As we welcome spring into our worlds and bodies, we also welcome the energies of the Wood Element, and its associated emotion of anger. Anger manifests in many forms. It’s a natural and powerful energy that rises up from our values and our sense of self. We can choose to express our healthy anger clearly, calmly, and with integrity. We allow anger’s upward moving energy to move through and out of our bodies, initiating the powerful changes needed in our lives and worlds. Exercise, fresh foods, nervines, aromatics, and bitters can help support this natural movement.
Each of the Five Elements of Chinese Medicine has an array of specific associations that align into an integrated whole. The emotions associated with each Element are:
- Fear: Water
- Anger: Wood
- Joy: Fire
- Contemplation: Earth
- Grief: Metal
Liver and Gallbladder meridians govern spring’s Wood element. Liver also governs the sinews. A healthy Wood energy allows for strong yet supple sinews, a flexible tenacity that allows the bamboo-like resilience of our bodies and spirits to bounce back after being pummeled by the slings and arrows of daily life.
Unexpressed mental tension can knot into bodily tension. Perhaps you’ve heard of “Liver qi stagnation”? It’s a common phenomenon in our modern, typically fast paced, overworked, and under-rested lives. Liver courses qi, or energy, through the whole body. If we’re not moving, or we get stuck in a rut, then Liver qi can stagnate, leading to other problems downstream, such as digestive disturbances, menstrual irregularities, or a nagging sense of irritability.
Move your body! Release the stagnant qi, or stagnant energy, that has built up from sheltering in place through our pandemic winter. In spring, the projects that we’ve been dreaming and planning through the colder months also bud up toward the sky. It’s important to move our bodies and minds, both to release latent tensions, as well as to bring our budding visions and potential into reality.
Find a regular movement practice that feels nourishing and enjoyable. Simple walks can stimulate circulation and breathe inspiration into our minds and bodies. Breath- integrated movement practices such as yoga, qigong, and dance can intentionally yoke mind and body, bringing greater peace and presence into our lives.
Prickly nervines can also help support healthy expression. Consider:
- Nettle leaves (Urtica dioica) help to remove stagnant buildup through their light diuretic nature while also nourishing spring health with their substantial mineral content.
- Rose petals and buds (Rosa spp.) uplift your emotions while guarding the spiritual heart with discernment.
- Hawthorn leaves and flowers (Crataegus spp.) support cardiovascular health* while supporting relaxed communication.
Consult with your Chinese medicine practitioner for a proper diagnosis and formula for you. Here’s a formula that I commonly use in my clinic:
Xiao Yao San 逍遙散, a Chinese Medicine formula, commonly translated as “Free and Easy Wanderer” or “Rambling Powder,” spreads the Liver qi, strengthens the Spleen qi, and brings vitality back to the Blood. Take as a decoction or powder for 1-2 weeks, or as recommended by your provider. Xiao Yao San is composed of:
- Bupleurum root (Chai hu 柴胡. Bupleurum chinense, Apiaceae), 3- 12 g
- Dong quai root (Dang gui 當歸. Angelica sinensis, Apiaceae), 3- 15 g
- White peony root (Bai shao 白芍. Paeonia lactiflora, Paeoniaceae), 3- 25 g
- Atractylodes root (Bai zhu 白朮. Atractylodes macrocephala, Asteraceae), 3-15 g
- Fuling fungus (茯苓. Poria cocos, Polyporaceae), 3-20 g
- "Prepared" licorice root (Zhi gan cao 炙甘草. Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Fabaceae), 1.5-6 g
- Mint leaves (Bo he 薄荷. Mentha spp. Lamiaceae), 1-3 g
- Fresh ginger rhizome (Sheng jiang 生薑. Zingiber officinalis, Zingiberaceae), 1-6 g
Bitter and aromatic bupleurum, the king herb of this formula, is cooling, drying, uplifting, and guides the entire formula to the Liver. Deputy herbs dong quai and white peony work with the Blood and strengthen the Liver meridian. Assistant herbs atractylodes, fuling, and prepared licorice help to support the Spleen. The spleen is often adversely affected by Liver qi stagnation, manifesting as digestive disturbances, also known as “Liver Overacting on Spleen” or “Wood Overcontrolling Earth.” Envoy herbs mint and ginger help to keep the formula moving—ginger harmonizes the Stomach, while mint enhances bupleurum’s Liver- constraint- relieving powers: dispersing and moving heat up and out.
Besides herbs and formulas, eat well! Sour is the flavor associated with the Wood element. Eat fresh spring greens, such as baby dandelion, plantain, dock, chickweed, chives, mallow, and garlic mustard. Eat whole foods and reduce processed foods. Eat foods to relieve stagnation, such as brassicas like broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower. Include bitter herbs such as citrus peel, dandelion root, and milk thistle seeds. Consider taking a spoon of apple cider vinegar before meals, perhaps with a small scoop of honey.
Spend time outdoors connecting with nature, especially this spring! Plant some seeds or cuttings indoors or outdoors, depending on your available space. Succulents are pretty easy to grow, as are mint family plants like mint, basil, and lemon balm. Have fun! Enjoy creative pursuits and amplify what brings you purposeful contentment.
Move your body and mind, allow the bursting-forth spring energy of Wood to freely express itself through you, and have a wonderful spring!
Joel Penner, “Xiao Yao San,” American Dragon, accessed Feb. 25, 2021, https://www.americandragon.com/Herb%20Formulas%20copy/XiaoYaoSan.html
Bensky, Dan. Chinese Herbal Medicine : Formulas & Strategies. Seattle, Wash. : Eastland Press, 1990.
(For more information and inspiration from the author, visit JilingLin.com.)
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*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only