March 20th marked the Vernal Equinox, or first official day of spring. As the days get longer, you might be struck by an urge to get outside, get moving, enjoy the milder weather, and maybe even do some spring cleaning. You might also be struck by seasonal allergies, muscular injuries from doing too much, too soon, or experience some unexplained stress and tension while adjusting to the changing seasons. It’s alright -- wherever you fall on this scale, we’re here to help you manage your health by living in tune with the season.
In Eastern philosophy, each season has been observed and categorized into a system of correspondences. Spring corresponds to the Wood element, which makes sense when you consider that new growth is rampant, from the daffodils just poking out of the ground to the trees budding and opening new leaves and flowers. Springtime and Wood are associated with the Liver (when “Liver” is capitalized, I’m referring to the philosophical concept of Liver qi, and when it is not, I’m referring to the physical organ), which is responsible for cleansing the blood, as well as fueling muscles and sinews. This is true in both Chinese medicine and in Western science - the liver is involved with fueling muscle cells through gluconeogenesis, for example, and can also be involved in histamine reactions, such as those experienced by allergy sufferers (think springtime pollen causing everyone around you to sniffle and sneeze).
That means that spring is the perfect time to support the Liver. Here are a few tips to optimize Liver health and get the most out of spring:
1. Protect your tendons and ligaments
Since Liver “rules the sinews,” muscles, tendons, and ligaments are susceptible to injury at this time. To keep your muscles happy and avoid overuse injuries, sprains and strains, get outside and enjoy the weather but ease into any new exercise routine.
A good guideline for beginning runners, cyclists, or other recreational athletes is to add no more than 10% to your mileage from week to week. That means if you ran a total of 20 miles last week, you should run no more than 22 miles this week to avoid injury.
You can work with the stretching, growing, outreaching energy of spring by engaging in frequent gentle stretching, whether it’s through a stretch break at your desk or a class at your closest yoga studio. This has the added benefit of promoting stress management.
2. Reduce or prevent the impact of seasonal allergies
Protect yourself to manage allergies: try using a neti pot to keep your nasal passages clear. Invest in some air-cleaning houseplants for your home or office space, and use the spring cleaning vibes as motivation to dust and de-clutter your living areas.
3. Eat seasonally
Enjoy lightly cooked seasonal vegetables - pea shoots, asparagus, and dark leafy greens are all seasonally appropriate choices that provide ample micronutrients, but also complement the energetics of spring. To support the Liver qi, seek sour flavors. Citrus is in season now and fits the bill, as would tossing your steamed or sauteed vegetables with a tangy vinaigrette.
4. Try a cleanse
If you’ve wanted to try a cleanse or other diet reset, this would be the optimal time. Acupuncturists generally don’t recommend practices like juice fasting, especially in colder weather, because the cooling nature of so many concentrated fruits and vegetables can be hard on the Spleen. However, spring can be a good time to reinforce the action of the Liver and its energetic partner, the Gallbladder, with a gentle cleanse. Paul Pitchford recommends several gentle, sensible gallbladder cleanses that involve moderate diet modification rather than fasting in Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. This is a great source for information about the energetics of food from an Eastern medicine perspective.
Finally, remember that however the season unfolds for you, we are here seven days a week to help support your spring adventures with acupuncture and massage. Haven’t tried acupuncture yet? Click here to learn more about our $24 introductory special.