Moving From Winter To Spring
Winter is Yin, Spring is Yang.
Winter is Kidney time; Spring is Liver. In Winter, we rest;
In Spring, we move.
“The wise nourish life by flowing with the four seasons and adapting to cold or heat, by harmonizing joy and anger in a tranquil dwelling, by balancing yin and yang, and what is hard and soft. So it is that dissolute evil cannot reach the man of wisdom, and he will be witness to a long life.” – Huangdi Neijing Suwen
In China, winter ended on January 30, 2014, and spring began on the Chinese New Year, January 31st (the date changes every year according to the Lunar Calendar). However, in Canada the spring season starts around the spring solstice, which is March 21st. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), humans should live according to the seasons, like animals do. Currently, we are in the last stage of the winter season, a good time to rest and recharge our batteries. Winter is yin in nature. Yin is cold, damp, dark, quiet, slow, inward, introverted. Spring is more Yang – warm, bright, loud, fast, outward, extroverted. While in winter we naturally tend to be more passive (or should be), in spring we want to go out and enjoy the longer and brighter days.
In a society where productivity and success are the norm, fatigue, inactivity and introversion are often viewed with shame. We don’t allow ourselves to give our bodies and minds a much needed break during this hibernation season. Animals are smart, they instinctively understand what they need to do for self preservation. They know they need to rest and save up their energy and prepare for the outburst of new life in Spring.
Winter: According to Chinese Medicine
Winter is associated with the Chinese concept of the kidney system which corresponds to the adrenal glands (hormones), the brain (neurotransmitters, memory), the bones, the hair, ears and teeth.
According to Chinese medicine the kidneys are responsible for all of the most basic, fundamental energy/Qi in the body. TCM aims at keeping the kidney energy high and well balanced so that we can face life’s demands in times of stress and change, while being able to easily prevent and recover from illness. Deficiency of kidney chi is associated with fear and depression. Declining kidney energy can also correspond to a Western diagnosis of menopause, infertility, impotence, hypothyroid, osteoporosis, some forms of chronic fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, and more.
The kidneys are associated with the lower back, known as the ‘house of the kidneys’ (where the organs are located) and the feet (where the kidney channels start). Traditional Chinese Medicine therefore believes that it is of utmost importance to keep the lower back, knees and feet warm. This helps to prevent winter wind and cold from entering the body and damaging the bones, and to prevent the development of arthritis later on.
Diet Tip: In winter, everything slows down, including the digestive system. So we need to supply the body with easy to digest foods – that is, warming food and ingredients that strengthen our spleen and kidney systems. Warming and nurturing soups made out of bone broth work to strengthen our bones. And roasted root vegetables are easy on our sluggish digestion. Snack on nuts, chestnuts and walnuts that are good for the brain. Sip black tea, cinnamon or ginger tea to prevent colds.
Restoring depleted kidney energy: If the kidney energy of a person has been weakened by aging, years of stress and overwork, or overindulgence in sexuality (chronic masturbation especially in the male population), this person may suffer from chronic fatigue, sexual weakness such as premature ejaculation or low libido, chronic low back pain, chronic dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), poor hearing, and possibly urinary problems. Winter is the ideal season to give that person a targeted Chinese herbal formula such as Liu wei di huang wan or Shen qi wan, depending on the person’s particular imbalance. These herbs are good formulas for people over 40 who have depleted their kidney energy by burning the candle at both ends.
And winter is a wonderful time of year to get acupuncture, especially if you notice any of the above symptoms. Acupuncture points such as Kidney 3, Kidney 6 and Kidney 7 on the ankles and lower leg boost the Kidney energy, along with bladder points along the spine on the back. As well, burning moxa over the skin is beneficial at this time of year to add heat to the body via the acupuncture points on the abdomen or lower back.
The kidney meridian is in charge of our adrenal glands and stress hormones. In winter we need to recharge our batteries, get plenty of sleep, soothe our nervous system, learn to relax, meditate on the year that has passed, and get our body and mind ready for new beginnings.
Spring: According to Chinese Medicine
Here, finally, comes the long-awaited change to spring when nature wakes up, flowers start to bloom, and the sun warms the earth again. This burgeoning of activity stirs tumultuous feelings in animals and humans. The changes are expected yet unpredictable – like the birth of a child, the precise day or moment remains a mystery – we know spring will come, but not exactly when. Anticipation foments eagerness, impatience, tension and for some irritability.
Whatever resources have been stored during the darkness of winter are now ready to be used. We now find the will to initiate and execute projects that have been contemplated, but not yet begun. Spring is Yang compared to winter. It is brighter, more creative, dynamic and also more volatile, and so are we. Spring is related to the TCM concept of the liver and its Yang energies. A person who has been resting, relaxing and meditating over the winter will have a balanced liver meridian that gives the force and courage to start new projects and get things done and moving.
