Spring and the Wood Element



Following on from my first post on Winter, there will be now an opportunity to have more than one post on Spring, given we are at the beginning of the Season. This will allow me to focus more in depth each time on some of the key aspects as seen from a Five Element Acupuncture perspective and also other traditions where appropriate.

The Timing of Spring

Normally by March 15th we would be feeling like Spring is around the corner or even upon us, but instead, these last two weeks, we find Winter and Spring dancing around each other, having short glimpses of what a turn of Season may mean with blasts of what we thought we had left behind us; great cold, even snow and strong winds affecting parts of the country.

It might surprise you to know that, in the Chinese solar calendar of 24 solar periods of the year (15 or so days each), the beginning of Spring (Li Chun) actually came on February 4th – midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, close to the time of the Chinese New Year: a time of renewal. This has been followed by two subsequent solar periods called: Rain Water and the Awakening of Insects, prior to the Spring Equinox – coming this year on the 20 March.

So even though the wintry weather might persist, the Chinese observed that the sun sets the cycle in motion at that point of Li Chun, producing an energetic change. With careful observation, we too would notice that change in Nature, such as the tiny green shoots poking out of the bare winter ground, even early flowers like snow drops, and the songs of the birds aided by the lengthening of the days. We ourselves perhaps look to the Spring Equinox as the period when we officially recognise Spring’s arrival.

“The three months of Spring are called the period of the beginning and development of life. The breaths of Heaven and Earth are prepared to give birth…” – Nei Jing*

The warmth of the sun returns and life pushes forth with great vitality. Countless new forms are being created from energies that rested, germinated and hibernated through the cold winter months. What we see is rapid and exponential growth, found not only in plant communities but also in the animal kingdom where new lives are appearing everywhere, as well for those that hibernated. Suddenly the world is alive and full of movement.

This impulse to move into action best describes the energy of Spring. It is unstoppable as the days lengthen with warmth and sunshine, although not always so in this currently unpredictable climate.

Wood is the Element associated with Spring. Let’s take a look at some key images to help us appreciate the qualities within the Wood Element. Closest to the concept of Wood is a tree. During its life a tree grows. It reaches out and upward, and down and inward simultaneously. It is flexible, bending, yielding to the winds, yet strong and durable, containing the flow of its own life cycle. Its roots bring it stability, its trunk withstands the changing Seasons and its limbs reach out for the sun and light. In this way it can be said that trees never loose their direction, for they always follow this eternal source of light. This combination of firmness and flexibility are hallmarks of the Wood energy that Spring represents.

Wood is the energy of birth and creation. Energy that was stored as potential during the Water phase of Winter is now transformed through the energy of Wood. On a physical level, living things transform that energy into matter. Photosynthesis in the plant kingdom is a perfect example of this. Plants thus exemplify the Wood phase, but anything growing relies on Wood energies, whether a muscle, a child or a plan for a human structure such as a building.

In ourselves, Wood is our power to be born and to grow, and is therefore linked with the energy of childhood. A child embodies many of the qualities of Wood – spontaneous, assertive, creative and energetic. If our Wood is healthy, we grow straight and tall with a free flow of energy from our roots to our furthest ‘branches’. If our circumstances allow, we grow in ways consistent with our innate potential (Water Element). Depending on the choices and decisions we make, we end up manifesting our potential, or end up suppressed and unfulfilled. Our life can be stunted, like a tree that receives little sun or too little water, or twisted like a tree subject to constant wind.

In our bodies Wood energy supports us physically – our trunk, limbs and joints. It also governs muscles, tendons and ligaments so that we are able to move and be flexible.

The organs associated with Wood are the Liver and Gall Bladder.

Liver is seen to function as ‘a military leader who excels in his strategic planning’. Gall Bladder is seen to occupy the position of ‘an important and upright official who excels through his decisions and judgement’.

