What does Spring mean to you? Traditionally it is a time of new beginnings, a time when we burst forth with renewed vigour after a long winter of rest and recovery. As we slowly emerge from Lockdown (again), this all sounds quite relevant.
Gulag COVID 19
One of the things I’ve been hearing my patients complain of lately, especially over the last few months, is a feeling of oppression (and depression). While we’ve all been staying at home, nature has been quietly stirring, readying itself for the Spring. And we’ve obviously been very aware of that, if not consciously, certainly subconsciously. Afterall, locking people up is a punishment; that’s why prisons exist. So we’re all gagging to get out in the open again, see friends and family, eat out and just be outdoors in general. But why does it feel like we’re out on parole?
The Liver and Accepting Change
To me, Spring is not only about new growth and expansion, but it’s also about flexibility and the ability to make changes. Those of us who were unable to adapt and change direction in a short space of time, were hit the hardest by the Lockdown.
The damage is done when nature is suppressed. In the West we have this obsession with covering everything with concrete and tarmac. If you walk down the road it is difficult to spot anywhere that hasn’t been covered. Every garden, every park, is trimmed back and cosmetically altered to within an inch of its life, just like a member of TOWIE. But you’ve only got to look at somewhere like Chernobyl to see what happens when man’s intervention is taken away; nature returns quickly, and in abundance (even though it’s still so radioactive that man cannot return there for hundreds of years). If you’ve ever had vine weed in your garden, you know that there is no holding it back.
You only have to look at your own health to see what happens when your true nature is suppressed; it makes you ill. If you are in a job you hate or in a relationship where you can’t be yourself, you will soon start to feel the effects of suppressing your emotions. This might be an extreme reaction like going ‘postal’, or more subdued like simply becoming depressed. A study in the USA showed that people with anxiety/depression died 7.9 years earlier than other persons.
The gall(bladder) of it!
In Chinese medicine it is the Wood element that is associated with the Springtime. But that doesn’t mean that the Wood is only important in Spring (or even the Springtime of life, which is childhood). We need the flexibility and resilience of the Wood element to not only move forward in life, but also to withstand life’s rigours. In Chinese Medicine the Liver and Gallbladder are the Wood organs, and it is the health of these organs that enables us to cope with life’s twists and turns. This applies to our emotional and spiritual states, as well as the physical. The Liver is the warrior: it enables you to make plans, expand and strive forward. The Gallbladder is the decision maker: it supports the Liver in its military endeavours.
You only have to look at an old or dying tree to see what happens when the Wood element is unhealthy. It will snap or be uprooted by even the lightest of winds. Another good example is the Marijuana smoker. Energetically, Marijuana is a Wood herb which invigorates the Liver but suppresses the Gallbladder. That’s why spliff-heads have amazing ideas but lack the drive to actually do anything!
Liver Qi Stagnation
On the other hand, when the Liver is stagnant, it constrains the qi. This can mean heat and pain in the chest and ribs, distention (which in the west we call bloating), constipation and IBS, headaches or emotional problems (usually related to anger, frustration and resentment). And if there is any pain, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be Liver involvement. For instance, Liver qi stagnation can stop periods or cause period pain.
Liver qi stagnation is caused by stress, emotional tension and disruption of internal cycles and circadian rhythms by shift work, all the things that have been part of Lockdown and the COVID pandemic. And to top it all off, any Liver disharmony also has a significant likelihood of causing knots in the muscles of the upper back and neck due to the muscle tightness and spasm characteristic of qi constraint.
Become a tree-hugger
Now the weather is changing and we are filled with renewed vigour after the Lockdown, get outside and allow your Liver qi to move and expand. If you live near the sea, take a walk along the shoreline and take in the expanse; nourish your lungs and your eyes. If you live more inland, get out of the town and into the countryside; hug a tree and become the Wood element!