Welcome spring! I have never been more excited for a turn of season. Winter, you have been fun at all but I am SO ready for the onset of longer days, more sunshine and warmer weather!
Spring is all about growth, expansion and transformation. During the winter months nature slows down, turns inwards and hibernates either literally or energetically. Spring signifies the awakening of this slumber and our energy starts to move upwards and outwards, just as nature does!
In Chinese medicine, each season reflects one of the five elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood) and for spring this is the Wood element. The organs associated with the Wood element are the Liver and Gall Bladder. This is why we hear so much about cleansing during spring as the Liver and Gall Bladder are common targets for a good cleanse!
When we enter the season of spring, the Wood element organ systems become fully activated (as well as it's associated channels on the body). If there are any underlying imbalances in the Liver organ system, spring will bring this to light in the form of signs and symptoms associated with the Liver in Chinese medicine. Things like allergies/hayfever, anger, irritability and skin breakouts may become more noticeable and prominent during the season of spring, as these are all things that can relate to Liver health in Chinese medicine. A more extensive list of sings and symptoms associated with the Liver organ system are listed further below.
In Chinese medicine we see the function of our organs a little different from western medicine. Along with all the standard physiologic processes, we also recognise the many energetic and spiritual functions associated with each organ.
For the Liver, not only is it in charge of detoxification of the entire body, it is also in charge of ensuring the smooth flow of Qi in the body (energy/life force), controls the sinews, manifests in the nails, opens into the eyes, controls tears, houses the ethereal soul (the Hun), is affected by anger and stores Blood for the uterus to allow regular mensuration.
The smooth flow of Liver Qi is vital for every physiologic process in the body.
Emotionally the Liver plays an important role by providing inspiration, creativity, life goals and a sense of purpose and direction in life. A stagnated Liver equals a stagnated body, mind and spirit overall - so lets take care of our Livers!
In Chinese medicine the Liver has a large role to play in our menstrual cycles and fertility. It’s role of ensuring the smooth flow of Qi and Blood throughout the body has a special connection with the Blood and energy supplied to the uterus. If there is disregulation in the Liver energy you can sure bet there will also be issues with the period.
Signs of your Liver energy being out of balance can include:
Dark clotting in the period
Amenorrhoea (no periods)
Alternating stools between constipation and diarrhoea
Hypochondriac pain/rib pain
Tremors/spasms, convulsions, cramping
Rigid, tense muscles
Dry, brittle nails
Dry hair with easy breakage
Poor vision/blurred vision/floaters in eyes/red eyes
High blood pressure
How does Liver energy become stagnated?
Emotional constraint, not being able to express yourself
Prolonged stress & emotional pressure
Blood loss (eg. after childbirth)
Trauma: physical and/or emotional
Poor diet with high levels of inflammatory foods
Over consumption of alcohol
Regular consumption of stimulants eg. caffeine
Regular use of pharmaceutical drugs
Now that we know what signs of disharmony for the Liver can include, and how these imbalances can arise, lets look at some things we can do each and every day to help support, nourish and LOVE our Livers!
1. Eat green foods: in Chinese medicine, any natural food that is green supports the health of the Liver and helps to promote its movement of Qi. Green vegetables are so nutrient dense and high in B vitamins which are essential to proper Liver function and detoxification. Foods to focus on during spring include sprouts, basil, fennel, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf, brussel sprouts, spinach, silverbeet, kale, broccoli, celery, seaweeds (especially kelp), cucumber, watercress, spirulina, wild blue-green algae, chlorella, parsley, alfalfa, collard greens and mint tea. Other non green veggies that also have profound effect on the Liver include beets, carrots, all members of the onion family, turmeric, cardamon, cumin, ginger, black pepper, horseradish, lemon balm, strawberry, peach, cherry, chestnut, pine nut, cabbage, turnip root, cauliflower, mung beans, rhubarb root, radish and daikon radish.
2. Regular emotional release: this is a big one, our Wood element and energy of the Liver is SO sensitive and vulnerable to stagnation from unreleased or unresolved emotions. I see this all the time in clinic, the person that is ‘doing all the right things’ eating really well, being mindful of what they put into their bodies, getting regular physical movement in their routine except something is missing, their connection to themselves and their emotions. This will almost always show up in one form or another in the body whether it is painful periods, anxiety or digestive issues – your body will let you know! Releasing your emotions can be done in so many different ways that don’t need to be intimidating or scary. Having a big belly laugh, a heartfelt cry alone or to a friend, sharing how you’re feeling with a blank page of your journal or to a close friend/family member can help you to move any stagnated emotions in your body and regulate and soothe your Liver Qi.
3. Movement/stretching: in Chinese medicine we say that the Liver organ system governs the sinews and tendons. Stretching your body and moving in a way that feels GOOD to you encourages the smooth flow of your Liver Qi. Someone that has an inflexible, rigid body usually has an imbalance in their Liver energy. Some gentle stretches each day can help to move this and keep your energy flowing, especially stretches that target the ribs/side body and inner legs.
