Living in Harmony with Spring According to Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Chinese Medicine Theory

Chinese Medicine has such a beautiful way of looking at us - human beings, our place in nature and in the universe. We are part of a greater whole and are inseparable from it. In Chinese Medicine, we are healthy when we are in harmony with our surroundings, and for much of human history, we have honed the skills needed to be able to feel slight changes in our environments, so that we could change behaviours, to remain in balance. In our modern world, we seem to be losing this connectedness to both our natural environments and ultimately, ourselves. Chinese Medicine can teach us how to regain this connection by giving us some simple guidelines on how to live in harmony with the seasons.

Spring - The Season of the Liver

Spring is the season associated with the Liver and the emotion of Anger. Its energies are expansive - moving upward and outward like newly budding plants, flowers and trees. It is a time for growth and renewal. Spring is the best time to strengthen the Liver, and to deal with any unresolved feelings of Anger or frustration as they can build up and cause stagnant Qi or energy in the Liver and elsewhere. The colour associated with Spring and the Liver is green. Eating green foods in the Spring strengthens the Liver. To keep your Liver healthy, be sure to be in bed and asleep before 11pm.

The Liver is the organ associated with Spring. In Chinese Medicine the Liver has the following responsibilities:

  • Opens Into the Eyes
  • Controls Planning
  • The Flavour that Supports the Liver is Sour
  • Houses the Hun (Spirit) The Liver is the organ associated with Spring.
  • Stores Blood
  • Responsible for the Smooth Flow of Qi & Blood
  • Controls the Sinews / Tendons
  • Manifests in the Nails

Behaviours in Spring

  • Engaging in uplifting and creative activities that expand our energies and consciousness (journaling, meditation)
  • Seek personal development and growth
  • Cooking should be of shorter duration and at higher temperatures
  • Sautéing with high-quality oil over high heat, or light steaming with water is best in Spring
  • Manage Anger (and frustration) - excess, intense and unexpressed anger congests Qi in the Liver
  • Liver time is between 1am-3am - this is the best time to strengthen the Liver
  • For optimum Liver health, go to bed before 11pm (the Gallbladder time - it is the Liver’s Yin/Yang partner organ)
  • Eat green foods to strengthen Liver

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

Activities in Spring

  • Engage in activities that feed your creativity - drawing/painting/writing/photography/making music/dancing
  • Making plans for the future
  • Spring cleaning of your internal environment - physical, emotional, spiritual
  • Acknowledging, processing and releasing any unresolved emotions, especially Anger & frustration
  • Any activities that push our self-imposed boundaries
  • Gentle exercises on a daily basis, especially stretching as the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi as well as the tendons
  • Walking meditation in nature (gentle exercise, feeding the spirit and taking in the green of new Spring plants through the eyes)
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs

Beneficial Foods in Spring

  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Grapefruit
  • Sprouted Grains, Beans, Seeds
  • Many Green Foods Nourish the Liver
  • Radish
  • Daikon Radish
  • Tofu
  • Fermented Food
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Dandelion Root
  • Milk Thistle
  • Mung Bean
  • Lettuce
  • Quinoa
  • Cucumber
  • Watercress
  • Celery
  • Millet
  • Seaweed
  • Mushroom
  • Beet
  • Carrot
  • Onion
  • Mustard Green
  • Rye
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Alfalfa
  • Amaranth

Photo by Scott Eckersley on Unsplash

The Liver and Anger

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

We've all seen that impressive display of anger. Someone losing it in the lineup at the bank, an exasperated parent yelling at a child having a tantrum, or someone, after being on a plane for a bazillion hours being told that they have missed their connecting flight and that the airline has lost their luggage. Yeah, we've all seen that. And it is most of our instincts' to back away a few steps because of how powerful that anger can be. That, my friends, is your Liver talking.

Now in the West, this doesn't make much sense. The liver, we are taught, is the body's filter, making sure that we stay clean and toxin-free. But in Chinese Medicine, each of the organs has an emotional component, which is just as important as its physical functions in the body - and the emotion of the liver is anger.

When the liver is balanced and healthy we are able to move freely because of the liver's responsibilities of governing the smooth flow of Qi in the appropriate directions. You may wonder what happens when Qi flows in the wrong direction? Well, each of the organs has a natural direction in which its Qi flows. For example, the Qi of the stomach flows downward, helping to move food and drink through the digestive system, but when the flow of that Qi is reversed due to pathogenic factors it causes belching, hiccups, nausea and vomiting. A healthy liver means a strong immune system because the liver is responsible for the body's resistance to exterior pathogens. Because the liver opens into the eyes, if you have a healthy liver your vision will be clear and your eyes moist. If your liver is in a state of balance you will have strong nails, recover quickly from physical activities, your movements will be smooth and your body flexible. Those with a healthy liver will also have great courage and resoluteness, and will easily be able to plan their lives wisely and effectively with a clear sense of direction.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Some Symptoms of Liver Stagnation & Imbalance

