Thursday, April 11, 2013

Movements of Nature in Chinese Medicine - Spring Time Part I

"I sit with my back against an old oak tree,
The wind blows, grass lifts around me,
The tree remains steady,
The wind pushes me forward,
My eyes tear with the rising impulse,

Spring bursts forth,
It is full of life,
Vision clear,
See the plan,
What do you see,
What do you judge,
What is the plan,
Shout to the world,"

In Chinese thought there are many ways of describing the world around us and our experience of it. One of them is the model of the Five Elements, or Five Phases. I prefer the term Five Phases because it denotes movements of energy over periods of time as opposed to static building blocks of reality. The Chinese phases are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. In a previous post I described some of the qualities of Fire as it relates to the Heart organ-meridian system. In this post we will explore the season of Spring which is associated with Wood.

Wood Correspondences (in Chinese Five Phase Theory)
Yin Organ
Yang Organ
Sense Organ
Body Part
Body Fluid
Upwards, Outwards

Spring is a time of birth and renewal. It is the seed growing upwards and breaking ground. There is an energy of bursting forth and moving upwards. The Yang Qi becomes dominant, bursting out of Yin which has been dominant in Autumn and Winter. The light begins to return, the days become longer, and the temperature begins to warm. The state of expansive potential associated with Winter shifts into the state of manifested potential. The full realization of potential won't happen until the Summer. There is still a quality of the unknown present in Spring.

Spring can be a difficult time for people because of all the change and movement happening. After the deep contemplation of Winter it can be a jarring shift to move into Spring. The movement happening in nature can stir up Wind - both metaphorically and literally. Things might seem like they're a little out of control and overwhelming. People will experience allergies, frustration, and a sense of being disoriented. All these things are normal and by knowing what's happening in nature we can learn to adjust to the changing seasons more easily, helping any physical symptoms to become less severe. 

The Liver likes things to be consistent and organized. The Liver is associated with vision on all levels (i.e. physical, having foresight for future projects, opportunities, etc.). Because Spring is a time of change the Liver can become irritated. It may be unable to see what will happen in the future because the potential of Winter is still being shaped into what it will become. It is analogous to the feeling that occurs whiel driving behind a large truck and being unable to see the road ahead of you. 

Spring invites us to learn to move with the currents of nature, to be okay with the unknown as it is happening. Winter is more a time of deep contemplation where we learn to sit with mystery and the unknown in a state of darkness, quiet, and stillness. Spring is a time of driving 90 mph on a winding road that we are unfamiliar with. In the Winter we use the time to discern what no longer serves us and Spring is when we get rid of it all (Spring cleaning). This process can leave us feeling raw, vulnerable, and a little rough around the edges.

Finding things in our life that we know will be consistent is helpful during Spring. Having an anchor to hold onto while things are shifting and being let go of helps us feel secure in the process. It makes change and growth more comfortable. 

We want to put ourselves at the eye of the storm where there is stillness as opposed to being on the periphery where the tornado is blowing strong and we might get hit with a flying cow. Focusing on the positive qualities that change and growth will bring into our lives will help us allow it to happen with less resistance. Asking where we want to go, where we see ourselves going, and why we want to get there will help the journey be more enjoyable. Spring and Autumn are all about the journey. Winter and Summer are more related to the destination. They are the rest in the light and dark. Spring and Autumn are navigating the old rickety bridge between two mountains.

Self-Care Tips for Spring
  • Be asleep or in bed resting between 11 am and 3 am. This is the period where the Qi is strongest in the Liver and Gladder. It allows them to carry out their functions of judgment, discernment, vision, and refurbishment. Less sleep starting earlier will always be more beneficial than more sleep starting later.
  • Contemplate or journal about visions, dreams, what you want to let go of, what you want to bring in to your life, and how those changes will help you be more content in life.
  • Dietary support for the liver requires to things: healthy proteins that allow the liver to function properly and sour/bitter foods. A great combination is a green apple, a little lemon juice, cilantro, and dandelion greens. Be careful not to overdo cold, raw, bitter foods because they can negatively impact digestion. If you notice coldness, loose stools, cramping pain, or fatigue, it means you're probably overdoing it.
  • Be smart about detoxes, cleanses, and fasts. The liver requires energy to work properly. Juicing removes all the fiber from the fruit or vegetable which means the body absorbs all the sugar very quickly. This leads to dangerous spiking of blood sugar levels and is taxing on the pancreas. Juice fasting may be helpful in serious situations but should not be self prescribed and done with the guidance of a trained healthcare professional. For most people having a healthy, consistent diet, taking care of yourself, and getting adequate sleep is going to allow your body and life to detoxify most effectively.
  • Create consistency in your life to help the liver in this time of change. Go to bed at the same time. Wake up at the same time. Eat at the same time. Create things your body knows it can rely on. Create a feeling of safety in your life.
  • Be okay with feeling off balance and a little confused during this period. You will get through it and you will be better for it afterward.
This week we explored the energetic movement of Spring in nature and our bodies. We looked at how associations with Spring show up both literally and metaphorically in our lives and bodies. Next week we will look at the biomedical physiology of how the liver detoxifies our bodies as well as talk more about allergies and how Chinese medicine helps with them. Questions are always welcome.

~Joshuah Ciafardone, L.Ac

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