A Chinese Medicine Guide to Spring

In spring, the world around us begins to wake up after winter. Plants push through the dirt, petals unfurl and the sun warms earth underfoot. Spring is a season synonymous with rebirth, growth, fresh starts. The season offers us a chance to be new. We emerge from hibernation, shrugging off the introspective quality of winter to move up and out, like a flower reaching towards the light. It’s the perfect time to start projects and reawaken our creative energies. 

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, our body is a mirror of the universe so we should adjust our lifestyle factors to be in alignment with seasonal shifts. Below are some tips for making the most of all spring has to offer, remembering that spring cleaning begins with body, mind and spirit. 

Food

Spring corresponds with the liver and gallbladder, integral in moving blood and bile, so it is a great time to focus on detoxifying and supporting these organs through diet. Spring is also associated with the colour green, so use this as a guide for what to eat. Think garnishing with lots of herbs and using leafy greens as the basis for meals. Rich in magnesium and chlorophyll, they help alkalise the blood and regulate/excrete toxins. Avoid foods that inflame the liver such as fried and fatty foods, sugar, white flour, and foods containing preservatives. 

In winter we relied on comfort foods, giving the oven and slow cooker a good work-out. Now we can look to prepare dishes simply and quickly: steaming, stir-frying or sauteeing.  Spring is linked to the ‘sour’ taste (thought to stimulate the liver’s qi), so incorporate this into your diet with a squeeze of fresh lemon over vegetables and salads or a dash of apple cider vinegar in warm water around half an hour before eating. Try vinegars and oils (flax, sesame, olive) for dressings, or add sauerkraut, kimchi or pickles for a sour boost.

Vegetables: kale, cucumber, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, sprouts, peas, fennel, chard, rocket, daikon

Fruits:  sour apple, lemon, lime, grapefruit, kiwi, honeydew melon

Legumes and nuts: Black sesame seeds, brown rice, millet, amaranth, soy beans, red kidney beans, broad beans, walnuts, chestnuts, coconut

Herbs: mint, dandelion, watercress, chickweed, basil, bay leaves, chives, spring onion

Spices: Cardamom, peppermint, ginger, pepper, honey, sesame oil

Fitness

Spring is associated with the element of wood, and of all the elements wood likes to move the most. As the weather warms up and the days become longer, spring is a reminder to get outside as much as possible (especially if you’ve been in lockdown). Fresh air helps the liver qi to flow, so go on walks or hikes in nature where possible. Take note of the changes you see in nature and use them as a cue to welcome change within. Try stretches that target the liver meridian, incorporating these movements into your morning routine to combat stagnation. The liver is also closely connected to eye function, so use spring as a reminder to exercise the eyes and take breaks when looking at screens for hours on end!

Self-care

The liver and gallbladder are linked to decision-making and determination, so spring is a great time to undertake new projects and set goals. Because the liver is closely linked to the eyes, it can be a great time to focus on visualising your goals, whether that’s through creating mood boards or bringing them to mind during meditation. Thinking about the Wood element, try to take your self-care practice into nature and spend some time simply looking at trees, appreciating their beauty and life-force. Spring also invites emotional releases such as crying or deep laughing fits. Acupuncture and massage can help the body in opening and relaxing, while spring cleaning your space makes way for newness.

Relationships

As we see new life emerge around us in the natural world, we can also embrace this idea of new beginnings by choosing to let go of anything that has been weighing us down in relationships. The liver is thought to store emotions, so take stock of what is no longer serving you and relinquish it. It’s interesting that spring is associated with the emotion of anger, which we are so quick to label as negative or unwanted. However in a balanced state anger can be healthy – a completely normal response to stress, disappointment, exhaustion. This spring, take note of how you deal with anger when it comes up for you, perhaps aiming to reframe your relationship with anger. How can you express anger in a controlled way, using it as part of your letting go process? It is not something to be feared or admonished.

Sleep

We need less sleep than in winter so you can go to bed a little later than and rise with the sun in the morning. To aid with liver and gallbladder detoxification, try to eat dinner earlier than usual and go to sleep with a relatively empty stomach. This means that the body can focus on eliminating toxins while you sleep rather than digesting food. 

Cheat sheet

  • Season: Spring
  • Element: Wood
  • Yin Organ: Liver
  • Yang Organ: Gallbladder
  • Emotion: Anger
  • Sound: Shouting
  • Colour: Green
  • Healing sound: Shhhhh
  • Mantra: Awaken within

Photography and words by Ingrid Kesa

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