Each season is represented by one of the five elements in Chinese Medicine — Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. It’s the cycle of spring, summer, late summer (harvest time), autumn and winter, all with their own identities and flavours. The Wood element belongs to spring. It manifests as new shoots pushing up through the earth. This is the power of Wood: an urge to grow and expand. In spring, we humans have the same desire to shed our winter selves, come out of hibernation and start socialising again, start new projects, spring-clean our houses. If we have rested enough during the long winter nights, we will have lots of renewed energy, we’ll be full of the “joys of spring”, raring to go, as the days get longer again, and the air warms up. As the trees blossom and plants start to flower, there’s a sense of new beginnings and possibilities.
The seasons each have a predominant energy. The wood energy of spring is assertive, even forceful, as those tiny shoots push up into daylight. In summer, the Fire element is all smiles and joy, reflecting the warmth and radiance of the sun. People, too, have each of the elements and their qualities within them. For those who are predominantly Wood, it is important to have a sense of direction. They need to have something to aim for. They tend to like rules and definite boundaries. They get frustrated if they can’t move forward with their planning, or if there are hold-ups in a project. Alternatively, they may instead find it hard to plan ahead, or they want to break all the rules and have no boundaries. Teenagers embody this rebellious energy, their increasing assertiveness and desire to follow their own paths, along with their physical growth spurts, reflecting the nature of Wood.
The rule of equal opposites, of either wanting boundaries or discarding them, for instance, is explained in Chinese Medicine by the principle of Yin and Yang. The more extreme we are in one direction, the more we set up a dynamic whereby we revert to the absolute opposite. For example, try to give up alcohol completely, for ever, and you’ll end up binge-drinking in desperation. If people can follow a more moderate path, they will find a better balance in life.
Wood people at their best are strong, focused, flexible and altruistic. They also have a keen sense of justice. Like a tree, they can bend to the winds without breaking. They are rooted in clear principles, know their likes and dislikes, and are firm in their opinions. When out of balance, they can err on the side of being bossy, over-opinionated or intransigent. They can become too rigid, too set in their ways, or indignant at perceived injustices. If they can become aware of this reflex action, they can learn to soften, to become more adaptable again, and thus restore a better emotional balance within themselves and feel happier again. Acupuncture is particularly beneficial in restoring balance in our emotions and in our bodies, and in recapturing our sense of wellbeing.
We all have this Wood energy within us. But those with it in excess, when under stress can become increasingly angry, frustrated and resentful. It is important for them to learn to recognise their own patterns and to find ways to release this pent-up energy, via exercise, regular holidays, and working through expressing this more “negative” emotion of anger in a safe environment (hitting a cushion really works!). Exercises that stretch their muscles, remove tension and help them feel calm, such as yoga or Qi Gong, are particularly beneficial. They must guard against becoming martyrs at work, taking on too much and not having enough time off to unwind. If they don’t, they may be leading to illnesses such as fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disease characterised by deep muscular aches all over the body, or migraines or headaches – these are particularly dominant among Wood people. Diet is also an important factor. Drinking alcohol to unwind after a stressful day may give temporary relief, but in damaging the liver it creates more tension and irritability longer-term. It is no coincidence that in Chinese Medicine the Wood element rules the liver. The liver when healthy clears toxins from the body, ensures the smooth running of the digestion, helps to break down fats, and helps to balance blood-sugar levels. When strained or out of balance, it struggles to perform these functions. Alcohol heats it up (try putting your hand under your ribcage on the right, where the liver is, after you’ve been drinking a lot, and see how hot the area has become). The heat and added toxins inflame it, hinder detoxification, and cause dehydration. Prolonged exposure to large quantities of alcohol leads to liver diseases such as cirrhosis. Eating too many saturated fats – meat and dairy products – leads to a fatty liver, which also struggles to function properly.
The liver, like its element, Wood, needs to function smoothly, without getting clogged up, just as new shoots in spring look for the best route out of the ground, or weeds appear in the cracks between pavement slabs. This is Wood at its best. Nothing will stop it! It has strength, perseverance, resilience, just as strong, healthy Wood people have.
We should all be harnessing this Wood energy in spring. It encourages a creative force within us, whether it’s to start art classes, write that novel or an increased urge to have children. This is the time to launch into new things, new experiences, new ways of expressing ourselves. Grasp the moment, for by the time summer arrives, we will be thinking more about beach holidays and sitting around in the heat of the sun sipping cool drinks. The moment of growth and expansion will have passed again for another year. The cycle will have moved on to the next element, Fire.