  • Frustration, depression or repressed anger
  • Hypochondriac pain
  • A sensation of oppression in the chest
  • A feeling of a "lump" in the throat
  • Abdominal distension
  • Women - pre-menstrual tension, depression, irritability, distension of the breasts
  • Belching, sour regurgitation, nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bitter taste in the mouth, belching, jaundice
  • Contraction and/or spasms in the muscles and sinews, impaired extension/flexion, numbness of the limbs, muscle cramps, tremors
  • Dark, dry or cracked nails
  • Blurred vision, myopia, floaters, colour blindness, a feeling of dryness or grit in the eyes
  • Bloodshot, painful or burning sensation in the eyes
  • Irritability, outbursts of anger, red face, dizziness, tinnitus, headaches
  • Lack of direction in life, feeling of being stuck

Chinese Medicine gives us many ways that we can help our bodies, mind and spirits stay balanced and healthy - in every season. Eating green foods, spending more time turning inward, processing our emotions and being in bed by 11pm are only some of the ways we can live in harmony with the spring season, and keep our energies flowing freely so we can be happy, healthy beings all year long.


Beautiful featured image photo by Sylwia Pietruszka on Unsplash


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Liver Flush Immune Elixir Recipe

The ReFresh Cookbook - Ruth Tal with Jennifer Houston

This recipe is from one of my favourite cookbooks, that comes from one of my favourite restaurants in Toronto - Fresh. It was a wonderful place to eat with a diverse menu of fresh, raw, vegan (and non vegan) dishes that tasted delicious and you knew were amazing for you. You can learn a little bit more about them and their vision here.

This juice recipe is one I have recommended to patients for years and have made for myself many times. It is especially helpful if your liver is congested - you are experiencing a lot of anger and/or frustration or you are having any menstrual problems like cramps.

Some Signs of Liver Stagnation

  • Pain along the sides of the body
  • Anger (that is overwhelming, inappropriate or not easily controlled)
  • Frustration
  • Sighing
  • Hiccups
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Extreme stress that is difficult to manage
  • Mood Swings
  • Sensation of having a lump in your throat

Women

  • Menstrual cramps where the pain is dull, distended, localized, sharp or stabbing in quality
  • Blood clots
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Urinary problems
  • Depression
  • Sciatica
  • Infertility

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or if you just want to do some regular liver maintenance I would highly recommend this delicious juice to help your liver get its energies moving. Here is the recipe straight out of the book.

Liver Flush Immune Elixir

Formerly called Bukowski's Liver Flush after the prolific poet and devout alcoholic Charles Bukowski, this combination is spicy, sweet, and intense. You can gradually increase the amount of beet juice in this recipe as you become accustomed to its detoxifying effect on your body. Beet juice has powerful cleansing benefits to the liver, kidneys and blood. Be sure to drink lots of water throughout the day. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 inch ginger root
  • 2 medium beets, scrubbed
  • 1/2 lemon peeled
  • 2 large pink grapefruits
  • 2 shakes cayenne pepper
  • 20 drops milk thistle

Method

Juice the ginger first. Follow with the beets and lemon. Finish with the grapefruit. Stir in the cayenne pepper. Drop in the milk thistle. Pour into a tall glass. 

**CAUTION!!**

Something I want to be sure to note to the uninitiated, is that drinking beet juice has a direct effect on your poop and will make it bright red, looking like blood. I say this because of the number of times that I have had patients call me in a panic sure that they were dying because they were bleeding from the inside. It can be scary indeed.

 

The lovely featured image from foodgawker.com

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.

 


Cloud-Ear Mushroom - For Spring Detox

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

Spring is in the air and it is time for many households to start their spring cleaning projects around their homes and gardens. Our body, after a whole winter of inactivity and over indulgence in greasy and highly dense food, should also be in great need for a good spring cleaning.

On the subject of cleansing and detoxifying our body, you may find yourself being overwhelmed by too many product advertisements in health magazines, newspapers, online newsletters and blogs and you may find it hard to decide where to start and what product to use. I think the best approach is to have a good assessment of your body condition first and then use it as a guideline to help determine your right course of action. This, together with your honest answers to how much time, money and effort that you would like to put into the exercise, are the determining factors on how successful you can be. I think it is only sensible to take a longer time and more moderate approach rather than going through some drastic regimens of extreme and punishing diets which can only kill your will power and good intension. May I suggest just changing your food choices to more healthful ones as a start which may take longer to see the effects but at least more doable and enjoyable?

