As a practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, I can see the impact that the weather and seasons have on my patients’ health. This winter was a tough one for everyone. Here in Minnesota, it was just too cold to go outdoors and enjoy the usual winter activities, so people who usually breeze through winter were struggling this year with seasonal depression, irritability, poor motivation, and promises to move someplace warmer.
But now the seasons are changing. The snow is melting at last, the birds have begun to sing, the sun is shining, and the air just smells like spring. For our bodies, this time of year is like a frozen river that is finally melting. All winter we have been hunkering down, eating rich food, and staying warm inside by the fireplace (or heater). In contrast, with the advent of spring, we want to go outside and move our bodies. In essence, we move from a state of contraction to a place of expansion. The ice on the frozen river is melting, breaking up, and beginning to flow again.
In Chinese medicine, spring is associated with the element of wood and our Liver organ system. In Western medicine, the Liver is associated with filtering toxins, however in Chinese medicine it is responsible for the nourishing quality of your blood. In addition, our Chinese Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of everything in your body, including your digestion, hormones, and even your emotions. Here are some things to know about your Chinese Liver system:
1) The element associated with your Liver is wood, and for a good reason. Like hard wood , the Liver is a strong organ system. Its function of smooth movement can be compared to the slow but steady growth of plants in the spring or the slow but steady rise of sap in trees.
2) While appearing hard on the surface, wood must remain supple or it will break, and this is also true of your Liver system. Without the physical or emotional flexibility of healthy live wood, your Liver may stagnate and can cause symptoms such as depression, irritability, poor digestion, tight muscles and tendons, and migraines.
3) The color associated with your Liver and the season of spring is green. In addition, the upward and outward movement of new shoots of plants that have been dormant throughout the winter are a good analogy for the action of the Liver system during the spring.
4) The emotional landscape of your Liver is strong and assertive. However, when the strong and assertive nature of your Liver is thwarted, depression or anger may result. When I see people in my clinic with depression, I will always pay attention to treating their Liver system.
5) One secret to Liver health is flexibility. This includes both flexibility in your thinking and physical flexibility. Emotional flexibility might be expressed through creative endeavors and through trying to see things from another viewpoint. Physical flexibility can be accomplished through stretching and disciplines like Yoga, Pilates, Qi Gong, and Tai Qi that work to lengthen your muscles and strengthen your tendons and ligaments.
6) Foods that nourish your Liver are those that have the ability to cleanse. Sour foods (the taste associated with the Liver) help your Liver release toxins and stimulate your Gallbladder to excrete bile, which is used in breaking down fats in your diet.
7) Eating new plants that have sprouted early in the spring are also especially nourishing to your Liver. Sprouts, salads, greens, and early plants are all Liver foods. In addition, because the health of your Liver is associated with the nourishing quality of your blood, foods that nourish your blood are also beneficial. Dark fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, meat, eggs, legumes, and whole grains would all be good choices.
So for the sake of your Chinese Liver, take advantage of the expansiveness that this spring season has to offer. Go outside, play, move, stay loose, and eat small green things growing from the ground.