Consume whole foods, seasonally appropriate, more fresh and plant-based when possible: Just look at what is coming into season: young leafy greens, lettuces, ramps, nettles, asparagus, and spring onion. If it is green, your Liver and Gallbladder will love you for it. We tend to eat more warming and long-cooked foods in the Winter: roasts, braises, and stews while Summer is more of a time for raw foods like salads. In the Spring I recommend a compromise here. Adding more raw veggies and greens to a grain bowl for example, or a salad topped with some roasted storage vegetables from the Winter.
Practice some mental Spring Cleaning: Stress, anger, and frustration are signs of an imbalanced Liver and Gallbladder, but it is a vicious cycle, because the more we give in to these emotions and remain stuck in these negative patterns, the more we worsen the imbalance and injure our Liver systems even further. This is a great time to do some Spring Cleaning with your mental and emotional wellbeing. Practice letting go of negative emotions, habits, and perhaps relationships that no longer serve you. Forgiveness is powerful when trying to let go of anger or irritation with others and their actions or words. Meditation, mindfulness, and physical exercise are all helpful here!
Spend some time in nature: Go out for an evening stroll and enjoy the lengthening days. Maybe a hike or mountain bike ride to appreciate the clamor of new life out on the trails. Appreciate the various trees in bloom and new grasses, shoots, and leaves bursting forth with every passing day. If you suffer from allergies this time of year, check out my recent post on how to minimize your allergy symptoms.
Get an Acupuncture treatment or try some at-home acupressure: I'll pretty much always recommend getting a seasonal acupuncture tune-up, but especially in the Spring because it has the most dramatic change in energy of all the seasonal transitions. Your acupuncturist can use points to help strengthen and balance your Liver and Gallbladder to ease any physical, mental, or emotional tension and help you to accept the changes of the season with ease and grace. However, as I write this, New York state is still largely isolating at home due to COVID-19 and my colleagues and myself are not practicing acupuncture at the moment. So try some acupressure on Liver 3, one of my favorite and most used points this time of the year. This point is appropriate for everyone, but especially if you are feeling stressed out, anxious, furious, or depressed in any way. You can find this point on the top of the foot about one inch up from the webbing between your big toe and second toe. When pressed it should be a little tender, particularly if it is a needed point right now! Press and hold or knead the point for 30 seconds to a minute on both feet. I'll be posting a video tutorial on this point and another point as a stress management acupressure protocol next week - so keep your eyes peeled!
I hope that this information has been helpful to you to as you transition from Winter into Spring - shedding the old, growing with the new, and embracing change. I wish you good physical health and emotional balance now and throughout the rest of the year. Please reach out if you have any questions or comments.