With my love of acupuncture and growing knowledge of Chinese medicine, I’ve been gifted a new language with which to speak to my patients. I love having new ways to express similar concepts, especially since we all understand and hear things slightly different. So, adding one more way to express what is happening in the body/mind complex is such a gift that has allowed me to meet people where they are and speak in the style of medicine and metaphor that best helps them understand what’s happening to them and how to find harmony again. As I’ve been traveling and meeting people, I’ve had the opportunity to dive into the deep well of languages and styles I’ve studied and taught through the years. This has me thinking that perhaps I should write a series of articles that show the way my two favorite medicines (Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine) are similar. This is my first of that series.
At the time of this writing in the Northern Hemisphere where I live, we are leaving the Winter season and entering the Spring/Summer seasons. While these three seasons are individual and unique in their own way, they possess an inter transformational aspect, i.e. flowing in and out of each other. Sometimes, Spring comes in fast and furious and feels more like Summer. Sometimes, we get to feel that beautiful interplay between the three as Spring grows, expands, flourishes and flows out of Winter and into Summer. Sometimes, we are held down and sluggish by the influence of Winter holding on too long. This second example is the most harmonious expression of Winter to Spring to Summer. It symbolizes that conditions in the environment have been balanced allowing for a smooth flow of energy and the full, beautiful expression of Spring as its own unique self.
The interesting thing about seasonal shifts is that our body/mind complex experiences these shifts too. In Chinese Medicine, we speak of the Spring as the Liver system and Summer as the Heart system and Winter as the Kidney system. In Ayurvedic medicine, we speak of this time as transition from Kapha to Pitta. In both contexts, there is opportunity to harmonize and flourish, or be pulled out of balance and feel less than optimal. Regardless of the medicine or language used to express it, it is in our best interest to live in harmony with the seasons, understanding the effects they can have on our particular constitution (or who we are at our core). There are so many quizzes for you to learn your element or dosha. I’ll link my favorites at the end. For now, let’s take a look at the way these medicines overlap and what they have to teach us about harmonizing for an optimal sense of well being.
The Liver system is a major player in Chinese medicine. Honestly, in American lifestyle, I think it is the most important of all the systems as it is so easily aggravated, and affects all the other systems greatly when out of balance. Of the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water), it is categorized as Wood. Wood is the season of Spring. It is symbolic of growth, transformation, creativity and re-birth. The whole of our environment is experiencing these very things in Spring. Do you also notice how your own energetics begin to lift and become more agitated toward movement and expansion after a long winter indoors? Like you can’t stand to be bound and must break free? This is the influence of Spring blossoming within you. Here’s the thing about Spring and Liver, as I mentioned earlier, it can come on fast and furious with a rapid race to Summer (excess Liver energy), or be reluctant and stagnant to move with an over abundance of winter holding it down (stagnant liver energy). These are out of balance conditions that we want to be very aware of especially as it relates to our body/mind experience in these transitions as well as when they rise outside their season. Before I move on to Pitta, it’s important to say here that from an elemental perspective, the mother of Liver Wood is Water, and the child of Liver Wood is Fire. It is the influence of the nourishment of the Mother Water that allows Wood to flourish. It is the needs of the child Fire, that keeps Wood from flourishing too strongly. I bring this up now because it will be an important overlap in understanding how Liver Wood and Pitta dosha come to share characteristics in and out of balance.
Now, to Pitta dosha. In Ayurvedic medicine, there are three constitutional types that come to be by a combination of two elements in each type. Pitta dosha is the combination of Fire and Water (see where I was going with that paragraph before?). The other two which I will discuss in other articles are Vata (Air and Space) and Kapha (Water and Earth). Pitta, like Liver, comes to be in balance by being made of elements Fire and Water that naturally temper each other. It’s also likely for there to be too much or too little, and often in the Summer season, we see a situation of too much given the circumstances of the heat of Summer. If Spring isn’t well tempered and comes too strong, Pitta is likely to be effected earlier than expected and catches those people with a tendency toward that constitution off guard. Interestingly, with a deeper dive into Ayurveda, one learns that the Pitta dosha is divided into sub-doshas that shows us more of the overlap of these medicines. Ranjakja is the sub-dosha that is seated in the liver (Wood). Sadhaka is the sub-dosha that is seated in the heart/mind (Fire). Alochaka is the sub-dosha that is seated in the eyes (which in Chinese medicine is where the Liver opens into for clarity in spiritual/mental/life vision as well as actual sight). This sub-dosha aspect was a real moment of surprise and interest when I came across it, and has so wonderfully tied these two medicines together.
