Tree starting to bud

Wood Element: The key to staying healthy this spring

According to the Chinese lunar calendar, spring starts in January or February and ends in April or May. These months have crazy, constantly changing weather which makes us vulnerable to catching a cold or flu.

Staying closer to the rhythms and cycles of nature, makes you healthier and more balanced. Because the element associated with Spring is Wood, we need to balance our wood element for emotional and physical health.

Staying healthy in spring: The Wood Element / 木 (Mu)

Let’s first look at Wood’s nature to learn about how it relates to our health. Because food is so important for our health, we will provide food recommendations that help reduce the negative aspects listed on the chart below and strengthen the positive ones.

Staying health in spring picture of cut wood for the wood element.

All Chinese medicine turns to nature and analogy to help us understand our bodies. As a result, we need to understand the wood element better. The chart below summarizes how spring and its element, Wood, affects your mind, body, and spirit.

Life ThemesPower, ambition, focus, goals
Weakened by this emotionAnger
Associated organs and meridiansLiver, Gallbladder
Physical/spiritual processesFiltration. Liver allow regular, even circulation of Qi. Gallbladder govern decision-making
Main physical areasSide of head and neck, trapezius
AnatomyTendons
Sense that shows strength or weaknessSight
Easily injured by this weatherWind
Stimulated by this colorGreen
Sound that shows strength or weaknessShout
Stimulated by this tasteSour

Balancing the Wood Element to Calm our emotions

Can’t this line move any faster?!

I can’t stand this traffic! Didn’t I tell you to put that away?!

But I want a cookie now!

Sound familiar? Whether these thoughts are just in our heads, or we say them aloud, anger flows through us when our Liver is weak or struggling.

Unlike Liver disease in the west, Chinese medicine looks for signs of Liver imbalance before serious disease sets in. One of the main symptoms of Liver imbalance is anger.

Consequently, the angrier we feel from a Liver imbalance, the more we harm this organ system! We need to pay attention to early signs of frustration and use diet and lifestyle choices to calm ourselves to bring our Liver back into balance.

How does food help? It helps strengthen our Yin energy to allow Yang heat, built up during the winter, to move upward and outward from our bodies.

Yin and Yang

Yin and yang image that shows the transition from winter to spring. Teaches how to stay healthy in the spring.

Yin energy is our cool, calming energy. Yang energy is our warm, active energy.

Change is unavoidable, and spring overflows with change all around us.

Caring for the wood element balances our Liver and Gallbladder, we can take advantage of spring’s invitation to make plans and goals. To build something new within our lives, or simply refresh old commitments with energy and purpose.

The positive flow of Qi, that comes from a healthy Liver system allows us to be assertive yet avoid conflict. We can let go of anger, instead of lashing out.

Disease and illness

If we have too much heat, because we’re not releasing Yang through our choices, we can create Wind in the body, a metaphor for factors that cause specific diseases, illnesses, and emotional problems.

strong wood element consequences

  • abrupt, strong physical sensations that migrate from side to side, or up and down to different parts of the body
  • symptoms that fluctuate in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration
  • temper tantrums
  • strokes
  • seizures
  • uncontrolled anger: shouting, hitting, committing violence
  • drive to plan long-term revenge

 

An inflexible tree blown over by the wind. Taking care of the wood element reduces wind in the body which keeps you healthy in the spring.

An over strong wood element forces wind to lose control in our bodies. As a result, our emotional control is uprooted, like a tree torn from the ground.

 

Feeling stuck

When our Wood is weak, we allow others to dominate us. We may even support them in their aggressive or manipulative actions against us.

Weak wood element consequences

  • lack of follow through
  • inability to see alternatives
  • getting stuck in negative or non-supportive habits
  • inability to find a way to create new goals
  • lack of insight on how to accomplish goals
  • staying in abusive relationships despite physical and emotional harm

According to Chinese medicine, bringing Wood back into balance and strengthening it will allow for breakthrough and change.

Giving children a sense of control

Supporting children’s dreams and goals helps strengthen their Wood element. In contrast, when children passively follow your goals for them, they can develop long-term emotional and physical problems as a result of the damage to their wood element.

