At the heart of Chinese medicine is the concept that our bodies are a process—the gentle unfurling of destiny through an elemental dance, a perpetual phase shift of the five elements mixing and melding, refining and defining, transforming and transposing. Our mortal forms are truly nothing more than alembic vessels that metamorphose this sacred magic in sync with the rhythm of nature, the cadence of transformation mirroring that of the cosmos at large.
Spring is the season of the Wood element, whose medicine is all about forward momentum, reaching upwards and outwards toward empyrean expansiveness. Wood is a pioneering spirit, pushing through the soft, yielding, mossy detritus of earth toward individuation in the process of becoming. It initiates growth and rebirth, gestating in the primordial mycelial web of earths womb until it leaps through a crack towards the light. Wood surges, pulsates with the moxie of a pubescent boy, longing to explore its environment and to strive, push, ramble, reform, shape. When it falls out of balance, it can be a bit contentious, obstinate, recalcitrant. It’s nature’s phallus, after all.
There’s a palpable, potent magic in the instability of emergence that occurs during a seasonal phase shift, particularly winter to spring. Spring winds are vectors of change, and if we can harness their diaphanous oscillations, they help us switch directions. There is a concept in Chinese medicine called ‘grasping the wind’, which is a process of engaging with change in way that is both assertive AND yielding, reminding us that the medicine of duality contains both stillness and action.
Who or what are you becoming? ’Tis the season to determine your direction and take action. Be assertive, wield your wand, push and strive in the ways you know best, but perhaps this time you bend with the wind and make a little space in there for something novel and numinous to emerge.
Here are a few rituals + recipes to align the body and mind with the sprightly, emergent magic of spring.
Wood loathes to be restrained. If stifled, it’s prone to ennui and rage, like our inner teenagers listening to Minor Threat in the back of class, disgruntled and exasperated, exploding silently with sparks of exasperated lightning. The antidote to restraint is flow, the footloose and fancy-free kind. In Chinese medicine, freedom + flow have their very own archetype – The Free and Easy Wanderer – Taoist masters with a light heart and open mind, who traversed the wilds in cadence with the rhythm of nature, meandering and flowing spontaneously like a bubbling spring.
Spring is the perfect time to practice free and easy wandering, a gentle practice that aligns our hearts and bodies with the uncomplicated, unfettered movements of nature, to shake loose the stagnations of winter and free the qi to support the expansiveness of spring. As the Taoists and punk idols of yore would say, culture is bondage. Let nature teach you some new dance moves. A tiptoe through the tulips, a spontaneous drift through the urban sprawl, a foraging fete in the mossy badlands – loosen the shackles of patterned movement, don’t force it, relax completely into boundlessness, and throw your goals to the wind.
Despite being a rambling man, Wood thinks ‘decisiveness’ is a sexy word (ah, the paradoxes of nature), so make some decisions, why don’t you! Wood needs vision, plans, direction. It longs for a vector of intentionality to know where to grow and what to do with its budding, nascent energy. It is up to us to give it a sacred container, softly supportive with room for holy chaos, else it will ramble rambunctiously across the garden bed with the gusto of wild mint forever and ever.
If you’re a vision board’er and list maker, well friends, THIS is the season for you. Ensconce an entire wall in a vision board worthy of Matthew McConaughey’s lair in True Detective season one. Draft a manifesto… there are so few manifestos these days. Pinterest like you’ve never Pinterested before. The cosmos is on your side, we are all unfurling and uncurling toe-to-toe with the fern frond, everything is going upwards despite the force of gravity.
Like Chinese alchemists devoted to decoding the universal flow, with focused observation of the inner and outer worlds we, too, can easily see the season’s resonances, processes, and correspondences. The season of spring and the Wood element are governed by the liver, and the season’s color, unsurprisingly, is green. Liver energy is at its peak in spring, and the energy of the liver is to keep things moving freely and sprightly, detoxifying that which doesn’t serve, coursing the flow of qi and the flow of our lives via the blueprint of our unconscious minds.
Gently support the detoxification pathways of the liver by indulging in an abundance of green. Be it pea shoots, wheat grass, parsley, celery, wild lettuce, fennel fronds, farmers market salads, or fresh green juices, chlorophyll is the alchemical ally of the liver, gently removing toxins from the body and engendering ease + transformation. The liver is also our body’s hormonal furnace, breaking down excess hormones and shuffling them with grace and ease to greener pastures. My favorite way to boost the liver’s hormonal detoxification pathways is by increasing dark leafy greens, high fiber grains, and cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous veggies, like collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, and brussels sprouts, are high in a compound called Indol 3 carbonyl, which, like a wizened Pac Man, helps the body gobble up egregiously excess estrogens that aren’t being utilized by the body for homeostasis.
I recommend eating at least one serving of green vegetables at every meal, making sure you are also eating enough fiber to shuttle debris out through the bowel. If you have hypothyroid issues, cruciferous should be avoided – or at the very least steamed or sautéed – as raw cruciferous can suppress thyroid hormones. Bitter and sour flavors are decongesting and cleansing for the liver, increasing the bile secretions which help our bodies breakdown fats and aid digestion. Adding lemon juice to warm water, or knocking back a few shots of raw apple cider vinegar, are ways to introduce the sour flavor into our predominately sweet Western palate. As most of us know, anything done in excess weakens the liver, causing it to rebel (here’s looking at you, freshman year of college!). Keep it simple, with small uncomplicated meals spaced frequently throughout the day, avoiding the cumbersome alembics of alcohol, caffeine, fried foods, and complicated meals, opting instead for a palate of Marie Kondo- inspired minimalism, embracing the nimble elegance of mother nature in her verdant prime.
photos: Roman Kraft, Joanna Kosinska, Jo Sonn