Can you believe that spring is only a couple of days away?
At least, spring as the modern Western world understands it. For those of us who work with the seasons for preventative health, we’ve been working in spring for about six weeks now.
But on Thursday, the yang of the day will be equal to the yin of night and every day after that will bring us closer to the summer solstice.
Are you ready? Do you have the reserves of energy necessary for the hard work of summer? Is the machinery of your life in proper working order to manage the generative and expansive energy of the coming months?
Not sure? Read on.
The spring equinox node usually begins a day or two after the actual equinox on March 21st and lasts until April 4th.
The spring equinox is one of two times of the year when the span of darkness and light are equal. They are the astrological boundary yang needs to cross to be strong enough to stand on its own to feet.
We’re not tentative crocus bulbs poking our heads above the snow in search of sunshine. No, now we’re standing tall blossoms turned upwards and open. We’re delicate blossoms on fruit trees and grass turning green now that the snow has melted.
Now is the time of expansiveness. Now is the time of moving upwards and outwards. Now is the time to freely flow.
Flow and counter flow
Throughout the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the free flow of energy upward to match the generative flow of spring. Spring is the upward movement of increased daylight and the growth of the plants and trees.
But all things that pertain to the wood element including spring are less about the free flow of movement upwards, and more about the free flow of movement in all directions. It’s just that for spring, in particular, the movement is generally in an upward direction.
The world doesn’t just flow in a circle of upward to outward to downward to inward to upward. This cycle is useful when talking about the big picture of seasonal change, but these four motions are present in the world around us and within us at all times. And in order for the world to function all of these movements must freely flow.
It’s like the world is a machine made of gears, pulleys, levers, and switches that must move in a finely tuned harmony. But in order for one gear to move upward, one must move down. When one lever shifts to the right, another shifts to the left.
When everything is working as intended the machinery of the world is in flow. If one piece isn’t operating as intended, the machinery is in what we call “counterflow”. And when function becomes so disrupted the machine slows or stops, we call that “stagnation.”
Your body and mind have this metaphorical machinery too. When everything functions appropriately, you’re healthy. When you have counterflow you get heartburn, hiccups, or slight emotional upsets. And when you have stagnation you get pain and altered emotional states.
This relationship of spring to the free flow of all things is why there is such a strong focus on emotions during this time of year, and why the spring equinox is an opportune time to examine the seven emotions.
The seven emotional states
It is simplistic to reduce the infinite complexity of the human experience to seven emotional states. But it is arguably just as simplistic to reduce the infinitely possible combinations of physical symptoms into five main categories of function and it is this very categorization that allows Chinese medicine to apply in the modern world.
The seven emotional states aren’t limited to the English meaning of the words “joy”, “worry”, “anxiety”, “grief”, “fear”, and “fright”. Like with all other functions in Chinese medicine, they can extend to anything that has the same shape as that emotion.
So, with that in mind, let’s start with the shape of fire: joy.
We think of joy as something to aspire to, but in this case, joy doesn’t mean a sense of accomplishment or quiet contentment.
In this case, joy is overexcitement and mania. Joy is a toddler after a juice box or that unsettling bubbly optimism that is often pushed by the toxic positivity crowd.
Overjoy slows qi, eventually causing stagnation and a deep, dark valley as a counterpoint to the excitement on the roller coaster of emotion. Joy prevents the spirit from properly being stored leading to insomnia, palpitations, and emotional disturbance.
Worry is the emotion of Earth, center, and of transformation. It has the shape of overthinking, over-planning, over-studying, and over-working. These types of “overing” behavior deplete qi and reduce your ability to function. This is why despite not expending physical energy like building a house or working a retail job, sitting in front of a computer for hours on end leaves you feeling exhausted.
When you don’t have qi, you can’t function. This leads to fatigue, chronic lethargy, and difficulty concentrating. Worry knots the qi, creating stagnation and grinds the gears of our emotional life.
Anxiety is different than worry. Worry happens when we’re up in our heads with overing behavior. Anxiety is what happens when the flow of function is blocked. This is how worry can lead to anxiety (because worry knots the qi.)
Since our lungs govern qi, the restricted flow will damage our lungs. This manifests physically like holding our breath, shallow breathing, and irregular breathing. We can also see this stagnation negatively impact the paired organ of the lung, the large intestine, in ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Remember the last time you truly, healthily grieved something? How while you sobbed it felt like you were digging deep into your lungs and excavating everything that was causing you pain to release it through tears and cries? That is healthy grieving.
But when grief persists either because it isn’t being released or it is consistently revisited, it dissolves our qi, negatively impacting the function of our body through stagnation and creating chronic depression.
Fear is normal and healthy, just like grief. It tells us when we’re in danger and drives a healthy response to change our current situation, adapt, or remove ourselves from the environment entirely.
Chronic fear is neither normal nor healthy.
