For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun’s yang properties of brightness, activity, and heat will be dominating our lives for the next six months. During the season of spring, nature bursts forth with energy and so are we in our own small universes. The seeds we found within ourselves during winter are ready to burst forth and blossom into plentiful fruits for fall.
According to Taoist philosophy, humans are integral components of the universe. Further to this, we each are made up of our own small universe. Harmony exists when the universe (both inside and out) is in balance. For those of us living away from the equator, as the Earth orbits around the sun, we experience seasons. Our bodies are a reflection of nature. When seasons change outside, we also experience changes within. How could we not? We hang out on this spinning orbiting planet!
Within the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine, winter—with its yin properties of darkness, stillness, and cold—is associated with the element of water. During winter, we water our internal seeds by going inward, being still, sleeping more, eating slow-cooked foods and root vegetables, and conserving energy. We nurture the predominant winter organs of the kidneys and bladder.
These yin activities will provide us with the right amount of water to support the wood element of spring and its associated organs, the liver and gallbladder. How can we tell if we have too much or not enough water for our wood? We may feel cold frequently, be fearful, unmotivated, unable to take action, or experience difficulties with digestion. We may also experience feelings of anger or become short-tempered and irritable.
So how do we heal these imbalances?
By having balance in our lives, and with the universe, we find the right amount of water to grow the wood into a beautiful, healthy forest.
For me, I find that balance is not attainable, but always sought after. Like the constant side-to-side corrections required as I walk along a log in the forest. When I notice I am leaning too far to one side, correction is needed.
How do we know when we’re out of balance?
Physical symptoms and emotional struggles are definite indicators that we are not in balance. Pain, repeated colds, indigestion, weight gain, insomnia, tears, angry outbursts—these signs serve as whispers, encouraging us to take notice, listen, and make a change.
If you’re anything like me, you may hear the whispers, but for whatever reason there are times when you tune them out. I may even wait until I get sick or have pain before I take notice. It’s like I get lazy, or am choosing this state of discomfort; however sometimes I am under a deadline and I have to push hard to get the work done, and that often means I need my body and my mind to bear with me.
But usually, when I take the time to meditate and get quiet with myself, I become mindful of how I am living and then my intuition guides me to make the required adjustments to bring me closer to centre. By quieting down my body and my mind, and going inward, I can observe myself and my life. In doing so, I make the shifts needed to regain balance.
Case in point, this past month it seemed I was fighting with myself. I had trouble digesting my food (I ignored it), I was irritable and short-tempered (ask my kids), my shoulder was aching, my throat was getting sore, and I could not seem to find the creativity for a course I wanted to develop. I felt stuck!
Each of these symptoms leads directly to the liver. But wait a second…I live a healthy life, I meditate, I do qigong and yoga, I walk outside every day, I drink water, heck I even brew my own kombucha for Pete’s sake.
Sometimes there are bigger universal forces exerting their influence in our small universe; forces so big they require us to take notice, to fine tune, to figure out this new place of balance. It’s like we think we are doing everything right and living a healthy, purposeful life because we are doing all the right things. But if our small universe ignores what’s happening in the big universe, we can topple into the abyss.
How can you tell you’re in the abyss? Things aren’t going your way, you may get sick, there is friction in your relationships, and it feels like you are swimming upstream.
Seasonal changes reflect large shifts in the energy of the Earth and the universe, especially during spring and fall. For our small universe to adapt, we need to pay more focused attention to body, mind, and spirit.
Once I slowed down and listened to my body, I knew I was out of balance. I started paying attention to my liver, adding more water so the wood could grow, and supporting the Earth so the water could get to the wood. How did I add more water? I added in yin-yang water (half boiled, half room temperature water) in the morning, drank more water throughout the day, cut back my coffee, and made a point to exercise more often to generate heat which transforms blockages.
I also did more qigong. The moving meditation practice of qigong balances and supports all the elements. Qigong helps to move the water to the wood; to move energy from the kidney meridian to the liver meridian. But most importantly, because most health issues start with our emotions, I focused on what made me happy and on gratitude for all that was good in my life—or in a particular day. I also shared my fears about work, life, and my health with my beloved. These things helped me a lot.
The positive emotions of gratitude and happiness can balance the difficult emotions of fear and anger. Happiness is also associated with the element of wood. I am feeling mostly stable again. I am flowing nicely downstream and am not so wobbly.
Last on the list are more green foods. I can’t seem to get enough kale, spinach, and nutritional yeast right now—all lightly sautéed or in a soup. I’m going with it. Other things that feel good: Dandelion tea, supplementing with silymarin (milk thistle which is good for the liver), planning meals, more kombucha and qigong exercises, and playing outside.
My intuition guided me to tune into these whispers before they became screams. Sometimes it takes a little longer.
Sometimes I choose to ignore what’s best for me, even when my body is trying to get my attention. Sometimes we all do.
If I ignored these symptoms, I likely would have developed a cold, nature’s cleanse. My irritability may have escalated, like throwing wood on a fire, fueling stronger emotions, and potentially shifting into feelings of deep anger. If this flow of negative emotions continued, health challenges would likely flow right along with them.
Physical indications of an imbalance in the wood element look like headaches, hormonal imbalances (PMS, hot flashes, or irregular periods,) more aches and pains, inflammation, and bloating or constipation. But by tuning inward and being quiet with my life and my thoughts, space is created for my intuition to be heard. I listened, it may have taken a bit, but I heard.
When the wood element is in balance, we can be strong when needed yet still be flexible and able to go with the flow. When out of balance, we can experience stress, irritability (guilty), or lose our temper (not yet!). For someone who feels everyone is against them, their wood element may be out of balance. Spring is the time of planning and planting. Being flexible and able to alter your plans with the changing world and environment may help keep your wood element in balance and ultimately a healthy liver and balanced emotions. For myself, I wasn’t being flexible in some areas of my life. Being okay with a change in plans, a new direction, or things not working perfectly is part of adapting and correcting; seeking the ever elusive balanced state.
How are the elements of water and wood showing up in your life? Do you find yourself adapting and balancing as the season changes, or are you feeling somewhat stuck and frustrated with others or situations in your life? I’d love to hear that I’m not alone in the comments!
Author: Sue Crites
Image: Elvert Barnes/Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell