Liver, Wood & Spring: Embracing the Season While in Quarantine

Green shoots are springing out of dry, brown branches; nestled buds are unfurling themselves; and that cold, fresh, spring air is coursing through the season. It’s spring, but would you know it? We’re now 6+ weeks into quarantining/coronavirus shut-down and it’s hard to look at all the natural life coming into being outside while being cooped up inside for hours on end. I am constantly writing on the blog and discussing with my patients the importance of being in sync with the seasons. But you may be questioning how that is possible now when we can’t fully experience the season.

But even stuck inside a tiny apartment and separated from friends and maybe even loved ones, you can embrace spring and all that it holds. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), spring relates to the liver/gallbladder and the wood element. Accordingly, spring is a time of rebirth and growth, expansiveness, planning and creativity. The liver houses the aspect of our spirit that never dies from one lifetime to the next—essentially, our reason for being, but also our “grand architect for our vision of the future.” In TCM, the winter is our time to reflect and go inward, to rest and relax. Then in spring, with the liver energy in balance, you can burst forth with new energy and life force, just as wood does with its new leaves and buds.

The coronavirus has forced many of us to prolong that winter introspection and reflection: it has mandated that we slow down and pause and look at our lives and the reality of others’ lives as well, even if it is painful. But nature still creeps in—even in the midst of a global pandemic. Your liver energy has an innate need to express itself, to find beauty and creativity. And you still can!  Spring is always a great time to detox the body physically and emotionally, to sweep away things that are blocking you—for example, by quitting smoking or drinking, cleaning up your diet, or by starting to exercise again, clearing clutter from your home or beginning that creative project you’ve been putting off. And now you can really take the time to focus on these projects.

How can you enjoy the spirit of spring while in quarantine? How can you take the time to find beauty when you are homeschooling, working remotely, preparing 3 meals a day, or even reporting to an unsafe work environment? Read on for my tips on how to embrace spring while in quarantine.

Move Your Body: In Chinese medicine, the liver governs the tendons and sinews of the body and is also in control of the smooth flow of qi (energy) that runs through our bodies. The liver/wood energy loves to move. So make sure you let it!

  • Walk: If you are able to get outside—your yard, a park, or even just around your block—take a brisk walk or run. This can be difficult when you need to be mindful of how many people you’ll run into. So try going super early in the morning, or doing a post-dinner walk.
  • Stretch/yoga/pilates: Stretching is something that requires almost nothing more than a desire to focus on your body. You don’t need much room or any equipment. Check out glo, a new favorite of mine, that offers unlimited access to over 4,000+ classes of yoga, pilates, meditation, stretching, pre-natal, post-natal and more. They have a 15-day free trial. I also love Melissawoodhealth for strength, toning and meditations. There is also a free trial, otherwise it’s $9.99/month. And for another great, free, yoga option, check out Down Dog Yoga App.
  • Dance! I came across this beautiful Hania Rani video on instagram (highly recommend with headphones) and found it so beautiful and creatively inspiring. It even made me a little teary-eyed, while also giving me the urge to get up and start moving my body. Put on your favorite music and just dance or simply move your body how ever feels good to you!

Create: The liver is the organ of creativity, making spring the ideal time to get that project going that you’ve been putting off. Pick up a new skill you’ve always wanted to learn (knitting, pottery, a musical instrument, painting, singing). Following through with these life-affirming projects will help you come into harmony with your body, and thus, with nature. That being said, I know it’s hard to feel inspired right now. If you’re struggling with motivation, check out these tips:

  • Journaling and free-writing: Journaling can be so therapeutic and helpful in cracking open some part of you that is blocked. Try free-writing for 10 minutes every morning (or before you go to bed if you’re more of a night owl) for example, and see what comes up. You may find you have more to say than you thought. You may uncover some psychological wound that you need to spend time investigating and healing. You may find unexpected inspiration for those longer writing projects.
  • Creating something without pressure: I’ve spoken to a few people who are artists and who feel guilty that they’re not taking full advantage of this time to produce, produce, produce. We often think that all we need is more time and then we’ll be hyper-productive, hyper-inspired creative machines. But that kind of thinking completely discounts the stress—financial, psychological and emotional—anxiety, and difficulty that this moment presents. Try doing a creative activity that presents with no pressure of making it public or perfect. Promise yourself to only show it to yourself. For example, if you’re a writer, try setting aside 30 minutes (or even just 15!) a day to draw. If you’re a singer, experiment with writing poetry. It’s about finding a creative outlet that brings you joy and still feeds that outward liver energy, but doesn’t make you want to curl up into a ball.

