The Story of Spring
How do you know it’s spring? Have the Crocuses started to pop up? Maybe it’s the beautiful brightness of the morning sun and the spring green everywhere you look? Or the ever so slightly longer days that allow you to go home with the sun still shining after a long day at work?
Or is it more that you keep wondering why you're so irritable and a little headachey all of a sudden? Maybe why your ribcage feels tight and your (or your partner's) PMS seems turned up? Or the allergies...ohhhh the itchy eyes!
Yep. We all love Spring when we feel good. Not so much when we don’t. So what does Chinese Medicine have to say about how we can stay IN BALANCE right now?
My favorite classical Chinese Medicine text, the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Art of Life Through the Seasons) teaches us us just that! To parapharse, it says:
The months of the Spring season bring about the revitalization of all things in nature. It is the time of birth. This is when Heaven and Earth are reborn and the myriad of beings flourish.
During this season it is advisable to retire early and arise early. Also, go walking in order to absorb the fresh, invigorating energy.
Since this is the season in which the universal energy begins anew and rejuvenates, one should attempt to correspond to it directly by being open and unsuppressed, both physically and emotionally.
On the physical level it is good to exercise more frequently and wear loose-fitting clothing. This is the time to do stretching exercises to loosen up the tendons and muscles.
Emotionally, it is good to develop equanimity. This is because Spring is the season of the Liver, and indulgence in anger, frustration, depression, sadness, or any excess emotion can injure the Liver by stagnating Qi. Furthermore, violating the natural order of Spring will cause imbalance and disease during summer.
All About Liver Qi Stagnation
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we consider the Solstices and Equinoxes to be the peak of each season, not the beginning. For those of us who adhere to this philosophy in life and in medicine, Spring begins with the Lunar New Year in February.
This awakening, unfolding process of Spring can be so amazing to feel and witness! It can also be really really uncomfortable if that growing Yang can’t flow freely and gets stuck in the Liver. So this time of year, we do our work to create gentle, flowing movement in the body.
The most active organs of Spring are the Liver and Gallbladder. Your Liver is your body's ﬁlter: It spends all day ﬁltering out toxins, cell debris, and all manner of interesting waste products we encounter during these messy human lives of ours. From time to time, this ﬁlter gets clogged and needs to be cleaned out. This is why we traditionally “detox” in the Springtime.
Chinese Medicine teaches us that the Liver controls the eyes and vision, as well as the tendons, and as such we commonly see symptoms of connective tissue tension or feeling tight and needing to stretch, and vision or eye changes. The emotion of Anger is controlled by the Liver, and so will often manifest if the Liver Qi is "stuck". This frequently shows up as feelings of irritability, frustration, or outright anger.
Is your Liver Qi stagnant? Here are some symptoms to look out for:
❧ Ribcage area pain or fullness
❧ Anger and irritability
❧ Eye discomfort
❧ Bitter taste in the mouth
❧ Dry mouth and throat
❧ Red tongue
❧ Irregular menstruation
❧ Irregular bowels
❧ Extra PMS
❧ Breast/chest discomfort or pain
❧ Creaky tight, irritated tendons, ligaments and connective tissue
Introducing: Free the Qi!
In February and March, we are coming out of the Winter, which we know is a time of stillness and hibernation. The active, invigorating force of Yang has been low all Winter, and now, as nature starts warming up to do its dance of Spring, Yang energy is growing, and that means our Liver system needs a little extra support to keep Qi flowing freely.
Enter: Free the Qi! Here's what you need to know about this formula...
❧ Raw apple cider vinegar base.
❧ 1-4 Tablespoons per day is a good average dose.
❧ Provides healthy bacteria (probiotics) your gut needs to function properly.
❧Stimulates and nourishes your Liver and Gallbladder.
❧ Helps to detox your system.
❧ Opens elimination pathways and gently stimulates bowels.
❧ Helps digest and break food down to absorb nutrients.
❧ Clears up Liver Qi Stagnation and associated discomforts. (More on that subject below!)
The herbal formula we are using here is everyone’s favorite: Xiao Yao San. Formulas and Strategies by Dan Bensky describes Xiao Yao San (Free and Easy Wanderer) as the quintessential herbal formula to move stagnant Liver Qi, strengthen the Spleen so that digestion is not harmed by an overburdened liver, and nourish blood.
In Chinese Medicine, we use the Sour flavor to move Qi through the Liver and Gallbladder and spread the Qi for a balanced Wood element. We use the Sweet flavor to nourish the Spleen and Stomach and strengthen the Earth element, which can be easily harmed by overly-aggressive or imbalanced Wood Element associated with Liver Qi stagnation. This wisdom is what led me to experiment with the infused vinegar delivery format for this formula!
Our Spring vinegar is infused with the traditional herbal Free and Easy Wanderer formula to move and smooth Liver Qi plus two additional herbs designed to brighten and clear the eyes and release the physical and emotional inﬂammation of this seasonal pattern, Goji berry and a special variety of Turmeric.
The sweet and tart of Goji Berry, Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, and Raw Honey really come together to mask the more herbal flavors of the Xiao Yao Wan beneath, but don’t let that fool you! Free The Qi is just as potent as any of our over the counter Chinese herbal formulas. We just landed on a bit of herbal alchemy with this one that leaves you wanting more. From year to year our seasonal formulas evolve a bit just like we do, so while this is the same formula (Xiao Yao Wan plus) as last year’s Spring formula, for 2023 we used a different extraction and processing technique that really left our taste buds impressed.
Free the Qi tastes as smooth as it leaves you feeling, and if you’ve ever felt a little rough around the edges in that Liver Qi Stagnation kind of way, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Smooth that Liver out and Free The Qi!
Extra Support for Spring Time
In addition to incorporating Free the Qi into your daily routine, here are some behavioral and nutritional supports which will help you get things moving:
❧ Heavy intentional sighing
❧ Gentle movement: Yoga, stretching, qi gong, walking, swaying and shaking (get weird with it, just move and flow however you can!)
❧ Sour flavor foods (like vinegar, citrus, green apples)
❧ Wear loose clothes that don’t feel constricting! (lose the underwire!)
❧ Gentle massage over the abdomen and liver area