The ancient wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses the unique elements of each season (winter spring summer and fall) to guide us on how to live in alignment with nature for optimal health.
Modifying our diet and lifestyle according to the seasons is quite intuitive if you think about it: Cooked food in winter, raw fresh food in summer.
The natural slowing down of energy in the cold winter months and the tendency to go inwards (both physically and energetically), versus the extroverted, growth, and activity-filled summer months. We change as the seasons change.
Sadly we’ve lost touch with so much of this in our modern culture, often opting for the same foods and pace year-round due to our jammed social calendars, work demands, and general pace of modern life. But when we take time to listen and to shift our actives and diet according to the season, we have an amazing opportunity to better our health and move our lives along in a more sustainable and nourishing way.
Sounds intriguing? Read more to see how you can use the upcoming spring energy to help bring some balance to your life.
Each season is a unique system according to TCM and has specific foods, ways of eating, a natural level of activity or rest suited for it, a predominant emotion, an organ system associated with it, in addition to a color and a general vibe that can guide how we live.
Spring energy is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder systems in TCM which governs our eyes, tendons, and ligament health. The energy required in this cycle influences movement and circulation in our bodies and people often find that their need for movement increases dramatically at this time of year. Our bodies have been more sedentary and stuck inside moreover the dark cold days of winter and diets tend to be heavier with more fats during these months as fresh produce is harder to come by.
Spring ignites a more active phase: We’re busting through the cobwebs of winter and we’re ready to MOVE!
Spring-time diets should start to shift from the long slow cooking methods and heavier foods of winter and move into lighter and slightly fresher fare. Food should still be cooked. Don’t rush straight to the summer salads that might seem tempting with the first signs of warmer weather, as we can still encounter some pretty chilly days in spring and too much raw food, while it’s cold out, can be hard on the digestive system. But you can start adding in a bit of raw food sprinkled on top or mixed into your cooked meals. Consider a warm salad of fresh baby greens and sautéed vegetables tossed in and a warm dressing to gently wilt the greens. Or a grain bowl with some cooked and some fresh ingredients mixed in. By still lightly cooking our food, we’re ensuring that our bodies are better able to absorb all the great nutrients in the food but still get some of the benefits of fresh vitamin-rich spring foods. Read more on a raw vs cooked diet here.
Spring is also the best time of year to cleanse. When we lighten and clean up our diet, it helps clear the heavy congesting foods of winter and helps to rejuvenate our cells and organs. We should transition from the rich heavy foods of winter such as meats, cheeses, and starchy, carb-heavy fare, and focus on more fresh plant-based foods for the Spring. This doesn’t mean not having meat at all, but just decrease the portion size and opt for some plant-based and fiber rich proteins as well, such as legumes.
The key organs for detoxification are the bowels, skin, kidneys, bladder, and of course the liver. Decreasing foods that are congesting (dairy, refined sugars and flours, alcohol and any sort of processed food) and increasing foods that are going to help your body cleanse (fresh fruits and vegetables, small amounts of organic grass-fed meat, sprouts, fermented foods, etc.) are the ticket to a healthy spring. Eating smaller meals and avoiding any late-night eating can help facilitate the cleansing process.
Adopting an intermittent fasting protocol during this season can be very helpful to give your body the extra time and space to clean up all the sludge accumulated in the winter. Try eating your last meal of the day around 3-4 pm and then not eating again until 8-9 am the next morning. Start by trying to do this 2-3 times over the course of the week.
By eating early and going to bed with a relatively empty stomach, your body no longer has to waste precious night time energy digesting food. It can instead focus on what it is supposed to do at night when we sleep, which is to break down or process and eliminate any stored toxins, repair tissues or bolster our immune system by getting rid of any rogue or abnormal cells. It can also rest and replenish our energy which gets so taxed in our very busy and active world.
Dry brushing your skin before or after a shower can also help with the cleansing process. And be sure to drink ample fluids (broth, tea or remineralized water are great options) and making sure you have a diet full of healthy fiber to help the bowels move regularly.
The taste associated with this system is sour which helps stimulate the liver to move and squeeze out toxins. Green is the color associated with spring and the liver system. Think fresh leafy green veggies and the first sprouts of new life in the garden help to cleanse and nourish our system.
Dark leafy green foods are some of the ideal foods for this season according to TCM. Green foods, particularly cruciferous vegetables, help detoxification as they contain something called glucobrassicin. Via chopping, chewing, and interaction with our colonic bacteria glucobrassicins can convert into other substances such as isothiocyanates and indole-3-carbinol.
These, in turn, aid in the second phase of liver detoxification (removing waste from the body). And seeing as all toxins (including any medications, synthetically produced vitamins, food pesticides, and just general pollution in the air) are processed through the liver, it is essential for well-being to keep this system flowing smoothly. Dark rich leafy greens such as kale, bok choy, broccoli, rapini, and dandelion are all great options. Consider adding some liver moving teas such as dandelion or milk thistle into your day as well, which also help facilitate liver cleansing.
If you’re feeling like you’d like some additional support during a spring cleanse, there are some wonderful over the counter herbal cleanses but I do suggest you check with your natural health practitioner to get the right one for you. Not all cleanses are good for all people. Some of them are stronger and meant for a robust and very healthy individual. If you suffer any health issues or are feeling weaker in general, I would recommend doing a gentle food cleanse.
Energetically, this is a great time of year to look at what else needs to be cleansed from your life: a workload, a closet, a way of thinking that just doesn’t serve anymore. Be open to the messages and signals life is sending your way. Where are you digging your heels in and where can you bend and move with the changing winds of life?
