Five Element Theory is one of the principle theoretical foundations for Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi Gong, and certain types of Shiatsu therapy. It is a multifaceted understanding of balance and health that is derived from the observation of the cycles of nature and interrelationships in the environment. It identifies five natural elements – earth, metal, water, wood, and fire. Each of these elements correlates with different organs in the body, a certain time of the year, colors, tastes, climactic factors, emotions, etc. As these elements are constantly in motion and change with the seasons, so too can we adjust our behaviors so that we can be in the best alignment with the environment around us to experience more flow and balance within. Working with the current is always easier than trying to swim upstream.
Spring, according to Five Element Theory, is the time when we transition from the winter element of water to the wood element. Wood rules over the liver and gallbladder and is associated with the color green. If the liver is out of balance, it begins to affect other organ systems. Sometimes an imbalanced liver creates disharmony with the digestive organs which results in abdominal distention and pain, acid reflux, or diarrhea. An unhealthy liver could also create disharmony with the respiratory tract resulting in itchy eyes, chest congestion, runny nose, sneezing and other symptoms associated with seasonal allergies. Spring, then, is an excellent time to support and cleanse the liver. Eating more leafy green vegetables, especially when the plants are young, is a simple way to cleanse and refresh the body. Nettles and dandelion leaf have long been known by many traditional medicines to be excellent spring tonics, and can be added into your diet through fresh leaves or teas.
The negative emotion associate with the liver are anger and frustration. While no emotion should be repressed, you may find that in the springtime you, or people around you, are more irritable than usual, and quick to anger. Getting more physical activity – walking, biking, yoga, qi gong – will help get liver qi moving and relieve the emotional symptoms of stagnation. If you look at the nature around you – the blowing wind and the springing forth of plant growth - it intuitively makes sense. Your body needs the same kind of movement to “go with the flow.” The classic Chinese herbal formula that is prescribed for liver qi stagnation is called Free and Easy Wanderer, so incorporating activities that support this kind of energy in the body can be helpful. In addition to physical activity breath work, dancing, and long walks in nature are all beneficial activities. Allow yourself to be a free and easy wanderer. Acupuncture, Shiatsu, Chinese herbal therapies, and Qi Gong are all useful therapies that can help support you to come into alignment with the seasonal change and to support liver and gallbladder function.
Incorporate small changes in your daily routine and take extra care of yourself during these seasonal shifts to ensure that you stay in alignment with the natural flow, and stay healthy and vibrant to enjoy the beauty of spring.
Autumn Compton is a certified shiatsu massage therapist and Qi Gong instructor.