Spring has…at least for the time being…sprung. And while springtime brings warmer weather, more sunshine, and a chance to be outside, it also brings its own energetic challenges, which we should all be aware of!
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each season is represented by a particular element – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, or Water. Springtime is the season of the Wood Element. Wood likes to grow, to expand, to move (think of plants bursting forth through the dirt…that is the energy of Wood.) Each element is also manifested in a pair of our energy systems (the systems that we stimulate with acupuncture needles.) The wood element manifests in the Liver and Gall Bladder systems (although we typically talk about the Liver energy most…think of the Gall Bladder energy as the Liver’s accomplice.)
Now, when I talk about your Liver energy, I am not talking about your physical Liver organ that sits in your abdomen. Rather, I am talking about a particular kind of energy that flows throughout your whole body and serves specific functions. The Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine is in charge of regulating the smooth flow of “qi” (energy) throughout the whole body. This means that if there is a problem with the Liver energy system, the qi in our bodies does not flow properly, and symptoms of pain and tension occur. The most common Liver energy pathology that we see in clinic is called “Liver Qi Stagnation.”
Common symptoms of Liver Qi Stagnation are irritability, PMS, impatience, being easily frustrated or angry, neck and shoulder tension, chest tightness or difficulty taking a deep breath when nervous, trouble sleeping (perhaps waking between 1:00 and 3:00 am), digestive upset when stressed, muscle aches and pains, migraines, tension headaches, painful or delayed periods, feeling wound up. Sounds like the typical manifestations of stress, right? Correct! The Liver energy is the energy most easily affected by stress. Even feeling stressed – especially chronically – can be a symptom of Liver Qi stagnation.
Because springtime corresponds to the Wood element and therefore it is the season of the Liver, it is particularly important for us to pay close attention to keeping our Liver energy flowing freely in our bodies. (You will notice this energy shift if you pay attention. Notice how when the springtime weather begins, people are usually happier and more energetic than during the winter months, but are also much more likely to get agitated, frustrated, and angry more quickly. You hear a lot more honking in traffic once spring is in the air.) We are all more susceptible to Liver Qi stagnation during the springtime months than at other times of the year. And if you tend to Liver Qi stagnation anyway (which is by far the most common pathology we see in our clinic), you need to be particularly mindful of protecting your Liver Qi.
See our earlier blog post about healthy springtime eating. In addition to eating lighter meals, staying away from sugars and heavy meats, and incorporating more young grains and young plants into your diet, try these springtime behavior modifications to ensure a smooth flow of your Liver Qi all season long!