Spring is the season of growth, regeneration, increased activity and new beginnings. During the season of spring, people experience many changes. Allergies, high blood pressure, headaches, sinus pain and congestion, anger, irritation and tendon problems are just some of the issues common to the spring months. Many of these problems can be attributed to increased wind in the environment. And while there is nothing that can be done about external wind, internal wind can be addressed and diminished using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the many modalities it incorporates.
In TCM, there are lots of correspondences and associations. Spring is the season of wood, the liver and the gallbladder. The liver is in charge of detoxification and keeping the energy or Qi (pronounced “chee”) flowing smoothly. The gallbladder governs decision making and controls the sinews of the body.
When the liver and gallbladder are not functioning properly, the Qi becomes blocked and disease can occur. Both the liver and gallbladder also help with digestion. But it frequently happens that repressed anger and excessive stress can lead to the development of gallstones.
To keep the liver and gallbladder working smoothly, things like acupuncture, herbal formulas, nutritional counseling, tai chi and qi gong are all recommended. Acupuncture utilizes over 300 different pressure points on the body to help keep it in alignment and free from disease. And there are specific points that can be used to help balance the body during the season of spring. Let’s look at a few of them.
1. Liver 3 – This point is located bilaterally on the top of the foot, in the depression about one thumb-breadth from the edge of the webbing between the first and second toes. This point can be used to decrease headaches, nasal congestion and depression.
2. Large Intestine 20 – Found bilaterally on either side of the nose, in the nasolabial groove, level with the lower border of the nostril. This point is very effective for decreasing nasal pain and obstruction, as well as helping decrease rhinorrhea, also known as a runny nose. These symptoms are quite common with allergies that occur during spring.
3. Gallbladder 34 – This point is located bilaterally on the outer side of the lower leg, in the depression behind the head of the fibula. Gallbladder 34 is the influential point of the tendons and is used specifically for pain in the lower extremities. The tendons can freeze up during spring after they have been somewhat dormant during the winter months.
4. Liver 14 – Located bilaterally on abdomen, directly below the nipple, four thumb-breadths from the midline, in the sixth intercostal space. Liver 14 promotes the smooth flow of liver Qi and benefits the digestive tract.
5. Urinary Bladder 18 – This point is located bilaterally on either side of the spine, at the lower border of the ninth thoracic vertebra, about one and a half thumb-breadths from the spine. This point benefits both the liver and the gallbladder, smooths liver Qi and decreases anger and irritability.
Any of these points can be used alone or in conjunction with others. They can be manually stimulated using pressure from a finger or dull, rounded tool. But for best effects, it is recommended acupuncture be applied.
Spring is a time of renewal, regeneration, growth and energy. The plants and animals awaken from the slumber of the cold winter months. The vital nutrients that have been stored in the roots of the plants and the bodies of the animals, comes to the surface and life becomes more vibrant and fluid. Human beings are no different. Humans tend to stay indoors more during the winter months and sometimes pack on a little extra weight in the process. As the weather warms, humans become more gregarious and spend more time outside enjoying nature. This is just a natural process.
Therefore, it makes sense that what was observed by the ancient Chinese should still hold true today. Humans are supposed to take their cues from nature. As a species, humans should be more active during the warmer spring months. And to do this, we need proper nourishment. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is sometimes translated into energy. This Qi is the vital substance that keeps our bodies functioning until the day we die. To keep the Qi plentiful, we need to eat the proper foods at the proper times.
During the spring, we should be eating foods that have upward energies, such as green, sprouting vegetables. But we also need foods that will provide the extra nourishment needed for the increased amounts of activity that accompany the season of spring. This is where sweeter foods play a vital role. But be careful not to overdo it. Too much sweet can overload the body and make it sluggish.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, spring is the season of the liver and the gallbladder. These organs regulate a smooth flow of energy throughout the whole body. However, they are prone to stagnation because we do not take proper care of ourselves. This can manifest as anger, irritability, depression, insomnia and even pain. Stagnation can occur when people eat too many foods of poor quality that may be full of chemicals.
Here are some foods recommended to eat throughout the season of spring.
1. Green Foods: During spring, it is recommended to eat foods green in color and rich in chlorophyll that help accelerate rejuvenation of the liver. This includes things like spirulina, chlorella, parsley, wheat grass, kale, Swiss chard and collard greens.
2. Radishes: Pungent in flavor, radishes are perfect for the spring time. They help move liver Qi and open up the liver meridian.
3. Sour Citrus Fruits: Foods like lemons, limes and grapefruit are all good choices that help cut fats that may have been stored up in the body during the winter months, while also keeping the liver Qi moving smoothly.
4. Bitter Leafy Greens: Spring is the appropriate time for liver cleansing, which is what the bitter flavor does. So adding things like dandelion greens, arugula, radicchio, mustard greens and spinach will help tremendously.
5. Chicken: Ever heard the term “spring chicken”? Well this is the appropriate time of year to enjoy pasture-raised, locally grown chicken. And pairing chicken with some of the aforementioned foods can make for a very healthy and liver happy meal.
