Spring is in the air!Issue: Section:
My name is Jessica Towery and I’m a licensed acupuncture practitioner in the state of New York. I have a Master of Science in acupuncture and have studied many styles. For the purpose of this publication, I’ll be writing from the perspectives of five element and five spirit acupuncture. I will discuss the relationships between seasons and earthly cycles in relation to the human spirit.
Spring is a time of sometimes spectacular change. The temperature pitches from cold, to windy, to warm, to windy again, then cold, and we wonder, “Is spring really here?” And I can affirm, yes it is. This back and forth change in temperature is an absolute sign that spring is on the way. This is the time when seasons transition from winter, the lower most yin, and summer, the upper most yang. While we may balk at more snow and cold temperatures, we also bask in days where temperature climbs between the 50 to 70 degree ranges. In the human body, this alternating change in temperature is known as Shao Yang. It is a stage in disease where one will vacillate between chills and fever. One could also say that it relates to the emotions we experience during this period of time. We find elation in sunny, warm days, and sometimes depression at the sight of more snow on the ground a few days later. This time of year is also related to the emotion of anxiety, growth, and the Liver organ, which will be discussed in more detail later.
In Chinese Medicine, particularly through a Five Element looking glass, spring is a time of back and forth, yin and yang (pronounced “yong”), up and down. It’s a time of uncertainty and anxiety. The organ associated with spring is the Liver and the emotion is anxiety, and the element is Wood. The spirit is known as the Hun – the ethereal soul. It’s the part of one’s soul that connects one from spirit to man, animal, and plant. In Lorie Eve Dechar’s book, “Five Spirits, Alchemical Acupuncture for Psychological and Spiritual Healing,” she describes the Hun as having three aspects, “A vegetative aspect common to plants, animals and humans; an animal aspect, common to animals and humans; and a human aspect that is particular to the human psyche.” The Hun spirit is the guider of our dreams and imagination. The human process of mental exercise and making goals is related to the Hun spirit.
Before we speak further about the Hun, some background is needed to explain all of the spirits related to the five elements. The Heart is the emperor of organs, its element is Fire, and it houses the spirit of shen, which is in control of one’s mind/spirit. Next we have the Spleen, whose element is Earth, its spirit is yi which is in control of intellect and intention. The Lungs house the spirit of po which is the corporeal soul and the element is Metal. The Kidneys are host to the zhi spirit that gives people their drive to move and accomplish and the element is Water. Then we reach the Liver, which is the host of the Hun, the spirit of the ethereal soul and the element is Wood. The diagram associated with the five elements and their proper cycles is as follows:
This is what is known as the Generation Cycle. One can see in this example that each element, spirit, and associated organs have an effect on one another, either in a nourishing, generating cycle, or have a destructive or insulting effect, overpowering one another and throw everything out of balance. One can see that the Wood element, in a normal, Creation cycle, feeds the Fire element, related to Heart and housing the shen spirit, which is the most yang spirit as it is the spirit closest to heaven. All elements feed each other, creating a generating cycle; Fire generates Earth, Earth generates Metal, Metal generates Water, Water generates Wood, and Wood feeds the Fire. Note, that in five element acupuncture, these elements can turn on each other and overact and damage one another in addition to nourishing one another.
The Hun is considered a yang spirit in that it is closer to heaven than some of its other spirit counterparts. The Hun enters the body at birth and leaves the body to continue after the death of a person. The Hun resides in the Liver organ during our natural life. It guides our daydreams and dreams during sleep. The element of Wood represents the action of reaching towards heaven. The earth tilts towards the sun as spring approaches and the more abundant sunlight, as well as spring rain and storms, nourish the sprouts in the earth and plants begin to grow, life begins to change, and the spirit begins to come out of the Water element stage. Winter is represented as a deep, yin, watery stage of all living things. It’s hibernation time. During this time, the body and earth store water and rest, not only energetically, but sometimes do to limits of the ensuing weather. Spring and the Wood element coincide with one another through the movement of the nourished wood, growth and change within living organisms cause them to move, wake up, and begin a new season of change – a sort of new life or beginning. Plants are growing, animals are coming out of hibernation, and people begin to come back outdoors and move.
In Chinese Medicine, if one becomes stagnate and can’t seem to meet goals or get moving into the growing season, this is considered a symptom of stagnant Liver qi. It’s the Liver’s job to spread qi in Chinese Medicine. Liver qi stagnation can present itself in anxiety, depression, dullness or redness in the eyes, headaches in the temple of the head, frustration, and anger. This imbalance can also affect other organs, such as the Spleen, which helps control digestion and movement of food throughout the body. These are signs that an acupuncture practitioner would look for and find to be prevalent this time of year in a great many people. Physical signs don’t always spell out the entire picture. It’s important to look at the whole person; their mood , demeanor, how they describe their life, the sound of their voice, whether they meet the practitioner’s eyes when talking, and so on. It is through the detection of this demeanor, I feel, that one confirms stagnation of Liver qi and that the Hun spirit needs to be nourished and treated. The Hun spirit is a messenger from the heaven to earth and from earth to heaven. If one isn’t properly connected with the earth, or with life, this imbalance can be corrected through acupuncture and changes in lifestyle.
So, what can anyone do on their own to nourish the Hun, Liver, Wood element within during this time of change? Mindful Meditation is a great tool for clearing the mind and focusing on the body and breath. Mindful Meditation classes are held all over New York City, so a simple search online can help one find a class nearby. A meditation that my doctor once taught me is to focus on the breath and with each exhale, send loving kindness to someone you may be having problems with, and with the inhale, imagine that person sending loving kindness to you. Extend this further to someone you love, your family, the city, the world, and then the universe. It’s a beautiful meditation that I find to be grounding and helps reduce anxiety. Start moving – exercise and get outside while the getting is good! When the weather is nice, do your best to be in it. I find that yoga is very grounding and is a moving practice that serves me well. There is also qi gong and tai chi that are excellent methods of moving qi. Zumba and belly dancing are fun exercises that are becoming more popular. Even taking a walk, noticing the changes in the season, sprouts coming up, and the movement of life during this time can be uplifting and help us all rejoice in the transition into spring!
Jessica Towery, MS L.Ac.