Springtime in the Northern Hemisphere seems equivalent to new beginnings: trees begin to bud and flowers start blooming. You may feel a need to ritually leave the winter sluggishness behind by cleaning out your home. This time of year is also perfect for doing a cleanse to rid your body of toxins that may have accumulated during wintertime. Have you ever wondered, however, what is at the origin of this innate desire to start anew?
In the Indian traditions of Yoga and Ayurveda as well as in Chinese Medicine it is believed that there is a vital force in all life, a primordial being that is the foundation of all vitality. In the Indian traditions it is called: Prana, in Chinese Medicine it is called: Chi. It is suggested that this Life Force flows through the body in particular pathways called Meridians (Chinese Medicine) or Nadis (Indian Yoga). In this blog I will focus on the concepts of Chinese Medicine only.
Meridians cannot be seen with the physical eye, or with special equipment, yet we can experience their presence by the effect their quality has on our overall health. Meridians are like rivers or tributaries. They deliver nutrients to the organs in the form of Chi. The strength and flow of the meridian system is essential for the balance in our system, both physical and mental.
Chinese Medicine is based on the Five-phase theory (sometimes called: Five-element theory). This theory suggests that there are five elements in nature that cycle in phases through the seasons and our organs: Earth, Water, Wood, Metal and Fire. The five elements represent energies that succeed each other in a continuous cycle. Not the elements themselves but the movement between them is emphasized in this theory. In a generative cycle Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth, Earth bears Metal, Metal collects Water, and Water nourishes Wood. When the cycle between the elements is destructive, one element is being destroyed by another: Wood parts Earth, Earth takes in Water, Water quenches Fire, Fire melts Metal, and Metal chops Wood. Being aware of this cycle and recognizing the relationship between the elements is essential for maintaining (or creating) optimal balance in your system.
In general, the elements are considered to have the following qualities:
Earth: mother, nourishment
Water: stillness, will power
Wood: purpose, growth
Metal: structure, boundaries
Fire: passion, connection
It is the variation in balance between these elements that influences our health and behavior. At times the metal element in me may be overbearing Wood, which will result in rigidity. Other times Metal may be holding Water, so I can create space for my introspective practices. Balance is maintained by constantly checking which element might need to be generated or decreased. One element is not better than another: they each simply have different characteristics. For example: in winter time the water element is dominant, whereas during summer it is the fire element.
Each element has unique qualities, and is associated with a specific organ pair, season and emotion. Since the Wood element is the element of purpose and growth, it may not be surprising that the related season is spring. Wood is regarded as the General: it gives us vision and purpose in our life. This element is expansive like a tree, and characterized by decisiveness and confidence. Someone with a strong wood element is assertive, and uses her power to create whilst recognizing what she knows and doesn’t know.
Wood dominates the Liver and the Gallbladder, which are considered a pair in Chinese Medicine as they share the same energetic properties. In order to nourish Wood, the Chi flow through these organs needs to be fluid and smooth. The opposite is true too: if the Liver or Gallbladder is unhealthy (for example because of excessive alcohol consumption) this will affect the quality of Wood.
We can stimulate the flow of Chi through our organs by practicing yoga. Specifically the practice of Yin Yoga, in which floor postures are held for several minutes at a time, is an effective way to direct the Chi to distinct organs. Since the Liver meridian runs (roughly) through the inner leg line, and the Gallbladder meridian (roughly) along the lateral side of the body, any postures that stretch or compress those areas (and thus stimulate the Chi flow) will affect the Liver and Gallbladder. Twisting poses that squeeze the abdominal area will influence those organs too. Simply put: the smoother the Chi flow to and in the Liver and Gallbladder, the more vibrant Wood will be.
Nourished Wood is also important for a healthy digestion. After the winter period during which we tend to eat heavier and richer food, and move less, our digestion can become disturbed. We may feel sluggish and lack vibrancy. To boost our digestion, and help the body eliminate an overload of toxins and stored fats, a cleanse can be helpful. Such cleanse doesn’t have to be a challenging juice fast. A simple 3 or 4-day Ayurvedic Kitcheri cleanse is doable for all. Adding some high-quality supplements to your diet can also assist your body coming back to optimal health. When our digestion is healthy, we will feel like a “free and easy wanderer”. Frustration and irritation will ensue when it is not, whilst these emotions are also a sign of stagnated Liver Chi. It works both ways.
In order to maintain optimal health we need to support an unobstructed flow of Chi through the meridians, and keep a generative balance between the elements. Start this spring season well by nourishing the Wood element in you. Hereunder you will find some resources to do so:
May the Wood be with you.