It’s starting to feel like spring here in the Willamette Valley. Plants are emerging from their winter dormancy, flowers are budding, the days are getting longer. This same seasonal cycle that we  observe in the outer world of nature is also happening inside our bodies. The enlivening and renewing of spring is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder system in Chinese Medicine. This system encompasses not only your physical liver and gall bladder that you know and love, but also with the tendons and connective tissue, the eyes, and the free flow of emotions, the creative drive or as the beginning phase of a new endeavor and the envisioning, planning, decision-making that go along with it, and the emotion of anger (short temper, impatience, frustration also). The upward and outward movement of qi in spring resonates with those same energetics within us.

How can you give your liver a break and move with the natural rhythms of spring?

  • Go outside and breathe some fresh air, exercising for 30 minutes. Healthy lung qi helps invigorate stuck Liver qi.
  • Do some qigong or yoga to allowing your qi to flow freely, and to maintain flexibility in the tendons and connective tissue, which is associated with the Liver.
  • Forgive someone. Holding onto anger and resentment constrains the Liver Qi. Let it go!
  • Eat Lightly.  Our Livers help us get rid of the heavy stagnation we might have accumulated during the winter (which might manifest as seasonal allergies as the sludge moves up to eyes and nose). Leaving behind the heavier foods of winter, especially heavy meats, dairy products, and wheat, can help you move into spring feeling lighter.
  • Consider cutting down on your liver’s workload by eliminating alcohol, refined sugar, and anything artificial like fake sugar, alcohol, pesticides and herbicides. Even if you don’t want to do this  forever, consider giving your liver a week or two off from known toxins — a spring vacation from toxins.
  • Eat green and pungent. Foods with a pungent taste like onions and garlic, peppermint, basil, dill, fennel, turmeric, rosemary, parsley resonate with the upward, outward direction of the season and can be helpful in eliminating venting the winter sluggishness. Young, tender shoots and green leaves, like asparagus, rabe, bean sprouts, and pretty much anything green and leafy kale, collard greens, watercress, romaine, dandelion, parsley are tremendously beneficial to detoxify that liver. If your digestion is weak, stick to cooked vegetables as opposed to raw, which require more energy to digest.
  • Drink hot water with lemon first thing in the morning. A little bit of the sour taste helps to gently help the liver slough off toxins. But too much sour will not be good for the liver, so think moderation.
  • Enjoy life!

Chinese Medicine is based on the notion that humans are connected to the Nature. What’s happening out in nature is also happening in us. Winter is a time when the world gets dark, quiet, stillness, and dormant. Animals hibernate, trees pull their sap inward, conserving their energy until the spring. This time of year is associated with the Water element, which in the body correlates with the Kidneys.

The Kidney is paired with the urinary bladder and is responsible for anything having to do with aging, the lower back and lower body, bones, teeth, hearing, hair on the head, as well as growth, development, reproductive organs, adrenals, the emotion of fear, and the Will. Here are some tips to support your Kidney qi this time of year and help stay in harmony with the season:

1) As the days get shorter, so should yours. Conserve your qi by going to bed early and getting up with the sun.
2) Get quiet and inward with qigong, meditation, or yoga.
3) Stay warm. Dress warmly. Secure the exterior of your body by massaging your skin with warm sesame oil before bathing.
4) Eat hearty soups, stews, especially those involving Kindey-nourishing beans like black, aduki, and kidney, and other foods with a natural salty taste like miso, seaweeds (especially cooked into soup), millet, barley. Seeds and nuts, as the most yin part of the plant, resonate with the season as well. Walnuts, black sesame seeds, and almonds help support Kindey yang, yin, and Essence respectively. Avoid salads, fruit juices, and adding too much salt to your food.
5) Warm up with spices like cinnnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, if you tend to feel cold.

If you honor your yin this season, abundant yang is bound to spring forth in the next.

In the Pacific Northwest, where I live and practice Chinese Medicine, the cessation of the long rainy season (late June this year) marks the dramatic start of summer, and people take off running. More than a few patients report that there is so much they want experience this summer that they pack their schedules full:  entertaining a string of out-of-town guests, tending enormous gardens, going on epic hikes and bike rides, lots of parties and cookouts. And yet, with all the doing of these activities which should add up to satisfaction from getting the most out of life, many people confess to feeling depleted.  They are exhausted as they attempt to keep up with the demands of the season.  Feelings of depression often accompany such fatigue — feelings which can be confusing because adding more “fun stuff” to their schedule is not actually increasing their joy—it’s depleting it! What is happening here is that people are getting caught up in the yang of the season, expending too much of their own yang qi, and burning up their yin in the process.

Summer is the most yang of the seasons. It is associated with the element of  Fire, the emotion of joy.  As we resonate with the season, the urge to do more, to get up earlier and stay up later, and to be more social is natural. But too much of that throws us off balance. Even in the summer, it’s not daytime all the time — we still have to cycle through nighttime. And living in a culture that already emphasizes yang over yin  — doing over being — no matter what the season, it doesn’t take much to tip the balance.

To help you make the most of this active, vibrant season while still feeling exuberant yourself, I offer four tips:

  • Begin the day with gratitude.  What do you appreciate about your life right now, without doing a thing?
  • Schedule in unstructured time.  Yes, I’m encouraging you somewhat ironically to plan to be spontaneous. Doing what feels right in the moment is one of the virtues of the Fire element.
  • Take time to be alone.  Some people need this more than others, but even the most natural extroverts need time to connect with themselves in order to connect authentically with others.
  • Balance your active, productive, busy yang schedule by adding yin items to your “to do” list.  Anything restful, quiet, and peaceful qualifies.  I suggest actually writing in the yin elements of your schedule.  Putting a check mark next to “sit outside and appreciate the flowers” helps to satisfy the need to accomplish something while ensuring that what you’re accomplishing actually leads to feelings of joy, rather than burnout.

May you enjoy the season to the fullest!