Physically, our digestion and overall metabolism are dependent on healthy Wood functioning. Mentally, it has to do with the ability to organize our thoughts, to plan, and to make clear judgments and decisions. The Classics say that the Liver nourishes the eyes. We need our physical eyes to see what is going on, and our ‘inner eye’ to be able to envisage the future. We need our mental vision to make wise and correct decisions as we move forward into our lives. So, these two Wood ‘officials’ are concerned with seeing in all ways – physically, mentally, spiritually.

Sometimes people say, ‘I just don’t know what to do; I can’t see straight; ‘ or ‘I can’t see my way of making a decision’. Or what happens if we feel there is no future for us. We feel hopeless, become shut off and withdrawn, blind to possibilities. In this case we tend to feel irritable, confused and angry. We may also feel angry if we make the wrong plans and decisions and get ourselves into difficult situations. So hope and anger are part of the natural expression of the energy of Wood.

Guidelines for early Spring:

Balancing the seasonal energies within: bow & arrow – If Winter was an inward (Yin) time – a time for reflection, a time of getting back in touch with our potential, that held potential can now find its release with Liver (Spring being the beginning of Yang).

Kidney potential can be seen as the tension of the bow, with Liver as the arrow. We need to be aware throughout the Seasons, to constantly come back to the darkness of an imagined Winter within: through stillness, reflection and withdrawal from the demands of our lives on a regular, ideally daily, basis to ensure the strength of  the Kidneys’ fundamental energy (Jing). This will help the Liver’s direction and vision to be well manifested through your plans and Gall Bladder’s decisions.

Wind – pay attention to the climate of Wood, whose direction is East. Don’t take off your winter clothes too soon. Having worn heavy clothes in Winter leaves us relatively vulnerable to the winds and chills of early Spring. Wear layers and gradually shed your protection as temperatures warm up.

Pay special attention to the neck, throat and head areas with wind – in the Nei Jing* it says disturbances in the throat and neck come out of the wind from the East. There are acupuncture points on the neck named ‘Wind Pond’ and ‘Wind Palace’ which are said to be points where wind can penetrate the body and cause various diseases. Acupuncturists well recognise that Spring winds are the worst in terms of making people ill.

Spring-like movement – Wood corresponds to tendon and ligaments, as well as muscular forces. Remember that Water corresponds to our physical foundation – our bones and skeleton, hopefully strengthened through preserving our Kidney and Bladder energy through the Winter. Tendons and ligaments are attached to our skeleton and are now filling with new life, along with our muscular forces, so you can stretch and exercise to keep them strong and flexible.

Helpful foods – In Spring it is advisable to eat less, or even fast, to cleanse the body of the fats and heavy foods of Winter. Our diet should be the lightest of the year and contain foods which emphasize the yang, ascending, and expansive qualities of the season – young plants, fresh greens, and sprouts. Salty foods like soya sauce and sodium-rich meats, like cured meats, all have a strong component of sinking energy due to the salt (Water Element’s taste/flavour) and are best limited during springtime. Too many heavy foods clog the liver.

Classically, the expansive, rising quality of sweet and pungent-flavoured foods is recommended as a means of creating a personal Spring within. For this effect, we could use a little concentrated sweetener with pungent herbs, such as honey/mint tea. Other pungent cooking herbs – basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, dill etc – are also good to use at this time. Young beets, carrots and other sweet starchy vegetables, can provide a refreshing sweet flavour.

In Spring, cooking in a simpler way and for a shorter time but at higher temperatures is best; in this way the food is not as thoroughly cooked, especially the inner part. If you use oil, a quick high-temperature stir fry method is appropriate. When cooking with water, light steaming or minimal simmering is ideal. As the weather gets warmer, we should increase our consumption of raw foods. But keep in mind that uncooked foods taken in excess can weaken digestion and should not be used if there are signs of weakness.

I hope you enjoyed reading this first Spring post – watch this space for more in a couple of weeks or so.


*  ‘Nei Jing’ : the shortened name for the Chinese Classic of Acupuncture: Huang Ti Nei Jing Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine)

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