Spring is certainly in the air now that it is June. I love this time of year. The smell of the air is clean and fresh, especially after a Spring rain. The newly sprouted vegetation is so vibrantly green.
In Spring, the crocus, tulips, daffodils and irises push up from the soil and begin to show their beauty. These are reminders that nature has perfect timing and knows exactly when to emerge. These blooming flowers can teach us how to stay healthy this Spring.
Spring is the season of growth and renewal!
Just as flowers push up through the dark and cold soil in the spring, it is also a time for us to push through negative emotions and unhealthy habits that are not serving us. Spring is a perfect time to work on emotional progress and set new plans that will help with future growth. Learning new things about ourselves and our mistakes allows us to choose a new path. It is also the season of renewal. Renewal of needs, wants, desires and the regeneration of hopeful new beginnings.
Remember, we discovered in the winter newsletter that each season has unique characteristics and qualities that give us useful information on remaining healthy. The previous season (in this case winter) helps us enact lifestyle and dietary changes to prepare for Spring. The philosophy of Chinese Medicine is to try to mimic in our lifestyle the changes in our environment as the seasons transition.
Chinese Medicine links the Spring season to these qualities:
ORGAN: LIVER/ GALL BLADDER
SENSE ORGANS: EYES
VIRTUES: FLEXIBILITY, VISION, PLANNING
The long-awaited Spring marks the change from the dark, cold, stillness of winter to a season of movement, new growth, an increase in light and warmer weather. With a few subtle changes in lifestyle and diet, we can support this transition and help manage existing health imbalances that may surface in the Spring.
Spring in Chinese Medicine is the time of the Liver organ. The Liver’s function is to smooth the flow of energy and blood throughout the body. The Liver stores the blood when we are resting and releases blood to the body in times of activity. The Liver also helps muscles and tendons stay flexible and maintain good blood flow. If our bodies have low blood volume, the Liver cannot supply the organs with the nourishment that is needed. Then weakness and muscle spasms in the arms and legs can occur. A stagnant Liver can also affect the blood flow to digestive organs and the function of the digestion itself. The Liver is the main organ that detoxifies the entire body. The Liver keeps us healthy by ridding the body of things that are not useful.
Is your Liver stressed? Maybe you overindulged on rich foods this winter. Maybe you have been stagnating on the couch watching too many Netflix shows. Maybe you have been staying up late working. You are not alone. I too am guilty of doing these things. When our Livers are overtaxed, they cannot do their jobs and we can easily become irritable or angry. When we carry this irritability or repressed anger, we can react harshly or judge others inappropriately. When I notice I am starting to overreact or feel irritable. I find it helpful to repeat a mantra. I find the following mantras to be calming, “I am doing the best I can right now” or “I give myself permission to let go of this that is not serving me” and “With every breath, I feel myself relaxing”. When I try to feel-into a mantra it helps me to take the anger down a notch. Sometimes placing your hand on your heart and breathing in while stating the mantra and then as you breathe out visualizing all the tension melting away from your body. I use these mantras to foster empathy for myself.
Finding healthy ways to express and manage emotions this spring will help support the Liver’s function and make for a smooth transition into the spring season. More than other times of year, in the Springtime, we need to express how we feel to avoid feeling angry and resentful. When we do feel angry, we can channel this anger in a productive way. Anger can be the catalyst we need to create change in the things that are not serving us and be the motivator to move us forward.
The Wood/Liver energy is supported by finding a clear vision for the future. Meditating and walking in the grass can help you to define both short- and long-term goals. Walking barefoot has a particularly grounding effect on the nervous system. Try a meditation on compassion. Self-empathy and letting-go of resentment is a great way to soothe the Liver function. If you are like me, when the weather starts to warm up, I feel more alive and connected to the environment. I feel more creative and energized to start new projects or work towards a goal.
Another thing that I have found useful is journaling. At first, I was reluctant to use a journal as a tool to release emotions. I was worried that someone would read it and judge me. I have realized that pent-up anger is influencing my health and relationships. The benefits I experience through journaling outweighs any potential embarrassment or judgment. I find that writing down exactly how I feel allows the negative emotions to flow out of me instead of stagnating. Try getting a fun new journal and see if journaling helps you.
