SPRING & THE LIVER
( Through the Lens of the Five Elements )
Greetings dear reader. Last week we spoke of the arrival of spring and the benefits of cleansing and detoxing. Because the liver plays such an important role in cleansing and detoxing, it was the next natural topic to write about after last week’s post. Having practiced Chinese Medicine ( acupuncture and herbology ) for many years, I learned to see the body through the lens of what Chinese Medicine calls Five Element Theory. It is really more of a system than a theory. Having its roots in Taoism, Chinese Medicine sees the body as related and interconnected to everything on the earthly plane and in the celestial heavens.
The body is seen as a microcosm of the macrocosm. Just as the realms of heaven and earth have physical and non-physical components, so too does the body. “ Tao is neither physical nor non-physical, yet orientates and connects everything. “ (1) Modern science and physics is beginning to understand and acknowledge what ancient mystics have known all along - that the body is quantum. An exciting prospect for yet another post!
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A Brief Look at The Five Elements
In her article “ An Introduction to the Chinese Five Element System”, Jane Barthelemy states : “The Chinese five elements are said to arise out of the two energies -Yin and Yang. And the five element system can be considered refinement or outgrowth of Yin Yang Theory. It is a system that has been used for thousands of years to describe the interactions between Yin and Yang and phenomena in Nature.”
The Five Elements or Five Phases Describe Reality.
Each of the Five Elements represents an aspect of a dynamic process, or a phase of change. These are not actual physical descriptions, but metaphors of patterns that occur in Nature. The Five Elements and their qualities are represented by:
Wood – Rising, nurturing, beginning, development, impulse, inspiration
Fire – Expression, manifestation, definition, action, dynamic phase
Earth – Balancing, supporting, centering, transmutation
Metal – Reckoning, discerning, discipline, decisions
Water – Contemplation, calmness, accepting, forgiving, observation ( 2)
The Liver (in this system) is associated with the wood element and the season of spring. It is important to state that in Chinese medicine, (and in reality in general), organs are much more than mere carnal organs with a set of physiological functions and duties. Each organ in our body is like an inner family member with their own preferences and dislikes. They each have a corresponding taste, sound, direction, season, planet, musical note, emotion, color and sound; and they respond to and are affected by each of these things.
Organs also respond to each other. The kidneys (water element). are the mother of wood. Hence, if the mother is content and not depleted she can properly nourish her child ( the liver). Liver is the Mother of the heart ( fire element - wood feeds fire). Hence if the liver is not happy and nourished, the heart will suffer as a consequence. This is called the generation cycle and is explained further in Jane’s article. See, (2).
The Liver & Emotions
“The Liver is easily influenced by anger, frustration, and resentment. Having emotions is perfectly healthy, however when we fixate or make a habit of any emotion, it will create disharmony and disease. We can utilize the clearing energy of anger by directing it into positive actions such as new creative projects, or making changes in the world with balance and wisdom. Excessive anger and resentment cause the Qi in the body to rise up quickly, causing headaches, ringing in the ears, high blood pressure or GERD. If the Qi stagnates it can lead to abdominal distention, more frustration, slow digestion and more. A good rule of thumb is to never eat when you are angry or upset. Do not eat with people you do not like. “ (3)
Liver in Springtime
“ In the spring the energy is rising up and outward in powerful surges. It’s a time of enormous change and growth, especially underneath the surface. Hence the Wood element is associated with new ideas, inspiration, and nurturing new projects. In the Spring our energy moves up and outward. We want to move more, we have more energy within us and we want to do something with it.” (3)
The liver is responsible for 500 different physiological functions. It plays a central role in detoxification, regulates hormones and cholesterol, it stores blood and cleanses it at night when it is not being circulated to our muscles for movement. For women blood and hormones play a central role in our menses, pregnancy, and even breastfeeding.
Let’s take a look at some things that you can do to benefit your liver in general and especially at this time.
