Clear Eyes & Balanced Liver: Spring in Traditional Chinese Medicine

This spring certainly looks wildly different from spring 2020. A new president, a vaccine, a new understanding of what we’re capable of. The CDC just announced the dropping of certain restrictions for fully vaccinated people. But it’s not quite a celebration. There’s still a lot to mourn and a lot to reckon with. There’s still a majority of the population that needs to get vaccinated. So, how can you temper the vibrancy and excitement of spring and of this moment, with the need to hold on for a little longer?

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.

So let’s channel our spring energy into projects and pursuits that continue to harness the resourcefulness and creativity that we’ve found during this trying year, that allow us to have hope while remaining safe. Read on for more tips on how to enjoy the spirit of spring and remain balanced.

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. In that spirit…

Do a Spring Cleaning!: It sounds cliched, but doing a massive clean around this time is so therapeutic. Of course, you don’t have to throw away everything that doesn’t spark joy, but simply arranging, organizing, reorienting your living space can provide so much more clarity and room—physically and mentally. Devote a weekend day to it: put on your favorite music, some clothes you don’t care about, open all your windows and get to work! You might find that you enjoy it.

Create: There’s a lot of expectation and even pressure for artists right now, especially with the announcement that live performance will be starting back up in the spring and summer. Of course if the idea of creating something for the public is fueling you right now, that’s wonderful. But don’t forget the small, just-for-you projects that you might have honed during quarantine: the drawing, the journaling, the haiku-writing. We are all itching to get back to “normal times,” but some of the quieter, more internal creativity that the pandemic promoted is important to retain. Let’s keep that spirit of trying new things, learning a new language, picking up a new skill like ukulele lessons. This energy of exploration and creation will help anyone—not just professional creative people—come into harmony with the season, and thus, with nature.

Movement: I’m sure we’ve all gone through many phases of exercise throughout the pandemic: pilates videos, yoga challenges, not exercising at all…As the weather gets warmer, challenge yourself to do things you haven’t been doing: go for a light jog; sign up for an outdoor zumba class; if you’re able to, drive somewhere outside the city and take a soul-refreshing hike. It’s important to move your body, and it’s important to change things up. In TCM, the liver governs the tendons and sinews of the body and is also in control of the smooth flow of qi that runs through our bodies. The liver/wood energy loves to move!

Screen Detox: It’s becoming clearer and clearer that our lives are on our screens. There is not really a way to avoid it. But the eyes are the sensory organ that connects with the liver, and if we put too much strain on them, we will definitely feel the effects of a liver imbalance. We may experience symptoms such as dry eyes, watery eyes, floaters in the vision. These are all signs that the eyes need a rest. But how?

  • Give yourself rules: Try not looking at a screen after work for a whole week. Instead, at night when you would normally scroll through Instagram, or binge Netflix, read a book! Or better yet, to give your eyes a real break, listen to a book. Put on some music and some candles and treat yourself to a relaxation night.
  • Talk on the phone: Instead of Zooming. If you can change any of your meetings or your friend catch-ups to phone calls instead of Zooms, do it!
  • No screens right before sleep: Even if you don’t institute a strict “No screens after work” rule, you should definitely limit—or completely cut out—screens right before bed. As we’re all probably very aware at this point, too much of that blue light, that endless email inbox, that social media feed can lead to serious insomnia.

Be Kind to Your Liver: Liver imbalance symptoms include headaches, migraines, PMS, irritability, depression, stomach upset, insomnia, lack of mental clarity, procrastination and indecisiveness. So be kind to your liver. Here are some ideas on how to do so:

  • Cut down on alcohol: try a delicious herbal tea, or a flavored seltzer if you need something delicious to sip on. If you are really feeling the need for alcohol in order to calm your nerves, do a short meditation first and then assess your mood. I love Tara Brach’s guided meditations.
  • Substitute Dandy Blend for 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, because of the fact that it’s roasted, 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 TCM, spring corresponds to 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. The best way to get the freshest, most varied assortment of greens is by joining a CSA, going to the farmer’s market, or using a delivery service like Misfits Market.

So, let’s honor the moment by acknowledging the strangeness of it, taking care of our livers and our qi, looking with clear eyes toward the future, and, as Wilson Phillips so wisely sang, holding on for one more day: “Don’t you know? Don’t you know, things can change / Things’ll go your way / If you hold on for one more day / Can you hold on for one more day? / Things’ll go your way / Hold on for one more day.”