Cloud Ear Mushroom Recipe : Chinese Medicine Living

Overall, if you can manage to feed yourself with more good clean and nutritional fluids such as good clean water, freshly squeezed fruits and vegetables juice and homemade broth, cut down on meat consumption, eat a little bit less and do sweat inducing exercises daily for about 45 minutes, you are on the right path to spring clean your body for better health.

On healthy food choices for detoxification, vegetables with high fiber content would be the best choice. Chive, garlic stem, daikon, bok-choy, watercress, yu-choy, collard green, kelp and seaweed are good in cleansing our stomach and digestive tract. Mushroom, beans and seeds are other good detox agents. Most mushrooms have anti-oxidant properties and are effective in fighting tumors and abnormal cell development. Beans and seeds are effective in helping the body to eliminate abnormal retention of water and waste products.

Mushrooms have a good reputation for delivering great health benefits. Most western people know about Asian shiitake mushroom and consume it regularly but they may not know about another black mushroom called cloud-ear mushroom.

Cloud-ear mushroom is smaller in size, thinner, more fragile and very different than shiitake. It is more a fungus than mushroom and the shape is like human ear. They are grown on wet tree trunks and cluster together like a stack of clouds. They are known to be very effective in cleaning the lungs, reducing plague and cholesterol. They are commonly used in Chinese home cooking because they are easily available and affordable. They are mostly sold dried therefore can be kept for a long time. They can be fully rehydrated after soaking for about 15 minutes and a little can turn into a lot so very easy and economical to use.

The mushroom itself is almost tasteless, just needs a few minutes to cook but its slippery and crunchy texture makes it a very unique culinary ingredient. Even with longer time cooking will not change its texture. Therefore, cloud-ear mushroom is best for putting in a stir-fry, quick soup recipes and vegetarian stew. You can also put it in salad or some appetizer dishes after quick cooking in hot water.

Last week, I was so pleasantly surprised when I found fresh cloud-ear mushroom for sale in Chinese supermarkets in the Greater Toronto area. They are now being farmed in some Ontario mushroom farms together with many other exotic species. I am so happy to be able to use them fresh in many recipes now.

Whenever I buy cloud-ear mushroom, my 95 year old mom (living with me) will tell her story again on how her father made them all eat a bowl first thing in the morning before breakfast when they were young and how much he loved and cared for them. They were using the dried ones then and have them soaked in an open pot overnight on the roof-top terrace to get some morning dews before cooking with a little sugar to make it tasty for children. This is the kind of breakfast that will make so much difference to our heath compared to eating a bowl of sweet cereal. However, I think this is a hard act to follow and I truly admire the grandfather whom I had never met.

The following is an easy stir-fry recipe which I have put together just for demonstration. I used ingredients I have on hand. Crunchy and easy to cook ingredients such as onion, zucchini, cucumber and sweet peppers go well together with this mushroom. You just vary them according to your liking.  Sometimes I put the mushroom in vegetable soups and finish the soup with egg wash to make it a little bit fancier. I have also come to notice some Chinese dim-sum restaurants are using cloud-ear mushroom in their appetizers other than just in their usual steamed chicken.

Cloud-Ear Mushroom with Chicken Stir-Fry

Cloud Ear Mushroom Recipe : Chinese Medicine Living

Ingredients

  • Cloud-ear mushroom
  • Asparagus
  • Red onion
  • King mushroom
  • Chicken breast
  • Minced ginger and garlic

Cloud Ear Mushroom Recipe : Chinese Medicine Living

Directions

  • Rinse and cut ingredients to desire thickness and length.
  • Rinse and slice chicken breast thinly. Season with salt, pepper, cooking oil, soy sauce, potato starch and sesame oil.
  • Heat wok, add mined ginger and garlic and stir briefly. Add onion and other vegetables to cook for a couple of minutes. Then add mushrooms and mix in seasoning to taste. When the cloud-ear mushrooms starting to make popping sound, sprinkle in a little cooking wine and a little water. Mix and cover with lid to cook for a few minutes.  Then put everything aside.
  • Heat wok with a little oil and add minced ginger and garlic to stir-fry chicken slices. When about 70 % cooked, sprinkle in cooking wine and return mushrooms & vegetable to the cooking to mix the ingredients. Put everything to plate when chicken is completely cooked.

Cloud-Ear Mushroom - For Spring Detox : Chinese Medicine Living

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.

 


The Liver and Anger - Part 3

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Ever see a really impressive display of anger? Someone losing it in the lineup at the bank, an exasperated parent yelling at a child having a tantrum in the grocery store, or someone, after being on a plane for a bazillion hours being told that they have missed their connecting flight and that the airline has lost their luggage. Yeah, we've all seen that. And it is most of our instincts' to back away a few steps because of how powerful that anger can be. That, my friends, is your liver talking.

