Chinese Medicine is one of the oldest and most used medicines on the planet. Its philosophy and theories advocate living in harmony with the environment. When the seasons change, our bodies do this rather dramatic internal tango to realign with its new partner whether she is frozen ground or budding trees or dying leaves. The organs work differently with each, and one of them will bear the workload of a particular season.
In the springtime, it is the liver that needs to work harder than the rest. The liver, this 3-pound and hopefully soft and fleshy organ, has a function that Western medicine is not aware of: it is responsible for the smooth flow of qi, or vital life energy, throughout the body. When the liver cannot perform this job, the result is called ‘liver qi stagnation’, the most common diagnosis in acupuncture practice. As Chinese Medical practitioners, we try to nip it in the bud because an irregular flow of qi can lead not only to a plethora of physical symptoms but emotional ones as well: depression, anxiety, anger, irritability and frustration. On the contrary, a healthy and normal qi flow results in a sense of resoluteness, a drive toward appropriate goals and even an indomitable spirit.
Of all the seasons, spring is the one that affords the most movement, whether in sap flowing through the trees, crocuses breaking through the earth or buds blossoming. The increased warmth and light not only makes our outer world come alive again, but every aspect of our inner world as well: the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
What can we do to lend support to our health and a feeling of rejuvenation in this season of rebirth? How can we support the function of the liver that needs to be strong? Here are four ways:
Get Out and Move. Go for a fast walk or a slow jog. Find a good place to take a yoga, dance, tai chi or qigong class. Maybe playing a round of golf or tennis might appeal. Balancing heart-elevating exercise like fast walking with the stretching and strengthening of yoga is a perfect blend to help the circulation move in healthy ways.
Eat Green. Fresh greens help to cleanse the liver that can get stiff and fatty from unhealthy foods, medications and too much alcohol. Dandelion greens, watercress and baby spinach are particularly good. Sour foods are good in the spring, as well, so think of adding lemon or lime to your water, pickle slices on sandwiches and extra vinegar on salads.
Express Yourself. According to Chinese medicine, a healthy liver moves one toward creativity in all of its uniquely personal manifestations. Maybe it is time to plant a garden, paint a landscape or a room Chinese red. Get in the kitchen and concoct some new recipes if you are inclined. Take advantage of the season’s energy to start a new project or finish an old one.
See an Acupuncturist. A competent practitioner of Eastern medicine can feel stagnation in the liver in the pulse, see it on the tongue and in the eyes, as well as hear it in the voice. Seasonal “tune-ups” are effective in dealing with issues that, when left unresolved, can grow into greater problems requiring more serious intervention. If someone shows signs of “liver qi stagnation” — the most common presentation in spring or any other season — acupuncture, massage, cupping or gua sha can be used to help change circulation. The majority of people feel lighter, less stressed and sleep better after a good session.
Finally, if none of the above sound appealing to you, maybe just being able to sit outside again and watch the world walk by at a local café or wherever your favorite perch lies will be the perfect spring awakening. Find your fit and enjoy!