It may seem early to be thinking about Spring while we’re just digging out of a February snow storm, but for the Chinese, Spring begins with the Lunar New Year. Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is a time to prepare for the growth and change of the new Season. It is also the perfect time to bring our personal springtime energies into balance.
Creativity. Growth. Flexibility. Vision. According to classical Chinese medicine, these are qualities associated with the energy of springtime. Living in an agrarian society, the ancient Chinese had ample opportunity to observe the natural world in great detail. They came to understand that each season carries a distinct energy which also manifests in the functioning of our bodies, minds, and spirits since we, too, belong to the natural world. Within this system of medicine, each season is associated with a particular element, a color, a climatic force, an emotion, and a set of energy pathways, organs, and physiological functions in the body.
Connecting with the energy of the seasons both outdoors and within ourselves can help us stay healthy, cultivate the strengths associated with each season, and recognize when we are getting out of balance. Receiving treatment with acupuncture and herbs can correct these types of imbalances, allowing us to achieve a sense of health, vitality and fulfillment in life.
So here we are, fast approaching the height of springtime. (In the Chinese tradition, the equinoxes and solstices are actually the mid-point of a season rather than the starting point.) Springtime is associated with the Wood element, its color is blue-green, its climatic force is wind, and it is all about creativity, growth, and change. The emotion of the Spring is anger, which is not necessarily a negative thing. If we understand anger as the impulse to create change, then we see that it can be a very positive and dynamic force when it is channeled in a healthy way.
Looking inward at our bodies, the Liver and the Gallbladder are the internal organs associated with the spring energy. In the context of Chinese medicine, these organs are in charge of smooth flow throughout the body and they have particular influence over the eyes, the joints, tendons and ligaments, the reproductive system, the blood, and some aspects of digestion.
Looking out at the world around us at this time of year, we see that little green shoots of plants are bursting up through the soil, animals are becoming more active, in some cases giving birth, and the wind has been blowing like nobody’s business. All of these signs tell us something about the energy of the season.
It is time for things that have been germinating and gestating, hidden and gathering power through the cold and quiet winter, to burst forth, take form and assert themselves. So it goes with our plans and aspirations – this is the time when the unformed idea begins to take on shape and detail. We hone our vision, focus our energy, make decisions and take action. When the inevitable obstacles arise, we stay rooted in our mission while remaining flexible and seeking a new path, just as shoots of grass seek out the cracks in the sidewalk in order to keep reaching for the sun. When the winds of change blow through our lives, we stay rooted in who we are and bend gracefully to accommodate their force. Once the gale has died down, we spring back upright and resume growing in our chosen direction, just like those same blades of grass adapting to the winds.
If our own, internal springtime energy is strong, then creative flow and adapting to change will come easily to us. However, if our springtime energy is out of balance, we may lack vision and focus or we may lack the decisiveness and firmness of purpose to achieve our vision. We may be thrown off by changes and obstacles, either becoming rigid and angry when things do not go according to plan or feeling so hopeless and frustrated that we give up on our goals.
Irritability, inflexibility, and rage may show up in the first case, or depression and inability to stand up for ourselves and follow through on our plans in the latter. Problems may show up along the energy pathways in the body associated with the wood element or in the Liver and Gallbladder organs. Physical symptoms of these issues may include tense muscles, especially in the shoulders, neck and jaw, grinding teeth, migraine headaches, ringing in the ears, vertigo, joint pain (particularly in the hips), hyper-mobility or hyper-rigidity of the joints, tics, tremors, muscle spasms, PMS moodiness and bloating, menstrual cramps, blurred vision and eye disorders, discomfort in the ribcage, acid reflux, gallstones, and other conditions affecting the liver and gallbladder organs. There may be symptoms that arise abruptly and then die down, or symptoms that move around the body affecting first one area, then another. Acupuncture and herbs targeted at regulating the wood energy can help alleviate these symptoms and allow us to regain balance between our determination to meet our goals and our ability to go with the flow.
If any of these issues sound familiar to you, take this season as an opportunity to bring your springtime energy back into balance. Here are some ways to do it:
1) Find a new project or hobby that gets your creative juices flowing.
2) Get some exercise to keep the energy flowing smoothly throughout your body -walking, yoga, t’ai chi, qi gong, dance, martial arts, and competitive sports are all great choices.
3) Enjoy fresh seasonal produce, particularly the greens, which help clean out our Livers after the heavier foods of winter. Sour foods like lemons, limes, low-sugar yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut also support our springtime energy when eaten in moderate amounts.
4) Bring more green into your life. You can eat greens, wear green, decorate with green, go for a walk through a green landscape, bring houseplants into your home, arrange flowers, plant a tree, or work in a garden.
5) If you find yourself getting angry or irritated, ask yourself, “What is it that I want to see change here? What can I do to promote that change?” By re-orienting yourself to your mission and finding an effective outlet, you will make much better use of the creative force behind your anger.
6) Take this season as an opportunity to examine what you would like to change in your life. Make a plan and start putting the steps in action.