It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
– Charles Dickens
March is the time when we begin to get a bit antsy after a long, cold winter. In the space of one week here, we have experienced hail, snow, sunshine, rain, wind and below freezing as well as sweater-shedding temperatures. We are definitely transitioning from late winter to early spring.
It seems appropriate that on this day, April 1 or April Fools’ Day, I am finally managing to post a portion of my March musings. I wrote the following about the second week in March when we were in the “gleeful-it’s-almost-Spring” stage in the Pacific Northwest. Now, Spring is in full swing here and even the photo I had taken to accompany my March musings is out-of-date.
This post is the fourth in a series about the Five Phases recognized in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM uses Five Phases, also known as Wu Xing or the Cosmic Dance of the Seasons, as a way of explaining both the inner and outer worlds that we inhabit. The Five Phases were developed after many years of observation and cultivating health by adhering to the cycles of nature.
- Element. Spring relates to Wood. As an element, Wood awakens, expands, and grows. It symbolizes creation and growth and a link between Heaven and Earth, with Wood element’s creativity turning heavenly energy into earthly form. Spring is a time for new beginnings and rebirth.
- Personality archetype. Wood types are the Pioneers, or those who are adaptive, independent, action-oriented, and curious. (Here is a link to a lengthy, but great, quiz to find out “your” phase.)
The themes associated with Spring or Wood are activity and movement. Spring is also about hope and determination. It’s where you begin to plan and act on the vision and dreams from the restorative time of Winter. In Nature, the seed that was full of potential is now bursting forth in the spring into the light. For people, it means the primary focus is on getting out in the world and getting things done.
No matter where you tend to hang out in the Five Phases, most everyone in America identifies with the Spring/Wood personality. We live in a very “Spring-heavy” culture with our “silly, knees-bent, running about advancing behavior.” (Name that movie quote!)
Gail Reichstein, author of Wood Becomes Water, writes:
“On an emotional level, the Wood element expresses itself as vision and direction, channeling energies toward a particular focus. Like the trunk of a tree or the funnel of a tornado, Wood directs resources into a desired form. Whether what you want is a day to relax, a career as a lawyer, or a living room with a certain “feel” to it, directed Wood energy envisions a goal and propels the seed of vision forward into action. Positively expressed, Wood energy manifests as the courage of conviction, appropriate action, and the ability to hold one’s ground.
Wood’s strength is tested whenever our internal sense of direction is challenged, whether by argument, doubt, or circumstance. If we abandon our plans too easily, Wood lacks power within us, while if we cleave too stubbornly to mistaken or unwise plans, Wood is overly rigid. Ideally, however, Wood manages the tension between firmness and flexibility, allowing our rootedness to create a stable base from which we can bend.”
The gifts of Spring or Wood include:
- Developing your Vision (purpose).
- Making decisions and action plans (manifesting the Vision).
- Organizing and planning.
- Making good choices for ourselves.
- Standing by our choices, but being flexible when things don’t go as expected.
- Using flexible structure to eventually express our gifts in the world.
How do you know if you are experiencing a full expression of the Wood phase?
- A full, smooth expression of will through a well-crafted vision.
- Effective, flexible and creative approaches to problems.
- Appropriate boundaries.
- Assertiveness and decisiveness together with flexibility.
- A sense of hopefulness despite challenges.
How can you tell if you are under expressing Wood?
- Poor boundaries (with our time and energy).
- Unstructured life or daily/weekly activities.
- Feeling of being overwhelmed.
- May be very busy and stressed, but don’t have the overall vision.
- “Energy without a plan” may result in anxiety, ADD, hyperactivity or poor digestion.
How can you tell if you are over expressing Wood?
- Overly structured and rigid, inflexible.
- Hyper-focused, “Type A.”
- Impatience; easily frustrated with self and others.
- Over-achievement and drive.
- Lack of self-reflection.
- Quick to anger or explosive anger.
- Ulcers, tense muscles (especially neck and shoulders), tension headaches, jaw pain.
Helpful practices to balance Wood include:
- Vision boarding/mind mapping.
- Making to-do lists (if you don’t normally do that).
- Gentle movement: stretching, yoga, swimming.
- Walking meditation.
- Good eye contact and clear, direct speech.
- Drinking warm lemon water in the morning. (This practice is fantastic for your Liver, which is associated with Spring/Wood.)
Herbs are also an effective remedy for bringing someone back into balance. The specific herbs to take to balance Wood depend on whether you are exhibiting excess or deficient conditions, and on your constitution. In general, herbs that are aromatic bitters – especially choloretics and cholagogues that help increase bile – are going to be the most helpful.
For example, for someone who is having trouble focusing and getting work done, schisandra (Schizandra chinensis) – or five spice berry – is a powerful ally. (Bonus: it sounds like Shazam!) Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), which you can steep in hot water for a bath or even as a tea helps those who are trying to reconnect with their life vision and dreams and manifest their gifts in the world.
For our favorite Type A people, relaxing nervines help the overexpressed Wood person chill the heck out. Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) and blue vervain (Verbena hastata) are two of my favorites. The astringent properties of berries are also recommended for Wood-y excess. Try strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and blueberries.
Mama Nature provides exactly what we need at this time of year (and at every time of year) to assist our bodies in moving from one season to the next. Greens are sprouting everywhere, from dandelion leaves to bittercress to chickweed. Not a fan of eating your weedies? Try any green vegetable to tonify deficiency and control excess (but eat them cooked and with warming foods/spices like ginger and garlic if you’re in the strongly deficient category).
Additionally, sour foods are associated with Wood since they stimulate the Liver and Gallbladder (two organs associated with Wood). The sour flavor is cooling, consolidates energy and astringes fluid. Try small amounts of sour foods like lemons, yogurt, limes, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar, apples, and olives.
Are you ready to thrive in Spring? Can you look toward your future with hope and excitement? Are you able to stay firm, yet flexible, in your plans for achieving your vision or goals? Are you able to maintain integrity in the face of change? Balancing firmness and flexibility is inherent in many aspects of our lives this season.
- Beinfield, Harriet and Korngold, Efrem. Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. Print.
- Reichstein, Gail. Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life, New York: Kodansha USA, Inc, 1998. Print.
- Larken Bunce. Five Phases: The Nature of Your Health. Nov. 2015. Webinar.