How to Stay Healthy in Early Spring - Part 1
Spring is the time to get up and do. It is the season of activity. A time of stirring after the cold of winter. It is the season of wind, both in the environment and in our bodies. Spring is the season to eat foods with upward energies, such as young, green, sprouting above-ground vegetables. Just as the trees and shrubs start budding with the onset of spring, we start to loosen up as energy in the body begins to move up and out. Spring is naturally the time to nurture yang, our action principle. Appetite eases as the body shakes off the need to store energy as it did over the colder months. As the weather changes, people who want to lose weight can take advantage of spring's natural trends to help them do more and eat less.
Wind can occur in any season, but it is more of a potent force in spring, as it is the time when the liver is most sensitive – and the liver is very susceptible to the effects of wind. Wind appears quickly, can change without warning and is as destabilising as it is unpredictable.
If you have internal wind (a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concept, not flatulence :-)) you may experience some of the following symptoms: dizziness, cramps, itching, spasms, tremors, pain that comes and goes, twitching, pulsating headaches, ringing in the ears or dryness in the upper body. On an emotional level, wind can cause manic depression, nervousness and emotional turmoil. Internally, wind often moves other conditions around, such as heat or cold in the form of fever, moving pains or the common cold.
In springtime, the weather is unpredictable, so we need to be more careful about exposure to cold or getting chilled. The average daily temperature should be above 15 degrees C before people start taking off the wraps and wearing lighter-weight clothes. A Chinese proverb says: chun wu qiu dong or "bundle up in the spring and stay cool in autumn" (literally spring muffling, autumn freezing).
According to TCM, spring is the season for new growth, when the yang ("hot" energy) rises and gradually builds. However, just as vegetable sprouts need the protection of a greenhouse in early spring, the internal yang of the body is still too weak to resist the coldness of the external environment.' Wu' (bundling up) is necessary for people so the yang energy can be adequately nurtured towards its summer-time peak.
Suppose a person has a constitutionally low level of yang or has exhausted their yang through poor lifestyle habits. In that case, it can lead to problems such as lowered immunity, causing the body to be vulnerable to the "invasion of pathogenic energies" that cause illness. While the external temperature is changing and adjusting to the new season, it is important to keep the body's internal 'climate' as stable as possible by wearing warmer clothes to keep in the heat. Wearing layers can also help as these can be taken away or added to help regulate the body temperature.
In TCM, the nape of the neck and upper back areas are referred to as the 'Wind Gate'. This is the place where all of the yang channels of the acupuncture meridians are said to intersect. This area is particularly important to protect with a scarf or coat as well as keeping the legs and lower body warm.
Oats can reduce the effects of wind in early spring
Several foods naturally reduce the effects of wind. In early spring (or if you are more yin), try oats, pine nuts, prawns, ginger, fennel and basil. Later in the season (or if you are more yang), choose celery, strawberry and peppermint. Other foods that limit the effects of wind include black or yellow soybean (cooked until soft), black or yellow sesame seeds, sage and chamomile. Foods such as crabmeat, eggs and buckwheat can aggravate wind symptoms.
The Organs of Spring
Our liver and gallbladder are two of our internal organs in the spotlight during spring. If the liver and gallbladder are supported and balanced during spring, the entire body will benefit immediately and be set up with the best possible health foundation to be strong and well in the season to come.
According to TCM, the liver's main functions are to store blood, support the heart, and create and maintain a smooth and calm flow of qi throughout both the body and mind. When the liver is balanced and functioning well, the liver qi is smooth, active and floating. It helps us get things done without stress.
When the liver is not functioning well, or the qi is trapped or forced up, we can experience physical and emotional consequences. Someone with a less than healthy liver may be operating on an emotional roller coaster, feeling resentment, aggression, edginess and compulsive behaviour. In the longer term, these emotions can lead to depression.
From the outside, the health of the liver shows in our eyes, fingernails and toenails and can be felt in our tendons. To see the health of the liver, check your tongue, particularly the sides. If your liver is in perfect shape, your tongue will be firm, pink, and have a thin white coat. If the sides of your tongue are swollen, flabby or bruised looking, then spring is the perfect time to start getting your liver in shape. We do this by supporting and calming the liver while also toning the other organs so they can hold their own against bullying from the liver.
The Flavours of Spring
According to the five elements, sour is associated with the liver, but this does not mean that we need to eat more sour foods in spring. Sour strengthens the liver and is yin and cooling. It has a contracting, astringent effect and dries and firms. It helps strengthen tendons, improve bladder control, excessive sweating, diarrhoea, sagging skin, haemorrhoids and prolapsed conditions.
Once eaten, sour heads straight for the liver. A small amount of the sour flavour is essential for a balanced liver; however, too much will make the liver too strong and cause an imbalance between the organs. Examples of sour foods include lemons, limes, pickles and rosehip. Vinegar is also sour.
As you read about the liver, you'll realise for many of us, the liver is too strong in spring, so for the most part, these people should avoid sour flavoured foods in spring. Therefore, in spring, one should eat fewer sour foods and increase one's intake of mildly sweet foods to nourish our spleen qi. Light pungent foods can also help clear wind from the body and, in moderation, will be the best accompaniment to the full sweet flavours of vegetables and grains.
A balanced diet is always the best policy and the foods mentioned within this blog are the author's views. Some foods have contraindications with medications; please check with your health care professional if you are in any way unsure.
Next Month's Blog
Next month we explore how we know if we are 'yin or yang natured' and how knowing this, we can help balance our emotions.
Material sources: Straight Bamboo Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine