My grandmother keeps a postcard on her refrigerator that always catches my eye. It’s a picture of tulips, with a quote from Leo Tolstoy: “Spring is the time of plans and projects.”
She doesn’t know it, and Tolstoy probably didn’t know it either, but this is exactly what spring is all about according to Chinese medicine! Spring is the time of the Wood element. The organs and meridians of the Wood element are the Liver and Gallbladder, whose functions are not only in aiding digestion, but also in setting plans and goals for ourselves and following through with appropriate action.
When the Wood element is functioning well, we are able to define our goals clearly, in accordance with who we are and what we want to accomplish. We are also able to make the daily decisions required to stay in tune with that overall plan, and make adjustments when necessary.
Wood element out of balance can show up as frustration, indecision, an increase in stress and muscle tension, jaw pain, headaches, and an overall feeling of tightness. Some people also find that instead of having flexibility and creativity in the face of obstacles, life just seems like one big wall blocking your goals. It’s like being stuck in traffic all day everyday, and you just can’t get to where you are going.
How can you make the best out of the season, to nurture your own health and wellbeing? First of all, the Wood element loves movement. So if you haven’t really followed through on your new years resolution to get more exercise, now is the time!
Second, take the time to connect with your own goals. When is the last time you really focused on what you are trying to accomplish? Make a list and be specific, not only in the details of what you want to achieve, but also in the time frame for each goal on your list. To add an extra boost to the exercise, take each goal and write a paragraph visualizing what it will be like for you to achieve that goal. Describe in as much detail as you can: the setting, what you see, how you feel, etc. It’s a fun game that will actually help you succeed.
Third, spring is also a great time to do some internal spring cleaning to help unburden your Liver. I recommend a very simple three-week detox that avoids the following:
• Alcohol and coffee
• Common irritant foods: dairy, wheat, soy, corn and eggs
• All processed foods (anything that comes in a box)
• Beef (except grass-fed beef)
During this time, make sure to drink at least 64 oz of water (not just liquid, but water), and do your best to choose organic and non-gmo foods.
After the three weeks are up, you can reintroduce each of these foods/drinks back into your diet one at a time, for three days straight, so you can see how each one affects you. Note that sometimes a food reaction will not happen until the next day, and by testing each one for three days you will have pretty clear information about how well you tolerate it (or don’t!). I have found that some of my patients’ persistent symptoms are not caused by internal imbalance, but instead are the result of something they are eating or drinking. Feel free to add other foods to this diet if you suspect they might be troublesome for you (sugar, legumes, nightshades).
Through this simple elimination and detox diet, you will not only feel better, you will also discover if one of these commonly problematic foods is causing any symptoms. If that’s the case, this is valuable information and you can simply take it out of your diet for good.
With each of these three exercises, you will be supporting the Wood element in your life and taking advantage of the very powerful energy of spring. This is the burst that turns a seed into a plant, that busts a chick out of its egg, and that takes you from where you are to where you’d like to be. Happy spring!