However, for those who have kept pushing themselves all winter long without recharging their batteries, and who have overtaxed their nervous system, or if they are already a type A personality and get easily stressed, spring is the season when they can ‘lose it’. The emotions related to a blocked or inflamed liver are anger, irritability, resentment and frustration.
The Liver Energy (Yang) is like wind – it helps flowers spread their seeds so fruits can grow and nature can thrive, but too much wind will break the branch and kill the tree.
According to TCM, one of the main functions of the liver is to maintain a smooth flow of qi/energy throughout both the body and mind. When the liver is balanced and functioning well, the liver qi is free, smooth, active and floating.
When the liver energy is blocked, the Qi is constrained like steam in a pressure cooker and the energy builds up and finally forces its way up. This can lead to a whole array of physical and emotional symptoms that are aggravated when under stress or are aggravated in Spring: irritability, red eyes, bloating and painful digestive conditions like IBS, painful diarrhea, heartburn, high blood pressure, dizziness, cramps, itching, spasms, depression, anxiety, spring allergies, pain that comes and goes, tight shoulders, twitching, pulsating headaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears or in extreme cases – stroke.
Chinese herbs to clean the liver: formulas that soothe the liver are the most commonly used formulas in TCM, as the liver is often overtaxed in our busy frenetic society. Bupleurum is a major liver herb used in many herbal formulas. Xiao Yao San is a basic gentle formula often given to women to balance the liver (and their hormones), calm their emotions, and reduce irritability, PMS and depression. Chai Hu Shu Gan San is a stronger harmonizing formula that can be used when the blocked liver is responsible for digestive problems, pain below the ribs, irregular periods, tight chest.
When a person becomes hyperactive, explosive, or develops throbbing migraines after a stressful day, it is time for more drastic measures that will prevent stress from further damaging health (high blood pressure being one of them). A bitter formula that includes Gentiana like Long dan xie gan tang, comes to the rescue. In Chinese medicine, the bitter taste is used to remove heat and irritability from the body and purge the liver.
Dietary Tips for Spring: While wintertime is all about resting and preserving and replenishing energy with nourishing hot soups, spring season requires more cooling and cleansing dishes. Green is the colour of spring. It is the colour of the liver. It needs to be the colour on your plate and in your glasses. Think kale, sprouts, watercress, celery, parsley, nettle, peppermint, chlorophyl, spirulina and bitter foods like bitter melon and dandelions. It’s also a good time to switch from black tea to a more bitter green tea.
As long as these foods don’t overstimulate your bowels, or cause bloating and loose stools, and you are not weak and feeling cold most of the time, you can safely consume them, especially in late Spring, early summer.
Lifestyle and Acupuncture for Rejuvenating the Liver: According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, while the kidneys are responsible for the strength of our bones, the liver governs the health and flexibility of our tendons. Spring is therefore a perfect time to start a stretching routine, a yoga class, or go for a walk in nature.
I get so many clients with stiff shoulders and tight jaws from clenching (TMJ). What they need the most is regular stretching, deep breathing, and to acknowledge their emotions. With a herbal formula to relax the liver, as well as treatment of specific acupuncture points, they get a chance to release their tensions in a smooth and healthy way.
Acupuncture treatments in spring ideally target the nervous system with major acupuncture points such as Liver 2 or Liver 3 close to the big toe, Pericardium 6 on the forearm, Yintang on the forehead, and other points according to your specific symptoms and makeup. They can be part of a liver and gallbladder detox program.
Preventing and Treating Spring Allergies: One of the most common complaints in the spring season is allergy problems and pollen-induced allergic rhinitis. As mentioned, spring is connected to the liver which is related to wind. Warm and windy weather affect allergy sufferers the worst. The liver easily affects the functioning of Spleen (digestion) and Lung (respiration). Chest congestion, shortness of breath, stomach bloating, sneezing, running nose, itching eyes, chronic sinusitis are some common symptoms during those months. Chinese medicine treats allergies by softening the liver, strengthening the spleen and most of all diffusing the lung. A herbal formula like Yu Ping Feng San with modifications can be given as a preventive before allergy season. During allergy season, other formulas can address the more acute symptoms (red itchy eyes, runny nose) with aromatic herbs that open up the nose like Xin yi hua, Cang er zi, and acupuncture sessions are very helpful.
This spring, for optimum health, stretch, express emotions, eat green, enjoy nature and get your Qi moving.
In the meantime, rest while you can and get ready for a more busy fiery season. And remember to always, always treat your body like your temple.