Contact us if you are curious about how to eat according to the seasons. We can guide you along your healing journey through the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine and nutritional counseling.
A study published by Europe PMC was used to compare the clinical effect of acupuncture plus herbs and Western Medicine with just a normal Western Medicine treatment in determining which is better for treatment of cirrhosis of the liver. The researchers divided the 80 participants into four groups. Two of the groups used both Eastern and Western Medicine, while the other two groups only used Western Medicine. After 30 days of treatment, the two groups that were treated with both Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine showed overall effectiveness rates that were much better than just Western Medicine alone. Those in the combined treatment groups had decreased symptoms at a much higher level. This study confirms Traditional Chinese Medicine can be a wonderful addition to the treatment of cirrhosis of the liver.
Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at the human body quite differently than Western medicine does. In TCM, there are energetic pathways associated with specific organs in the body. When these pathways or meridians, and the energy flowing through them, are out of balance, then the body may become diseased.
In TCM, the liver and its corresponding meridian are responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (pronounced “chee”) or energy, blood and emotions. The liver is easily affected by excess stress and uncontrolled emotions. The liver is paired with the gallbladder and the two work very closely as a unit. When one is imbalanced, the other may display the symptoms. For instance, if a person is consistently stressed, this may cause the liver Qi to become blocked. When this happens, the gallbladder may become affected. It is not uncommon for people in high stress jobs to end up with gall stones. This happens because the liver becomes blocked and the emotions remain bottled up inside, which then manifests in pain and possibly stones.
Anger is the emotion commonly associated with the liver and gallbladder. If a person is frequently irritable, gets angered easily, has difficulty relaxing or letting things go, and is unreasonable, it is safe to guess that the liver Qi isn’t functioning properly. There are many methods of balancing liver Qi and returning proper energy flow throughout the body. Learning to stay calm and channel one’s anger appropriately is a good place to start. Practice some deep breathing, meditation, yoga or even take a walk. All of these things are great for balancing stagnant liver Qi.
Another way to smooth out liver qi is a technique known as dry brushing. Using a hairbrush with rounded bristles, one can lightly brush down along the liver energetic meridian, which runs along the inner thighs and calves, all the way down to the inside corner of the big toe. This can be done for about five minutes per leg and it gently stimulates the liver meridian, allowing the Qi to flow more freely and relaxing not only the liver, but the whole body.
Acupuncture is another great way to balance the liver energies. Regular acupuncture treatments help balance the body holistically and without any real side effects. Acupuncture can increase the flow of Qi throughout the body, remove blockages and stagnation and allow the liver to function properly, which will ultimately allow the body to detox more effectively.
Most people look forward to spring. It means new life, longer hours of daylight and depending on where one lives, warmer weather. This transition allows for the ability to get more done and spend more time outdoors, possibly shedding those extra pounds gained over the holidays and reconnecting with nature. But as with any seasonal change, there are organ systems that need specific attention. This is where Traditional Chinese Medicine excels in helping make a smooth transition.
In TCM, the season of winter is associated with the element of water and it corresponds to the kidneys. The kidneys house our life force or jing and therefore, they must be constantly fed and replenished, as jing dissipates over time. Winter is the perfect time to do this. It is done by sleeping more, eating hearty, warming seasonal foods and avoiding excessive sweating or exercising.
The season of spring is associated with the element of wood and it corresponds to the liver. As everything around us blossoms in the spring, so too should we embrace this time. But the liver tends to be a bit of a bully for many people and it must be kept in check. Often the winter months leave some stagnant feelings, which can manifest in different areas like relationships, work or even our bodies. If there is frustration, physical pain or sadness, it may be a sign that energy is not flowing properly or optimally.
One way to make the transition from winter to spring easier is by engaging in some spring cleaning. Getting rid of some of the clutter that has built up during the winter months may help with the underlying frustration or sadness. Tossing out old clothing, magazines or just going through that one junk drawer we all have, will create an empty space that will then allow for growth throughout the spring season.
Eating according to the seasons is very important in TCM. As the weather gets warmer, most people gravitate towards healthier food options in an effort to lose some of the winter weight. But according to TCM, eating lighter, more natural foods actually gives the liver a chance to repair itself and that alone can help us feel more energetic and improve our clarity of thought. The immune system also functions better when excess sugar and dairy are removed.
Acupuncture is one of the tools in the TCM toolbox that can also help make the transition from winter to spring easier. Acupuncture can balance the body as it reacts to the changes in the weather and activity levels. Regular acupuncture treatments have also been shown to boost immunity. Spring can also cause flare ups associated with seasonal allergies and acupuncture treatments can help with the inflammation, sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes that accompany the allergic reactions. But most of all, acupuncture can help regulate those emotional imbalances that are often common during this transitional period.
As with any health care regiment, always be sure to seek out a fully licensed and properly trained professional. By incorporating acupuncture into your life and utilizing the suggested tips given above, you may just have a more enjoyable metamorphosis from winter into spring.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.