4. Utilise bitter and sour flavours: these flavours encourage the liver to move out of a state of stagnation and poor functioning. Vinegar is both bitter and sour and one of the best quick and easy ways to get the liver regulated and moving (while dietary changes are also implemented!), unrefined apple cider vinegar is easily accessible and is best used when mixed with a small amount of honey. Other bitter foods include romaine lettuce, asparagus, quinoa, alfalfa, radish leaves and citrus peel. Bitter herbs include dandelion root, milk thistle seeds, oregon grape root and chamomile leaves.
5. Avoid processed and inflammatory foods: foods that contain vegetable oils (found in the majority of processed foods) turn rancid easily – usually during the manufacturing process and cause high levels of inflammation and free radical damage in the body, meaning that it damages the integrity of our bodies at a cellular level. These types of foods impair the livers functioning and over time causes its energy flow to become stagnated. The most common culprits of foods that can cause an inflammatory response in the body include gluten, cows dairy, refined sugar, table salt (opt for sea salt), vegetable oils, caffeine and alcohol.
6. Avoid eating late in the evening: aim to have dinner around 6-7pm, avoiding late meals allow the Liver and Gall Bladder ample time to prepare for regeneration during their four-hour cycle of peak energy defined by the Chinese clock, from 11pm-3am.
7. Don’t forget to breathe: We have an epidemic you may not have heard about, the plague of the shoulder breathers! Yup, it’s a thing. Let me explain. When we are born, we naturally breathe deeply into our abdomens, just have a look at how a baby breathes. When they inhale their abdomen expands, and when they exhale their belly drops. This is how humans are naturally meant to breathe! However as we grow we become bombarded with stressors from practically every direction, we experience the feelings of anxiety for the first time and what it’s like to have tension in our bodies, we work more and play less, we may experience traumas or experience things that send subconscious messages to our minds that we are not safe, either emotionally or physically, and this slowly stifles our expansive belly breath. We begin to breathe into our chests and shoulders. Our chest and shoulders rise and fall with our breath rather then our abdomen. And this results in reduced oxygen intake and Qi, vital life force we get from the air. This influences the amount of Qi the Liver receives from the Lungs to be dispersed through the rest of the body and impacts the Livers job of ensuring the smooth flow of energy in our entire bodies. Deep abdominal breathing and loud audible exhales are an easy and quick way to relieve some tension in the Liver.
8. Avoid EMFs (electro-magnetic frequencies): Yes, sad but true. High exposure of EMFs from sources such as phones, laptops, computers, tablets, WIFI modems, TVs, microwaves, basically any electrical appliance and power lines etc. sends a constant bombardment of information and irritation to our bodies. These frequencies interfere with the electrical communication in our body and impact the functioning and communication between nerves and cells, they can also impair mitochondrial function and impact egg and sperm quality – no thanks! The effects of all this causes Liver Qi stagnation in Chinese medicine. The effects of EMFs reduce with distance, usually around 6 feet, so being mindful of the positioning of your body between various forms of EMFs can help you reduce your exposure. Turning your phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it and turning your WIFI modem off before bed can be easy ways to start reducing your exposure. Better yet, finding ways you can have complete technology free days – your body will thank you for it!
9. Look at green environments: this is a classic piece of advice from Chinese medicine for a simple way to nourish our own Wood element, go look at some trees! Each organ in our body has a sense it is associated with; the Livers associated sense is the eyes!
Our eyes want to see lush, fertile, green environments – they crave it!
When we see nature in all her beauty it provides a subconscious comfort to our entire being and deeply soothes and nourishes our Liver and Wood element. Next time you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or feel like you just need a break, schedule some time to go for a relaxing walk in a forest or the bush, turn off your electronics and allow your senses (especially eyes) to be enveloped by the natural world around you. You will feel like a completely different person walking out! As a daily practice, pick a tree that’s near by to you that you can look at daily, even if its only for a minute. Notice its colour, its leaves, notice it moving in the wind and see how it remains strong and flexible rather then snapping and breaking. Anchor your breath with the tree and allow it to be a grounding tool you can use to bring your attention and awareness back into your body and the natural world.
10. Dose up on fibre: make sure you are getting fibre dense foods in everyday! Think of fibre like a hormone binder, when we eat fibre rich foods, as it passes through our digestive system it sweeps up excess hormones along the way and carries it to be eliminated through the bowel. Excreting hormones through the bowel is one of the key ways we rid excess hormones (like oestrogen!) from our body so regular, healthy bowel movements are key for happy healthy hormones, which equals a happy liver. Some fibre rich foods include carrots, fermented vegetables, apples, flaxseed, bananas, broccoli, artichokes, dark leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes and pumpkin seeds.
Now I'd love to hear from you! Do you have any special practices you like to implement during spring? Do you think your Liver might need some extra support? Leave any comments and questions below!