Child hugging a tree symbolizes that parents need to nurture children's ability to make choices to allow their wood element to grow.

We need to protect and nurture children’s Wood element.

 

Certainly, some cues that your children need more support are:

  • tantrums or malaise
  • complete submission to parents without questioning
  • exaggerated reactions which might be a sign that emotionally Wood is feeling stuck and cannot expand
  • anger is a symptom of Wind strengthening Wood. In this situation, Wood is trying to resist the weakening process.

Flexibility

Most noteworthy, when the wood element is just right, you can be more FLEXIBLE! Yin keeps Wood flexible, like a tree that bends during a storm, maybe sometime losing a limb, but staying pliable enough to not fall over and die.

A leaning tree that is still standing. Symbolizes flexibility which comes from eating the right foods and caring for the wood element and staying healthy in the spring.

We have all heard stories about people overcoming adversity against all odds: an abused child who goes on the find happiness and success; people from impoverished conditions accomplishing great things; people who have suffered death all around them and continue to move forward with loving and giving natures.

Hence, when someone survives, it’s a sign that they have a balanced wood element. The flexibility it brings, and the desire to achieve goals and build something better, comes from this element.

Due to its nature, wood will not give up, even in the absence of positive role models or outside support. As people independently cultivate personal strength, as we grow in our ability to lead a calm life, full of gratitude and joy, we honor our Wood.

Eating right to Stay Healthy in the Spring

Following the food recommendations below will strengthen your wood element during the spring.

General guidelines for how to eat in the spring

Because we need to cool our bodies, we should eat:

  • more sweet food, less sour food.
  • less oily food
  • foods warm in temperatures and type
  • fewer cold natured foods such as bananas and pears
  • dates, which tonify your blood and spleen and strengthen it against attack from the Liver
Different healthy green vegetables. Eating green food strengthens the liver which helps you be healthy in the spring.
Eat more green food – lots of leafy vegetables

Detailed recommendations for how to eat in the spring

Eat cooked greens and sprouts

  • They cleanse and cool the body; they help release inner heat. (jiu cai)
    • Good choices
      • Fresh parsley
      • Soybean sprouts – any kind of sprouts are good
      • Spinach
      • Asparagus

Eat bitter foods

  • These foods help improve your heart functioning and prepare the heart for the challenges of summer heat.
    • Good choices
      • Bitter melon
      • Lotus seed

Avoid sour tasting foods early in the spring

  • Sour foods encourage Liver Fire (for now think of it as internal heat) and irritate the stomach. The Liver – if you are a little emotional, the sour can help you calm down because the Liver heat can rise up and out. If you are Liver Blood deficient, you can eat spicy can help.
    • Avoid
      • Lemon
      • Pineapple
      • Mandarin orange
      • Vinegar, etc.

Eat sweet foods and pungent foods

  • Sweet and pungent foods cool and strengthen the body after winter. (li2 zi4 = plum in English). Especially when you are angry, eat sweet food. When you are angry the Liver over attacks the Spleen and sweet can tonify the Spleen. You strengthen the Spleen stronger so it can help the Liver settle down. 
    • Good choices
      • Bamboo Shoots
      • Black rice
      • Broccoli
      • Carrot
      • Sweet Cherries
      • Chestnut
      • Chinese leek
      • Chinese yam
      • Coriander (Also known as Cilantro)
      • Corn
      • Ginger
      • Garlic
      • Lichi (Lychee)
      • Scallion
      • Strawberry

Eat foods with nourishing calories

  • If you live in a region that has a later spring rainy or snowy season, eat more nourishing calories during this time. Your body absorbs calories better in the morning, so your breakfast in the spring should include some of the choices listed below. Supper should be your lightest meal, always, with the fewest calories.
    • Good choices
      • Chicken
      • Eggs
      • Fish with scales (but less seafood)
      • Meat – some red meat is good
      • Milk
      • Soy (tonifies the Liver)

Specific Food Recommendations

While we might want to eat any foods we want, eating foods that are right for our body constitution balances Yin and Yang, which leads to healthy production and movement of Qi and Blood throughout our bodies.