Ok. So with a background in the symbolism, interconnection and relationship, let’s look at what it means to be in or out of balance within these two contexts.
When Liver Wood and/or Pitta dosha are in balance between their Fire and Water elemental influences, a person feels a willingness to explore, experiment and meet challenges due to the influence of Fire, but tempered and easy to go with the flow (like water) in the uncertainty of the times undoubtedly created during those moments of exploration and experimentation. The balance here allows one to be full of creativity, dreams and vision in a space with easy flow and connected to the expansion of possibility. A balanced Liver Wood and/or Pitta dosha is intellectual, focused, sharp witted, charismatic, willing to take up space and dream up possibility without constraint. Their emotions flow easily and smoothly with inner peace and happiness at their core. Sounds ideal, right? Again, think of that ideal Spring I mentioned above. With the right environmental support, the ideal can come to pass with little effort. While the Wood element or Pitta dosha may not be your predominant constitution, we all possess a little of all the elements, so it’s possible to feel the influence of Wood, Fire and Water in harmony at various times of your life.
Sadly, our lives are such that ideal conditions rarely present, and one must work hard to create and maintain harmony. Environmental factors like work, family and life stress can easily pull one out of balance. Add to that improper diet, movement and sleep, and suddenly our inner elements fall out of sync and the Liver Wood system / Pitta dosha starts to suffer in excess or deficiency, pulling with it Fire and Water. What does out of balance look like? It’s not a pretty picture. Topping the list is frustration, resentment, anger and irritability. This is the emotional destabilization of Liver Wood and excess Fire of Pitta dosha. When this happens, it’s not long that Fire flames and Water accumulates or overflows. This adds in a feeling of anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, lack of vision or clarity of your path, uncertainty of choices, feeling stuck or stagnant, trouble sleeping, a more rigid and fixed mindset as a way to try to regain control and excess heat manifesting as skin or digestive issue like acne and acid stomach. If you’re a woman, you see all of these heightened with your monthly cycle. I see these imbalances in my practice a lot. The current weight of living in a fast-paced modern world is so easy to push the elemental energies out of harmony, and this is further made worse when we enter the season of that element i.e. Spring/Summer.
Your body is a messenger for you. It’s your job to listen to what it is telling you. A body/mind complex out of harmony is a wake up call for you to turn attention toward yourself to balance and replenish. So, what to do to maintain harmony? You hear it all the time …. Make sleep and rest a priority. Slow down. Calm your mind. Gently move your body. Add more cooling herbs and foods like peppermint, coconut oil, grapes to your diet (don’t read that as ice or raw foods … that will make it worse). Cut way back on sugar and alcohol (they make everything worse by adding a lot more Fire). Get acupuncture or a relaxation massage. Do gentle yoga. Basically, step out of your routine and do the things you’d tell your friend to do if they were feeling like this. It takes attention and work to regain harmony, but your body craves harmony and uses these symptoms to call you back. It’s not normal to feel anxious, irritable, bloated, in pain, stressed out, etc. I invite you to pay attention, make shifts early, and be grateful for the messages your body is sending you. Long standing disharmony leads to much more severe issues, and takes longer to reverse. Learning to live in tune with the optimal balance of your element and dosha will give you more insight in the things that draw you off balance so you can begin to craft a lifestyle that allows more harmony for you and your loved ones through the seasons.
Ready for a little jumpstart to help you toward balance? Schedule a massage or acupuncture treatment with me. Send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 740.350.5654.
Ready to learn your element? Check out this quiz.
Ready to learn your dosha? Check out this quiz.