Now in the West, this doesn't make much sense. The liver, we are taught, is the body's filter, making sure that we stay clean and toxin-free. But in Chinese Medicine, each of the organs has an emotional component, which is just as important as its physical functions in the body, and the emotion of the liver is anger. Below is a list of the organs and the emotions associated with them in Chinese medicine.

anger and the liver in Chinese medicine

The Liver - Anger

The Lungs - Sadness & Grief

The Spleen - Overthinking & Worry

The Heart - Joy

The Kidneys - Fear

Now these outbursts of anger are not the liver in its normal state, they are obviously a liver terribly out of balance. It is of course normal to experience emotions like anger, but as we know in Chinese medicine, it is when those emotions are unexpressed or repressed that things can build up and in the case of the liver, if left long enough, can cause a Chernobyl like effect. And nobody wants that.

So how do you not let it get there, you may ask? Well, it is interesting to me that of all the life skills that are most useful to us, none of them to be taught in the place where it would be useful to acquire them - school. Emotional wellness is vital to our health and wellbeing and yet, most of us are at a loss at how to deal with them.

In Chinese medicine thinking, the emotions are a cause of disease. Now this may sound ominous, but let me clarify. HAVING emotions is not a cause of disease and that is an important distinction. It is emotions out of balance, and they become imbalanced when we do not express them freely, or worse, when we do not express them at all.

Let me give you an example...

Expressing Your Feelings

Two friends are having a conversation and one says something that is hurtful to the other without realizing it. The conversation continues with one person being very hurt and the other having no idea that they hurt the others feelings. After the conversation the hurt person starts to feel angry at their friend for having hurt their feelings and not even realizing it. But, once they have had a few days to cool off they realize that they need to express their feelings to their friend so they will feel better. After the conversation the friend who said the hurtful thing unintentionally apologizes and explains what they meant when they said the thing that the other perceived as hurtful. The hurt friend sees it from the others perspective and realizes it was not said intentionally and that anger was diffused and let go. The friends make up and their relationship is made stronger by the fact that they can openly express their feelings to each other.

expressing anger in Chinese medicine

Suppressing Your Feelings

The alternate scenario, and many people do this, is for the hurt friend to be hurt which turns into anger and never mention anything to the other friend about it. This builds up over time and every time any other little thing the other friend does frustrates the already angry friend it just adds to the anger that is growing and growing. The friend who initially said the hurtful thing, completely unintentionally, has no idea that their friend is harbouring so much anger and one day, after a small disagreement, the angry friend has a complete blowup and all the anger that has been growing comes out all over the bewildered friend who had no idea that all that anger was in there, and certainly not that things they had been inadvertently saying or doing was the cause.

Not Expressing Your Feelings

Another scenario is that the hurt friend internalizes the initial hurt, and all other hurts, frustrations, etc... and never speaks about them. They do this not only with this particular friend, but with everyone in their life. Eventually this person becomes sick, despite being otherwise healthy and wonders why. This is one of the theories about where many cancers come from - a long standing stagnation of energy, and in many cancers, many believe that there is a huge emotional component.

Now all that said, sometimes expressing your feelings isn't easy. We are not taught how, but it is of vital importance for your health and well being. A lot of us are taught to avoid confrontation, and many see expressing emotions that are seen as negative as opening the door to possible confrontation. But, I can tell you, that if you can speak your mind, and express what you are feeling, with kindness and compassion, it will almost always strengthen a relationship, and if it doesn't, that might not be a relationship you want to keep.

suppressing emotions is Chinese medicine

A Healthy, Happy Liver

When the liver is balanced and healthy we are able to move freely because of the liver's responsibilities of governing the smooth flow of Qi in the appropriate directions. You may wonder what happens when Qi flows in the wrong direction? Well, each of the organs has a natural direction in which its Qi flows. For example, the Qi of the stomach flows downward, helping to move food and drink through the digestive system, but when the flow of that Qi is reversed due to pathogenic factors it causes belching, hiccups, nausea and vomiting. A healthy liver means a strong immune system because the liver is responsible for the body's resistance to exterior pathogens. Because the liver opens into the eyes, if you have a healthy liver your vision will be clear and your eyes moist. If your liver is in a state of balance you will have strong nails, recover quickly from physical activities, your movements will be smooth and your body flexible. Those with a healthy liver will also have great courage and resoluteness, and will easily be able to plan their lives wisely and effectively with a clear sense of direction.

