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Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Spring and Liver Health

Katie Gordon

Now that Spring is officially here (at least I hope there's no more snow), there are changes everywhere we look.  Flowers blooming, grass growing, birds singing, people walking around without huge coats and boots, even the Duck Tours have started again here in Boston.  And of course opening day at Fenway this past week.  Spring really hasn't arrived until baseball season starts again, so I don't feel bad that I didn't write this weeks ago :)

Spring is a season of renewal and regeneration.  A time to get things moving again and the energy of Spring is highly active.  We start new projects (i.e. spring cleaning), prepare our taxes, study for finals...there's a lot of change going on.  For some this transition is relatively easy, but for others, this high energy can result in stress, frustration, nervousness, and even anger.  Sound at all familiar?

In Chinese Medicine, each season is associated with a major organ.  Spring corresponds to the liver and its complementary organ, the gallbladder.  The liver is responsible for the overall healthy flow of energy, or qi, or chi.  It regulates the movement of chi everywhere else in our body.  Since it plays such a major role in our health, and Spring is a time of renewal, it is a great time to cleanse the liver and gallbladder.

Physically speaking, the liver controls the muslces and tendons, storing blood during periods of rest, and releasing it during activity.

Energetically, the liver is responsible for creating an easygoing disposition and internal environment, therefore it is also in charge of balancing the emotions.  When there is an imbalance, we might experience mood swings, impulsive behavior and emotions, and chronic anger.  The liver corresponds to the element of Wood, needing to be both flexible and stable.

As for the mental qualities of the liver, it controls the coordination of the mind, allowing us to make connections, creating a plan and putting it into action.  At the same time, liver health is reflected in an ability to be flexible, change, and adapt, which is what Spring is all about!  As we all know, when we experience frustration, there isn't much clarity.  It's hard to think through situations, make plans, or shift in order to adapt to new conditions.

The gallbladder is connected to our ability to follow our path in life, to avoid being put off by external influences.  When our chi is depleted, we experience hesitation and timidity.

For some of us, our Liver qi starts to flow more easily when Spring hits, and much of the problems we experienced during Winter, such as sluggishness, begin to ease.   However, for others, the transition from Winter to Spring can be rough because of problems associated with qi stagnation.  Some signs of Liver qi stagnation are:

- Stress or irritability - Low energy - Depression - Muscle tightness or pain - Digestive disorders - Headaches

Spring is a wonderful time to work with these issues if you notice them coming up in your body, because these patterns  will be most noticeable and responsive during this season.  It's important to take this time for your own spiritual, emotional, and physical renewal, to examine unhealthy patterns, and to create new ones that will serve you better.

Here are some ways to get your liver chi moving:

Stretch - Since the liver rules your muscles and tendons, beginning your day with some gentle yoga or tai qi will get that energy moving as well as maintaining the health of your tendons.

Green - Eat lots of it!  Green is the color representative of Spring and the liver.  Eating fresh leafy greens will help with moving the liver chi.

Get outside - Speaking of green, there's finally some of it outside!  The best part about Spring is that it's finally warm enough to enjoy being outside instead of staying holed up in the house.  As it warms up, try doing more outdoor activities like taking a hiking or just a morning stroll.  Ride your bike around town.  Take your yoga practice outside, doing some sun salutations with the sun.

Taste sour - Foods with sour tastes are believed to stimulate liver chi.  Try starting your day with hot water and a squeeze of lemon, or follow your mid-day meal with a lassi (recipe to follow), or add a pickle to your sandwich.

Drink Milk Thistle tea -  It protects the liver from toxins and aids the liver in cleansing itself of toxins already present.

Get creative - Spring is all about creation and growth.  Expressing yourself in cooking, writing, dancing, singing, drawing, or any other form of self-expression will nourish and channel that Wood energy (remember flexible and stable) in a healthy way.

Anyway, sorry for the late post (Spring technically started March 21), but better late than never right?  I hope some of these suggestions will help ease you into the season and prepare the way for Summer (ok, I may be getting a little ahead of myself, but can you blame me?).

Katie's Lassi Recipe:

1 Part plain yogurt (start with 1/3 c.) 2 Parts water 1 tsp. rosewater (optional) Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger to taste (optional) Sweetener such as honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.

Mix ingredients together and enjoy as a snack or 30 min. after a meal to aid with digestion.