The Lunar Review

The Wood Element according to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Wood is the first element according to Classical Five Element Theory, and corresponds to the spring season. The Five Element Theory proposes a comprehensive system which details the influence climate has over our lives. The state of our atmosphere at a specific time and place, in other words – the weather – holds enormous sway on our emotions, behavior and health.

Additionally, as the earth changes its position relative to the sun, bringing about the different seasons, change simultaneously occurs in the way our internal organs communicate with each other. At any given time, one particular element dominates both our outer, and inner (bodily) environments. Knowing more about this phenomenon provides insight into understanding and alleviating imbalances in our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being.

Wood corresponds to spring, Fire to summer, Earth to late summer, Metal to autumn, and Water to winter. The elements are also referred to as phases. In addition to being associated with a particular season, all the phases relate to other things such as sounds, internal organs, emotions and much more.

Wood personalities flourish when they plan well, set goals and push themselves to succeed. They possess clear vision and excellent decision making skills. They perform well under pressure and grow most rapidly when confronted with challenges. Restrictions on their movement, and plans, cause anger and frustration. They may even have difficulty cooperating with others at these times.

They work very hard and can even push themselves to exhaustion. It is easy for them to experience stress, leading to specific symptoms such as tight jaw, neck pain, headaches and red eyes. This is a result of angry energy rising uncontrollably to the upper portion of the body. Knowing when to rest and making time for relaxation are essential to keeping Wood in balance.

The organs associated with Wood are the liver and the gallbladder. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the internal organs are more than just anatomical structures, they are physiological and psychological in nature as well. 

The liver stores blood and ensures the smooth flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body. Storing the blood means that when we are at rest blood nourishes and rejuvenates our internal organs.

Then, during periods of activity, blood volume increases to bathe the muscles, spurring them into action. It is interesting to note that the patterns of striated muscle tissue resembles the grains of wood, what you see when a tree is cut in half.

We also know that the liver produces bile, a digestive fluid which breaks down fats into fatty acids. The gallbladder stores and concentrates bile which it secretes into the duodenum, the first portion of the small intestine, during the digestive process. 

The liver also performs the immense task of cleansing and detoxifying the bloodstream. This organ is a beast when it comes to productivity and efficiency. If half of it is removed, it can regenerate to its original size in only thirty days.

The associated emotions are anger and frustration, and the sound is yelling. In the Huang Di Nei Jing, an important ancient Chinese medical book, it states that “the liver is the root of stopping all extremes”. Liver Qi is easily excited, and flies out of control very quickly. 

It’s up to the liver to soothe things over and moderate the extremes. Anger and frustration must find expression, and then be dropped. Shouting is one way to release them. Rigorous physical activity is another healthy outlet. When performing martial arts or playing sports, making loud noises, curses and snarling can relieve tension in the liver.

Wind is the environmental factor that relates to the Wood, and to the liver. Wind is movement, and it scatters in all directions, as its nature is that of expansion. The liver, known as the Official of Strategic Planning, or The General, bears the responsibility of ensuring the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. 

Like a traffic cop, the liver tells blood where to flow, at what rate and what quantity to release. Liver-Wind is the initiator of all movement in the body, including the movement of thoughts, impulses and reflexes.

The gallbladder, The Judge, controls our decision-making process. The liver is forever planning, but it is the smaller organ that combines wisdom and courage to make a sound choice. If the gallbladder suffers from deficiency, timidity, indecisiveness and discouragement may ensue.

Have you ever heard the expression “What gall?!” Gall means impudent or rude behavior. It can also refer to something cruel or bitter. This is an indication of the aggressive way the  liver and gallbladder sometimes need to function. To rid the body of poisons, toxins and non-useful substances is a task for real warriors!

The paired organs work as an effective team so we can focus on one plan, while remaining flexible and open enough to spot better alternatives. First attempts at anything imply a certain amount of risk-taking, something this pair thrives on. 

As a matter of fact, when held back or told to stand down, anger and frustration result. If left to simmer too long in these emotions, imbalances in the body and mind become evident. However, when in balance, Wood shows the outstanding ability to readjust and adapt to changing circumstances.

The associated sense organ is the eyes. When anger stagnates, it only becomes hotter as it stews in its own juices, and then starts rising in the form of heat toward the head. Red, itchy, dry eyes are the consequences of rapidly rising heat. 

The tendons, and the nails correlate with Wood. Tendons are resilient, fibrous structures linking muscles to bone. Nails are considered a by-product of tendons, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Stagnant Wood Qi can lodge itself in the joints, causing pain, swelling and inflammation. 

The best protection against developing painful joints is to keep them moving. Gentle flexing and stretching on a daily basis can keep joints soft and supple. Warm water soaks with Epsom salts help keep the Qi moving, preventing stagnation. 

If Liver-Blood is dry, or anemic, muscles suffer from contraction, numbness or spasms. The lack of nourishment encroaches on the ability of the body to move and roam freely. In the case of nails, when Liver-Blood is deficient, they become brittle and covered in white spots.

Wood correlates to the season of spring and the color green. After the season of death, winter, when all is quiet and dark, spring energy emerges like a lion roaring at sunrise. Wood energy is raring and ready to go! Activity, optimism and socializing reign supreme. 

Courage and independence flavors the entire season, pushing all things to their limit. The enormous effort and fighting spirit it takes for a single sprout to burst through the ground, into completely unknown territory, embodies the will of Wood. 

The green color flourishes in much of the healthy flora found on this good earth. Springtime is abound with new life, budding blossoms and the emergence of animals coming out of hibernation. The word green can also mean immature or inexperienced, which aptly describes the newly emerging vegetation in early spring.

The Chinese Medicine Circadian clock, based on a 24 hour cycle, lets us know when each internal organ reaches its peak of energy. Every two hour interval sees the rise of a particular organ’s Qi. For example from 11pm-1am, the gallbladder peaks, and from 1am-3am, the liver. 

Being fast asleep, or quietly resting, during the liver and gallbladder hours is the best use of time. Non-activity allows blood to circulate freely throughout all the internal organs and nourish them. This especially aids the liver in fulfilling its task of storing blood.

Improperly flowing Qi thus receives its due attention and remediation. Healing occurs in the night-time hours, so one can wake up refreshed and ready for the day. The benefit of the clock is it allows us to make best use of our energy, according to the ebb and flow of our internal Qi.

The taste associated with Wood is sour. Sour flavors stimulate the liver and gallbladder because they all resonate to the same frequency. Sour, not only causes the muscles of the mouth to pucker, but possesses an astringent quality.

It compresses body tissue by shrinking and contracting it. The process is slightly drying and reduces excess secretions, inflammation and bleeding. This action redirects Qi back to the liver and gallbladder in cases of abnormal fluid leakage.

Pickled foods, lemon, lime, fermented food, vinegar and green apples all belong to the sour flavor, making them excellent choices to cleanse the liver and relish in the springtime. Often the liver is sluggish and stagnant this time of year and needs a jumpstart. The quieter, less active season of winter, had us indulging in heavier, fattier foods.

Dandelion and burdock make powerful blood cleansing teas, helping shake off the slumber of winter. Spring is one of the best times of the year to fast or detox your body. You have the forceful, forward-moving momentum of Wood, ensuring you have the right amount of vision, power and motivation to get moving. Actually this is a once-a-year opportunity to tackle ANY new venture or challenge con mucho gusto! 

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