When we live in chronic fear, we damage our root because every day of chronic fear is a day we tap into our emergency savings of energy. In this way, fear damages our kidneys.
Fright is different than fear. Fear is watching a pandemic sweep across the world and managing our response to it. You can usually see fear coming.
Fright is almost getting hit by a car. It is sudden and unexpected.
If we are consistently being frightened this can evolve into a constant state of fear. We see this in the adrenaline and cortisol response in our body. During a stressful event, the body upregulates adrenaline and cortisol in response. But the half lives of both of these hormones are different, and adrenaline leaves our system before the cortisol does.
So if we get another fright before the cortisol has completely downregulated we get another upregulation command from our central nervous and endocrine systems. This additional upregulation builds on the current level of cortisol in our systems.
This leads to a constant state of sympathetic dominance which impacts our body in exactly the same way as chronic fear.
The last emotion is anger and it is the emotion that most impacts the liver. Anger is everything from a minor annoyance to an apoplectic fit. Anger forces qi to move more quickly than our systems can compensate for. It moves upward causing headaches, tinnitus, nosebleeds, high blood pressure, and dizziness.
Protect the flow
The same is now true for the liver.
Now that there is sufficient yang in the world we can turn our attention to nourishing the liver and making sure the pathways of flow and function are clear.
The first way we do this is by ensuring emotional balance.
Ensuring emotional balance
All emotions are created in our heart. The heart is the seat of our consciousness and the window through which we interact with and interpret the world.
But the heart doesn’t govern the free flow of emotions. The liver does.
The way we reduce the load on the liver in the spring equinox seasonal node to purposefully and intentionally stay out of the extremes of the seven emotions.
Each of the emotions is healthy to some degree: anger helps to set boundaries, grief purges the body of what it no longer needs, worry helps with preparedness, etc. But as you saw, extremes of the emotions damage each of the main organ systems and can lead to chronic imbalance.
The best counterpoint to all of these emotional states is mindfulness. By embracing a new mindfulness practice you can bring yourself out of the past (grief), out of the future (anxiety), and ground yourself in the present moment.
You can practice mindfulness through:
Or anything else that brings you to a place of centered contentment.
You don’t have to stay in this place of centered contentment forever. But teaching your body and mind how to downregulate your fight or flight response will help you spend less time in the extremes of each of these emotions. The closer to center you are, the easier it will be to freely flow from each emotional state to the other, reducing the load on the liver and allowing it to replenish its resources.
Do the liver’s work for it
Another way to reduce the load on your liver is to move qi and blood for it. By going on walks, singing, laughing, doing yoga, qi gong, and tai chi, your liver doesn’t have to worry about ensuring free flow.
Just like with managing your emotions, reducing the work your liver has to do will allow it to absorb the energy of spring so that it can do the work of free flow later in the year.
Eat for your liver
Typically when you see a complementary health practitioner recommend you eat for your liver, you are about to read a detox protocol. Once again, I will get out my soapbox and say that your liver, lungs, kidney, and skin are more than sufficient to detoxify you and if they aren’t you have bigger problems than what complementary medicine can solve.
But, you can eat in ways that nourish your liver. And when you combine these dietary recommendations with other spring living and seasonal node recommendations, you can use the spring equinox and all of its metaphors to nourish the liver, empowering it to do its natural detoxification more efficiently.
In addition to the typical springtime recommendations of lightly steamed and sauteed veggies, and eating seasonally available foods…
- continue consuming slightly acrid foods like chives, leeks, onions, garlic, and cilantro
- if you have any liver deficient signs (which you should always confirm with a licensed acupuncturist), consider adding sour foods for the spring equinox seasonal node. This includes anything pickled like beets, eggs, and cucumbers and other veggies as well as sour drinks like drinking vinegar and kombucha
Buy fresh flowers for your home
Once again, in classical fashion, this is not a traditional Chinese medical recommendation. But TCM is only one of the tools in my toolbox.
One of the simplest ways to bring beauty and contentment into your space is with fresh flowers or a potted plant. Not only do they naturally rhyme with the movements of the world outside, but flowers also bring that sense of hygge – that sense of intimate coziness – that every home needs.
The heart of preventative medicine
Now that yang is strong enough to flourish on its own, we turn our attention to the organ system of the season, the liver.
During the spring equinox seasonal node we nourish the liver with healthy and supportive foods.
We also reduce its workload by managing our emotions with mindfulness, exercising, and bringing contentment into our lives and homes with flowers and plants.
By nourishing and supporting the liver in this way, it will be able to do its job more effectively later in the year. This type of work is the heart of preventative medicine.
If you enjoyed this blog post and want to learn more about how the rhythms of the seasons can guide your preventive health work, join my small but mighty Facebook group:
RESONANCE // Seasonal Alchemy for Holistic Health
Charis Melina Brown – EFT Tapping
Other seasonal nodes of spring:
Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul and White Bear Lake, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul, at Naturally Well in White Bear Lake, and doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
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