Some Symptoms of Liver Stagnation & Imbalance

  • frustration, depression or repressed anger
  • hypochondriac pain
  • sensation of oppression in the chest
  • a feeling of a "lump" in the throat
  • abdominal distension
  • women - pre-menstrual tension, depression, irritability, distension of the breasts
  • belching, sour regurgitation, nausea, vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • bitter taste in the mouth, belching, jaundice
  • contraction and/or spasms in the muscles and sinews, impaired extension/flexion, numbness of the limbs, muscle cramps, tremors
  • dark, dry or cracked nails
  • blurred vision, myopia, floaters, colour blindness, a feeling of dryness or grit in the eyes
  • bloodshot, painful or burning sensation in the eyes
  • irritability, outbursts of anger, red face, dizziness, tinnitus, headaches
  • lack of direction in life, feeling of being stuck

the liver and anger

As you can see, there are a wide variety of symptoms that can point to a disharmony of the liver. The liver has a great many responsibilities in the body, so keeping it healthy and happy is not only good for your physical health, it is important for your emotional health too. The other thing to remember is that having prolonged feelings of anger or frustration that are repressed or unexpressed can damage the liver and the opposite is true as well. A deficiency in the liver from either external pathogenic factors, or an internal imbalance can make you more prone to feelings of anger and frustration. Expressing our emotions honestly and regularly is one of the best ways we can keep this important organ healthy. You'll know you achieved it the next time you are in a stressful situation and you are able to shrug it off and see the positive instead of going nuclear and destroying everything in your wake. ;)

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.


foods for the gallbladder

Loving Your Liver With Nutrition - Part 2

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the time of his doctor.

~ Ancient Chinese Proverb

In this second instalment of the Liver series, we will cover how the foods we eat can heal and support the liver. The spring is the time when liver energies are at the fullest, so this is the perfect time to eat foods that support the liver as well as detoxify, letting go of things we don't need to make room for the new things that will nourish and heal us.

Spring and the liver in TCM

In spring we begin eating less than we did in winter, consuming lighter foods and cleansing the body of the excess fats and heavier foods eaten in winter. Spring is a time of renewal and growth, a time of expansion and expression. Spring is when we introduce newly grown greens and sprouts, salty foods and pungent herbs which support the liver and help to cleanse the body.

Cleansing the body is especially beneficial in spring not only because of the liver's function of filtering toxins, but emotionally as well - emotions like frustration, impatience and anger are associated with the liver and a cleansing of the body and emotions allows us to clear out old residues and enables us to see more clearly and move forward in life with renewed passion and purpose.

Here is a list of things associated with the liver and spring in Chinese medicine.

Yin Organ - Liver
Yang Organ - Gallbladder
Season - Spring
Colour - Green
Direction - East
Flavour - Sour
Sense Organ - Eyes
Emotion - Anger
Weather - Wind

Cooking in Spring

Cooking in spring should be of shorter duration and at higher temperatures. In Chinese medicine raw foods are mostly seen to be cold in nature so some cooking is always recommended, but of all the seasons, the spring is the time food is cooked the least for its cooling and cleansing capabilities. Sautéing with a bit of high quality oil over high heat, or light steaming with water is the perfect was to cook food in spring and the way your liver will receive the most benefit.

greens for a healthy liver

Liver Disharmony

Of all the organs, the liver tends to be the most congested, and ironically, is responsible for the free flow of qi throughout the body. A diet high in fatty, deep fried foods as well as eating highly processed and denatured foods congest the liver and lead to disharmony, physically, mentally and emotionally. A person with a healthy liver in Chinese medicine is supremely calm, has no feelings of stress or tension, easily makes decisions and has excellent judgement.

Physical symptoms of liver imbalance include many symptoms. The liver opens into the eyes so many eye symptoms point to a liver disharmony (bloodshot eyes, floaters, vision problems like cataracts and glaucoma), tendon issues (contraction, weakness, rigidity and inflexibility), pain and distension in the sides and rib areas, vertex headaches and outbursts of anger or frustration are all symptoms of a liver disharmony.

Avocado Salad for Liver Health

Beneficial Liver Foods

  • Honey/mint tea
  • Herbs - basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, horseradish, mint, lemon balm, angelica root, prickly ash bark
  • Complex Carbohydrates - grains, legumes, seeds
  • Vegetables - beets, carrots, watercress, onions, mustard greens, taro root
  • Raw foods - sprouted grains, beans, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Fruits - lemon, lime, grapefruit
  • Bitter Foods - rye, romaine lettuce, asparagus, amaranth, , quinoa, alfalfa, radish leaves, citrus peel
  • Liver cleansing herbs - dandelion root, bupleurum, mandarin, milk thistle seeds, Oregon grape root, chamomile flowers
  • Liver detoxifying foods - mung beans and their sprouts, lettuce, cucumber, watercress, seaweeds, celery, millet, tofu, plum, chlorophyll rich foods, mushrooms, rhubarb root, radish, daikon radish

dandelion for the liver

If you are feeling like your liver might need a little extra love, then try eating some of the foods listed above, drinking some green juices (dandelion and milk thistle are particularly good) and go outside, take in the new green of the growing plants through your eyes, move your body to circulate the qi and stretch to keep those tendons limber. Your liver will love you for it. :)

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.


