Spring into Yoga!
The long-awaited spring often arrives in fits & starts as winter seems to cling on – not only does winter cling on – or as we have recently experienced - but bursts of summer comes in too! However, we always long for the arrival of spring as it heralds the time of rebirth, when nature wakes up from its long sleep and everything starts to come alive again with vibrancy and colour. From these new beginnings we receive more light, energy, warmth and the promise of more to come. Not surprising that the element of spring is WOOD (according to the 5-Elements Theory).
The Nature of Wood
The nature of Wood includes all forms in the plant kingdom, the icon of which is the tree which sprouts from its tiny seeds and shoots upwards in search of light. It always amazes me when you come across a lone plant shooting out from the most inhospitable place – the sheer energy and drive to live no matter what. Or the mass of weeds that proliferate in your garden when you have been away for a week! Trees can show us what Wood is like when its not healthy. Old trees become stiff, brittle and break in the wind; if they suffer from drought, they become gnarled and stunted. The roots of a tree are below ground and a reminder that a healthy tree and a healthy Wood element are deeply rooted. In a healthy state, Bamboo is a great example of the flexibility of Wood, the ability to flex and bend with the wind.
When Wood energy is healthy, there is strength and flexibility in the sinews of the body, particularly the tendons and ligaments. When these tissues are strong and flexible, joints move more freely, and the body moves more smoothly in space. When Wood energy is imbalanced, there is stiffness in the joints, tightness in the tendons and movements becomes slower and even painful. A flexible body has a flexible mind!
When we look at what meridians (energy pathways) are influenced by Wood: Liver & Gallbladder, we get more insight as to what spring offers.
The Liver has a major function in the body as 'the planner' for all the functions in the body, seeing the bigger picture. The partner, the Gallbladder is responsible as a 'the decision maker', putting all those plans into action in the world on a daily basis.
The old English word for liver is lifer – it was considered the ‘seat of life’ and commanded respect by ancient healing traditions. The liver is the largest gland in the body and only organ in the body that can rebuild itself even if 80% of the tissue is destroyed. This is the very definition of renewal. The Liver stores our blood when we are rest, releasing it for action when we move.
Physically, the Liver is the primary chemical factory of the body, responsible for removing toxins, creating hormones and cleaning the blood.
Energetically it is responsible for the smooth flow of Chi (Prana, Ki, life force) in the body and the smooth flow of emotions.
If you are unable to process your emotions, they become stuck and can cause many problems. A balanced wood energy gives you the strength to deal with whatever comes your way. Like the strength and flexibility of a weeping willow or bamboo – strong roots are essential to hold the ground and the body of the tree needs to be flexible enough to ride the storms and not break when under external pressure.
The Gallbladder is a small sac into which the bile from the liver flows. It is responsible for helping the body digest fats – the most important nutrient in the body. Every single cell is cased in fat; your brain is more than 60% fat; your body is encased in a layer of protective fat; fat helps create healthy hormones. So, although the GB is a small organ, it has an important and difficult job.
Overall, L+GB chi is responsible for our discernment. Our ability to follow our path in life; to avoid deviating or being put off by external circumstances; our capacity to regain equilibrium after a shock or obstructions in our plans. When there is excess L+GB chi, we tend to make rash decisions; and when depleted, we experience hesitation and timidity.
The Psychology of Wood
Apart from those important physiological aspects of these two meridians, they are also very important for the psychology of the body. The main emotion correlated to wood is ANGER. Liver chi is connected to our ability to make appropriate connections, a natural co-ordination of the mind. Healthy liver chi gives us the capacity of make plans and put them into action. Essential to that is our ability to change and adapt. To balance anger, we need to bring out our assertiveness, courage and compassion, so we can stand our ground and know what we stand for.
Self Help to Balance L+GB Energies
Orientate your Yoga practice to focus on standing postures that find your ground, strength and springiness (if that is a word!). Learning how to stand your ground especially when challenged, requires strengthening of the physical muscles and maintaining flexibility of our spine - Yoga does that beautifully! Remember to include some Yin postures to tax those energy lines and balance out the effort of those yang standing poses - some of which are: Shoelace; ½ shoelace; Wide knee child pose; Square pose; Sleeping swan; Dragonfly and Sphinx.
Use daily specific acupressure points that tonify, stimulate, balance the L+GB points.
Go on a liver cleanse.
Encourage your Liver to work Optimally by reducing exposure to toxins whilst consuming key nutrients will support liver function.
Diet: Foods to aid the liver include:
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and watercress. Antioxidant rich, vibrantly coloured fruits and vegetables, such as berries. High quality proteins, such as pulses, nuts and seeds. Wholegrain rice and quinoa. Reduce exposure to toxins by moderating consumption of: - Caffeine, including cola and chocolate - Refined sugars - Food additives - Alcohol
Antioxidant nutrients - vitamins A, C and E, in combination with the minerals selenium and zinc and the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid, help the liver render free radicals harmless.
Bioflavonoids - these plant compounds are very powerful antioxidants.
Diindolylmethane - a compound found in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, watercress, cauliflower, cabbage) that aids the metabolism of female hormones.
Glutathione - an antioxidant that lends crucial support in phase 2 of the detoxification process. You can take N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) to boost your levels of glutathione.
Co-enzyme Q10 - found in flesh food such as meat and fish, it is crucial for the release of energy in cells.
Amino acids - these “building blocks” of proteins are a major part of the detoxification system.
Turmeric – this tasty spice helps the liver to eliminate toxins from the environment.
Green Tea Extract – Catechins from green tea are thought to boost liver detoxification pathways. They are also potent antioxidants.
Dandelion – a diuretic and laxative, dandelion has traditionally been used to support the liver.
Milk Thistle – contains the compound silymarin which has been shown to protect liver cells from toxic agents.
Ayurvada the sister science to Yoga, has many similarities and uses the 5 elements system in a similar way, take a look at this "Cheat Sheet" from Yogahealer Cate Stillman:
Enjoy Your Yoga and hope you find your Internal Springiness!