Spring & the Wood Element in Chinese Medicine

Posted by on May 9, 2018 in Blog Posts | Comments Off on Spring & the Wood Element in Chinese Medicine


The Wood element- Liver & Gall Bladder Energies


Yes, it finally feels like spring has fully arrived! The wood or ‘tree’ phase (Jarmey: 1999, p.152) represents the first phase of the Chinese five element cycle and it is about new beginnings, growth, emerging from the depths of winter and beginning to actualize our creative potential. It relates to spring which is ‘a time of rebirth, sudden growth, and rapid expansion” (Beinfield: 1991, p. 160)

As we are part of nature we can relate all of these qualities of spring and energies of trees to ourselves and begin to understand how we can work with them and bring them into balance especially in relation to the other elements in the cycle. (Fire, earth, metal and water).

If one thinks of wood more as tree or living plant it helps to animate the quality of this element better. A tree is “flexible, bending, yielding to the wind, yet strong and durable,”  (Connely: 1994, p. 21) Like trees, when we flourish we are grounded but flexible and strong, full of vitality and able to grow. Plants are constantly adapting to changing circumstances, being resourceful in how they grow, at times competing but also cooperating to create a functioning ecosystem.



Liver and Gall Bladder


The energies of the liver and gall bladder organ systems are associated with the wood element.

The liver is known as the ‘strategic planner’(Jamey:1999, p.152 ); source of our authority, decisiveness and direction. The creative stirrings may have begun in the deep winter but the liver then sharpens the vision or aspiration into focus and the gall bladder, with its courage and initiative, goes about making the decisions and taking the steps to bring it into fruition.

When the wood element is in balance, we are flexible in our attitudes and clear in our decision-making and how we deal with the challenges of life. When not, we can be too controlling, rigid in our thinking and also in our bodies, especially the tendons, sinews and joints, which are ruled by this element. This can express as a lack of coordination, spasms, and muscle tightness.

A plant grows in all directions, down through its roots, up through its stem and out through its branches and leaves. In Chinese Medicine, the wood element governs the free flow of Blood[1], Ki[2]and emotions in the body. When out of balance, (ie wood can easily become too yang[3]) either through foods that aggravate the actual wood organs or through thinking, emotions and behaviour that tip it off kilter, we can start to experience symptoms like headaches, pain and tension in the neck, shoulders, hips and other joints where energy is getting stuck. We then start to experience anger and frustration, the emotions of wood, which can then further aggravate the imbalance.

Liver ki stagnation can easily lead to the above emotions and others such as irritability and depression. Stagnant liver ki can also invade the earth element causing digestive issues ie IBS as well as other symptoms like chest tightness, a lump in the throat, sore breasts, mood swings, PMS, and nausea. Tell tale signs of a wood imbalance are a marked presence or absence of anger. A healthy state is the ability to feel and express all emotions.

Liver that is unable to properly nourish and store the Blood can lead to scanty menstrual periods, pale and dry skin and hair, dizziness, cracked and brittle nails, and numbness’  (Raichstein, 1998, p.270)(Beresford-Cooke: 1996, 124)



The colour is green


Interesting also, that a greenish tinge to the face can be an indication of imbalance, as can a strong affinity or even aversion for the colour green. If your wood element is in excess wear less green, if it is deficient, wear more. For both, spend time in nature!






In spring, the liver and gall bladder have a tendency toward excess- ie irritability, constipation, anger, indecision. The diet, especially after the heaviness of winter should be light, including sour foods ie berries, limes, sauerkraut. The sour flavour draws impurities out of the liver due to its astringent nature. A good way of kick starting the digestive system and cleansing the liver is to start your day with a pint of warm water with the juice of ½ or 1 lemon and even a tablespoon of olive oil.


Bitter foods (i.e Swedish bitters, salad rocket, dandelion root) can also be good especially at the start of a meal to aid with digestion. Meals should be small and light and clean minimizing fatty foods, sugars, alcohol and coffee. You can also practise intermittent fasting. This is where you fast for between 14 and 16 hours. For example, you have your last meal at 6 or 8 pm and you then have breakfast the next day at 10 am. This can be fantastic for giving your digestive system a break and giving your body, including your liver, the chance to regenerate and function better.


As we now know, the colour of wood is green. Anything green will have wonderful benefits for the liver (both deficiency and excess), especially cruciferous vegetables. (i.e broccoli, kale, cabbage, sprouts) They are particularly good for the liver’s detoxification pathways. A fantastically nourishing spring tonic is a nettle smoothie or a nettle and dandelion leaf soup. Fantastic for the liver is also a beetroot, carrot and apple salad.



Chinese Clock


The time of day, according to the Chinese clock, in which these energies are most active is 11-1 am for the Gall Bladder and 1-3 am for the Liver. If you tend to feel very wired or awake around this time (i.e night owl), or this the time you can think most clearly this may indicate a liver imbalance.





On a spiritual level


The spiritual quality assigned to this element according to Chinese Medicine is the ‘Hun’ or the ethereal soul. (Beresford-Cooke: p. 122) The Hun, unlike the corporeal soul or ‘Po’, assigned to the metal element survives after the body dies and when a person is born the Hun carries the Shen (or the Spirit) into the new form or body. The Hun is our soul purpose- it is what guides us to fulfil our particular path and to share our unique gifts with the world. When we are disconnected from our Hun we can feel lost and alienated- without direction in life. The wood phase of soul development according to Raichstein (1998) is the process of conscious individuation or the finding of an authentic sense of self. It is then however important to balance this self-expression/individuality with cooperation, realizing one is part of a greater whole.



Character sketch of the wood personality


The pioneer

Inexorably drawn to travel roads not yet mapped, she treks wild mountain ridges, explores star-clustered heavens in an astronauts suit, launches a business from scratch, or embarks upon research in yet unrecognized fields” (Raichstein 1998: p.161 ) The wood personality is confident, driven, resourceful, ingenious, motivated, able to take risks, optimistic, committed, values freedom of movement and action, self assured, flexible, bold, decisive, clear, competitive, seeks challenge, works well under pressure and pushes to the limit.  She is a productive dynamo when conditions are right. (Raichstein: 1998, pp. 163,164) She can also overdo, overreact, over-perform; be impatient, intolerant, excessive, aggressive and volatile. Pacing and timing are important!



In conclusion


Even though a person may have more pronounced characteristics of one particular element, we all contain all of the elements and their potentialities within us. They are always interacting in a dynamic, sometimes harmonious and sometimes oppositional way. The key is to be in tune with and observe nature and its cycles and see them as a reflection of our own.


The wood element loves movement and action so it is time to wake up from the slumber of winter and let yourself dance, move, expand and be seen in all your glory! Shiatsu can also be very supportive in helping to work with the elements and bring them into balance, moving excess energy and replenishing deficient energy in the meridians or channels that run through the body through acupressure, stretching, deep pressure, holding and other techniques.

Contact me on 07722 187 791 or anahata-wellbeing.com if you would like to book in for a session.


Stretches that open up the Liver and Gall bladder meridians:








Beinfield, H and Korngold E. 1991. Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide To Chinese Medicine. New York: Random House Publishing Group.

Beresford-Cooke, C. 1996. Shiatsu Theory and Practice: A Comprehensive text for the student and professional. New York: Churchill Livingstone.

Connely, D. 1994. Traditional Acupuncture, The Law of the Five Elements. U.S.A: New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Jarmey, C and Mojay, G. 1999. Shiatsu the Complete Guide. London: Thorsons.

Reichstein, G. 1998. Wood Becomes Water, Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life. New York: Kodansha USA Inc.



[1]‘Blood’ in Chinese Medicine is one of the three Vital substances and is different to ‘blood’ in the Western sense. ‘It is the ‘yin’ counterpart to Ki and its function is to moisten, nourish and relax.’ This applies on a physical level (i.e. eyes, skin, nails and brain are kept moist, elastic etc..) and on an emotional level. (Beresford-Cooke 1996, p. 68)

[2]Ki in Japanese or Chi in Chinese can simplistically be defined as energy or life force. All living things have Ki, it is in the air and in the water and in the food we eat. When we die our Ki leaves our body. ‘In the human body, Ki is the principle which moves, warms and protects us from outside influences.’ (Beresford-Cooke 1996, p. 65)

[3]Yang is the opposite of Yin and is fundamental to Taoist understanding. Yin and Yang together are the principles that, when they interact, create Ki and the phenomenal world. Yang tends to represent movement, and have qualities that are warming, activating, expanding, and protecting. They are not strict opposites but rater exist in a continuum where each is relative to the other. (Beresford-Cooke 1996, p. 64)

Lioba Fezer | lioba@anahata-wellbeing.com | 07722 187 791 | 25 Cobourg Road, Bristol BS6 5HT

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