How to Keep Your Liver Happy
Keeping your liver happy is a great idea, and especially important during spring. Spring is a time for cleansing and detoxification and as we have learned, the liver plays a key role here. Detoxing your liver in Spring can really set the tone for the rest of your year. For women, a happy liver can mean even keel emotions prior to and during menses as well as an absence of cramping and sore breasts - all of which are signs of liver imbalance. It can also mean an easier passage through perimenopause.
Let’s take a look at some things that you can do to benefit your liver in general and especially at this time. Naturally, anything you do to cleanse and detox your body will take any strain off the liver and contribute to its overall vitality. Hopefully it goes without saying that staying hydrated is a key component of cleansing and detoxification. Weather you are choosing a cleanse, a fast, a colonic or a liver and gallbladder flush it is paramount to stay hydrated throughout the process. This will assist in eliminating toxins. Also during times of cleansing, fasting, or flushing it is a good idea to take a break from supplements.
Anything you put on your skin is absorbed into the bloodstream and then filtered by the liver. For this reason you may want to take a break from deodorant, scented lotions, perfume, scented oils and anything that has chemicals in it. If you are using artificial air fresheners or scented candles, you may want to consider high quality organic essential oils and a diffuser as an alternative. Artificial scents are highly toxic and very disruptive to your neurological system and your body in general.
While cleansing and fasting it is best to choose low impact exercise such as walking, gentle yoga or swimming - just don’t overdo it. On days that I fast I allow my body to rest. Supportive things to do at this time could be: quiet time, meditation, being in nature, a detox bath, soothing music or qigong forms and yoga poses that support the liver. I have included a couple of links below.
Spring is a great time to eat lots of leafy greens which the liver loves. Black beans can support relieving the liver and gallbladder of something we call damp-heat in Chinese medicine. Damp-heat contributes to both liver and gallstones. Yes - your liver can have stones too, not only the gallbladder. Because your liver is cleansing your blood while you sleep, it is important to refrain from eating two or three hours before bed, so that your blood does not get used for digestion and your liver can focus on cleansing.
Artichokes can be eaten to help clear heat from the liver. You may also want to consider a dandelion or milk thistle tincture (or tea) , both of which are very supportive of the liver. Again, I have provided a link below for more information. During cleansing and fasts it is helpful for the liver to keep oils and fats to a minimum, choosing to prepare foods with water instead. Definitely stay away from sugar while cleansing. You can drink warm water with lemon to flush the liver first thing in the morning ( sweeten it with something other than sugar, but nothing artificial).
In qigong there are even specific sounds you can make and colors you can use to nourish your organs. The sound “Shhhhhh” is very soothing to the liver. It is often the sound a mother uses to calm her baby. You can also hold your hands over your liver ( right side ) and visualize emitting an emerald green light from your hands to your liver.
You can also practice something called “Inner Smile “ . This is the practice of literally smiling at your organs one by one. You can close your eyes, go inward and with a soft smile on your face, imagine smiling at your liver. If it helps, you can place your hands over your liver to bring your attention there. Imagine all the cells in your liver smiling too , and imagine even the liver itself smiling.
Flushing the Liver & Gallbladder
Though I won’t go into great detail here, because it deserves it’s own article, I highly recommend flushing the liver and gallbladder, as both can accumulate stones which can lead to serious health issues and complications. Gallstones are primarily a product of our modern day diet. In Chinese Medicine, we recognize a pattern called damp -heat in the liver and gallbladder. This is a direct result of processed foods, rich foods, fried foods and too much dairy and sugar, all of which disturb these organs when eaten regularly.
In other words even a hundred years ago, before the advent of junk foods and poor diets you would not have seen this pattern. Many conventional doctors poo poo flushing and have all sorts of myths and misunderstandings about it. There are many ways to flush the liver and only one that I stand by. I have done it thirteen times and am very familiar with it. I learned about if from my colleague Dr. Chew. Both she and I experienced patients in our clinic ( she owned it, I worked there) alleviating the need to have their gallbladders removed after having completed a series of flushes.
