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Spring in TCM: Learning Life Lessons From The Wood Element

The long, dark, frigid winter evenings seem like a distant memory. Flowers are blooming. The days are longer and warmer. This time of year gives one a sense of optimism and provides motivation to get things done. (That’s why it’s called spring cleaning.) So now that winter hibernation is over, are you ready to be more active and take on projects you’ve been putting off?

Just because the weather is more pleasant and the peak sick season is over doesn’t mean that you can’t become imbalanced in Spring. Here’s what Traditional Chinese Medicine says about this time of year and how to stay healthy.

Spring in TCM

According to the 5 Element Theory of TCM, Spring is associated with the wood element. The wood element is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder organ systems. Thus, it’s critical to keep these two organ systems working in perfect Yin/Yang harmony. So how can you tell if these two systems are not functioning in a state of homeostasis? If you often feel angry, frustrated, hold on to feelings of resentment, lack the ability to forgive others, and tend to proscristante then you know it’s time for a Liver/Gallbladder reset, which we’ll get to later. 

First, however, let’s learn about the wood element from a spiritual perspective. TCM theory isn’t alone in regarding Spring as the season of rebirth, of growth and change. This is why it’s the best time of year to be forward-thinking and start doing some spring cleaning. 

But before you venture into the great outdoors acting like it’s summer, know this. Spring is a windy time of year. And in TCM, Wind is one of the 6 external pathogenic evils, meaning it’s an outside influence that can weaken your immune system. So make sure you protect your lungs by wearing a windbreaker or light jacket this time of year. 

Liver Health In Spring

Spring is also a time to let go of things that no longer serve you, whether it’s clutter in your house or feelings and emotions that are preventing you from feeling joy. 

Spring is associated with the wood element. The wood element is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder organ systems.

And this is where Liver health comes into play. You see, one of Liver’s main roles in TCM is ensuring the smooth flow of Blood to the other organ systems. But if smooth blood flow is lacking, emotional disturbances may occur. These negative emotions as well as stress cause the TCM pattern of Liver Qi stagnation. 

And from an emotional perspective, Liver’s paired organ system, the Gallbladder, is responsible for decision making, planning and assertiveness.  

From a dietary perspective, eating green and sour foods (the color and taste, respectively, associated with Spring) may have Liver and Gallbladder operating in better balance. 

Signs of Liver Imbalance

In addition to the negative emotional states listed above, how else can you tell if you have Liver Qi stagnation? or an excess of Liver Qi (Liver Yang rising)? A couple tell-tale signs include discomfort in the rib area and vision problems. The reason why rib problems may manifest is that the Liver meridian runs along the ribs. If you have Liver Qi stagnation and you have lots of stress, you may feel the manifestation of this along the rib cage. 

And the reason why Liver imbalance can affect the eyes is because the Liver meridian externally opens in the eyes. In other words, the Liver is connected to the eyes. So if there is stagnation in the Liver channel, vision problems can develop. And if there is too much Liver Yang (heat), because you’re fuming mad, that anger will manifest as bloodshot eyes.

The Liver manifests not only in the eyes but also in the nails. So if you have brittle nails, it could be an indication that you have insufficient blood in your Liver channel. Another sign of Liver Blood deficiency are involuntary movements of the muscles. This is because the blood controls the sinews of the muscles. And if the sinews are dry because of lack of blood, unintended contractions can occur. 

Of course, these signs of Liver imbalance can happen at any time of year, not just Spring. But if you want to set yourself up for a happy, healthy summer and beyond, this is the time of the year to reset your Liver and Gallbladder channels. 

Which brings us to this…

How To Optimize Liver Function

The same tried and true methods for resolving any imbalances hold firm: practice daily stress management techniques such as Tai Chi, yoga, meditation, etc. Go for walks and get out in nature and try to let go of anger. 

In addition, there are also time-tested Chinese medicines that are specially formulated to restore balance to the Liver and Gallbladder meridians. These include: 

Spring in TCM: Conclusion

TCM can teach us that Spring is the ideal time of year to work on our goals and improve our emotional well-being. During Spring, trees, which are of the wood element, reach for the sky and release all the tension of being stunted by the cold winter. We would do ourselves well by adopting this philosophy of wood into our own lives. And the best way to Spring forward and let negative emotions go is by optimizing Liver function.