To enjoy a continuum of health throughout the year, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) recommends practices for harmonizing with nature and the cycles of the seasons. TCM practitioners believe health is influenced and mirrored by nature and that we may optimize health by using approaches based on five elements found in nature: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Each of these five elements corresponds to, and is influenced by, myriad factors: specific seasons of the year, organ meridians, physical ailments, and harmonizing flavors, colors, sounds, emotions, and breathing and movement practices. We can sustain harmony with inner and outer nature when we adapt to the distinct challenges and merits each season provides.
Springtime Influenced by the Wood Phase
The Wood element (or Wood “phase”) exerts its greatest influence during spring. Spring exemplifies Wood qualities in the sprouts of green emerging on the branches of trees. Symbolically, this spring momentum pushes us toward our new growth and expansion. Spring is marked by the vernal equinox, and for the next six months, the days continue to grow longer. The power of the sun shines more intensely in our lives, encouraging us to “spring into action” as we launch past winter’s excess or inertia. Flowers bloom all around, filling the space inside and out with fresh perspective and renewed energy.
The changing of the season is beautiful, though it may also be stressful for some of us.
1. Gently Detoxify Extremes
Many people associate spring-cleaning with this time of year. Metaphorically, the cleansing energy of spring provides a ripe opportunity to detoxify internally, too. In TCM, spring is associated with the liver (known as the great detoxifier), and we can harness this season’s momentum right now to help cleanse our liver and entire body. Energetically, the liver meridian is expert at balancing extremes. Detoxification integrates most easily into healthy lifestyles by avoiding extreme measures, including punishing rules or rigid commands like “I have to” or “I should.” When detoxing, we invite you to avoid “should-ing” yourself. Instead, gently incorporate harmonizing spring ingredients to consciously lighten up and shed the extremes of winter inertia and holiday binging.
2. Add Lemons
Lemons are cleansing to the body and help decongest and reduce accumulations in the liver. Consider drinking a warm glass of water with a squeeze of lemon when you wake up in the morning, or place a fresh lemon wedge in your water bottle throughout the day. According to TCM, the liver thrives when nourished with sour flavors, and introducing more lemon (or lime if you prefer) is a simple way to satiate this craving. Staying hydrated with lemon-infused water also adds more vitamin C to your diet and supports the digestive and immune systems.
If you’d like to explore a more challenging yet gentle approach to detoxification, consider a healthy once-a-week liquid cleanse (see sidebar).
3. Energetic Detoxification
Detoxification from extremes may occur on the physical level, but it also clears noxious debris from our mind and heart. Spring is described as a windy season in TCM, and wind provides a metaphor for our energy or vital life force, known as qi (pronounced “chee”). For example, although we cannot see the wind itself, we can see the results of wind as we hear the leaves rustle in the trees and dust or debris being pushed and carried in the air. Similarly, though we cannot see qi, we can feel the results of our internal qi in how vital, radiant, and exuberant we feel.
As we participate in more outdoor activities during these months, we may notice external irritants like pollen impacting our feelings of well-being. Internally, turbulent emotions may circulate like gusts of wind leading to extreme emotions. Our liver qi is particularly challenged by growing feelings of irritation and frustration. If these feelings are unexpressed or exaggerated, they may explode (or implode) into extreme manifestations of anger and resentment. When these feelings are regularly entertained, our posture often responds with tight shoulders, a clenched or jutted jaw, and muscular tension in our neck, upper back, or head. Likewise, physical or emotional discomfort may migrate and move into different areas of our body, presenting as a textbook TCM “windy condition.” Breathing practices and conscious movement exercises soothe these explosive gusts, calming our mind and body.
4. Shhhh Breath
The “shhhh breath” is a simple breathing practice that soothes our emotions and harmonizes our liver qi. This is an ancient qigong (a movement and breathing practice rooted in TCM) technique. To practice the shhhh breath, inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Make a breathy, barely audible “shhhh” sound on the exhale, like quieting a restless baby. We invite you to practice this healing sound right now for three breaths and notice if your attention shifts or if you feel any different … How does it feel?
Use this ancient, healing shhhh sound when you need to blow off some steam, when you’re frustrated in traffic, or any time you feel irritated. Experience the delight as you detox extreme feelings with the ever-reliable healing aid of your breath.
5. Detoxifying in Motion
If you prefer the intensity of more physically oriented activity to release toxic feelings, experiment with bursts of energy: practice jumping jacks, sprint until you feel winded, hold a plank pose (the highest point of a push-up) for 30–60 seconds, or do any fun activity that gets you sweating. Relief ensues when you work emotional intensity out with bursts of cardiovascular activity, even when practiced for just a few moments.
6. Thrusting Palms
Qigong’s Thrusting Palms technique is another physically oriented practice specifically designed to encourage realignment of our liver qi with nature. See how it is done at http://bit.ly/1MHUc5A.
How much expansion and renewal are you willing to experience this spring season? Choice by choice, begin to harmonize with your best self and align with natural practices that liberate toxic extremes. Experiment with one or more of our cleansing suggestions to recalibrate your seasonal alignment and experience ease and flow this spring. As your spring-cleaning efforts clear away unnecessary toxins and excess, recommit to conscious choices and intentions that help your greatest potentials expand, grow, and blossom!
Once-a-Week Liquid Cleanse
A once-a-week liquid cleanse gives your metabolism a break and allows the liver (the chemical factory of your body) and other organs to focus on metabolism, healing, and restoring balance to the body. The idea is simple: for one day of the week, eat/drink only smoothies, juices, water, and soups throughout the day, and eliminate anything you have to chew (this gives your jaw a break and often demonstrates how habituated we are with “chewing things over”). This once-a-week liquid cleanse powerfully inserts an intentional change to habitual eating routines and cultivates a conscious relationship with our food cravings, appetite, and nutritional behavior. To realize the best results, practice a once-a-week liquid cleanse for at least a month. Green is the harmonizing color associated with the Wood phase, and during springtime, we recommend adding plenty of locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables to your diet, especially if they happen to be green (or sour, like lemons).
Creamy Broccoli Soup Recipe
This is one of our all-time favorite recipes, and we invite you to modify the ingredients to your taste.
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces sliced onion
3 ounces diced celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup chopped broccoli
1/2 tablespoon bay leaves
1 pound sliced potatoes
1 quart spinach
1 quart vegetable stock
1 teaspoon black pepper
Optional seasonings: salt, tahini (ground sesame seed butter), and/or nutritional yeast (significant source of B-complex vitamins)
1. Sauté onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil just until flavor is released.
2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until volume is reduced by approximately one-third.
3. Strain or remove bay leaves.
4. Blend in a food processor.
5. Season to taste with salt, tahini (for added protein and a more nutty flavor), and/or nutritional yeast (providing a faux-cheesy flavor).
Serves 2–4, yielding about 1 quart