An Integrative Approach
An Integrative Approach

Wood Element- Time to Move!

Spring has sprung! Technically commencing in March but this year along the front range we really haven’t had those spring vibes until recently with the precipitation. Now, finally, the grass is greening up, flowers are in bloom and we continue to get tastes of warm summer days ahead.

In Chinese Medicine, this ‘spring season’ is referred to as the Wood Element. Seemingly aptly named, since I see wood forming before my eyes. Most notably, we planted a handful of fruit trees last fall and the new branching is remarkable. Same with woody shrubs and woody vines. If you look, you really can see that wood is rapidly forming everywhere. The organs related to this time of year are Chinese ‘Liver’ and ‘Gallbladder’. (in quotes, proceeded by “Chinese” to be clear I am not referring to your Liver or Gallbladder organs in your body, nor is this a diagnosis of those organs). I’ll break these down individually, though they are a paired organ system and work in tandem on many tasks. Important to note the Liver is a Yin organ and the gallbladder is a Yang organ. In this paired organ system, the yin organs are often the star of the show with the yang organ playing some role in the overall theme.

Liver organ-

The Liver is a busy organ, it’s primary role is to maintain a smooth flow of qi in the body. The Liver is called the architect or planner and so a strong Liver would allow you to plan well into the future, a weak Liver would leave you feeling lost and overwhelmed. The Liver is also referred to as the stress organ. If someone is stressed out, the liver is the number one place to start. If the body was a family, the Liver organ would be that family member who really influences the entire family vibe: either keeping things light and fun or creating big disruption and stressing everyone out. The liver has another important role with the blood essence but I’ll save that for a future post. Acupuncture is particularly good at moving the liver qi, pushing the liver energy along for a smooth flow of qi again. That is the ‘acu-stoned/acu-drunk’ feeling you get when walking out of the clinic, very chill and relaxed. There are ways we have control of moving our own liver qi as well. Of course any stress relieving activity, so if you enjoy drawing, gardening, laughing or other activity for stress reduction, that is perfect and can be unique to you. There is a universal way to move liver qi and that is with movement. Moving the body, whether on a walk, exercise, yoga, qi gong, running, biking, swimming… however you move and whatever movement feels good to you.

The Liver organ is associated with symptoms to do with the eyes, top of head, sexual organs, ribs, tendons and is represented from 1am-3am. It’s associated emotion is anger, a perfectly normal emotion but can become excessive when imbalanced.

Gallbladder organ –

The Gallbladder organ is like the Liver’s right hand gal/guy. Most importantly, the gallbladder makes sh*t happen. If the Liver can create a clear plan, the Gallbladder takes that plan and makes it happen. Often referred to as the judge or decision maker. A strong gallbladder can make decisions clearly without worry or stress a weak gallbladder finds oneself unable to make any decision. Think: grocery store isle staring for 20 minutes at shampoo options, eyes blurring and mind cluttered.

The gallbladder is associated with the sinews, head, ribs, storing bile and 11pm-1am. It’s emotion is frustration/anger as well.

Meridians –

The organs have their associated meridians and the Liver/Gallbladder meridians land primarily in the legs. When I think of wood element, I think of trees and unfurling growth. Fitting, therefore that the liver and gallbladder meridians are strongly represented in our legs, activated by the strength we use to spring forward and get moving. The Liver meridian runs from the stabilizing big toe up to the inside of the ankle, running the posterior tibilis, adductor muscle into the groin and then across the obliques. Not to overcomplicate, but it does branch off internally into the face and up to the vertex of the head. The gallbladder meridian starts in the face and completely encompasses the head before dipping down into the obliques, lateral abdominals, all gluteus, down the it band, the figuralis (previously perineal tendon) and into the lateral ankle joint, terminating just inside the lateral stabilizing pinky toe line. So the liver/gallbladder meridians together literally provide our foot planting foundation, giving us strength in stride.

A Yoga addition –

Pulling in multiple eastern philosophy lineages here, lets consider a few yoga poses to support the liver/gallbladder.

Tree- tadasana pose – using the stability of the foot with its internal and lateral strength and stabilizers all the way up the leg to allow for a one legged standing pose. Stretching the arms out to the sky, we embody the essence of a tree. We lengthen out of the torso, relieving tension in the ribcage.

Wide legged forward fold – prasarita pose – again, using the stabilization of the feet we are able to maintain a wide stance and in folding at the hips we benefit from a deep stretch in the adductor muscles of the legs. Allowing the head to hang loose, we free the gallbladder meridian at the occiput.

Pigeon – eka pada rajakapotasana – a deep hip stretch, when held in full glory there is a lengthened upright torso which creates a nice deep stretch in the liver meridian in addition to the obvious gallbladder stretch.