Finally, physical exercise is a great way to deflate irritability and anger. I often release my frustrations on the yoga mat. Yoga and aerobic exercise helps us to release endorphins and to divert our attention to something else. This diversion allows us to gain a broader perspective.
I am sure you have heard of these things and possibly even tried them before. With each new Spring, there is the opportunity to start fresh, try again and find new success.
Liver stagnation is one of the most common Chinese Medical diagnoses that I treat in my clinic, particularly in the Springtime.
Here are some of the common symptoms of Liver dysfunction:
Now that we know that unexpressed emotions, pent up anger, overeating, staying up too late and being overly stressed are ways that the Liver can be taxed, let’s look at some additional things that we can try this Spring:
1. Acupuncture Treatment: Acupuncture stimulates the function of the Liver, clears out the stagnation of winter’s rich food and smooths the flow of blood.
2. Dandelion Tea: I have been reunited with the dandelion. First, as children, we run around collecting and blowing dandelion seeds into the wind. Then we are told that dandelions are weeds to get rid of. Now, as an herbalist, I am learning that the dandelion was brought to America as a prized plant for food and medicine.
Did you know that all the parts of the dandelion are edible?
The leaves are great in salads.
The roots make delicious tea.
The blossoms can be made into a yummy jelly
Always make sure your dandelions are clean and free from pesticides before ingestion!
Dandelion leaves and roots have cleansing and detoxifying qualities that support Liver health by detoxifying chemicals from our food and the pollution in the air. Dandelion tea also helps cool and cleanse the blood. If you can’t find a clean source for dandelion roots you can buy the tea at your local health food store. Try making dandelion root tea this spring!
3. Diet: As winter ends, we tend to feel heavy, lethargic and sluggish from the rich foods that were needed to sustain us through the cold months. Spring is a good time to start to move away from rich, fatty and baked foods. This is the time of year to start eating more vegetables like lettuce, kale, collard greens, peas, asparagus and sprouts. It is time to move away from baking and into steaming, sautéing or juicing food.
4. Sprouts: Try growing your own sprouts in a mason jar! Now that the flowers have sprung and new growth is all around us, we can invite in a healthy Spring by eating sprouts. Maybe you are thinking what exactly are sprouts? Aren’t they those green stringy things that are sometimes found on a fancy sandwich? Well yes, it includes those and other kinds of sprouted seeds. Sprouts are simply very young plants that are harvested just a few days after they germinate.
Sprouts generally contain high levels of beneficial nutrients like folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin K. Sprouts are also low in calories but high in protein. In fact, they have higher amounts of nutrients than fully-grown versions of the same plants. Sprouts can improve overall digestion and feed the good bacteria in the digestive tract. Sprouts also contain substances that help your Liver with the detoxification process. In the Spring, it is important to include foods that strengthen and cleanse the Liver and sprouts are a great choice to do this.
I think there is something unique that happens when you grow food for yourself. It can change the way you look at food. Not to be too metaphorical, but seeing the seeds spout can be beneficial to your health this Spring. It can inspire you to grow and change in positive ways.
Here’s how to grow your own sprouts in a mason jar:
I like to make a sandwich with humus, avocado, tomatoes and my sprouts for a healthy delicious lunch. Give growing sprouts in a mason jar a try this spring it is a fun easy project that will help your liver this spring.
5. Dry Brushing: A invigorating way to wake up on a Spring morning. Perhaps you have seen the body brushes at your local natural foods store. Are you intimidated by not knowing what to do with them or why you would even benefit from using those fancy spa brushes? Well, let me tell you…they are great for helping the Liver detoxify and for blood circulation.
Dry brushing is not as strange as it may seem. It is simply using a medium-stiff brush to brush away toxins. Dry brushing your skin is one easy way to slough off winter’s dead dry skin, increase blood flow and stimulate lymph drainage. The lymphatic system consists of nodes, ducts and vessels that transport lymph fluid throughout the body. The system removes toxins, aiding the immune symptom, and helping the Liver to do its job of cleansing the body. Many of the lymph vessels run just under the skin. Using a dry brush helps the lymph fluid move and increase its flow so it can do its job better. It is invigorating, detoxifying and leaves us feeling energized.
