// Spring - A new beginning
by Monica Linford
Honouring the natural order of all things is how, according to Oriental philosophy, we achieve good health and happiness, and likewise, working against nature creates disharmony, disorder and disease (or dis-ease). Living and working with the seasons is one way the Taoists say we can contribute to our overall health and wellbeing.
Taoism, which means the ‘harmonious way’ or the path of least resistance (the philosophy upon which Chinese medicine is based), has for 2,000 or more years given instructions on how to live well, enhance longevity and obtain balance in all aspects of your life. This is viewed and taught through four main principles:
Chi – our vital energy and the life force present in all creation.
Yin and yang are opposite states of energy that are in constant motion, striving to achieve balance in all things.
The meridian system is a network of invisible pathways within the body, through which the life force flows to our internal organs.
The five elements, wood, fire, earth, metal and water are elements of nature through which the yin and yang energies are expressed. The five elements also correspond to five seasonal divisions of the year:
1. spring – wood element
2. summer – fire element
3. late summer – earth element
4. autumn – metal element
5. winter – water element.
The Taoist approach to good health and longevity is a combination of cultivating chi through a regime of regular physical exercise, deep breathing to cleanse and energise the body, eating fresh clean high quality food and living congruently with nature.
Spring and the wood element
Spring is governed by the wood element and seen as the time of year for taking a look at your life, and making new plans. It is a time for getting up earlier, lightening the diet, taking brisk walks and reflecting on nature’s awakening.
The sight of spring bursting forth nourishes the soul through the eyes and provides the opportunity for us to detox physically, mentally and emotionally. As we cleanse and let go of internal pollutants we gain clarity and insight for new possibilities, habits and practises.
As we dust off the proverbial cobwebs of winter, spring promotes renewed optimism and a feeling of breaking free. It is definitely a time of year that supports a willingness to try something new.
Inner spring cleaning
The wood element expresses itself through the liver and gallbladder organ partnership. These organs govern rebirth, growth and renewal. They are the caretakers of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints and open into the eyes, governing eyesight. Mentally, this corresponds with being able to have insight, envision a goal, plan ahead and be decisive. An imbalance can manifest as poor judgement, disorganisation, being indecisive, moody and depressed.
From the Chinese medicine viewpoint the liver is considered to be the ‘CEO ’ of all the internal organs. Its role is to perform over a hundred known functions and provide essential support to the other processes of the body. The liver is the hub of the body’s detoxification system and when it becomes overburdened due to overconsumption of fried and processed food, alcohol, caffeine or drugs, its role in digestion is severely compromised. Health outcomes can be high blood pressure, blood-sugar imbalances, constipation and addictions. In Chinese medicine our emotions are indicators of internal dis-ease. Anger, frustration, resentment and depression are the liver’s way of demonstrating that it is ‘over-heated’, toxic and overwhelmed.
Spring is an opportunity to review what we are eating and look at old habits that may not be serving us well on the health front. Hippocrates said ‘food is your best medicine’. Your body relies on you to give it clean nutritious food so that it can function well and make available all the energy we need to enjoy a completely healthy, happy and vibrant life.
The spring diet is much lighter than for the other seasons so that the liver can rest and rejuvenate. Foods that have expansive energetic qualities such as sprouts, shallots, barley, and sprouted seeds support and nourish the liver chi. Baby spinach, greens, snow peas, celery, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, wheat (some people can become sensitive to this grain), and small young vegetables are also ideal alternatives to add to the daily menu. Continuing to eat heavy, fatty foods overwhelms the liver and is the cause of spring fevers and explosive emotions. Drinking liquids such green tea, apple juice and nettle tea is highly recommended as they cleanse the liver and blood. Protein-wise, eating chicken and fish is advised, and these are best grilled or steamed.
The wood element ‘flavour’ is sour. A warm glass of warm water with the juice of half a lemon first thing in the morning aids detoxification of the liver as it has an astringent effect and draws out impurities. In Chinese medical terms sour foods penetrate and stimulate the liver, alleviate sluggish liver function and increase energy flow. Milk thistle drunk as a tea or taken as a herbal remedy is also highly recommended as it has a unique ability to protect and decongest the liver.
Food-wise in spring, keep the diet light, eat stir-fries (with mostly water), steam your vegetables and grill your meats. Including some raw food can also help to clean and energise the liver. Avoid all fried, processed, heavy, rich foods.
Putting a ‘spring’ back into your step Spring supports contacting your true nature, and engaging in exercise disciplines that cultivate self-awareness. A spring exercising regime would ideally include group exercise classes or one-on-one training sessions that challenge the muscles and produce a good exercising sweat to cleanse and detoxify the body through the skin.
Intense training sessions need to be combined with internal practices such as Pilates, yoga, tai chi and qi gong to cultivate chi and balance the yin and yang energies.
Feldenkrais Method is an excellent movement modality for helping to nourish inner vitality, bring efficient organisation to all movement and for putting the ‘spring’ back into the joints.
Spring into action with new business ventures, concepts and ideas
The wood element manages growth, creative activity, innovation, research and development, vision, planning and putting ideas into action. Spring is, therefore, the time to brainstorm and set goals for any great aspirations that may have been placed on a wish list.
Wood also influences any new situation or idea that confronts or surprises; it challenges us to accommodate the unpredictable events of life and be flexible in order to alter our vision of ourselves and plans. Hard work and challenges that inevitably come along with any new venture promotes its growth and brings recognition to its limitations. The wood element governs the ability to envision on a large scale and spring supports the channelling of its rising energy toward that focus.
Taoists believe that our own health and wellbeing are inherently tied up with that of the planet on which we live. Catastrophes and chaos in our world are as much imbalances in nature as is sickness in a human being.
Their view is that if we took greater care of ourselves (the microcosm), our collective care and respect for the planet (the macrocosm) would naturally be a priority. Mother Nature has an effortless innate rhythm which is constantly striving to achieve harmony. As man has gravitated towards industry and city living he has become increasingly out of step with nature’s examples of balance and equanimity.
Living, eating and exercising with the seasons is just one simple way we can start cultivating wellbeing between ourselves and the natural world.
Monica is the founder of The ChiBall Method™ and has a background in classical ballet, contemporary dance and yoga. She is the author of Awaken Your Body, Balance Your Mind and is a former recipient of the Fitness Leader of the Year award and the UK’s Fitness Professionals Award of Excellence. For more information visit www.chiball.com or call 08 8121 9770.