Spring!

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Spring!, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CAPhoto by Susan Miller

It has been wonderful to have so much rain this year, but after many months of gray skies, I am so ready for spring! And I know that it’s just about here - even though it’s still somewhat dark, I hear birds chirping early in the morning, blossoms are bursting forth, and the hills and valleys are so lush and green!

In Chinese culture, Spring belongs to the Wood element and is a time of birth and new growth. The associated color is green and the flavor is sour. We begin moving from a time of hibernation and rest to a time of increasing activity. Even though days are beginning to lengthen and become warmer, weather is frequently unpredictable. Just as ice thaws and refreezes, the energy of Spring moves in fits and starts, eventually expanding more and more outward and upward. Buds slowly start to form, then suddenly swell and burst open and flowers adorn the trees.

The Liver and Gall Bladder are the organs associated with the Wood element and they are said to "open to the eyes". This is a good time of year for visioning and planning. Some feel that it is an a better time of year to make New Year’s resolutions than January 1st as the desire to take action is more present now than then.

The Yellow Emperor's Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing) tells us to rise early and go to bed early in the Spring, to let our hair hang freely, and to walk taking long strides with our arms swinging. No power walking here! The focus is on being relaxed. Movements should be loose and flexible to begin moving the energy that has accumulated at the core of the body out to the extremities.  Stretching exercises are useful as well. Because we are moving into longer, slightly warmer days, outside activity is advised, as long as one’s immune system is feeling strong.

The emphasis in the kitchen is still on warm, cooked food, but depending on the weather, we are moving from soups and stews to stir-frys. Foods that are especially good to eat in the Spring are leafy greens, such as chard, kale, cabbage, bok choy, asparagus, snow peas, spinach, radishes, arugula, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, beets, mushrooms, artichokes, fennel, leeks, spring onions, dandelion, bamboo shoots, and seaweed.

Foods to avoid are those that are uncooked, frozen, greasy, processed, or heavy, and alcohol.

In Chinese medicine, we focus on living in harmony with the seasons. After the quiet and stillness of winter, there is often an inner stirring to move that becomes more urgent as the days grow longer. When we feel that desire to push forth, yet still feel somewhat constrained, tension arises. Anger, and its cousins, frustration and irritation, are frequent visitors in the Spring, along with a wiry pulse reflecting that tension.

How to deal with that tension? Exercise and breathing help to move stuck Qi. An acupuncture “tune-up” is especially helpful in getting stuck energy to move in the body. Herb formulas also that promote the smooth flow of mental and physical Qi.