Loving Your Liver with Chinese Medicine - Part 1

Loving Your Liver with Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Spring is here, and Spring is the time that the Liver flourishes and its energies are at their peak. Spring is a time of new life and the growth and activity of plants and animals after a long winter hibernating. The Liver is associated with new growth and expansive energies, just like plants in Springtime stretching up and out, reaching for the sun. Spring is the best time to support the Liver, eating fresh green foods and being mindful to express our emotions.

The Liver has many responsibilities in Chinese medicine, as you will see below, and the Springtime is the best time to treat the Liver, as its energies are at their full expression. First we will discuss the Liver's responsibilities in the body, then, in part two, we will move onto the emotions and in part three we will discuss the ways that we can keep the Liver healthy and happy through diet, the emotions and making sure you get to bed by 11pm. :)

What Does The Liver Do in Chinese Medicine?

Stores Blood

The Liver stores blood in Chinese medicine

One of the most vital functions of the Liver is that it is responsible for storing blood. This means that it regulates the volume of blood in the body at all times, and this serves an important function during physical activity. The Liver stores the blood when it is not being used by the body, but when we are active, the Liver sends the blood to the muscles, nourishing and moistening them. This function also has an important influence on a person's energy level. The Liver sends the blood to specific parts of the body, nourishing the necessary tissues. If the Liver is healthy, we will have energy to do our daily activities. If the Liver is impaired however, the blood will not get to the parts of the body that need it and we will become easily tired.

The Livers function of storing blood also directly influences our ability to fight off pathogens. If the Liver function is normal, the skin and muscles will be well nourished and the body will be able to fight off attacks by exterior pathogens. There are other factors that affect our ability to fight off pathogenic factors, like our defensive Qi and the strength of our Lung Qi, but it is important not to overlook the Livers role in our ability to fight off invaders.

The Livers function of storing blood is also extremely important in gynaecology and specifically, menstruation. If the Liver is functioning normally, the periods will be normal. If the Liver is deficient, the periods will be late, irregular or absent. If the Liver is in excess or has excess heat, there can be excessive bleeding and pain. The Liver is very important in Women's physiology and pathology. Many gynaecological problems are due to pathologies of the Liver. If there are gynaecological problems, the Liver will be involved. Because the Liver governs the smooth flow of Qi, the bodies energies, stagnation of Liver Qi is a common diagnosis and manifests in the periods as painful periods, pre-menstrual tension and clots.

Responsible for the Smooth Flow of Qi

Liver responsible for smooth flow of qi

The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. In Chinese medicine, illness or disease is seen to be a blockage of the flow. When things, like blood, are not flowing properly, the results can be catastrophic, like a stroke. So, the Liver's function of keeping Qi moving in the body is important for our health. A blockage of the flow of Qi is central to almost all Liver disharmonies and is one of the most common patterns seen in clinical practice. In Chinese medicine, each organ also is seen to have a specific direction in which its Qi naturally flows. The Lungs Qi flows downwards (a pathological upward flow causes coughing), as does the Qi of the Stomach (when it moves up we get vomiting and belching), and the Qi of the Spleen naturally flows up (when it moves down we get diarrhea). Part of the Livers function of moving Qi smoothly throughout the body is also to ensure the proper flow and direction for all the organs. This is a big responsibility as you can imagine. It is a big job which is why it is so important to have a health, happy Liver.

The Liver function of ensuring the smooth flow of Qi also has an impact on the emotional state. If the Liver is functioning normally, the Qi will be flowing and the emotional state will be balanced. However, if the Qi is obstructed, there can be anger, frustration, depression and a feeling of being "wound up" as well as physical symptoms like hypochondriac pain, a sensation of oppression in the chest, a feeling of a lump in the throat and distension in the abdomen.

Controls the Sinews

Liver controls the sinews

 As you can imagine, the state of our sinews affects our ability to move our bodies freely. Anyone who has ever done a yoga class will be able to tell you exactly how important it is to have moist, supple sinews as even the ability to do something simple like touching your toes can be a humbling experience! The health of the sinews is under the control of the Liver, and specifically Liver blood. Liver blood nourishes and moistens the sinews, ensuring that we can move freely and easily. The sinews ability to relax and contract is also dependent on Liver blood. If Liver blood is deficient, sinews will become dry and brittle and we can experience symptoms like contractions, spasms, numbness, tremors and muscle cramps.

