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Staying Healthy in the Spring

Can the Weather Affect Your Health?

When I was in graduate school, we spent a couple of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Theory classes learning about body/mind imbalances that are often influenced by the “energetics” of a particular season. I distinctly remember approaching this section of class with careful skepticism; the information seemed too dependent on folk medicine, a term that I was still trying to understand. The concept of folk medicine piqued my interest, but also filled my brain with questions.

At that point, I was still struggling to figure out my approach to medicine.  In my earliest years of graduate school, I was hell-bent on a particular way of understanding the body. I’d been raised in a culture in which Western biomedicine and the scientific method reigned supreme. Everything about TCM, Daoism, and the concept of “slow medicine” (similar to the Slow Food movement) called strongly to me, yet all the information I learned was critiqued, quietly but obsessively.

Much of the information I absorbed in my early grad school years was relegated to what I considered the gray area. I’d carefully process the information, then place it in storage. In the future, I told myself, I’d incorporate this information into my practice only if it could be proven useful. My internship in the clinic would answer some questions, I believed. In the meantime, I’d focus heavily on the parts of TCM that seemed less abstract and more practical – like learning how to stop a headache in its tracks with accurate point location and correct needle technique.

Spring Weather and Your Health: Headaches, Insomnia, and Tempers, Oh My!

Fast forward a decade. I’ve been an acupuncturist in a community clinic for 5 years, and I’ve seen/needled over 10,000 people. I feel confident saying that if there are any “patterns” that show up in the health of my patient population that seem connected to seasonal changes – well, I’m in a good position to notice them!

And I’m only ever-so-slightly embarrassed to report that there is some serious legitimacy to this “folk medicine” that I learned in school (I say this knowing that it drips with the irony and presumptuousness of my younger years in school…in other words, I’ve been SPANKED by TCM, about a zillion times by now!). Actually, the term “folk medicine” deserves its own lengthy blog post.

Nevertheless, seasonal changes can/probably do affect the health of my patients, as well as my own. That being said, for most of us, Spring is the absolute worst!

The worst? Well, the worst in that this season is related to the wood element, and the liver. It’s the season of sudden, extreme shifts. You know, like spring weather…

So what are the common complaints that we see worsen (or arrive) in the spring? Insomnia, neck and shoulder pain, migraines/headaches, skin issues, anxiety, and irritability. If you already deal with one of these health issues – does it get worse in the spring?

I’d get into more detail, but a couple of people have already expertly written about this season and its accompanying health imbalances. They’ve also written about what to do about them!

See here. And here.


5 Ways To Help The Liver Be the Best Liver It Can Be

Since we know that the liver qi is easily constrained, here are 5 suggestions to help you keep it flowing freely. If you have absolutely no clue about what I’m talking about, read this.

1. Know that anger and frustration aren’t inherently bad, but if they’re hanging around like sullen clouds over the sun, perhaps it’s time to take action. Since the liver is the organ in charge of pushing us forward to recognize our potential, perhaps your body/spirit is speaking to you, and trying to let you know that you’ve stepped from the path that brings you the most fulfillment and joy. In other words, maybe it’s time to leave a relationship, change jobs, go back to school, or take more time to care for yourself.* Most of the time, there’s good reason why we’re feeling frustrated or angry. That being said – there is never any good reason to project this anger onto other people, verbally or physically. That’s called abuse.

*I feel like it is important to recognize that in some circumstances, mobility isn’t easy, or even possible. Extreme poverty, marginalized populations, and a lack of resources are often involved. See this blog post if you live in Maine and need some extra help.

2. Spring is the best time to clear our your living space, as well as your liver. It’s still winter, but as no Game of Thrones

character ever said…spring is coming!  Spring is the time when all that green stuff begins pushing up from the ground. Go outside and take a big sniff of air and get some sun on your face!

A deep clean can also do wonders for a stagnant living space. Establishing rituals to welcome spring can help prepare your body and mind for this new season’s energy, and as you might already know – the energy of spring can be large and in charge (see below).

man sings in the shower
See this man using his shaving cream as a microphone? He’s taking care of his liver.

3. Prepare your body for spring. Like the branches of of a tree, healthy liver qi moves in an upward and outward manner. The advent of spring comes with a surge of similar energy that can flood the body with qi and blood that can exacerbate some preexisting health issues. During the spring, if you have a flare up of insomnia, painful periods, nightmares, migraines, digestive upset, or anxiety, your liver is likely involved.  Come in and get some acupuncture for quick, effective relief.

4. Stretch your body, wander, and sing. The liver is associated with the tendons and ligaments in the body, as well as the flexibility of the joints. It’s the organ in charge of being able to move your body smoothly and gracefully. Stretching the body is a physical tonic for the liver.  A  long, good-paced amble around town is also a great way to move qi that’s been constrained. I affectionately call these “urban hikes” and they are the bomb for changing a bad attitude!

As for singing – how do you feel when the sun comes (and stays) out after a long, cold winter. I certainly do a lot of singing on my way to work – as soon as I’m alone in my car, I sing the heck out of some song whether or not I know the lyrics. Belt out some Janis Joplin in the shower. Whistle. Do a round of Do Re Mi with your dorky co-workers. Making music with your mouth can move stagnant qi, since it involves controlled breath work and diaphragmatic control.

5.  Nourish the liver with food. The liver has a profound influence on digestion. Bloating, IBS, acid reflux – many GI issues involve the liver, especially if those issues are worsened by stress or intense emotion. Carrot is a simple, sweet food that can be an effective remedy for digestive stagnation since it gently circulates qi and blood. Here is two (relatively) simple recipes for times when you realize that you have more in common with the Incredible Hulk than you’d like to admit.  Roasted Carrot and Cashew Soup might be one of my favorite soups of all time, and this salad is one of my favorites of all time. And of course, do your best to incorporate all spring greens.

Also, check out my post on Roasted Dandelion Root Mocha. Another tasty liver-lovin’ recipe that you can make at home to help that sexy I’m-going-to-crawl-out-of-my-skin feeling, or that peaceful I’ll-rear-end-that-muther-flapper-if-he-cuts-me-off-again feeling.

And don’t forgot to come in and get poked! Spring is a busy time in the community acupuncture, and as you relax in a comfy chair to take a nap, you might feel better when you realize that a whole room of people are also experiencing the roller coaster ride that is the unpredictable energetics of spring.