As an expert in traditional Chinese medicine, I've devoted a large part of my life to studying how to live in accordance with the seasons and experimenting. Spring is a time to let go and to lessen the amounts of stimulating foods like caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods. The natural boost of energy already is buoyant and zingy, so we want the environment to signal our bodies naturally.
These recommendations are largely from my studies but can be referenced in almost any book on traditional Chinese medicine. (This is one of my favorites.) Spring is the ideal time for cleansing and rejuvenation for overall health and well-being. In Chinese medicine, each season has an element, color, nature, organ, and emotion associated with it. There are also certain common symptoms that arise in each season as well. These tools are used for proper navigation and preparation through the season and prior seasons:
- Element: Wood. Spring is associated with strategic planning, decision making, and if unbalanced, frustration arises quickly.
- Color: Green. Eat green and surround yourself with green!
- Nature: Yang. Yang is excited, elevated, vibrant, rising, male, and sometimes draining energy.
- Organs: Liver and gallbladder. These are detox organs, as spring is all about moving stagnant energy.
- Emotion: Anger. Because moving through staleness and finding lightness isn't just rainbows and unicorns.
Symptoms: You may experience headaches, irritability, migraines, muscle/tendon issues, blood pressure issues, menstrual issues, visual issues, and sinus issues. These often arise during springtime because of its nature and energy.
1. Eat and drink green.
This is a time for healthier eating. Sugary, fried, fatty, greasy foods put stress on the liver, so it's best to keep your meals light and fresh, with a focus on green, nourishing foods. Do your best not to overeat by making sure you eat slowly. Savor the flavors and allow your body to relax while you're nourishing yourself through eating because everything else is moving so fast in spring. Foods and drinks with sour tastes are thought to stimulate the liver. Put lemon slices in your drinking water and use vinegar and olive oil for your dressings. In the morning it's best to start your day with warming foods; my favorites are bananas with nut butter and honey, with a cup of cleansing tea.
In the afternoon, enjoy your heartiest meal! In the springtime the energy is very vibrant, so make sure your biggest meal is in the middle of the day in order for your body to digest everything before the evening time. This time of year, I suggest roasted veggies with blackened salmon to my clients. In the evening, take in less food to allow the nervous system to focus on healing instead of digesting. My recommendation is a soup filled with pureed veggies for a bowl of creamy deliciousness.
2. Put some spring into your step to flush out stagnant energy.
Spring corresponds to the "wood" element, which in turn is conceptually related to the liver and gallbladder organs. According to the philosophy of Chinese medicine, the liver is responsible for the smooth flowing of energy throughout the body. When the liver functions smoothly, physical and emotional activity throughout the body also runs smoothly. To assist your body this season, have a nice brisk walk, turn on some music and dance your butt off for 15 minutes, play your favorite Drake songs and make up a dance like he does, or even start a system of three reps of situps, wall-sits, high-jumps (or any combination of your three favorite exercises). Anything to add that little extra spring to your day.
3. Move and stretch for your liver's sake.
The liver also has a very important function of storing blood. There are periods of rest, which is during your night’s sleep, so make sure you're in bed by 11 p.m. at the latest. This is the time of day when the liver works its best, and you want to get out of its way! When you wake up the liver in the morning, it likes to replenish the tendons in your body, so if you're a little achy in the mornings, it may be because you have given proper rest to your liver. So wake up and move, flow, or stretch! Activity is important in maintaining flexibility and is very important in keeping things flowing and moving properly throughout your body and nervous system. Blood flow helps keep your mind at peace. Keep it moving however you like best: swimming, dancing, running, or even a weekly acupuncture session.
4. Let go of resentment from the past to make space for the new.
Certain emotions like grudges, hard feelings, and bad memories are almost indigestible by the liver, so practice forgiving, for yourself. Allow space for the new to enter your life; clean out and give away things that don't serve you any longer; take a step or two toward unpredictability and surprise. Begin sprouting and watch yourself grow in a new direction. Understand that you are the one in control of your power and who you decide to give/lose your power to. I suggest harnessing that power for yourself to create a better, calmer, and more forgiving you, so you can accomplish everything you've dreamed of.
One way to stay healthy and joyful is with acupuncture treatments—acupuncture and oriental medicine helps improve the overall health of your liver as well as treat stress, frustration, irritability, anger, pain, and so much more, which are often associated with liver chi disharmony. Yoga, massage, acupressure, and tai chi move chi well, too.
Here's a quick guide to the other seasons.
Summer. Hydration is key. Begin the day with warm drinks and foods to help the natural revving up of the nervous system, rest midday, eating cooler foods filled with veggies and fruits, enjoy fish, and try to limit your meat/chicken intake.
Autumn. Start eating fewer cooling foods like salads, iced beverages, and pressed juices; move to foods with longer cooking times and heartier ingredients, moisturizing foods to offset the dry windy season.
Winter. Eat more roasted nuts and meats; stay in and sleep more; consume dark leafy greens and nourishing stews and soups.