Ok, now that we know the health benefit of dry brushing, how do we do it? I like to do my dry brushing right before I turn on the hot water for a shower in the morning. Start on your feet, then move up your legs with long stokes towards your torso. Repeat the strokes 3 times per area. Don’t forget the back of your legs. Then, start on your hands and arms, brushing towards your shoulders. Brush with a clockwise circle pattern on your abdomen. There is no wrong way to do this, as long as you are gentle and brush in a direction towards your heart. Dry brushing is an easy way to promote blood circulation and promote Liver detoxification. Give it a try this Spring and see what the benefits of dry brushing hold for you.
6. Nettle Tea: Nettles help blood circulation and are great for the Liver function. The nettle plant has been valued for centuries for its ability to nourish the blood. Nettle tea contains valuable antioxidants and many essential vitamins and minerals. Nettles are high in magnesium, iron, Vitamin B and beta carotene. Nettles are best known for their ability to relieve symptoms caused by spring allergies: itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; runny nose and nasal inflammation. Scientific studies show that nettles help allergic reactions by inhibiting the histamine response. Nettles also decreased inflammation and their iron content makes them great blood builders. Nettles also contain Vitamin C which aids in iron absorption. On the spiritual side, nettles help transition negative situations into one of more hope. For women, nettles help regulate the menstrual cycle, prevent excessive menstrual bleeding and treats/prevents menstrual cramps. For men, nettles can help with prostate health.
A Nettle tea can be made by pouring 1 cup of just-boiled water over 1-2 teaspoons of the herb. Steep for ten minutes and take 3 times a day. Honey can be added as a sweetener. Always make sure to steep the fresh leaves in hot water to deactivate the stinging hairs. Nettle leaves have fine hairs that contain irritants. If you do not know what to look for or do not want to forage for nettles the tea can also be found at your local health food store. If you have spring allergies nettle tea would be very helpful this season!
7. Sour Foods: Try to incorporate sour foods 3-4 times a week in your diet. The sour flavor helps release stagnation and detoxifies the Liver. Some examples of sour foods are sauerkraut, pickles, lemon, lime, green apple, sour cherry and grapefruit. These are all good choices that help to reduce the fatty foods that may have been stored in the body during the winter months. A teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in warm water helps move the bile of the gallbladder too. In this way sour food helps aid in digestion. Sour foods are best consumed in small quantities too much can overstimulate the liver. Try sour food to break down the effects of rich, sugary, fatty food to help out your liver this spring.
8. Forest Bathing: I bet you are thinking, “what the heck is forest bathing and why would I do it”. Well, Shinrin-Yoku, Japanese for “forest bathing” or “absorbing the forest atmosphere”, is a simple and beneficial practice. Remember, Springtime in Chinese Medicine is the time of the Wood element and a leisurely walk in the forest is a perfect activity to try this spring. Forest bathing, as luxurious as it sounds, is easy, free and as simple as a walk in the nature. The goal of forest bathing is to notice your surroundings with all 5 senses (touch, smell, taste, sight and sound) during a short, leisurely walk. The point is not to exercise and work up a sweat but to relax and notice the beauty of the nature around you. Now why you would want to take time out of your busy schedule to try hippie-dippy forest bathing?
Here is a little guidance to help you with your first forest bath. Plan a 20min walk around your house, it can be at a local park, trail or just around the block. Look for an evergreen tree along your walk:
Forest bathing helps us to understand ourselves and our emotions better. It helps us turn off the electronics and connect with nature. Remember, the basic philosophy for health is our bodies are a reflection of the natural environment. Forest bathing is a great way to destress after a busy work day!
As you shake off the stagnation and emerge from the hibernation of winter please bring some of these ideas into your life. I hope this Spring finds you happy, nourished and healthy.
Please reach out with any questions.
Suzanne L. Stricker, LAc
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