TCM and Spring

TCM-and-Spring“Spring is sooner recognized by plants than men.” – Chinese Proverb

I love spring – it’s my favorite season. Living in South Florida limits ones’ season of spring to often a few weeks – sometimes, spring lasts a few hours of even fewer days. While I readily admit these past two years have made me see and revise many things looking through the lenses of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I never thought there would be so much that TCM could teach me about spring.

Spring arrived on March 20, and Maureen Liao explains that on this day day and night are exactly equal, and the universal yin and yang energies are perfectly balanced both on Earth and inside our bodies. From this point forward, the yang energy associated with the light begins to build in the body as the days lengthen, suppressing the dark yin.”

According to traditional Chinese solar terms, at the spring equinox, we are already halfway through spring. In other words, it is the peak of spring. Before this time, spring’s energies are intangible yet gradually moving beneath the surface. She continues with, Yet the Western calendar says spring begins at the equinox. This contrast is a perfect example of the difference between Eastern and Western approaches. Chinese culture values intangible phenomena and philosophical concepts and treats them as being just as important as the tangible. Western culture tends to value the material world or what can be seen directly.”

Ms. Laio’s blog led me to Sun Simiao (581-682), a renowned Tang Dynasty medical doctor who classified disease into three stages: prior to the arrival of disease, disease just setting in and having the disease.   Wikimedia quotes Sun Simiao as saying. “Ancient people were good at being medical doctors. {At that time,} the best doctors worked on preventing disease, mediocre doctors worked on disease just settling in, and the lowest level doctor worked on diseases that already existed.”

I have to admit – that sounds a bit harsh – even to a hard core TCM groupie that I readily admit to being. I like to view TCM as complementary in nature – a means to make me more comfortable with some very real illnesses.

But what this theory does explain is the importance of preventative medicine. It’s a “call to arms” for the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally.

Last week, my acupuncturist was away for a richly deserved vacation and I was fortunate enough to see another doctor, and when she asked what I was writing about this week I told her I was playing with the concept of “spring”.  She suggested that I write about the foods we should eat in spring – how what we eat today can make the next season healthier. She went on to say that yang energy is pouring in at this time, so we must be careful that this energy is not too hot, as it can overpower the yin, thereby causing stress and damage to our bodies. She suggested that I emphasize fresh seasonal vegetables – thinks like  black mushrooms, black sesame seeds and black beans – to prepare my body to allow the yang energy to flow through and strengthen my overall health. And as she left me, with needles strategically placed to open up my energy channels and meridians, she made one last suggestion: to walk barefoot on the grass or at the beach, to go outside and breathe in the trees and plants for these two would both wake and balance my body. I was fascinated by what she told me; more research was definitely in order.

I remember thinking I must be the luckiest person in the world to have all of this TCM knowledge in one wellness center.

So, as with every afternoon after acupuncture, I had a date with GOOGLE, who led me to Deborah Bryrd and her beautiful Earth/Sky Blog:

“In Chinese thought, spring is associated with the direction east, the sunrise direction as Earth spins us toward the beginning of each new day.

In Chinese thought, spring is associated with the color green, the sound of shouting, the wood element, the climate of wind, things sprouting, your eyes, your liver, your anger, patience and altruism, and a green dragon.

Not surprisingly, spring is also associated with the direction east, the sunrise direction as Earth spins us    toward the beginning of each new day.

What’s this about? It’s a system called Wu Xing by the Chinese, which translates to the Five Phases or Five Elements. Phases describes it better, because it’s a description of nature, which as we all know never stops moving. You can think of the Chinese system of Wu Xing as correlating to the seasons. We all experience the fact that things sprout and begin to grow (spring). They fire up or ignite or bloom (summer) and reach completeness (late summer). They begin to dry and wither (autumn). They rest (winter).

The Chinese use Wu Xing to describe interactions and relationships between many ordinary things all around us and within us. They used this system to think about such diverse activities as music, military strategy and the martial arts, for example. They used it to help understand how to heal the human body.”

The element wood is associated with spring. It is a time of birth and new beginnings. “The wood element refers to living, growing entities, trees, plants and the human body,” writes Elison M. Hass, MD. in “Staying Healthy With The Seasons” (Celestial Arts, 2003).   “Spring is a time of tremendous energy, and excitement in the world and in our bodies.   It’s a time of change and growth.  Our bodies want to move more, we have more energy within us and we want to get up and go!  In disharmony, we resist the changes and encounter difficulties.  During the spring this can result in agitation, angst, restlessness, feelings of being stuck in a situation and the inability to see any solutions.”

According to traditional Chinese medicine, spring is the time for us to reach outward, develop deeper roots and remain flexible in the wind. In the body, that means paying attention to your spine, limbs and joints, as well as muscles, ligaments and tendons. It also means paying attention to your liver, which works to detoxify the blood and make bile to help metabolize carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

In his book, “Dietary Advice for Each Season” Dang Y, MD PHD, writes “To support liver functioning, think spring-cleaning. Drink plenty of fluids, and add lemon to your water, because ingesting some, but not too much, sour or vinegary foods will nourish the liver. Try eating light, raw foods like greens, sprouts, fruits, nuts and seeds. Avoid heavy or fried foods, anything with chemical additives, and alcohol. Since exercise and sweating aid liver detoxification, spring is a great time to develop a regular exercise program.”

I’ve always tried to be a “seasonal eater”, even if that “season” revolved around the sale of Girl Scout cookies or holiday feasts. I hope that I’ve left behind the merry-go-round of binge eating and drinking; trust me, it’s a never ending effort. I do shop at open air markets if only to see what is fresh and in season. A grocery store, with its packaged and frozen foods can be a bit misleading. I do know that it is comforting to learn that the body can heal itself just as it is empowering to realize that food can be medicine, and most mistakes can be rectified.

This weekend, I am going to the park – perhaps I’ll fly a kite or just walk the path amidst the trees. I’ll stop – and smell the flowers.

I wish for each of you to do the same.

It is, after all, spring!




Dr. Dongfend Zhou