Spring and Traditional Chinese Medicine
By Jill Ellen Smith L.Ac., M.Ac.
For the Howard County Women’s Journal
In it blows. The March winds are calling us to awaken from winter’s slumber.
Winter’s slumber… well, that would be the ideal. If we could only hibernate like nature calls upon us to do. But our industrialized culture does not really know what if means to rest. We stay active too late into the night as well as too long thru the winter. And as sure as the sun will rise, Spring will arrive in all its glory.
According to Chinese medical theory, Spring is the season associated with the Wood element. And the Wood element is associated with our muscles and tendons. It is associated with creation and creativity. It is our hope and our thrust to manifest that hope.
Just watch your seemingly tired and shaggy gardens. Life is on the rise. The winter’s freeze is no match for the Crocuses and Jonquils popping their green shoots thru the hard nearly frozen ground. The birds know it. Listen to the rising cacophony outside your window at dawn. It’s early March, and the lilac buds are breaking thru their shells. What is this energy that bursts forth?
Its Spring plain and simple! And we and our bodies are inseparable from this rising Yang energy.
Chinese medical theory accepts as fact that we are inseparable from the seasons. (And there are 5 according to TCM—Spring/Summer/Late Summer/Autumn/Winter). The seasons are within us as well as outside our windows. We may think that we protect ourselves from the elements, but that universal Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) is EVERYWHERE.
Some common manifestations of a Wood/Spring imbalance that I see a lot of this time of year are a fatigue and lethargy, and also an increase of muscular pains and stiffness.
I remind my patients that the powerful rising Yang energy around us is like putting high-octane gas in a low octane tank. Especially for my menopausal patients. Many people suffer from stagnant Liver qi. (If you recall the Wood/Spring element is associated with the Liver). As we age many of us develop imbalances in our Wood energy. Stress and overwork can burden our Wood (and hence our (Chinese) Liver), making it difficult for our livers to keep our qi flowing smoothly. When this occurs, muscle disorders can show up –such as muscle spasms and stiffness, along with the achy joints that our muscles and tendons attach to. Yesterday, a woman complained of her back pain that consistently flares up this time of year, just when she wants to start golfing. Her underlying deficient qi causes her back muscles to spasm and tear as the Spring energy calls her to rise up and meet the day.
The stagnant Liver qi is also why we may find ourselves lethargic and just plain tired ‘all the time’ during a transition into spring. It’s not uncommon for tempers to flare (since the Spring/Wood element is in charge of that flaring emotion of Anger). If people seem more irritable… it will pass.
Headaches and migraines might be more frequent at this time. Menstrual cycle issues can be problematic now as well.
Here are my suggestions. In addition to seeing your acupuncturist regularly, drink plenty of water (room temperature is best, and half your body weight in ounces). Do a lot of stretching (take a yoga class and practice regular stretches at home). Take nice hot soaks in Epsom salt baths (the magnesium in the salts will help relax your muscles). Eat a lot of fresh leafy green vegetables (spring spinach, dark lettuces, spring onion, kale, collard greens, parsley, etc). Your essential fatty acids (omega 3’s and 6’s) are very important here as well to help lubricate your tight muscles and joints.
Be patient with yourself. This is just your body’s way of ‘waking up’ into the season…its just taking you a bit longer than it used to.