spring: the time of wood

Primarily characterized by energy conservation, winter is departing and spring is approaching. As days get longer and warmer, the energetics of spring develop into a burgeoning, expansive transition from the cold, long winter. This provides the opportunity for forward movement into new projects, exercise programs, and creative endeavors. Spring presents the opportunity for a new beginning - a time to rise early with the sun and take brisk walks; for reconnecting with one’s innate being and reinforcing self-awareness.


In staying healthy through the change of seasons, integrating Chinese medicine theory provides helpful support. Seasonal tune-up treatments such as acupuncture and herbal medicine are tremendously helpful in promoting a smooth transition. Dietary, lifestyle, and behavior recommendations in Chinese medicine are numerous. And of course attitude adjustments will create positive life experiences.

The Five Element theory teaches that springtime is associated with the wood element. Wind is the environmental factor of the wood element – as well as the color green, sour taste, emotion of anger and the sound of shouting. Spring is known as a time of growth and renewal, one directly associated with the energetics of the liver and gall bladder meridians. Paying special attention to maintaining balance and ample Qi and Blood flow of these organs is key for a healthy body and tranquil mind during this transition.

Chinese medicine physiology tells us that balanced and healthy liver energetics establishes a smooth, soothing flow of energy through the whole person, in both body and mind. However, when liver Qi becomes obstructed, stagnant, or overheated - the energy flow in the liver and throughout the body is hampered, resulting in countless physical and emotional problems. This disharmony of the liver energy becomes the root cause of excessive anger, shouting and even rage.

Anger has the tendency to rise in the springtime according to the Five Element Theory. Anger is considered, as all emotions, to be a healthy expression - as long as not excessive or kept pent up inside. This could especially be true if anger has been repressed during the long, dark winter. Spring is the time to re-balance the liver energy, allowing for anger to spring forth gently through honest words and actions toward oneself and with others.

As the green color is associated with spring, getting outdoors with nature nourishes the liver, as well as eating of more green vegetables. Walking amongst the newly budding flowers brightens the mind and nurtures spirit. This together with deep breaths of fresh air and appreciation of the moment while walking outdoors releases anger, irritability, or resentment during this wood time of year.

While outdoors with the green of nature, take a moment to practice Qigong breathing exercises to promote physical and emotional balance. Qigong and T’ai Chi movements promote flexibility of the tendons and sinews – also vulnerable due to their association with the wood element. And be careful of the wind which rises in the spring as it can be harmful to the liver energy. For example, excessive wind stirring up the liver can lead to a condition such as Bell’s palsy. Furthermore, penetration of the body by a cold or hot wind can lead to a spring cold or flu. Take special care to keep the back of the neck covered on windy days.

The liver is said to be the official of strategic planning, creating the vision and direction for the future, one in harmony with nature. The gall bladder creates the ability to make decisions and judge wisely. Through awareness and balance of these combined wood attributes, a person gains clarity about how to manifest their life goals. This is the essence of springtime, a precious creative time of blossoming wood energy.

It takes balanced liver and gall bladder energy to experience a positive and directed form of living. This is exactly why acupuncture is received at the change of seasons – to help promote focus and clarity. Treatment may also unblock congested energy, eliminate liver wind thus strengthening Qi and Blood. Classical Chinese herbal formulas exist dedicated to this same purpose, as well as Qigong exercises and T’ai Chi practice. This is also supported by the following Chinese dietary recommendations.

The liver is perhaps the most congested of all organs. Lighter foods have cleansing properties and are excellent for moving vital energy of the liver during this transition from winter to spring. Eating less cleanses the body of the fats and heavy foods of the winter. The diet should include fresh greens, sprouted wheat or other cereal grasses. Food is best cooked for a shorter period of time but at high temperatures.

Most complex carbohydrates such as grains, legumes, and seeds have a primarily sweet flavor and young beets and carrots provide a refreshing sweet flavor. The expansive, rising quality of sweet and pungent flavored foods is recommended as a means of creating a personal spring within.

Too much fat, chemicals, intoxicants, and denatured foods all disrupt the intricate biochemical processes of the liver. It is appropriately indicated to cleanse the body of toxins – just as a spring house cleaning - the body, mind and spirit need a cleansing renewal too.

With spring cleaning - "Keep it if it helps you grow;
if you don't need it let it go."

With the warmer weather, eating according to the seasons calls for slightly more raw foods. Pears are a healing fruit for the spring - delicious in a salad, baked with honey and cinnamon, or eaten whole. This fruit will help to moisturize the body from inside out. Pears help with weight loss due to their diuretic properties and help with constipation due to high fiber content. Pears also improve respiratory function which is especially beneficial for those with spring allergies. Pears are high in vitamin C content making them an excellent antioxidant to ward off degenerative disease.

Specific cruciferous vegetables sautéed or steamed are excellent for supporting liver and gall bladder health. These include Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, bok choy, and cabbage. Garnishing food with pungent spices nourishes these organs as well; they include basil, marjoram, fennel, rosemary, dill, bay leaf and caraway. It’s best to sprinkle at least one or a combination of these on your foods daily. Rosemary as an essential oil is another remedy for spring renewal. In fact, a study in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology found that it helps reduce liver and gallbladder oxidative stress.

To counteract dryness leftover from the winter months, a chickweed salve can be applied topically to soften and heal the skin, also relieving itching and inflammation. Peppermint essential oil can be added to creams or lotions for energizing, hydrating and soothing enhancement of the skin. Peppermint also restores digestive efficiency, supports liver and respiratory function, promotes concentration and mental acuity, and triggers a sense of fullness after eating. These benefits can be instrumental in helping with the energy required for the increased activity of spring.

These are just some of the many health tips to be garnered from the Chinese ways of viewing the change of seasons. Taking time to notice the energetic transition associated with springtime leads to an entirely new perspective about this season. One that can lead to increased creativity and productivity during a time period designed by nature for just that. The Chinese description of spring as a wood element is so very poetic. Following these simple recommendations can bring this to your doorstep – all you need to do is turn the knob and allow it to enter. Enjoy the creation of a new beginning this spring as development and awareness of mind, body and spirit blossoms.