Manifests in the Nails

In Chinese medicine, the nails are considered a by-product of the sinews which are under the control of the Liver and specifically, Liver blood. Liver blood is responsible for nourishing and moistening the nails in the same way as it is for the sinews. If Liver blood is abundant, the nails will be hard, shiny and moist. If Liver blood is deficient, we can see symptoms like dry and brittle nails, and nails with ridges, spots, cracks and can be dark and have a withered appearance. So, next time you break a nail, you might want to consider giving your Liver some extra love!

nails and the liver in Chinese medicine

Opens Into the Eyes

Eyes and the liver in Chinese Medicine

 Every organ in Chinese medicine is associated with a sense organ and the Liver opens into the eyes. The eyes, therefore, are used as a diagnostic tool for helping to determine the health of the Liver. Liver blood is responsible for the eyes capacity to see clearly. Psychologically, the health of the Liver can also determine how clearly we are able to recognize what is actually happening in our lives and how connected we are to reality. If the Liver blood is abundant, then we will see clearly, but if it is deficient, we will have eye problems like blurred vision, dry eyes, myopia, colour blindness and especially floaters.

Because the Liver is especially susceptible to heat, when Liver heat is in excess we see eye symptoms like red and blood shot eyes and the eyes may be painful and have a burning sensation. These symptoms are often accompanied with headaches, ringing in the ears and a bitter taste in the mouth.

Controls Planning

The Liver in Chinese Medicine

One of the other responsibilities of the Liver, and one that is not often mentioned, it its ability to help us plan our lives wisely. A healthy Liver gives us the capacity to organize and plan our lives and gives us a clear sense of direction. A Liver that is out of balance however, affects how well we are able to plan into the future which we see so often in our society, partially because of Liver imbalances, and partially because so many of us are simply overwhelmed with our lives and have a hard time keeping up with our daily activities. A healthy Liver will help with so much more than your health! It will literally help you to focus, and plan your life smoothly and effectively.

As you can see, the Liver has a lot of responsibilities so keeping it healthy is always a good idea. The good news is that there are many, many ways that we can keep Liver energies balanced and keep this important organ happy and healthy. We will discuss these as well as the very important emotional aspect of the Liver (anger) in the following sections.

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If you are having issues with your liver, Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP offers skype consults. Please write to info@chinesemedicineliving for more info, or see our skype consults page to contact us and set up a time with Emma.

If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.


Happy Spring-Time!

Written by Michael Margulis, Ac.

Just a few words about the spring season according to Chinese medicine.

The spring is a time of upward and expansive movement of creativity, planning a brighter future, vision and perspective; our goal as always, is to harmonize ourselves with the movement of the prevailing season. According to Chinese medicine, the Liver and the Gall-Bladder correspond to the spring and are charged of the smooth flow of energy throughout the body, storing and detoxifying the blood. Our activities should be geared towards creativity, determination and the expression of our inherent mental, emotional and spiritual intelligence. Much in same way that many of us engage in an annual spring cleaning of our external environment, our bodies do the very same thing within our internal environment; physically and emotionally.

We are now nearing the time of year when we will see the newly formed buds on the trees doubling in size daily, this is nature's expression of determination and creativity associated with the spring. Similarly, we too should engage in activities that put our determination, creativity and innate intelligence into motion. In Chinese medicine we always look at nature for insight to the energetic momentum, and strive behave similarly. Just as the buds on trees are sprouting and doubling in size daily we should also be pushing our self imposed boundaries and seek personal development and growth. We should engage in uplifting and creative activity that expands our energy and consciousness, this is why we have been blessed with the spring, the season of creativity, growth and renewal.

This is the perfect time of year to let go of stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs, as the expansive, stimulating movement of the spring gives us that boost naturally. We can also take advantage of this natural boost of energy to begin to exercise moderately on a daily basis, this too helps us to feel alive and refreshed. By shaking off the “cob webs” of the dormant season (winter), sweating out toxins, stimulating serotonin and dopamine in the brain, and revitalizing our energetic, blood and lymphatic circulation.

According to Chinese Medicine the Liver houses the aspect of our spirit that never dies from one lifetime to the next and therefore contains our reason for being. This is why the Liver has the capacity of determination and vision and planning; this way we can spring into action, express our greatest innate qualities needed to realize our spiritual destiny.

The name of the game during the spring is; to face everything and avoid nothing that stands in the way of our evolution; to hide nothing from ourselves; repressed desires, emotional needs and pain should be gently extracted from our depths and brought to the surface so that we may consciously release them (spring cleaning). This is the most propitious time of year to stop procrastinating and face the challenges that emerge from deep within our being or in our day to day lives that can impede us from our primordial spiritual evolution (the summer). In order to do this we must have physical, mental, emotional and spiritual clarity and cleanliness.
Most of the pain we experience have a tendino-muscular or a neuro-muscular component and according Chinese medicine all pain involves some sort of stagnation; be it of the blood, energy, body fluids, emotion or mental. According to Chinese medicine, the Liver and Gall Bladder govern the muscles, tendons and the nerves, by promoting proper heath and functioning of the Liver and Gall-Bladder we can keep the body, mind and spirit harmonious and pain free.