This system also rules our eyes and vision. Not only our ability to see and read easily (blurred vision, dry/red eyes, or floaters can be a sign this system is off balance too) but also our inner vision – our vision for the future and our drive to get there. This is a wonderful time of the year to check where you’re headed and if it aligns with your inner compass of where you want to go in life.
Some good questions to ponder when creating a vision:
- What really matters to you in your life? Not what should matter but what does matter.
- What do you want to have more of in your life (and if it’s money, take it one step deeper and name three other things that bring you joy or comfort, a deep sense of satisfaction or that sparks your curiosity or passion)?
- Do you have a vision for your future? Write it out. In detail!
- What are your passions or dreams (yes including the ones you’ve never mentioned to another living soul)
- What qualities would you like to develop in yourself?
- What do you want your relationships to be like?
- What values are important to you and/or what do you deeply care about?
- What are your strengths or talents – Things that come easily to you that might be harder for others?
- What would you most like to accomplish in life or what legacy would you like to leave behind?
Writing them down in a journal or notebook you can look back on or expand on at a later date is also helpful. Try to make this fun and be bold. If you can dream it, you can do it!
And in my experience, life often has better plans for me than I have for myself, so be open and receptive to nudges from the universe that might be giving you a clue about some other life potentials that are open to you that weren’t on your radar.
This system is also represented energetically in creative projects. Specifically the planning and researching stages of creative work. It’s about taking an idea, a plan, or a project, and starting to move it forward through the discovery and planning stage. About stopping the procrastination and starting the actual DO-ing.
This energy is very active in spring but can obviously be present at the start of any project. And, if you’re one who often has an idea but has a hard time getting it off the ground or moving past the dreaming stage, this might be a great system to pay attention to.
Mentally, people are itching to move as the temperatures rise and winter coats and layers come off. Sometimes people feel a bit pent up in early spring and tempers can flare.
The emotions associated with this spring system are actually anger or frustration, which are totally normal emotions but often signifying a time to activate energy and start projects or let go of the things that just are no longer working.
Anger has been thought of as energy or strength without direction or an appropriate channel. We get irritable when we have ideas and dreams that we can’t put into action, or are faced with things we don’t want to do or have no control over.
Anger can awaken something in us, and this can be put to good use if funneled in the right direction. The oomph that’s needed to make a change. Frustration that turns into action to create something new or the courage to move forward in some way. Good things can come from anger – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was formed from this energy, and many other new creations or inventions sparked due to a frustrated state (think of the ball throwing device, the ChuckIt, that was created to avoid bending over to pick up a slimy dog ball and save shoulder injuries in the process).
Think of all the oomph and vigor that the little seed that’s been dormant all winter needs to push through the soil and to get up to the bright light that will feed it. Life works this way as well. Sometimes we need to push through the lethargy or stuck energy in order to grow and evolve in life.
So as we enter into this Spring season, whether it be cleaning up your diet, your closet or busting through procrastination and start to move forward on a vision or project in your life, Spring is the perfect time to start cleaning the house and manifesting your dreams!
Warm Spring Salad
- 4 cups Baby Greens
- 2 medium beets (cubed)
- Handful of green beans
- Thinly sliced spring onion
- ½ package Non-GMO Firm tofu cubed (optional)
- Roast the cubed beets
- Cube tofu into 1″cubes
- Saute beans and tofu in a small amount of healthy oil on medium-high heat until tofu is warmed and beans are slightly softened but still crisp…. Set aside.
- Slice spring onion thinly.
- Options: Mix it up by adding some sautéed red or yellow peppers, or grape tomatoes, or any other fresh veggies.
- By cooking some of the vegetables and making the dressing warm, you’re taking the ‘edge’ off of the raw foods so they are easier for the stomach to digest and absorb. This is particularly important for those of us who get bloated after they eat or feel sluggish and heavy or are prone to loose bowels or chronic congestion.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon grated or minced ginger
- ½ teaspoon garlic chopped finely or minced
- 1 tablespoon miso (dissolved in ¼ cup hot water)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- splash of Braggs (unfermented soy sauce)
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- Dissolve miso in ¼ cup hot water.
- Warm olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic and ginger and cook until softened.
- Mix in lemon juice and vinegar. Take off heat and add miso and sesame oil.
- Add thinly sliced onion, green beans and tofu to spinach greens.
- Drizzle dressing over salad. Toss and enjoy!
What makes this recipe good for spring?
So this recipe is great for spring as it has the fresh spring greens but by cooking part of the salad and warming the dressing we’re making sure that our body can absorb it easily and doesn’t have to work too hard to digest it. We’re not in the full heat of the summer yet and still coming out of the cold winter months. We’re still trying to stay warm so we want to make sure we’re not putting cold raw things into our system yet. The spring onion and garlic are great for circulating energy which is so important in the spring-time. We associate it with the liver energy in Traditional Chinese Medicine and we’re really trying to help that movement after the sedentary winter months. The vinegar and lemon juice have sour flavors which, according the 5 flavor principles of TCM, help to stimulate flow in the liver thereby supporting its function and aiding in the detoxification process.
This article was written by Angela Warburton, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, speaker, writer, and teacher. We encourage you to check out her website here, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Correction Notice (05/11/2020): The title of this article has been modified to more clearly state that the concepts within are based off of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The original title, “Spring – Into Good Health! (TCM Spring Detox).” did not adequately convey this.
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