Happy May Day! – Aligning & balancing the Wood element

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Coloured ribbons on a maypole. Photo courtesy of S. Neugebauer at freeimages.com.

Happy May Day everyone!

The ancient spring festival of May Day marks the exact midpoint between the spring equinox and the coming summer solstice – and it seems like a good time to deepen our understanding of the Wood element and spring season.

In my last post, we talked about how the spring season affects our bodies & minds from the point of view of Chinese medicine. The expansive, creative energy of spring and the Wood element is invigorating and vitalizing. When we flow with this energy, we are energized by the natural world to emerge (if slowly) from the deep-seated gestational winter season and find ways of our own to expand and revitalize our bodies and minds.

At the same time, certain physical and emotional symptoms that in TCM are related to the Wood element and Liver system can sometimes seem to intensify at this time, as we adapt to the changing environment. These include unbalanced energy levels, more frequent and intense headaches, feeling more easily frustrated, disrupted digestion, eye issues, muscle spasms and tendon tightness.

I promised to provide you with some suggestions for aligning yourself (and your yoga practice) with the spring season. These suggestions will help you align yourself with the outer environment, but perhaps even more importantly, they will assist you in balancing your inner Wood element.

Remember that in TCM, the human body is understood to be a microcosm of nature. We therefore embody the Wood element, as well as adapt to it in our environment. In fact, the Liver and Gallbladder organs could be considered the physical or substantial embodiment of the Wood element and as such, are a focus in our efforts to create balance.

So how to balance the Wood element?

Get moving!

After a long winter, many of us are still in semi-hibernation mode. But the Liver is in charge of the free flow of qi throughout the body. So for optimum health, especially at this time of year, we need to integrate some flowing movement into our lives. A great way to do this is by walking or hiking outside, all the better to absorb the abundant Wood energy of the natural world.

You may also want to adapt your yoga practice to include more yang (active) aspects, such as gentle flows from one pose to another (reclining twists side to side instead of held static, or a “Dancing Warrior” sequence of standing poses for example).

This does not mean that you should not practice Yin Yoga of course!

Yin Yoga, generally speaking, is more about nourishing & building than movement. And the Liver system not only maintains the free flow of qi in the body – it is also in charge of storing and releasing the blood. So it needs nourishment as well as movement. You can nourish the Liver and your inner Wood element by including poses that target the inner and outer aspects of the body (which correspond with Liver and Gallbladder respectively). These may include side bends like Banana pose (also called Reclining Crescent Moon) to target the lateral sides of the body, and Dragonfly or Butterfly poses to address the Liver meridian in the inner thigh and groin area.

Of course, the still, quiet, passive focus of a Yin Yoga class is also deeply nourishing for the entire body, as it taps into the restorative power of the parasympathetic nervous system, our “rest & digest” mode. The key is balance: combining nourishment and rest with free-flowing movement in a way that suits your body best.

GO GREEN with your diet

Since you know that the Liver is linked with the Wood element (as well as the colour green), you may already have gathered some ideas about how to support your inner Wood element through diet. Greens (dandelion, kale, collards), blue-green algaes (chlorella, spirulina) are excellent choices, as are herbal infusions such as dandelion, burdock, nettle and peppermint.

The April 2015 issue of Vitality magazine gives some great suggestions for herbs to rejuvenate the Liver and some delicious Liver-friendly recipe suggestions. Check out the Warm Dandelion Salad. Yum!

What do we want to minimize? The usual suspects like caffeine and alcohol, especially if we suffer from PMS or exacerbations of any of the symptoms above). If you just can’t conceive of foregoing your daily caffeine fix, you might want to try to limit it to three times per week or weekends only. For women who suffer from PMS, limiting caffeine and eliminating alcohol at least the week before and of the period itself will help the minimize mood shifts, bloating, and digestive upsets that can sometimes occur or worsen at this time of the month.

But how we eat is just as important as what we eat. To balance the Wood element and soothe the Liver, try to eat in a reasonably quiet environment (i.e., not at your desk in a busy office) and see if you can cultivate some mindfulness when eating. That means concentrating on the sight, aroma, taste and texture of your food … the visual aspect is particularly important as the Liver system corresponds with the eyes. If when eating we instead use our eyes for texting, watching TV or reading, we tax the Liver, deplete our Wood element, and draw energy away from the process of digestion and absorption. Try it as a challenge to yourself – it sounds easy enough but it’s deceptively difficult. Your Liver will thank you for your efforts!

Acupressure

Getting an acupuncture treatment is wonderful, but not always possible to do regularly. Luckily we can treat ourselves with acupressure and reap many of the same benefits. You can do a self-acupressure treatment at any time, but during your yoga practice or before bed are good options. All of these points are easily accessible and highly beneficial. Click the links below for specific location information.

  • Liver 3: calms spasms, nourishes blood, regulates menses, clears the head & eyes, promotes the smooth flow of qi
  • Large Intestine 4: alleviates headaches, soothes all types of pain, calming
  • Spleen-6: harmonizes the Liver, invigorates blood, calming
  • Gallbladder-20: benefits the head and eyes, treats pain and stiffness of the neck, insomnia

Want more guidance on how to find and stimulate these points? Come to my Welcome Spring With Yin Yoga special class at Mitra Yoga on May 9. We’ll be practicing a Yin sequence specific for nourishing & energizing the Liver system, which will include locating and palpating the acupressure points above. We’ll also practice a Taoist meditation to nourish all of the 5 Yin organs, including the Liver.

That’s it for today. In my next post, I’ll explore the spiritual aspects connected with the Wood element. After all, we’re not just bodies and minds … our hearts and spirits need attention (and alignment with Wood energy) as well!

Bye for now,

Elizabeth

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