Spring is the season of the Wood element and is characterized by reawakening and outward expansion. It is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder energetic systems, which when balanced are known for Qi that flows smoothly, initiative and good decision-making. Physical associations manifest in the eyes, tendons, ligaments and sinews which are nourished and maintained by the Liver. Just as the expansiveness of Spring can be seen in nature, emotional and physical energies associated with the Liver can be directed outward. Just like a sprout beginning to rise, energy is still fragile and can easily be damaged. Outbursts or projections of excess energy can best be put to good use with activities or projects that can utilize it.
Climactically Spring is associated with wind. The wind which can carry other pathogens also tends to aggravate the wood element. In the body it can cause allergies, itchy skin and pain patterns that tend to move from place to place. Symptoms may present as fever, slight aversion to wind or cold, cough, or mild thirst with burning pain in local areas. Sensitive people should enjoy windy outdoor time in minimal doses.
Injuries may present as:
- Wind: marked by a decrease in range of motion and pain that changes location.
- Heat: local inflammation and/or redness in the joints or extremities, and may be aggravated by heat.
- Damp: fixed and intense pain with a feeling of heaviness, numb skin and muscles that wet conditions may aggravate.
Movement in the Spring
To prevent injuries and improve performance in the Spring, consider the following:
Warm up properly utilizing dynamic stabilization exercises to ensure that postural muscles are activated prior to regular training.
As a stand-alone program or as an adjunct to another endeavor or sport, take advantage of strength training with slower to moderate speed movements. Strength guidelines state using 70%-85% of your estimated 1 repetition maximum, at a moderate to high volume (up to 25 sets when your main activity is weight training), with up to 60 seconds rest between sets. Incorporate this into your program for about four to six weeks to allow ligamentous tissues, which have a poor circulatory system, time to adapt. The nervous system and muscles characteristically adapt more quickly, which is part of the strength continuum but does not take all tissues into consideration. Transitioning into ballistic movements too soon, especially after a lay off due to injury or from sedentary life will predispose a person to further injury. Beginners should spend more of their workout doing stability exercises with a strength component.
As part of a post workout cool down, emphasize static flexibility to bring the body back into a more parasympathetic (normal) state. This will allow tendons to relax and circulation of metabolites in the muscles to move more smoothly.
Proper maintenance such as Tui Na, bodywork, acupuncture and meditative movements assist in recovery from exercise and injuries and boost the immune system.
Spring Time Nutrition
Food that assists in balancing the nature of the Liver and Wood element should nourish, soothe and keep the Liver clean, tonify the Spleen, nourish Yin, & strengthen Yang. Enjoy plenty of young plants, fresh greens, sprouts, and yellow to red veggies nutrient-dense and low in calories. These include tomatoes, loquat, beets, mint, onion, green beans, broccoli, chives and leeks. Flavor meals sparingly with vinaigrettes and pickled foods.
Keep high-calorie, refined, greasy or fried foods, sugars and alcohol that overtax the Liver and Gallbladder to a minimum.
Fasting will over tax the Liver and create more disharmonies in the body. A better way to cleanse the Liver is via sound nutrition, herbs that support Liver function and simply sweating from exercise.
Ju Hua (chrysanthemum) congee: 100g white rice, 50g chrysanthemum.
Soak chrysanthemum separately for 30 minutes. Then combine with rice over heat for 5 minutes. Soothes the Liver and brightens the eyes.
An Chun (‘animal ginseng,’ quail) dish: 100g quail, asparagus 100g, mushrooms 5g, cucumbers 15g, egg whites.
Slice quail and mix with egg whites then sauté. Add asparagus, cucumber & mushrooms later. Sea salt to taste. Nourishes and soothes Liver.
Spring Herbal Considerations
This year has brought much change in the world and continuous perceptions of disharmony which sound nutrition and lifestyle may not relieve quickly. Strong emotions may affect digestion, causing stomach butterflies or bloating, acid regurgitation diarrhea and/or stomach pain. A Chinese formula that has made its way into Western use is called Xiao Yao San or “Free and Easy Wanderer”. This formula profoundly soothes the Liver, thereby reducing the effects of stress on the body and helps prevent digestive symptoms. For those with enteric brains, this is quite a find. (For a thorough diagnosis, consult a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.)
Climate and physiological change affect the natural tendency of the Liver to spread and grow. By nourishing and maintaining the Wood element, the outward momentum of Spring will segue nicely into the warmer months of Summer.
Read about the coming Summer
In order to maximize the benefit of resistance training it is important to first choose exercises that give you the most overall benefit. Compound exercises refer to the involvement of more than one joint per movement and all muscles in between making them more functional, while Single Joint exercises do as the name implies. For example, a squat is a compound movement because it utilizes the ankle, knee and hip joint in addition to stabilization from the torso, while a bicep curl will emphasize the elbow joint. By having a firm Compound movement base in your workouts your overall caloric expenditure will be greater, strength will increase and daily activities will be more efficient, since they mimic most daily movement.
Examples of Compound movements are: squats, lunges, deadlifts, overhead presses, push-ups and pull-ups.
Single joint exercises should not be avoided but rather considered a compliment to Compound movements. Examples include: bicep curls, tricep extensions, lateral raises, chest flies, hamstring curls & calve raises.