Spring - The Wood Element and the Liver and Gallbladder

A few words about Spring and the Wood element from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective-

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) each element is related to a season, with the season of Spring relating to the Wood element. Known as the season of renewal. Spring marks longer days and rebirth after the time when the ‘yin’ part of the year (Autumn & Winter) transitions into the ‘yang’ (Spring & Summer) time of the year. We can use the ‘yang’ energies that Spring gifts, as a platform to engage in more uplifting activities that expands our energy and consciousness. 

Wood has a dynamic energy of pushing itself through obstructions as it grows. It asserts itself and it relishes on freedom of expression and expansion. As you look around you can see an abundance of growth, renewal and creative energy in nature.  Nature is expressing itself. It doesn’t wait or procrastinate. It sets strong boundaries and asserts itself.  We can draw on these attributes of the wood element and energies of Spring, to ‘spring into action’ and permit our selves to fully express our own truth. 

The organs of Liver and Gall bladder the paired organs associated with Wood element are known as the decision maker and planner. So when your Wood element is balanced you make well thought out plans and decisions. Healthily judging when to move forward and when to yield when the change is not ready to occur. As a Zen koan says, “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself.” To heed to this Zen koan, allows the Wood energies to move towards the more positive psych-emotional attributes of compassion, patience and acceptance. Pushing for things to happen or not permitting things to shift will give rise to feelings of frustration, anger, jealousy and stagnation. Physically the body could feel heavy and fatigued. With the stagnation of the Liver qi impeding the smooth blood flow to parts of the body, giving rise to musculoskeletal aches and stiffness. Therapies and activities such as Acupuncture, qi gong, yoga, nutrition, herbs, body work and expressing of held emotions are a few ways to help move any stagnation held in the Liver and Gall bladder.

Spring Clean

The Time to Detox

Spring and the extra boost of energy provides support for the Liver and Gall Bladder in detoxing the body after the dormant season of Winter. It’s time to maybe have a break from coffee, alcohol or any recreational drugs. Regular exercise will support the body rid built up toxins accumulated over Winter. Toxic build up can contribute to a range of health issues and this is the best time of the year to support a detox and help the elimination of wastes from the body. 

Earth the Season To Replenish

Earth is the 5th season in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the central pivot along which the other seasons unfold. At the end of each season the Earth element has a role to replenish the season as the energy goes back to the Earth for regeneration.
The Earth organs are the Stomach (yang) and Spleen (yin). You might think of the spleen as the equivalent of the pancreas, producing enzymes and helping secret insulin and glucagon for blood sugar regulation.
Through tonifying and strengthening the Stomach and Spleen you directly tonify and strengthen the other organs. Reflecting the huge importance it is to come back to your centre and ground at the end of each season. Particularly late Summer which is from mid February to March.  This is a time that the fire of Summer (yang time) has burnt down and there’s a sense that we are at the fulcrum of yang/yin time. It neither feels the Summer and yang, fire time anymore and it hasn't yet changed over to Autumn and the yin half of year yet. 
So use this time to nurture yourself and start to slow down as a deficient Earth energy may impair your digestion and disrupt the entire organism that we owe our nourishment and vitality.
Be ONE with Earth element and late Summer-

  • Limit icy cold drink sweet consumption as too much sweet and cold drinks can disrupt the digestive system.
  • Nourish your physical body with good quality fresh fruit and vegetables (organic preferably).
  • Begin to start to incorporate warming foods such as ginger, pumpkin and fennel.
  • Take some time to yourself! This will nourish the mind. Do things that you want to do and not what others expect you to do.
  • Get connected to the Earth through gardening or being out in nature through walking (barefoot even better).
  • Start meditating as a weak Earth element causes fogginess in the head, overthinking and excessive worry. Through meditation you will calm the mind and nourish our Earth within us. 

Everything you need, you already have


Finding Stillness in Winter

From the start of Winter I wanted to set an intention of slowing down, move with awareness, make space to reflect on the past season and set intentions for the coming months as we move into Spring. I even started Winter with a 3-day Vipassana (meditation) and cutting back work that wasn’t aligning. I felt this was enough, however, it was not until I got a cold and was house ridden that I really realized the meaning of slowing down. I ate broths, read books and moved slowly in everything I did. I came to the realization that on a primal level this is how we use to live during Winter.