Screen Detox: Take it easy on your eyes this spring. The eyes are the sensory organ that connects with the liver. When we spend too much time on our phones and computers, this puts strain on our livers and we may feel symptoms such as dry eyes, watery eyes, floaters in the vision—all signs that the liver needs a rest. With coronavirus quarantine, it’s harder than ever to put this advice into practice: our whole lives—work, social connection, leisure—are now on the computer, phone or tablet. So how can we take a break? It’s all about instituting some rules:

  • No screens right before sleep: Instead of scrolling through your phone or watching TV before bed, trade the screen in for a book or a relaxing bath. f.lux is a great free app to download that makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day: warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
  • Take a break during the day: If work is online, give yourself a lunch break and don’t look at your screen during that time.
  • Talk on the phone: Of course it’s important to see friends’ and loved ones’ faces during this time, but try alternating Zoom with plain old phone calls. You can walk around your apartment or your block, give your eyes a break and get some movement in while still connecting.
  • Switch up the binge: You now have tons of time to catch up on all those TV shows and movies. But it can be helpful to give yourself some guidelines around binging. Perhaps alternate TV nights with reading or game nights; maybe you can forego that binge for a night of simply listening to music.

Be Kind to Your Liver: Liver imbalance symptoms include headaches, migraines, PMS, irritability, depression, stomach upset, insomnia, lack of mental clarity, procrastination and indecisiveness. Sounds pretty familiar in quarantine, right? So be kind to your Liver. This is harder than it sounds. Drinking wine or some other alcoholic beverage may be providing you with a lot of solace right now. Coffee may be the thing that gets you up in the morning. And I’m not here to deprive you of these creature comforts. But give yourself a break, now and then.

  • Meditation in lieu of alcohol: Take a break from wine at least one or two nights a week to meditate: Tara Brach, one of my favorite teachers, has a lot of wonderful, short, guided meditations on her website and in podcast form. Dharma Ocean’s 10 Points Practice is also lovely.
  • Try Dandy Blend  instead of (or in addition to) your coffee: Dandy Blend is the most delicious herbal coffee (caffeine-free) I’ve found! I personally find it very close in flavor to actual coffee, but it has none of the liver stressors of coffee. It’s made with dandelion root, a bitter herb that aids the liver in detoxification.

Eat Your Bitter Greens: Each season has a color and flavor associated with it. In Chinese medicine, spring corresponds with the color green and the flavor sensation of bitterness. This time of year, eating good quality organic greens (spinach, kale, etc.)—but especially bitter greens such as dandelion, arugula, mustard, and, my personal favorites, escarole and radicchio, to name a few—will help to detox your liver. Of course, right now, it can be hard to find all the produce you want. Consider joining a CSA as they will have all the produce that’s local and seasonal right now and you won’t have to go to a grocery store to get it. Or try my personal favorite, Misfits Market, organic produce delivered directly to you for up to 40% less than grocery store prices and available in many states.

Most importantly, I want to tell everyone that it’s okay to be feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, unmotivated, and anxious right now. It’s okay to not feel like you can fully embrace the spring season. In fact, it’s absolutely natural. David Kessler, an expert on grief, spoke to The Harvard Business Review about allowing ourselves to experience the grief of this moment and how important it is not to judge that, or to, as he says, feel bad about feeling bad: “Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.” So much of life is out of our control right now and an imbalanced wood/liver likes to control everything, which can lead to frustration, migraines, anxiety, etc. A part of a healthy wood/liver element is to soften and ride the waves like tree branches swaying in a strong storm; to be gentle with ourselves and start small. Even picking just one of the liver-balancing suggestions a day and committing to doing that can make a significant improvement in your mood and spirit this spring. Offer yourself some empathy. You are living through an unprecedented time.