A Self-Care Practice for Spring Using The Wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine
This is part of Alison's 5 part TCM self-care series
This second piece is in preparation for the Spring season.
Northern Hemisphere: March to May
Southern Hemisphere: September to November
We are continuing our series of allowing nature to inform our self-care practice as we step into Spring. Now, the liver energy begins to rise, which gives us the motivation to emerge from our winter cave and start putting ourselves back into the world. The liver is thought to support digestion, store blood, influence the smooth flow of qi (energy), work closely with the gallbladder, have an intimate relationship with anger, and be reflected in the eyes, tendons, and nails.
How do I know if my liver needs some love?
An imbalance in your liver energy may look like digestive issues, bloating, IBS, constipation, depression, or insomnia - especially if you are waking up between 1 am-3 am. For women in their fertile years, menstrual disorders, or issues with your fertility may reflect an overworked liver.
How can I love my liver back to health?
These are a couple of accessible low-cost ways that you can cherry-pick to fit easily into your daily life:
Move your body:
We don't all get the same opportunity for movement as our cave-dwelling ancestors. This can cause a physical stagnation, or a 'stuck' feeling when we get up out of our chair or try to stretch. So, moving your body regularly will support your liver and counteract this physical stagnation. Walking, stretching, or yin yoga are gentle ways to nourish your tendons and circulate oxygen throughout your body. If you have been in hibernation mode during winter, be mindful to emerge with gentle movement rather than a full-on exercise regime.
Feel your feelings:
When your liver is in balance you are able to practice flexible thinking and confident decision making. When your liver is out of balance you are more likely to feel frustration, anger, or resentment. For women especially, we are brought up in a culture where expressions of anger may have been deemed inappropriate or unsafe, so instead of having our anger rage like fire and quickly burnout, the embers are often constantly glowing in the background. If you find that your anger bursts out of you and frightens you and everyone around you, then it might be time to pause and sit with your feelings, reflecting on any unmet needs. Feeling your feelings in a safe space, without any judgment will free up resources for you to live with more vitality.
Don’t forget to play:
The liver energy is at its peak during springtime. The spring years were those childhood years when we had no responsibilities and lots of wild abandonment. Some of us were asked to be the caregiver at a young age. Some of us were made to do adult things while we were still children. Sometimes we need to grieve the loss of the childhood we should have had. Or maybe the responsibilities of adulthood or parenthood have got in the way of play. We can honor our inner-child by taking him/her out to play. Spring is a great time to support your liver by tapping into the joyful child-like energy and dance, draw, grow sunflowers, or jump in the waves.
Eat green things:
You already know the importance of optimizing your nutritional status. Green foods and a bitter taste are beneficial to the liver. If you don't know where to start, then add fresh lemon juice to warm water first thing in the morning, or add avocado and rocket with apple cider vinegar and lemon as a side salad to your meals. Once you have started adding more green foods into your diet you can then start to remove the more detrimental processed foods.
Get sleep, a lot of it:
You don’t have to do anything because your liver does its best deep clean while you are sleeping! The quality of your sleep matters, reduce your screen time before bedtime, leave your phone out of the bedroom if possible, or invest in some blue-light blocking glasses. Try to have your last meal 3 hours before you go to sleep, it's quite hard to wind down when you are busy digesting food or your news feed. If you find that you often wake up between 1 am - 3 am then your liver is probably too busy processing the day.
Some of the products that we put on our hair, skin, and nails are absorbed into the body and this is then another thing that our liver has to metabolize. Go for more natural products - although beware of ‘greenwashing’ where a company will put a natural-sounding word on the label even though it is full of harsh chemicals! Having fewer chemicals being absorbed into your skin will give your liver more resources to deal with all its other jobs.
Live your life in sync with your cycle:
If you are in your fertile years then your hormones will run on a cyclical monthly cycle. Running at 100 miles per hour throughout the whole month will raise your stress hormones, which may reflect changes in your periods, or may affect your fertility. That PMS might be your body telling you that you need to stop, rest and retreat while you are on your period so that you can get back to wonder woman duties around ovulation. Connecting in with your cyclical nature rather than trying to fit into a linear lifestyle will help give your liver the downtime it needs to metabolize.
I can’t talk about traditional Chinese medicine without throwing in a really useful acupressure point called Liver 3 which is in-between your first and second toe. It is especially good for pain relief, irritability, or digestive issues. And while we’re talking all things TCM, even though the sun starts to beam during the start of Spring, it can still be cold and the wind is thought to bring pathogens into your body. So don’t strip off all of those layers yet; make like grandma and pack a scarf in your bag so your neck doesn't catch a draft.
Your liver has a never-ending to-do list; Spring is the perfect time to add a couple of these recommendations - and by doing them consistently you will be taking some strain off all of the daily duties of your liver, freeing up energy to live with more vitality. If you have menstrual issues, are waking up between 1 am - 3 am, have digestive problems, or are increasingly irritable, then check in with your local acupuncturist who will give you bespoke self-care tips to further support your liver function.
To learn more about Alison Williamson and her practice in England, check her contributor bio.