Nature is instinctively telling us to slow down. Just take a look around! It looks as though there is not much happening, especially considering you see leaves falling in Autumn and flowers blooming in Spring. However, this is a potent time of year. I say this because under the ground there are seeds incubating just waiting to be birthed in Spring.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Winter is the peak of yin time.  A time the water element of the Kidney and Bladder systems govern and willpower and determination are needed, so that we may look within ourselves and look at our deepest fears. This is needed to have a greater understanding of our true self on a deeper level and reflect on the interactions we have in the outer world.

I teach yoga classes that adjust to the season. For example, in Summer the yoga class I lead is more yang in nature, strong, dynamic and at a higher tempo. In Autumn there’s more breath work (pranayama) and upper body strengthening, as this is where the Lungs and Large Intestine meridians are located. There is emphasis on letting go (Large Intestines) role in what is stale and stagnant in our lives before moving into Winter and finding stillness, awareness and possibly more insight. I incorporate the Taoist 5-element system into my daily practice because I feel connected to the energies that are reflecting in nature at the time.  I am a strong believer in the way that we work on the mat is similarly the way we work off the mat. Moving through postures with complete present moment awareness will allow us to become more fluid and open to whatever life throws at us.  Finding stillness through movement allows our postures in our yoga practice to unfold. Combining the yoga practice along with the union of breath creates a practice that is much more restorative through revitalizing the body and mind. This creates a healthy Water element within us and balances the emotions of fear and confidence, which are the emotions linked to the Kidneys and Bladder in TCM. Fear can stop us from living a fulfilled life and fear can help us to be vigilant and safe when danger is near. Fear is the root behind all the other emotions such as the anger in aggressiveness the sadness in loss and the overthinking in making things happen. Showing the importance of a harmonious Water element within.

The meridians of the Kidneys and Bladder course closest to the midline of the body. Thus, by incorporating a practice that has more forward and backbends during winter will only help a harmonious flow of qi through the meridians. The Kidney system also governs the lower back and so I like to include some lower back strengthening and opening exercises, whether through yoga asana or qi gong exercises during winter. This is turn strengthens all of the Kidney system roles and responsibilities in TCM such as controlling the adrenal cortex, medulla and hormones that help regulate metabolism, immunity and sexual vitality.

I recently co-hosted a yoga retreat and led a class that was at half the pace as I regularly teach. There was no music so that the breath can be clearly heard. It was one of the hardest classes I’ve taught and even in my own practice, moving at a slower rate with emphasis on present moment awareness has been a challenge. Always looking towards what the next pose is, I sometimes forget the potency in moving through and towards the pose. And just what is the final pose anyway? I have faced some fears by incorporating yoga poses I’ve been afraid of trying and used my willpower and determination to begin my early morning practice again as the energies at this time of year are on my side. I feel it is paying off as I am feeling more connected to everything I have been doing in my day- to- day activities.

So now’s a great time of year to connect with the energies of Winter though looking within and moving as much as possible with present moment awareness whether on or off the yoga mat.  You may find more stillness in all you do and just like that seed incubating, set those intentions for the coming months so that they too can be birthed like petals of a flower in Spring.

By Trent Banyan B.H.Sc Acupuncture & Yoga Teacher

Embracing Autumn

The change of season is now here and in its full force. The late summer period of the Earth element has passed and there is now crispness in the air in the mornings, shorter days and even more of a majestic blue sky. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is there are five elements rather then the four in the Western world with Metal being the element in TCM that governs Autumn. Metal gives us our sense of value, quality and integrity, so that we may look beyond our day to day existence and provide us with the power to let go of what no longer serves us.

Autumn marks the end of the growing season, a turning inward from more outgoing yang energies of Spring and Summer. The trees start to shed their leaves and those leaves go back to the Earth so it can become rich compost used to feed the next generation of plants. Nature instinctively informs us about our inner cycles of creating and letting go. Metal in nature allows us to take in the richness of life and let go of the old, so that we can move on. You don’t see the trees stubbornly holding onto decayed leaves for the following year. This is the same within us! How many of us go against the rhythms of nature and hold onto what we have produced and accumulated, not just physically but also on mental and emotional levels. Sentimentally clinging on to attachments and emotions accumulated in Summer can produce feelings of melancholy, grief and anxiety which may manifest themselves into breathing difficulties, skin problem, chest pain and a lowered resistance to flus, colds and other respiratory conditions.

