Currently, in Northern Hemisphere, we have entered spring. The sun’s yang properties of brightness, activity, and heat will be dominating our lives for the next six months. Not only is spring a period of rapid growth in nature, it’s also a period of potential growth for us. Each of us is small universe living within the larger universe. But a change of seasons is not always a smooth transition.

Within the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine, winter—with its yin properties of darkness, stillness, and cold—is associated with the element of water. During winter, we water our internal seeds by going inward, sleeping more, conserving energy, and eating slow-cooked foods and root vegetables. We nurture the predominant winter organs of the kidneys and bladder. Usually we are intuitively drawn towards these activities.

Ideally, these yin activities will provide us with the right amount of water to support the wood element of spring and its associated organs, the liver and gallbladder. How can we tell if we have too much or not enough water for our wood? We may feel cold frequently, be fearful, unmotivated, unable to take action, or experience shoulder pain, eye problems, headaches, or difficulties with digestion. We may also experience feelings of anger or become short-tempered and irritable.

So how can we heal these imbalances?

By having balance in our lives, and with the universe, we find the right amount of water to grow the wood into a beautiful, healthy forest.

For me, this spring has left me constantly seeking balance. Lately, balance has been a challenge as I trudge through snow-covered trails in the woods. The snow has remained much later this season testing my balance physically and mentally. After falling down and getting frustrated, I realize I need to do things differently. It’s not healthy to be constantly off-balance.

How do we know when we’re out of balance?

Physical symptoms and emotional struggles are definite indicators that we are not in balance. Pain, repeated colds, indigestion, weight gain, insomnia, tears, angry outbursts—these signs serve as whispers, encouraging us to take notice, listen, and make a change.

If you’re anything like me, you may hear the whispers, but for whatever reason, there are times when you tune them out. I may even wait until I get sick before I take notice. It’s like I get lazy, or am choosing this state of discomfort; however sometimes I am under a deadline and I have to push hard to get the work done, and that often means I need my body and my mind to be patient.

But usually, when I take the time to practice qigong and get quiet with myself, I become mindful of how I am living and then my intuition guides me to make the required adjustments to bring me closer to centre. By quieting down my body and my mind, and going inward, I can observe myself and my life. In doing so, know what shifts are required to regain balance.

Case in point, this past month it seemed I was fighting with myself. I had been doing a lot of travelling and was out of my usual routine. When I returned home, I felt out-of-sorts. I had trouble digesting my food, my shoulder was sore (likely from lugging my suitcase around), there was something wrong with my eyes (seemed like an infection), I was super frustrated by the weather, and I could not muster the creativity for a work project. I felt stuck!

Each of these symptoms points directly to my liver.

But wait a second…I live a healthy life, I eat good food, I meditate, I do qigong and yoga, I walk outside every day, and I drink of water.

Sometimes there are bigger universal forces exerting their influence in our small universe; forces so big they require us to take notice, to fine tune, to figure out this new place of balance. It’s like we think we are doing everything right and living a healthy, purposeful life because we are doing all the right things. But if our small universe ignores what’s happening in the big universe, we can topple into the abyss. As seasons change, so must we.

How can we tell we’re in the abyss? Things aren’t going our way, we may get sick, there is friction in our relationships, and it feels like we are swimming upstream.

Seasonal changes reflect large shifts in the energy of the Earth and the universe, especially during spring and fall. For our small universe to adapt, we need to pay more focused attention to body, mind, and spirit.

Once I slowed down and took the time to intentionally listen to my body, I knew I was out of balance. I started paying attention to my liver, adding more water so the wood could grow, and supporting the Earth so the water could get to the wood. How did I add more water? I drank more water throughout the day, cut back my coffee, had more breaks from the computer, and made a point to exercise more often to generate heat which transforms blockages.

I also did more qigong.

The moving meditation practice of qigong balances and supports all the elements. Qigong helps to move the water to the wood; to move energy from the kidney meridian to the liver meridian; to circulate qi (energy) throughout the body. But most importantly, because most health issues start with our emotions, I did more of the things that made me happy and laugh and started finding gratitude each morning before rising. I was taking things pretty seriously and it seemed like fear was my predominant emotion.

The positive emotions of gratitude and happiness can balance our difficult emotions of fear and anger. Happiness is also associated with the element of wood. I am feeling mostly stable again. I still have some work to do but feel I am beginning to flow downstream.

Last on the list are more green foods. I can’t seem to get enough kale, spinach, and nutritional yeast right now—all lightly sautéed or in a soup. I’m going with it. Other things that feel good: Creative journaling, dandelion tea, fresh organic food, meal planning, more qigong exercises, and playing outside.

My intuition guided me to tune into these whispers before they became screams. Sometimes it takes a little longer. Sometimes I choose to ignore what’s best for me, even when my body is trying to get my attention. We all do.

What do imbalances in the wood element of spring look like?

When challenging emotions are constant and not resolved, illness is guaranteed to follow. Physical indications of an imbalance in the wood element look like headaches, hormonal imbalances (PMS, hot flashes, or irregular periods) more aches and pains (arthritis, shoulder pain in particular), inflammation, eye problems, bloating or constipation, and anger and frustration (where the heck is spring anyway?). But by tuning inward and being quiet with my life and my thoughts, space is created for my intuition to be heard. I listened, it may have taken a bit, but I heard.

When the wood element is in balance, we can be strong when needed yet still be flexible and able to go with the flow. When out of balance, we can experience stress, irritability (guilty), or lose our temper (not yet!). Spring is the time for creativity, planning, and planting. Being flexible and able to alter your plans with the changing world and environment may help keep your wood element in balance and ultimately a healthy liver and balanced emotions. For myself, I wasn’t being flexible in some areas of my life. Being okay with a change in plans, a new direction, or things not working perfectly is part of adapting and correcting; seeking the ever elusive balanced state. Qigong helps me find that balance.

Here is an exercise you can try that helps to balance the liver and the wood element of spring.

How are the elements of water and wood showing up in your life? What seeds are germinating into beautiful expansive plants? Do you find yourself adapting and balancing as the season changes, or are you feeling somewhat stuck and frustrated with others or situations in your life?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments (and what you thought of the exercise)!

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Love and light,

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