The positive mental-emotional attributes of the Liver/Gall-Baldder are;
Compassion, patience, acceptance, benevolence and honesty (both within and without).

The negative mental-emotional attributes of the Liver/Gall-Bladder are;
Anger, frustration, resentment, irritability and belligerence.

Just as the body is a microcosm of our world, the body is also equipped with acupuncture points that resonate with the spring equinox and have the power to harmonize us with this very powerful time of year. They synchronize us with the ambient movement and expression of positivity, determination, expansion creativity and cleanliness that is proper to the spring.

These points and they are very often of the most important acupuncture points to stimulate on the spring equinox or during the week of the spring equinox. It's best to stimulate these points starting with Gall-Bladder 41 and ending with Liver 1.

Gall-Bladder 41 (GB 41)

Liver 1 (LV 1)

Wishing you a beautiful and abundant spring full of health and happiness!

Straight ahead!

Michael Margulis, Ac.
Clinic GEM
514-271-3963

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.


Spring Recipe for Nourishing Liver

By Vicky Chan of Nourish U

The arrival of spring brings a new season of growth to all living things on earth. That is why Chinese medicine identifies spring as wood. According to the TCM five-element theory, wood represents our liver and gallbladder system. What this means is that spring is the season when the liver energy is most intense; therefore it is the best time to address and promote liver health.

The liver is the only organ in our body which is responsible for removing poisons and toxins from our blood, making bile to support digestion and making new blood and protein to support growth.

Diet has an immediate impact on liver health. Over eating, especially rich and greasy foods can make the liver system sluggish and can slow down liver functions. Too much alcohol can damage liver cells and can cause hardening of the liver and cancer. Besides food, exercise and emotions can also affect liver health. Too much sorrow is known to suppress liver energy and cause system failure. Unhealthy lifestyle such as not sleeping at night can interfere with the liver detoxification and blood building cycles. Therefore, a healthy diet and lifestyle and the right state of mind and balanced emotions are the keys to good health.

Spring cleaning is not only necessary for our homes and gardens, it is also necessary for our bodies, especially the liver to clean out toxins after a winter season of heavy foods and indulgences. A cleansing diet with emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables is most appropriate. Adding a bit more sour taste to our foods and drinks such as lemon and vinegar can produce effective contracting, astringent and cleansing effects.

After cleansing the liver, nourishing it is also very important. There are many foods and herbs which are excellent for promoting liver health such as asparagus, dandelion, goji-berries, bean sprout and chives. Liver meats are best for promoting liver health. One common misconception about liver or organ meat is that they are full of toxins and cholesterol and therefore is not good for health. In fact, liver meat has exceptionally high content of quality protein, vitamin A, B vitamins and in particular B12, folic acid, minerals such as copper, zinc, chromium, copper and CoQ10. The by-products of liver detoxification cannot be stored in liver cells because there is no room for them. The World Health Organization has just recently included pork liver as one of the most healthy foods to eat.

Please refer to our website to see more foods and herbs suggestions and recipes for promoting liver health for spring. Here is a recipe using pork or chicken liver to nourish our liver. It is very easy to make, delicious and suitable for the whole family.

IMG_3080

Stir-fry Liver with Chives and Goji-berries

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS

Nourishes liver, promotes good eyesight and increases yang energy.

INGREDIENTS: (2 to 3 servings)

Chicken or pork liver – 250gm

Chinese chives – one bunch (about 300gm)

Astragalus (huang qi) 黃耆 - 30 gm

Goji-berry / Chinese Wolfberry (gou ji zi) 枸杞子 - 20 gm

Minced or grated ginger – two tablespoons

Soy sauce – one teaspoon

Potato starch – one teaspoon

Cooking wine – 2 tablespoons

IMG_3082

DIRECTIONS

1. Rinse astragalus, cut into short sections and put with 2.5 cups of water in a pot and
let it soak for 30 minutes. Then bring water to a boil and lower heat to medium low and
cook for 30 minutes to yield 1/3 cup of tea. Discard astragalus and put tea aside.

2. Rinse chives a few times, strain and cut into bite size sections.

3. Wash liver with salt, rinse, cut liver into thin slices and season with soy sauce, half
portions of ginger and wine, and lastly mix in starch.

4. Soak goji-berries for 10 to 15 minutes with water and rinse a few times. Soak goji-
berries with half of the astragalus tea.

5. Warm one table spoon of oil in a pan. Add the remaining ginger and stir. Add chive
and stir for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Add the rest of the astragalus tea and
cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and put chives aside on a plate.

6. Warm another spoon of oil in the pan and add liver. Let liver cook for one minute
each on both sides. Add in goji-berries with tea and cook for 2 more minutes or to liver
is just done. Put chives back into the cooking and mix. Put everything onto a plate and serve.

USAGE

No restrictions

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.