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
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views health as a balance between our internal and external environments. It seeks to achieve balance via integrative modalities such as acupuncture, herbal formulas, Tui Na, moxibustion, cupping, gua sha, mind-body exercise and nutritional and lifestyle guidance.
Acupuncture, like other TCM treatments, facilitates the body’s innate healing abilities. It involves the insertion of fine, sterile, single-use needles into specific points along the body’s energetic pathways, or “channels.” The needles allow an acupuncturist to access and regulate the body’s energy, or “Qi” to affect the endocrine, immune, cardiovascular, digestive, nervous, reproductive, lymphatic and musculoskeletal systems.
Benefits range from increased immunity and pain alleviation to mood moderation and accelerated healing. Historically and clinically, acupuncture is effective in the treatment of acute, superficial musculoskeletal pain as well as deeper, more chronic conditions such as diabetes and depression. Currently, the World Health Organization recognizes – and is furthering research on – acupuncture as an effective treatment for numerous diseases.
An important aspect of treatment is a frequent reevaluation of symptoms. Most acupuncture treatment plans start at twice a week and can be reduced once a patient’s symptoms begin to subside. Each session averages one hour but may be modified based on the reason for entering the clinic or progress in the treatment regimen.
Gua sha and cupping are two therapeutic methods used commonly with Asian bodywork and acupuncture, or as stand-alone modalities. They improve qi flow by facilitating the removal of stagnated blood and lymph, allowing the body to process toxins, reducing pain and swelling, and positively affecting the immune system. Gua sha and cupping can relieve pain associated with acute or chronic disorders that may feel achy, tender and/or knotted. Common conditions that benefit include low back pain, stiff neck, shoulder pain, stomach ache, abdominal pain, dysmenorrhea, and sprains. Gua sha and cupping are also used to prevent and improve symptoms of acute conditions such as common cold or flu (esp. in the early stages), headaches, asthma, and bronchitis as well as chronic problems.
Gua Sha means “scraping” and “sand or millet-like” and refers to rubbing that leaves reddish, elevated, skin marks. Oil is applied to the skin and rounded tools made of jade, buffalo horn or similar substances are used to scrape the skin’s surface. These tools contain properties that allow them to pull heat and toxins from the body, which aids in healing.
Cupping is a therapy in which a vacuum is created in a glass cup to draw stagnant fluids up to the surface tissues. Traditionally a cotton ball is dipped into alcohol and lit with a flame. It is then inserted quickly and removed from the cup. This method does not heat the cup, but instead creates a vacuum or reverse pressure that when applied to the skin affects acu-points, surrounding tissues and circulation.
In both gua sha and cupping it is common for the local area to turn reddish to purple where the body has held stagnation. Darker color areas usually indicate a longer standing condition that may require a longer treatment period. Any discoloration generally disappears in about a week.
Cupping and gua sha, as with most bodywork, induce a feeling of relaxation during and after treatment.
Please let your practitioner know about any bleeding disorders, skin hypersensitivities or medications such as blood thinners and steroids prior to receiving any treatment.
Tuina (pronounced “twee-nah”) is a form of clinical Asian bodywork that originated over 2000 years ago and is deeply rooted in the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Tuina affects muscles and fascia while influencing the energetics of Qi in the meridians. Pain usually indicates a blockage in meridians which obstructs the flow of Qi throughout the body.
Tuina prevents and treats disease. It is a system of therapeutic manual techniques that promote an increase of vital energy or life force (Qi) and blood (Xue) circulation, thereby removing obstructions in meridian pathways. This facilitates healing of soft tissue injuries, improves joint mobility and nerve regulation, and adjusts the functions of the internal organs and cellular tissue metabolism.
Techniques range greatly from gentle, relaxing movements (rolling, vibration, rocking, thumb meditations, holding, pushing, grasping and passive range of motion) to deep and invigorating techniques (plucking, scrubbing, skin rolling and tapotement). In addition to working locally to loosen problematic areas, tuina is often applied to entirely different areas of the body that help move blocked Qi, such as corresponding sections of the arms and legs.
Acupuncture and tuina are often combined and complements may be used, including guasha (scraping), cupping, moxibustion, therapeutic exercises, herbal formulas and topicals. Guasha and cupping will sometimes leave a temporary mark or discoloration, but do wonders to alleviate discomfort and help the body release toxic accumulations. Moxibustion uses a specific herb called ai ye/ mugwort leaf to warm and move Qi in muscles, joints and meridians.
