This is the fourth in a series of articles exploring the relationship between the seasons, the Five Elements in Chinese Medicine and the ever-changing state of your health.
In September, I began this series with Earth: Our Source for Daily Health where I discussed how the strength of our digestive system helps create daily stability amidst change and transition—the transition between seasons as well as the transitions of our lives.
In October, I wrote Your Immune System, the Fall, and the Element Metal, which explored how, as daylight gets shorter, it is the time of year to begin to store up our harvest for winter, how it is time to begin to slow down and quiet down to strengthen our immune systems as cold and flu season approaches.
In December, I wrote Winter, Water and Our Resources, which focused on our innate need to store up our resources from the Fall and use them to nourish us through the winter months. I discussed how so much of what I treat in my patients stems from the “I can rest when I am dead” lifestyle that we live here in mild weathered Southern California, and an imbalance in our Kidney system can lead to such conditions as low back pain and low sex drive.
Spring has come!
Spring is time to come out of hibernation and bloom with renewed energy and color! In Chinese Medicine, we associate Spring with the Wood Element and the internal organs of the Liver and Gall Bladder. When you think about the nature of a tree, it draws water and nutrients from the earth, giving it the strength and fortitude to grow upwards and outwards, reaching toward the heavens. Wood pushes boundaries, identifies obstacles and works its way around them, has a creative direction in life and seeks to achieve its goals. We, in the US, have a very Wood national character. We are pioneers, leaving the Old World behind, seeking out a new path, with a feeling of manifest destiny we have a clear vision of the goals we want for ourselves and we stop at nothing to achieve them.
Yet, it is plain to see, that if left unchecked, this type of assertive energy can bring about tremendous imbalance. And it is this unchecked Liver energy that pervades almost every clinical picture I have seen. In a word – STRESS! Stress comes when we feel our forward growth is hampered or blocked and we decide to push through instead of yield, blend, and redirect. With this, comes frustration and resentment. Imagine a tree that gets concrete poured over its roots to form a sidewalk. How much energy must it take for that tree to uproot that cement and how much strain must it go through to do so?
Instead, drawing upon the patience and softness that our Winter Water gave us, we can better identify the obstacles in front of us, understand them and find another way around them. All without ever losing sight of what direction we wish to go. It is the soft suppleness of Water that gives bamboo its resilience, while it is the dryness of a water-starved tree that eventually breaks and splinters as it pushes past its own resources.
The Clinical Picture
Imbalance in the Liver-Gall Bladder system can show up as stress, indigestion, irregular or painful periods and PMS, high cholesterol, hypertension, cold hands and feet, musculo-skeletal pain, headaches, insomnia, weakened immune function, anger, and the list goes on and on. For many of us that push and push all day, we are stuck in Fight-or-Flight, in the stress response of our Sympathetic Nervous System. When chased by a saber toothed tiger in fear for our lives, this is an appropriate response. But rarely do we have large tigers chasing us anymore. Instead, we have several small ones that we create throughout our stress-filled day. This perpetual state of stress wreaks havoc on our nervous system and has a profoundly deleterious effect on our health.
When a patient comes to me and relaxes on my table during an acupuncture treatment, they find it to be so deeply restful, so restorative, that if that is all I provide for them, I’d be satisfied. How often do we actually lay down to rest during the day? How often do we allow ourselves to down-shift, to be tended to and supported? How often do we allow ourselves to just be?
Acupuncture has been well-researched to demonstrate that it can strongly induce a Parasympathetic Nervous System response. This is the “Rest and Digest” part of our Autonomic Nervous system that is triggered when we sleep deeply and when we eat calmly. Most of my patients find that with the needles in, they drop into such a restful and quiet place, that at the end of the treatment they come out restored and refreshed. This has a very calming effect on a congested and stagnant, overactive Liver and Gall Bladder. And over time, with enough treatment, patients begin to carry this calm feeling with them throughout the day and can tap into it more readily during times of stress. In essence, their nervous systems are being introduced to a new way of being in their bodies and they begin to notice that they are handling stress with far greater ease and flexibility. Like bamboo, its strength lies in its ability to bend when stressed, but it does not break. Stress will always be with us. We cannot change the waves, but we can certainly learn to better navigate through them.
Tune In to Soothe the Liver
The next time you feel stressed out. Stop for a moment, sit up straight, and place your right hand over your lower ribs where your Liver is. Take a deep breath in and out through your nose, starting from your lower abdomen, into your chest. Exhale from the chest into your belly. Tune in.
Where are you tensing up? Where do you feel tight? Begin to identify what your stress patterns are and how you express them. With each deep breathe, feel that Liver area soften and relax. Feel your shoulders lower. Feel your diaphragm decompress.
As we transition between seasons, each one nourishes the next. Water feeds healthy Wood. And with healthy, balanced and motivated Wood comes enough fuel to light the glowing creativity of the Fire of Summer!