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Blog / Chinese Medicine

Warming up to Spring

This morning as I was brushing my teeth, I found myself staring out of my window and making eye contact with a bright red cardinal who was peering back into my Brooklyn apartment. Not too long after, the coos of a group of smooth brown doves chased my little cardinal friend away. It’s happening- New York is waking up to Spring.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, each season has a whole poetic series of correspondences from sounds to tastes; colors to smells. Spring is often seen as the season of rebirth – which we can see in the shoots coming up from the cold, hard soil. It’s also the season of the color green – which we can see shining through from under the brown bark of the trees.

When it comes to our bodies, Chinese medicine associates Spring with tendons and ligaments.

With the weather getting better, we’re starting to see runners zipping up and down the paths of Fort Greene Park or the West Side Highway. As a practitioner, I sometimes catch myself thinking, “oh boy, I hope they warmed up, otherwise here comes a knee injury!”

Chinese Medicine’s explanation for why runners are more likely to get injured in the Spring more than any other season actually has to do with the Five Element Theory, which explains how the natural world and the seasons are interconnected. The energetic element associated with Spring is wood and the associated organ is the liver. In combination, the tendency of wood/liver is to move freely, upward and outward, just like the branches of the trees outside our windows. This is why when Spring springs, we feel the urge to burst forth onto the busy streets and move freely, and start anew.

That being said, if we branch out too soon and jump into activity without stretching and preparation, we can run the risk of getting injured. Akin to the new spring branches which are more fragile and likely to be injured in the crisp air of spring, blushing with warmth but still chilly and windy.

So how can we help transition into Spring gently and pain-free? We like to recommend starting with light exercise and movement to bring blood flow back to the limbs, waking up the branches from a dormant winter. Try taking a brisk walk, or doing some yoga or pilates- all exercises that promote reaching outward, stretching toward the sun and developing deeper roots to keep us grounded and become more flexible. In the body, that means paying close attention to your spine, limbs and joints, as well as muscles, ligaments and tendons. Make sure to allow time for a nourishing warm up and cool down before exercise.

You’ve also likely heard about Spring detoxes, Spring cleaning for the body. For our patients interested in trying this, we like to encourage that they do this gently by drinking plenty of water, adding to it bright lemon juice or invigorating apple cider vinegar. Spring, in Five Element theory, is also associated with all things sour- try playing with that in your diet by introducing greens, sprouts, pickles. Avoid eating too many heavy or fried foods, and go easy on the caffeine and alcohol. Since exercise aids detoxification, spring is a perfect time to ease into a new exercise routine.

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