Tuina is normally applied over comfortable, cotton clothing. This allows for a mobility and ease of passive movement and stretches.
Tuina is beneficial in the treatment of:
Sports and Musculoskeletal Conditions
- Sore muscles
- Joint mobility
- Tension headache
- Temporal Mandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJD)
- Cervical/ Shoulder tension
- Frozen shoulder
- Tennis/ Golfer’s Elbow
- Carpal tunnel
- Lumbar pain or tension
- Piriformis syndrome
- SI joint disorders
- Knee pain
- Shin Splints
- Ankle strains or sprains
- Plantar fasciitis
- And many more
- PMS symptoms
- Minor digestive symptoms
Headaches are one of the most common types of pain and one of the most frequent causes of presentation to physicians and clinics. They are also known as cephalgias and may present as isolated phenomena, or can be seen as a symptom of a variety of acute or chronic diseases. Three-fourths of all adults experience headaches in the US. In that, nine out of 10 women and seven out of 10 men experience them. Headaches represent 10 percent of all visits to the emergency room and the public spends over $2 billion annually on over the counter medications to treat headaches. Biomedicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine have developed their own systems to treat them.
Headaches are multifactorial and complex. They can be affected or exacerbated by internal and external stimuli. Well known triggers include muscular tension, stress, fatigue, diet, menstruation or environmental stimuli such as smoking (nicotine is a vasoconstrictor and carbon monoxide is a vasodilator; together they can trigger a migraine).
Headaches are associated with constriction or dilation of intracranial and extracranial arteries. External structures of the head are pain sensitive and prone to tension. Internally, brain lesions can cause mass, fluid or hemorrhage that affect pain sensitive structures such as arteries, blood vessels and certain cranial nerves (e.g., CN V, VII, IX, X). Hormonal imbalances also account for a great deal.
There are two divisions of headaches in Biomedicine. They are primary headaches, which have no known causality, and secondary headaches, which are related to other pathologies or underlying conditions. Primary headaches account for 90 percent of reports and include (in this order of prevalence) tension, migraine and cluster headaches – all of which are considered vascular – and muscular contraction or a combination if the two. Primary headaches are diagnosed only when underlying diseases are ruled out. Secondary headaches are usually caused by infections or trauma.
Biomedical treatment of headaches can be varied via drugs, stress relief, lifestyle changes and prevention. Common analgesics include aspirin, acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), narcotics, caffeine and antibiotics. Theses can be administered via nasal, oral, parenteral, or rectal routes. They usually dull pain receptors and do not help with the true cause.
As part of a prevention program most moderate exercise has been found to be helpful in decreasing the frequency of headaches. Exercises that reduce stress and increase cardiovascular capacity were the more effective.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
In TCM, headaches are seen as blockages of qi, blood (xue) and body fluids (jin ye) in the channels of the head with various disharmonies such as excess (shi) and deficiency (xu) disorders in the upper and lower parts of the body. Two-thirds of headaches are considered excess, and may affect any of the 11 channels (mai) that cross the head. These channels are the Liver, Ren, Du, Yin and Yang Qiao, and the six regular Yang Mai.
Headache etiology includes constitution, emotions, overwork, excessive sexual activity, diet, accidents and external pathogenic factors. Constitution depends on parental health months before and at the time of conception and the conditions of the actual pregnancy. Overworking parents may have a child with Spleen Xu or digestive weakness with headaches on the forehead that may be easily affected by food intake. Emotions are a common cause of headaches and may present with various symptoms. Overwork may cause Kidney Yin Xu and headache in the whole head. Excess sexual activity may temporarily deplete Kidney Essence and may cause occipital or whole head pain. Diet may cause the most variables due to food energetics, and modern food additives that have not necessarily been explored via TCM. Accidents will cause blood stasis (Yu Xue) and may present at a later or unrelated time. External factors such as wind easily effect the upper body. In assessing and diagnosing it is important to take all of this into consideration.
TCM prevention and treatment of headaches includes but is not limited to acupuncture (best for acute), Tui Na, herbal treatments, dietary recommendations and qi gong.
I am not associated with Duke University. I do however appreciate their efforts in researching this medicine.