Spring is here! Blossoms, bulbs and buds. This time of year is thought of in many traditions as a time of earth's "quickening" -- that time in pregnancy when one first begins to feel the life within moving. This is the time when the sap is beginning to run in the trees, when things that were dormant begin to show new green leaves, buds, flowers. In the Chinese calendar (which is lunisolar), Spring usually begins in the early part of February, with Spring Equinox representing the mid-season rather than the beginning.
The organ associated with spring in Chinese medicine is the Liver. The element is wood-- representing both the little green sprouts and the big strong trees. Qualities related to Liver (and partner Gallbladder) include ambition, anger, courage, decision-making. Liver’s color is blue-green, it’s sound is shouting. Liver relates to eyes, tendons, nails. In Chinese medicine Liver stores blood and is responsible for the smooth flow of qi in the body. Liver is thought of as a moody organ, highly susceptible to outside stressors. When Liver is affected by stress or various emotions, the flow of qi can become uneven in the body, and qi can become congested or stagnant. Liver is also prone to becoming deficient of blood, sometimes due to lack of sleep, anger, or dietary influences, among other reasons. Both of these patterns give rise to a variety of complaints related to Liver and Gallbladder functions and meridians, including: digestive issues, sleep problems, headaches, dry/red eyes and blurry vision, certain allergies and upper respiratory issues, anxiety and irritation, tinnitus and ear infections, PMS and cramping, neck and shoulder pain, pain in the area of the ribs, and others. Some issues that allopathic medicine describes as hormonal are also related to the Liver.
The Liver is home to the Hun, one of the five aspects of the spirit recognized by Chinese medicine (correlated to the five elements). The Hun is the part of our spirit related to our essential selves, an intersection between Shen (which is the part of our spirit most connected with the spirit world, most in tune with our higher self, related to the Heart), and Po (the part of our spirit most related with our physical animal self, and related to the Lung). Hun can be pictured as the clouds that hover in the sky yet close to earth. The Hun is what is believed to leave the body after death, and is also the part of the spirit involved in dreaming. The Hun is involved with vision, imagination, the direction we take in our life. The Hun is nourished by spending time in nature, especially among the trees, and movement. It is also helpful to go to bed before 10 or 11, so that Liver and Gallbladder can rest during their appointed times. Here is an interesting take on the Hun: http://www.fivespirits.com/hun.php
What else is nourishing, moving, balancing for the Liver and Gallbladder? The flavor is sour; now is a good time of year to incorporate things like lemons (lots on the trees right now) and apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized!) into your food and drink. You know that I love these anyway, but one of the reasons is because they are so beneficial to keeping the qi flowing so things don’t get congested. This is an important time of year for that! (I’ve already been seeing in the last couple of weeks so many issues related to Liver and Gallbladder.) Nettles is another great one! You can see the young stinging nettles growing up in the hills right now. If you can harvest with gloves, steaming or cooking these or making a fresh tea would be great prevention for spring allergies. Nettles in any form (fresh or dried) are also wonderful for both nourishing, cleansing, and circulating the blood. Because of this blood nourishing ability, they can be calming, grounding, and moistening. Dandelion is also wonderful for both moving and tonifying the liver and gallbladder. Chinese medicine uses all parts of this incredibly medicinal weed. Personally I think the roasted root is delicious in a tea—reminiscent of coffee but much kinder to our nervous systems. Rose buds are a lovely to throw in some tea this time of year as well—they are moving for the Liver and thought to promote beauty in the skin. Chard, spinach, beets and (surprise!) liver are very nourishing to the blood and thus important at this time of year as well.
The animal associated with Spring is the dragon, and the direction is the East (new beginnings). Liver and the Wood element have the passion to spring forth, to grow, to reach for the sky. Yet Liver is a combination of Yang and Yin, and must be nourished by rest and rejuvenation as well. When we can allow our energy and passion to move and thrive, and at the same time also nourish ourselves, our whole body and spirit feel more harmonious. We will really need to keep coming back to nourishing and renewing ourselves so that we can also let our branches blow in the breeze, grow and thrive in the flow of unimpeded qi! Happy Spring…