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"Spring Cleaning: TCM Tips for Supporting The Liver and Its Wood Element in Spring"

In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, there are five elements: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. Each of these is associated with certain organs, seasons, emotions, tastes, smells, sounds, and can help us to understand and relate to the world around us and to see the inter-connection in our world. 


Spring Forward

Spring is the season of the Wood element. The stage of development associated with the wood element is birth, the climate is wind, the color is green, the emotion is anger, and the corresponding organs are the Liver and Gallbladder.  

Spring is a time for new beginnings, as the days get longer, and the sun starts getting warmer. But it’s also the season of strong winds. It’s a time of expansion rather than contraction and starting to move and grow outward in the world after the hibernation of winter.   

One of the main roles of the Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine is the smooth flow of Qi throughout our bodies. Now you’d think that this would mean that during spring our Liver is working at its peak, but it truly means that the Liver is most affected during this time of year – especially by wind, which stirs up our Liver energy, often flaring up issues that are Liver related.  

Hay Fever

One of the most obvious of these Liver related issues that flares up in spring is Hay Fever. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, although there are many different patterns and underlying issues that correlate to the symptoms of Hay Fever in Western Medicine, one of the most common is what’s called the Liver attacking the Lungs. When the Liver energy is shaken up in spring from things like strong winds (which our Liver LOATHES) it can affect the downward descending quality of the Lungs, causing this energy to reverse and lead to irritations like itchy noses, sniffles, and sneezes.


Emotions and the Liver

The Liver is also associated with anger when it’s out of balance, and expansion when in balance. When we’re not aligned with what we’re doing, and not allowed to feel growth and expansion, we feel stuck. And this makes the Liver energy feel stuck. And when the Liver feels stuck, it stops our Liver Qi flowing smoothly throughout our body leading to feelings of stress, frustration, and anger, as well as physical symptoms like tight neck and shoulders, PMS, menstrual problems, and even digestive problems.



Holding onto anger also stagnates the Liver Qi. As with all emotions, anger is completely natural and there are times in our life when it’s completely normal to feel angry. When this goes out of balance, is when we hold onto anger unnecessarily. This can include holding on to grudges, or even having a bit of an explosive temper. There’s an old saying that goes along the lines of ‘anger is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die’.

Although it’s a bit dramatic, it makes a valid point! When we sit in anger, we harm only ourselves, and it keeps us feeling stuck, unable to move on, grow, and expand to better things in life. Being the season of the Liver, Spring can be a time when you find yourself feeling more explosive or angry if your Liver is out of balance so it’s the perfect time to reflect on what triggers anger in you, whether it feels like a valid response, and where it may be time to let go of some situations or people that make you angry.

Supporting the Liver in Spring

What can we do to keep our Liver balanced in spring, and keep our Liver Qi flowing? It can feel especially tough this year when the sun is shining and we’re stuck indoors, unable to inhabit the growth and expansion our Liver so desperately desires.


The color associated with the Liver is green, so when it comes to food, it’s all about increasing the greens! Many green foods such as broccoli, beans, peas, kale, lettuce, etc. are fast growing foods that have an ascending expansive energy, which helps our Liver in it’s job of keeping Qi flowing smoothly. While we’re on the topic of green, this can be seen in Liver imbalance as well… When our faces look a little green (say after a big night of drinking), this tells us that the Liver is not happy with us!

When it comes to movement, exercising is also great for Liver energy and encouraging the smooth flow of Qi, as moving our body moves and circulates the Qi in our entire body. It doesn’t have to be anything too intense, even a short walk or a stretchy yoga class in the living room can really help get that Qi flowing and the Liver feeling a bit happier.

And when it comes to spring weather, when the winds are gusty and strong, keep yourself protected. Wind stirs up our Liver energy, so protecting ourselves from the elements can be especially important in spring when we see the sun shining and are tempted to not take a jumper with us out of the house.

If there’s one thing to remember though, it’s to try to embody the ascending and expansive quality of spring. It’s a time for birth and new beginnings after all, so it’s a perfect time to start thinking about what you’d like to embody more of, and where you want to grow and expand on a physical, mental, and soul level.



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