Springtime check-in: How are you doing? 4 Orange California poppies along a trails edge with green hills and blue skies in the background

Many patients I’ve seen in my San Rafael acupuncture clinic recently report feeling more irritable and less patient than usual.

As we’ve worked together, some recognize these feelings as a sign they’re not getting their needs met. I’m so proud of them as they both ask for more external support and set boundaries to care for themselves.

Feeling temporarily uncomfortable and irritated, recognizing that something needs to change, then taking action to shift your behavior. This is healthy growth associated with harmony between the wood and earth elements in Chinese medicine.

In Chinese philosophy, there are five elements, each associated with a particular season, emotional tone, pair of acupuncture channels, and recommendations for staying healthy. Each element supports the others, and when out of balance can damage the others. An imbalance between wood and earth is one of the most common pathologies I see in my Marin County acupuncture clinic.

The wood element is associated with spring, creativity, breakthroughs, and rapid growth. The meridians represented by the wood element include the Liver and Gallbladder channels. Liver and Gallbladder energies thrive when planning and executing projects.

In contrast, the earth element is associated with the transition between seasons and late summer. The element’s channels are Spleen and Stomach. Nurtured by healthy food, habits, and routines, well-nourished Spleen and Stomach energies allow you to care for others and yourself with kindness and without resentment.

Wood-earth disharmony can manifest emotionally as prolonged periods of irritation, frustration, anxiety, weepiness, easily angered, compassion fatigue, and not setting appropriate boundaries. It can show up physically as chronically tight muscles, headaches, insomnia, digestive problems such as bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or hormonal imbalances like menstrual cramps, difficulty getting pregnant, and perimenopausal symptoms.

If you recognize yourself in this pattern of disharmony, here are some suggestions for restoring your health and harmony.

1. Gently move your body: One of the best ways to nurture your wood element is to move! The Liver meridian is responsible for maintaining healthy energy (qi) flow throughout the body. When you don’t move for prolonged periods, your qi becomes stagnant.

The goal-oriented wood element relaxes through movement, with ambling unplanned hikes being especially helpful in cases of wood-earth disharmony. Walking specifically benefits the earth element and spontaneous exploring calms the wood element. If hiking is not your preferred form of movement, consider other types of moderate exercise.

You don’t have to become a gym rat to reap the rewards of regular movement. Gentle exercises like walking, yoga, tai qi, or Pilates can help your qi flow smoothly, increase your strength, improve your mood, reduce body pain, improve your digestion, and help you sleep better. Get up and move for as little as five minutes every hour! This can reverse many of the ill effects of prolonged sitting, including joint pain and increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

If you don’t currently have a regular movement practice or are rehabbing an injury, start slowly. Doing too much too fast is a ticket to injury.

Need help building a program that’s right for you? Reach out to Mari at Modern Nutrition and Pilates. She and her associates in San Rafael and Petaluma can build an exercise routine that meets you where you’re at and helps you reach your goals.

2. Light spring cleaning: A healthy wood element helps you envision, plan, and execute your goals, but it can be challenging when your space is full of reminders of unfinished projects. Use the decision-making strength of the Gallbladder meridian to help you select which projects you want to continue with and which ones to opt out of.

Decluttering your living space has been shown to reduce anxiety, but you don’t have to Marie Kondo it in one day. (Even she now admits that it is impossible to keep a tidy living space with children!)

Pick one small task to accomplish every day. Open the mail, sort it, and throw away junk mail. Put away your clothes that live in “the chair” before going to bed. Donate or throw away things you no longer use to make space for fresh inspiration.

If this feels overwhelming, contact Candice Rose. She is a fabulous organizer and designer, serving Marin County and the greater Bay Area, who can see the potential of your space through the clutter when you can’t.

3. Explore your creativity: Creative projects often involve creative problem-solving and considering several perspectives to bring your vision to fruition. From an East Asian medical perspective, all these behaviors help an uptight, stressed, stagnant Liver meridian relax and flow smoothly.

Studies have shown that regularly engaging in a hobby can help lower your blood pressure, reduce stress hormones like cortisol, and reduce depression. Whether you connect with your creativity through cooking, gardening, dancing, photography, knitting, singing, writing, or other artistic pursuits, connecting with your creativity is great preventive medicine!

Not sure how to reconnect with your creativity? The Point Reyes National Sea Shore Association offers different types of classes, including photography, painting, sketching, and writing classes. These courses are held at the park in West Marin.

If you’re looking for something closer to home, consider taking a class College of Marin. College of Marin offers both semester long college level classes and shorter term community education courses. The City of San Rafael also offers a wide variety of art and movement classes for adults.

4. Mini-acupressure prescription: Acupuncture treatment of wood-earth disharmony usually focuses on calming down an overactive wood element. Think of Liver qi stagnation as a tired toddler whose frustration builds until they melt down. So the earth element is their caretaker who remains calm and nurturing but is tired and worn down. Before the caretaker can rest and relax, the toddler’s tantrum must be addressed.

How do you comfort an unhappy wood element and nurture a tired earth element between acupuncture treatments? Try these acupressure points at home to keep your qi humming harmoniously.

If you’re giving yourself acupressure, treat your feet by crossing your ankle over your knee and using your opposite hand to access Liver 2 and 3 comfortably. If you are giving a loved one acupressure, make sure that you are sitting or standing in an ergonomic position that does not strain your body.

Illustration by Dr. Maura Hartzman, L.Ac. and commissioned by Katharine Chaney, L.Ac. Please do not use without permission.

Liver 2 and Liver 3: Liver 2 is especially helpful in relieving orbital headaches, centered around the eyes, and vertex headaches at the top of the head. It can also be useful in reducing excessive anger and irritability and improving sleep.

Liver 3 balances the entire Liver channel, relieving pain throughout the body, improving mood, and reducing premenstrual symptoms.

Liver 2 is located in the webbing where your first (big) and second toe meet. To locate Liver 3, run your fingers up from Liver 2 and find where the metatarsals (bones that connect with your toes) meet. One location for Liver 3 is halfway between Liver 2 where the metatarsals meet. An alternate location is at the head of the valley just before the metatarsals meet.

These points can be quite tender, so use light pressure to activate them. If your mood is low and you’re feeling tired, I recommend using your fingers to brush up from Liver 2 to Liver 3. Stroking this area encourages the Liver meridian to flow in the proper direction and relieves stagnation. If you’re feeling agitated and irritable, brush from Liver 3 down towards Liver 2 to nourish and relax the Liver channel.

Spleen 6: Place your hand with your pinky just above the medial malleolus (inside ankle bone). Spleen 6 will be under your index finger, in line with above the ankle bone.

Again, this point can be sensitive, so stimulate it by cupping your palm over this area or using light finger pressure to pull upwards. You will know the point has been activated when you feel warmth or a gentle pulsation in the area underneath your hand.

Spleen 6 is a meeting point of the Spleen, Liver, and Kidney channels and simultaneously strengthens the Spleen and calms down the Liver channel. It is often used to improve digestion, relieve insomnia, reduce menstrual cramps, and increase energy.

Photo by Lorelei Voorsanger, www.photosbylorelei.com

5. Acupuncture: The number one function of acupuncture is to help move your qi and reestablish free flow where there has been congestion.

If you feel like you’re struggling this spring, I encourage you to come in for an acupuncture treatment.

You may be amazed at how reinvigorated and inspired you feel. When you go back to your daily life, you may see things differently, and find new solutions where you previously felt stuck. Let’s take care of ourselves and truly enjoy the fresh start spring brings us!