Winter, a time of maximum yin. We can harmonise with the natural cycles of yin-yang Qi in winter to support our health and vitality.
Spring has sprung in the Illawarra! And just as the movement of Qi in Spring is “upwards and outwards”, my little beets are pushing up through the soil in my garden, eager to be plucked.
We can enhance our own mental-emotional-physical health by harmonising our body’s Qi with that of the season. This applies to what we eat, how we behave and our attitudes. The Classic of Chinese medicine (which is 2000 years old), the Suwen, tells us thus about Spring:
“The three months of spring, they denote effusion and spreading. In heaven and earth everything comes to life; the myriad beings prosper. Go to rest late at night and rise early. Move through the courtyard with long strides. Dishevel the hair and relax the physical appearance, thereby cause the mind to come to life. Generate and do not kill. Give and do not take. Reward and do not punish. This is correspondence with the qi of spring, and it is the Way to nourish life. Opposing it harms the liver. In summer, this causes changes to cold, and there is little to support growth.” (Suwen 2)
Yang is rising. Spring is ruled by the wood phase and it is a time of opening and spreading. It is a time to eat less and lightly – young plants, fresh greens, sprouts. Raw and sprouted foods can be taken (though take care and moderate if your digestion is weak). The rising quality of sweet-pungent foods is beneficial. E.g. drink honey/mint tea, use basil, fennel, and rosemary herbs in cooking; and eat young beets and carrots for a refreshingly sweet flavour. Favoured cooking methods are light – saute and light steaming, which is a change from the longer stewing methods of winter.
Take care of your Liver (the organ of the wood element). Emotionally this means staying calm, breathe, minimising stress, and not holding on to anger or frustration – find a way to release or express these healthily. Opening and nourishing your Heart can assist the Liver to flow naturally and minimise emotional stagnation or repression. Physically this means moving, relaxing a little, opening the body – walking or a flowing yoga sequence can be great.
On a more sombre note, but one which I feel needs to be raised given the year we’re in, is that suicide rates are highest in Spring. This is most pronounced in the northern hemisphere where the seasonal changes are more dramatic, however with COVID-19 lockdowns we may be more at risk than usual in Australia. Why is this? We really don’t know. One social theory proposed is that the pressure of social connection after the winter hibernation can be a significant source of stress for some. Another theory is the physiological inflammation that occurs in Spring (think hayfever!) is connected to mood disorders. A friend of mine from Sweden once suggested to me that the reappearance of the light is simply too much for some, coming out of the long darkness of winter. Whatever the cause, the statistics show this to be real.
Thinking in Chinese medicine terms, the Liver is associated with anger, and stress or repressed emotions can disrupt its smooth flow. A Liver disharmony is commonly diagnosed in people with mental-emotional challenges, and these people are likely to be most at risk of imbalances at the start of Spring when the energy of the Liver rises. I expect this risk may be compounded this year when the bloom of Spring coincides with a year of lock-down, especially for those just emerging in Melbourne – it’s like a double Spring.
Spring is a beautiful time. Maybe it’s even my favourite season. Let your hair down, munch on young beets, move, and also be particularly mindful of your emotional health. Pick up the phone, check in on someone. Melbourne peeps, please take extra care and look after one another.
Have you noticed how the qualities of the sun feel different in the morning compared to the afternoon? The daily sun cycle, like so many natural cycles is beautifully described through the Chinese medicine model of yin-yang.