Keep in mind that the A.M.A. makes nine billion dollars a year from gallbladder removal surgeries, so they wouldn’t be too keen on encouraging people to clean up their diets and start flushing their livers and gallbladders. In any case, if you are serious about such an undertaking, I highly recommend the book entitled The Amazing Liver and Gallbladder Flush (link below).
Before you decide whether or not you want to order the book, let me share some things with you. This flush takes dedication and discipline and it’s not for everyone. Flushing stones from your liver and gallbladder is somewhat akin to surgery without a scalpel - it’s kind of a big deal. For a week you must refrain from: sugar, caffeine, alcohol, meat , dairy and processed foods. There is also a 24 hour fast involved as well as two colonics. If you feel that you are capable of all of that, then this is something you can greatly benefit from. If not, it’s not for you.
Lastly, when you buy the book, you do not need to read it front to cover in order to do the flush. What you absolutely will want to do, is familiarize yourself with the chapter that focuses specifically on walking you through the preparation and actual flush. I personally do not work on the day I am fasting and I definitely stay close to the bathroom on the day of the flush - so that is also something to consider.
I get a colonic within 24 hours of the flush to prepare the intestines and also to avoid nausea. A colonic within 72 hours post flush is paramount as you do not want any flushed stones to be lying around in your colon. All that said, a couple of colonics and a liver-gallbladder flush will literally leave you feeling clean, crisp, light and clear and if you are inspired to try it, I highly recommend it.
More About the Amazing Liver
Before closing, I thought I would leave you with some more intriguing information about the liver that you may not know already. If you would like more information on cleansing or colonics , you can refer to my previous blog here. I imagine you all out there cleansing your homes, bodies , minds and spirits preparing for this next chapter in your life, this next season on Earth. She is shifting rapidly at this time and so is humanity - tune in and you will feel it. What an amazing time you chose to be alive on planet earth! Celebrate you, celebrate your Mother Earth and celebrate humanity - we are doing this shift!
AN EXCERPT FROM JANE BARTHELEMY’S ARTICLE ON THE LIVER
Liver Consciousness Issues are: Planning, Organization, Processing, Synthesizing, Vision, Faith, Anger, Resentment, Strength, Protection, Memory, Benevolence, Destiny, Soul, Movement, Growth, Hope
The Liver System is quite vast, including the Liver, Gallbladder, Connective Tissue Tendons, Ligaments Sinews, Nails, Eyes, Eyesight, and Hands. The Liver also has an intimate relationship to the Heart.
Common patterns of Liver excess or deficiency may manifest as:
Depression, anger, irritability, moodiness, frequent sighing, lump in throat, poor or blurred vision, melancholy, violent emotional outbursts, tightness in chest, throbbing or violent headaches, fever, dark scant urine, dizziness, numbness in limbs, cravings for alcohol or greasy fried foods, long-standing resentment, painful periods, chronic fatigue, and shingles.
The Liver’s Worst Enemies can be described as simply the stress of modern life. This includes toxins in the environment, Toxins in food water air and cosmetics, Excessive computer work, Excessive oils, Too much salt, too many hot spices, sugars, refined foods, caffeine, overeating, eating when you’re angry, eating with people you don’t like, and especially stuffing emotions inside
Liver’s Best Friends can be described as a moderated and balanced lifestyle. This includes a regular bedtime of 10:00 PM, Eating leafy greens, Detox Cleanse periodically, Juicing, Qigong, using Liver herbs, Yoga stretch Baddha Konasana, and expressing emotions consciously rather than keeping them trapped inside. (3)
I would like to offer that if you are a health geek and you like learning about : Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, eating with the seasons, which food and herbs are good for which organs and seasons - there is a book you might like to own. It’s full of recipes and all sorts of invaluable information. It’s called Healing With Whole Foods.
Sources & Resources
1. Taoism & TCM
2. I highly recommend this website which belongs to a friend who is very knowledgeable in many arenas of health. She is an embodiment of well-being and dedicated to walking her talk in her health and wellness practices. She has free meditations and videos, a blog and much more to explore on her website .
3. The Liver