An appropriate diet also serves to allow us to take advantage of the growth and recharging our bodies do in the spring.

Sun Wen in the Nei Jing, a critical ancient text of Chinese medicine, writes that “All things of creation resuscitate in the warm three months. Life cycle begins anew…For Life care, try giving rather than taking, rewarding rather than punishing. Or the Liver gets hurt.”

Sun Wen’s directive shows that health and wellness are the primary focus of spring.

As a result of gathering internal heat to keep warm and healthy during the winter, your body needs disperse it to cool down. You need to let go so you can grow and begin anew. This heat should rise upward and outward.

The foods we eat will allow this journey to flow smoothly and allow us to feel joy instead of anger and frustration.

Body constitution

First of all, you need to know your body’s constitution, the base from which your body interacts with the world. The main types are hot, cold, neutral or mixed. Other characteristics come into play, but understanding these aspects are a great start!

Hot, neutral, and cold water taps on a water cooler. They symbolize the hot, neutral, and cold body constitutions. Eating foods that match your body constitution keep you healthy.
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Food recommendations are based on strengthening your Liver system. This list does not include all foods you should eat. It includes foods that enter your body via the Liver channel.

Even more importantly, people over 50 need to make sure to warm or cook all of their foods to support the digestive process, including fruits and greens.

Foods to eat for your Body Constitution

Body ConstitutionClass of Food to EatSpecific Foods to EatSpecific Foods to Avoid
ColdWarming, Neutral HotApricot, Bamboo shoots, Duck, Fish with scales, Sweet grape, Hawthorne berry, Lychee, Olive, Peach, Sweet Plum, Pomegranate, Quinoa, Red Small Bean (Adzuki Bean)  Cooling or cold foods Seafood Sour foods  
WarmCooling, Neutral, ColdApple, Ripe Sweet Apricot, Duck, Fish with scales, Grapes, Job’s Tears, Luffa, Olive, Sweet Plums, Red Small Bean (Adzuki Bean), Sweet Strawberry, Lettuce, Avocado, Apple, Pear, Winter melon, Yogurt,Gelatin Seafood Sour foods Warming or hot foods  
NeutralBalanced combinations of all food typesSweet Apricot, Fish with scales, Sweet Grapes, Olive, Red small bean, Duck  Gelatin Seafood Sour foods Too much from any one category of food  
MixedMore foods in area of greater imbalance (for example if your mixed with a tendency towards Warm, then eat more cooling and neutral foods(See lists above)Sour foods Gelatin Seafood   Avoid foods that might move you from mixed to a stronger imbalance. For example, don’t eat Cooling or Cold foods if your dominant in Cold constitution

Food recommendations for children

Therefore, you should know your children’s body constitutions. This information will guide you on how to prepare family meals. You will also know what specific foods you might need to add for the different people in your family.

There is a reason Chinese meals offer lots of different small dishes from which to choose.

Children’s diets are even more critical at this time. Western and eastern medicine research shows that children grow fastest in the spring when their digestive faculty is running at full steam.

Therefore, spring is a good time for children to absorb critical nutrients to strengthen their constitutions and fuel their growth spurt. The guiding principle is to strike a balance between Yin and Yang, between meat and vegetables, between finely processed foods and roughage.

  • Feed small children congee – Congee is rice cooked with more water than usual. Children’s stomachs are fragile, and congee is easy to digest. Check out our congee recipe.
  • Feed older children and teens according to their body constitution results, much like an adult. Additional protein during this season is okay to support their growing bodies.

Summary

Finally, we want to say that we hope you will enter spring with a different understanding of your body and how it relates to the natural world. You have learned (or been reminded) that:

  • Your body needs to release Yang heat that was essential during the winter.
  • The foods you eat help bring your body into balance for health and wellness this spring.
  • Children need different foods to nourish their bodies. Better nourishment will help them grow and thrive as much as possible during their peak development season.
  • Some people may suffer from greater anger during this season. Adjusting their diet will help them release some of the heat affecting the liver and allow them to let go of their anger.
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