Depending on where you are in the country, this spring equinox may feel more or less evident. Here in NYC, we’re expecting another snow storm on the heels of the official shift into warm(er) weather and longer days—what gives? The forecast, however, isn’t the only factor in determining the cycles of nature and our bodies’ deep interconnection to them. Take trees, for instance, that despite all the crazy shifts in temperature around the world still blossom and shed their leaves right on schedule. Why do trees keep marching forward even when their real-time conditions give other messages? It’s all got to do with the light, which as it increases (or decreases) alters the energy potential all around us.
A similar phenomenon happens in our bodies as the seasons shift, making transitions between seasons a very important time to vigilant and gentle with our self-care routines and overall health. Right now, we’re moving from the wet, cold, and heavy winter into a lighter, dryer, warmer period, passing through a tipping point of perfect equilibrium (hence the equinox). In nature, this manifests itself as a kind of melting period—think the disappearance of lingering piles of snow and slush, the defrosting of the earth to allow for fresh plants to poke up and show their faces. Our bodies undergo a similar process, whereby all that we stored up in winter suddenly wants to melt and come out, often in the form of springtime colds (read: phlegm), lethargy, and overall congestion.
One of the best things to do during a winter-spring transition is focus on the Liver, which according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the organ system responsible for clearing out toxins, producing blood, and maintaining a healthy flow of Qi, or vital life force. When the Liver isn’t working optimally, all that melting activity could wind up majorly blocked—and even if your liver is healthy, it’s still worthwhile to give it a bit of a boost to ease things along.
What are some signs that you have Liver stagnation? As this organ system is associated with the emotion anger, you may feel especially irritable or depressed due to the blockages in your internal energy. Physically, abdominal distention and cramps are strong symptoms (lack of proper digestion and nutrient absorption) as well as painful PMS symptoms in women (think: Liver=blood). Congestion in the throat, tight chest, and compromised vision are also reflections of overall energy stagnation. But as there are many different varieties of stagnation, consult with a TCM practitioner to more specifically diagnose your condition before beginning a strict regimen.
Getting rid of the bad inside of us sounds an awful lot like a cleanse; however, nothing as extreme as that is necessary. While it may be tempting to think along those terms, similar to how we sometimes resolve to cut out all sorts of “toxins” around the New Year, it’s more effective to consider these pro-Liver changes as part of your seasonal routine. Indeed, there’s a reason why you start craving salads instead of curry once the light shifts—it’s what your body is designed to want, in harmony with what the earth will give forth this time of year, in effect the ultimate expression of veganism. So as you work through these suggestions, remember that they’re part of a long-long-long term plan that is grounded on the notion of change, and that extends far beyond your individual experience to how we as inhabitants of the planet can live in mutual accord.
Increase Water intake
In order for the waters of winter to flow out of us, we need to give them enough energy to keep passing through the system. Choosing astringent and watery foods like cilantro, parsley, asparagus, and cruciferous vegetables will facilitate this process, in addition to drinking more water and herbal teas (instead of stimulating caffeine). Cook your foods, but just enough to heat and soften them to aid in the digestive process. (In TCM, raw foods are considered cold energy so are generally avoided.) As it’s still a transition period, though, balance these lighter plants with root vegetables like carrots and beets. Try Lime Coconut Carrot Soup or Cooling Detox Soup at dinner, both of which are ideal, super easy-to-digest meals to end your day with. Then, in the morning, your gut will thank you—and even more so if you wake up to a mug of hot water with ginger and lemon, which tempers the stomach before it needs to start digesting.
Supplement with Herbs
Milk thistle, turmeric, and dandelion are all useful herbs to incorporate into your spring supplement program. A Qi-specific herbal blend, like Anima Mundi‘s, may also give your energy and overall vitality a boost during this time, and is a simple way to incorporate herbs into smoothies and the like. Garcinia tea is another traditional remedy used in Ayurveda, which is known for aiding weight loss by curbing appetite but also lowers blood sugar and cholesterol—all protecting the Liver from more toxins.
A big part of what may block Qi via the Liver is—you guessed it—stress. Being emotionally or psychologically stuck finds parallel manifestations in your body, so clear out the toxins clogging your head with deep cleansing breaths and quiet time for reflection. The pranayama practice of kapalbhati breath—or “skull shining breath”—is excellent during this seasonal transition, as the forceful exhalations help to move stale energy out and dry out some of winter’s internal dampness. During this period of rebirth and growth, you can use your meditation as a tool to identify where you may be feeling stuck in your life, and where you want to go next. By not trying to figure out the answers actively, and instead leaving space for intuition and inner wisdom, the answers will come to you naturally. And once our self-vision is in line, then our bodies will also fall into step. Visualize the color green as well, the TCM color for the Liver, when meditating for deeper access.
Do you have a special way you welcome spring and prepare for the new season?
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Photos: Pexels; Mary Hood Luttrell; Jennifer Kurdyla