Springtime in the Northern Hemisphere equates to new beginnings: trees begin to bud and flowers start blooming.
You may feel a need to ritually leave the winter sluggishness behind by cleaning out your home.
This time of year is also perfect for doing a cleanse to rid your body of toxins that may have accumulated during wintertime.
Have you ever wondered, though, what is the origin of this seasonal desire to start anew?
In the Indian traditions of yoga and Ayurveda, as well as in Chinese Medicine, it is believed that there is a vital force in all life, a primordial being that is the foundation of all vitality. In the Indian traditions it is called Prana; in Chinese Medicine it is called Chi. This life force flows through the body in particular pathways called meridians (Chinese Medicine) or Nadis (Indian Yoga).
Meridians cannot be seen with the physical eye, nor with special equipment, yet we can experience their presence via the effect their quality has on our overall health. Meridians are like rivers or tributaries. They deliver nutrients to the organs in the form of Chi. The strength and flow of the meridian system is essential for the balance of our system, both physical and mental.
As I’ve written in the past, Chinese Medicine is based on the Five-Phase Theory (sometimes called: Five-Element Theory). This theory suggests that there are five elements in nature that cycle in phases through the seasons and our organs: Earth, Water, Wood, Metal and Fire. Being aware of this cycle and recognizing the relationship between the elements is essential for maintaining (or creating) optimal balance in our system.
In general, the elements are considered to have the following qualities:
Earth: Mother, nourishment
Water: Stillness, will power
Wood: Purpose, growth
Metal: Structure, boundaries
Fire: Passion, connection
Each element has unique qualities, and is associated with a specific organ pair, season and emotion. Since the Wood element is the element of purpose and growth, it may not be surprising that it is related to the season of spring.
Wood is regarded as the “General”; it gives us vision and purpose in life. This element is expansive like a tree, and characterized by decisiveness and confidence. Someone with a strong wood element is assertive, and uses her power to create whilst recognizing what she knows and doesn’t know.
Wood dominates the Liver and the Gallbladder, which are considered a pair in Chinese Medicine as they share the same energetic properties. In order to nourish Wood, the Chi flow through these organs needs to be fluid and smooth. The opposite is true too: if the Liver or Gallbladder is unhealthy (for example because of excessive alcohol consumption) this will affect the quality of Wood.
We can stimulate the flow of Chi through our organs by practicing yoga. Specifically the practice of Yin Yoga, in which floor postures are held for several minutes at a time, is an effective way to direct the Chi to distinct organs. Since the Liver meridian runs (roughly) through the inner leg line, and the Gallbladder meridian (roughly) along the lateral side of the body, any postures that stretch or compress those areas (and thus stimulate the Chi flow) will affect the Liver and Gallbladder. Twisting poses that squeeze the abdominal area will influence those organs too.
Simply put: the smoother the Chi flow to and in the Liver and Gallbladder, the more vibrant Wood will be.
Nourished Wood is also important for healthy digestion. After the winter period during which we tend to eat heavier and richer food, and move less, our digestion can become disturbed. We may feel sluggish and lack vibrancy.
To boost our digestion and help the body eliminate an overload of toxins and stored fats, a cleanse can be useful. Such cleanse doesn’t have to be a challenging juice fast. A simple 3 or 4-day Ayurvedic Kitcheri cleanse is doable for all. Adding some high-quality supplements to your diet can also assist your body coming back to optimal health. When our digestion is healthy, we will feel like a “free and easy wanderer." Frustration and irritation will ensue when it is not, whilst these emotions are also a sign of stagnated Liver Chi. It works both ways.
In order to maintain optimal health we need to support an unobstructed flow of Chi through the meridians, and keep a generative balance between the elements.
Start this spring season well by nourishing the Wood element in you.
Here you'll find some resources to do so:
Guest post by studio BE Senior Facilitator Marije Paternotte
Marije Paternotte, E-RYT 500, offers a unique approach to yoga; balancing movement and breathing practices of traditional Hatha and Tibetan Yoga with the stillness of the Taoist Yin Yoga, awareness of Chi flow, and an emphasize on mindfulness and the Buddha Dharma. Her teaching style is understated and compassionate. She has the ability to present complex concepts, and an in-depth knowledge of yogic anatomy and philosophy, in a simple and approachable way, for which she is loved by beginning and advanced practitioners alike.
Marije was born and raised in Amsterdam where, after her training to be a professional ballet dancer, she studied law and worked as a corporate lawyer. A yoga retreat in Bali led her to the United States where she took her first yoga teacher training. She currently lives in a small beach town in New Jersey with her husband, and teaches yoga workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings around the world, as well as locally. Marije is also a guest teacher at the renowned Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts and the Mandali Retreat Center in Italy.
Marije received both her foundational and professional level yoga teacher certification at the Kripalu Center, and is certified to teach Yin Yoga and Mindfulness by Sarah Powers’ Insight Yoga Institute.
Feature image by nerudol/Adobe Stock