The energy of Autumn is supporting letting go of the old and stale in our lives more than any other season. This is so we can deeply connect with all that gives life its meaning and significance, whether it would be people, animals and even fresh insightful ideas.

The two organs in TCM that govern Autumn and the Metal element are the Lungs and Large Intestine (colon). The Lungs and Large Intestine are closely connected together as they allow us to ‘take in’ (Lungs) and ‘let go’ (large intestine). The energetic properties of these organ systems control our breath, pores and our waste. This shows the importance this element plays in cleansing the body. Imagine they failed in doing their jobs and the amount of physical ailments that may occur as a repercussion.

The Lungs are the organ that assists in taking our first and last breath in life. The movement and rhythm of the breath provides movement and rhythm to the entire body. If your breathing is even and regular then healthy ‘qi’ will flow freely throughout the body via the dispersing and descending action it has on ‘qi’.

 According to the ‘qi’ cycle, the hours of 3-5am are Lung time, a spiritual time and ‘yin’ in nature. The Lungs are known as the upper source of water and the Kidneys the lower source. Together they assist in water metabolism which is why someone lacking in ‘yin’ may find themselves waking at night and/or with night sweats. The Lungs are a fragile organ due to being the upper most organ of the body. This makes them easily invaded by pathogens that cause infections like colds and influenza. When the Lungs are deficient not only are you vulnerable to these infections but your skin and hair may look dull and skin conditions may arise. When the Lungs are strong your skin looks vibrant, hair is glossy and you have strong immunity.

The ‘corporal’ soul is the spirit of the Lungs. This gives us the ability to feel bodily sensations and make a good connection with the world. If it is strong, then you will have a strong connection to the world and be able to take in all the information that comes via the five senses. When the Lungs are not functioning strongly then the senses will dull and there may be an inability to feel sensation or emotion. At the extreme we may tend to alienate ourselves from those around us and the world at large. You may even have a feeling of something is wrong but can’t put a finger on what it is. Physically the Lungs protect us from infections. Mentally and spiritually the Lungs when strong protects us from psychic attacks and helps us to deal flexibly with any emotional issues that arise.

The ‘yang’ organ of Autumn the Large Intestine eliminates the waste matter from the body. It has an important role to play because if you do not have good elimination then you are unable to take anything in. The time our ‘qi’ passes through the Large Intestine is between 5-7am, the best time to clear our bowels and transform ourselves. Waking up during this time is ideal as its sets up the energies of our body for the rest of the day. If we are not moving our bowels during this time it may indicate that the Large Intestine is not functioning as well as it should. When this happens, ailments such as constipation, loose bowels, abdominal pain and other issues to do with elimination may occur. Mentally and spiritually you may feel ‘mentally constipated’ bringing an inability to let go of emotions and feelings. This creates a build-up of psychological waste matter in the form of resentment, guilt and anticipation of undesirable outcomes. It’s the energies of the Large Intestine that enables us to let go in order to move forward and create change in our lives.

You can check to see how balanced your Metal element is by observing if you have chest complaints, coughs, bronchitis and if you easily catch flus and colds, have rashes, poor quality skin, feel emotionally fragile, voice feels weak, have swelling in the face or have bowel problems. You may also feel mentally constipated and find yourself easily overloaded.

One way we can help ourselves is through learning about the season and acting in harmony with its spirit. When you look at nature around us it is beginning to rest and we too should do the same. Go through your house and discard, donate or even sell any clutter that you don’t need anymore (it may be valuable to others). Mentally bring awareness to attitudes that you’re holding onto. Attempt to resolve them and then let them go. For those issues you’re unable to resolve directly, write them down on paper and burn the paper symbolising the release of the content. You can use the breath as a strong tool at this time by breathing in all that life has to offer and with the breath out, releasing anything that does not serve you anymore.

‘’Breath, relax, here and now’’ Dan Millman