Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the interaction of the human being with the environment. The five elements, fire, earth, metal, water and wood correspond with the body’s organs as well as the seasons – fire with the heart and summer, earth with the spleen and late summer, metal with the lung and autumn, water with the kidney and winter, and wood with the liver and spring. These five elements interact with each other in a continuous cycle of generation and control, a feedback system that keeps things in balance. Disharmony results when there is an imbalance in any of these systems; this imbalance is what the TCM practitioner tries to correct.
Spring is associated with the wood element. Spring is the time of growth, movement, a pushing through from the quiescence of winter into burgeoning life. The hibernating energy of the winter months now stirs, giving life to fresh intentions and aspirations, a restlessness and a new vitality. Within the constructs of TCM, the liver and gall bladder are ‘wood’ in nature, and are the organs that have the task of moving this energy. This energy, in turn propels the movement of blood throughout the body, much like the sap that rises in the trees during this season.
Many people experience health problems during the change of seasons. The strong winds of spring, for instance, may strengthen the liver to a degree that it ‘attacks’ the spleen (the organ responsible for digestion in the TCM construct). Thus, a patient may experience GI disturbances such as bloating and abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation etc. On the contrary, a weak liver can affect the lungs, resulting in respiratory allergies with its associated symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes etc. The liver channel ‘opens into the eyes’, and thus the liver can also be involved in eye disorders seen more commonly during spring, such as red, itchy eyes due to allergies, conjunctivitis or pink eye, etc. Since the liver is involved in the smooth flow of qi or energy, a weak liver may result in a stagnation of qi, resulting in depression, irritability and anger, a restlessness that many people feel during the onset of spring. These imbalances can be corrected with a combination of diet, exercise, acupuncture and herbs.
TCM practitioners believe that diet plays an important role in health. So what is the recommended diet for spring? Spring is the time for the liver; thus foods that strengthen and cleanse the liver should be consumed- eat green, eat fresh (but not raw); avoid very sour foods that can irritate the liver.
Release some of that stored winter energy with exercise. Stretching, walking, yoga, taichi, or any outdoor sport, weather permitting, all allow for the expression of spring energy. So although the snow is still piled outside this acupuncturist’s office and there is a forecast for an additional 3-6 inches of the white stuff, I see buds on the cherry tree; I heard birdsong this morning; there is no doubt that spring is stirring, and will officially arrive in less than three weeks.