In Traditional Chinese Medicine, spring is represented by the Wood element. Just as a seed that has laid dormant in the earth over winter starts to sprout and grow upwards in springtime, the wood element represents growing and reaching upwards and outwards, like a tree. It is the warming up phase from the extreme yin of winter (Water element) to the extreme yang of summer (Fire element).
The power of our Wood element resides in the liver (yin organ) and is circulated by the gall bladder (yang organ). The liver controls the free flowing of energy (chi) and substances throughout the body and is the organ most sensitive to stagnation. It harmonises the emotions, controls bile secretion and detoxifies and purifies the blood. Considered to be the “General” of the body, it is our long-term planner and strategist.
The gall bladder aids the liver in many of its functions, storing and excreting bile and controlling digestive juices. It is the “Lieutenant” responsible for smaller decisions and assisting the “General”.
Wood is our intelligence: observing, problem solving, planning, strategising and analysing. When our wood element is balanced we are constructive, open-minded, co-operative and kind with clarity of mind and a high power to focus. Whenever you have a big decision to make, you are engaging your wood element. A well-balanced wood element also gives us flexibility of mind and body, the ability to grow but also to be able to “go around” obstacles in our path. Think of a sapling that can easily grow around any obstacles as it reaches towards the sun.
If our wood element is out of balance we can feel “stuck” and inflexible which can lead to anger, frustration, obsession, confusion, narrow-mindedness and addiction. Physical symptoms include migraine, eye disorders, tendons prone to tearing, menstrual irregularities, acne and boils (toxins being released through the skin), swelling or lumps in the liver, gall bladder, groin, breasts, lateral thighs and thyroid.
Causes of wood element imbalance:
• Eating excessively and/or late at night
• Eating rich tasting foods
• Excessive desires such as fame, power, wealth, greed and sex
According to the Chinese Medicine Body Clock our liver is most active between 1am and 3am. If you have a tendency to wake between these hours it is likely that you have eaten late at night or eaten a heavy meal not allowing sufficient time for the meal to leave the stomach in order for the liver to do its job of detoxifying.
Why not give your body a spring clean? Here are some ways to support your wood element:
• Eat green foods: dark green leafy vegetables, sprouts, green apples.
• Reduce or avoid saturated fats (including meat, dairy and eggs).
• Avoid highly processed foods.
• Don’t eat late at night.
• Regular light fasting can be of benefit.
We can also support these organs by working with the Chinese meridian lines. Our gall bladder meridian runs down the side of our body, much like the side seams of our clothes. Any lateral (side) stretches are going to wake up our gall bladder. Our liver meridian runs up the inner leg seams, underneath our adductor muscles, so any position to stretch the inner thighs (think of side splits) will awaken your liver meridian.
“Wood is as forceful and determined as the wind, as flexible as a sapling, as spreading as an aspen stretching into a bright cloudless sky. Movement surges to the surface bursting through the confinement of winter. A crescendo of excitement builds as the life process reawakens.” – Benfield and Korngold, “Between Heaven and Earth”.
“The Zen of Touch” – Gwyn Williams, PI Productions Photography (2011)
“Five Elements Six Conditions: A Taoist Approach to Emotional Healing, Psychology, and Internal Alchemy” – Giles Marin, North Atlantic Books (2006)