Do you ever feel like you have the best intentions about something you want to manifest in your life, but you just can’t seem to make it happen? Maybe you feel like you do a million things, but at the end of the day, you realize that you didn’t really accomplish what you were “supposed” to do. Or maybe, conversely, you feel like for anything to get accomplished in your home/ work/ life, it has to be entirely “on you.” Maybe you feel like you have to control all the pieces in your life, micromanage every detail, and yet still feel like nothing goes quite according to your plan.

While these scenarios may look totally different, they actually both may be indicative of a wood element imbalance.

In Chinese Medicine and Taoist Philosophy, Wood is the element most active and alive in the Spring when, in nature, a rebirth is occurring. The snow is melting or has melted completely, buds are blooming, and there is an almost palpable aliveness in the air. We may feel like we need to move more, awaken from our winter slumber. “Spring Fever” is a real phenomenon; you feel like bursting out of your front door and frolicking in the grass, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin.

Wood energy is directive, determined, tenacious.  Like roots spreading down into the earth, wood energy will not be stopped, not by blockages in its path, not by sidewalks or rocks. Wood decides where it needs to go and it does what it takes to get there. Whereas the energy of the Earth is more about setting intentions and having a vision, Wood brings that vision into being and makes it a reality.

Wood is about creation, birth, life-force. In our body, the organs associated with Wood are the Liver and Gallbladder which, in Chinese medical theory, are responsible for keeping our life-force, or Qi, coursing throughout our body. When this energy is under-resourced, congested or depleted, the wood element cannot manifest healthily in our life. If the liver is congested or deficient, whether due to environmental toxins, prolonged stress or an unhealthy diet or lifestyle, we may feel lethargic and sluggish, uninspired.  We may reach for recreational drugs, alcohol or food to give us an energy boost or create excitement in our lives.

Alternately, when the liver energy is excessive, we may over-work, push relentlessly without ever leaning back, without being able to relax or trust that things will get done without our constant effort. In this case, use of relaxants like marijuana or alcohol may be the only way to “wind down after a long day.” Of course, this ultimately taxes the liver even more.

Many of us are in a fairly perpetual state of stress. Most if not ALL of us are constantly inundated with environmental toxins, from the food we eat and the containers in which we keep our food, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the products we use on our skin, the pharmaceuticals we take, etc.  Our livers are continually taxed and may draw on our water/ kidney/ adrenal glands which unfortunately, registers as prolonged “Fight or Flight” response. We may cause the Wood/ Liver to overact on the Earth/ digestive organs and develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome or colitis. We may burn up our yin reserves and develop anxiety, insomnia and, for some women, even early menopause or fertility issues.

Wood imbalance is unfortunately one of the most common causes of dis-ease I see in my acupuncture practice. In my New York City area practice, I tended to see either an “all work no play” mentality or, maybe worse, a “work hard, play harder” (with drugs and alcohol) mentality. These attitudes aren’t specific to the tri-state area.  Constant stress seems to be a cultural phenomenon and in some cases, unfortunately, may feel like a necessity just to pay the rent or feed the kids.

In Boulder, where I currently reside, wood imbalance tends to manifest in different ways. The “play” spirit is alive and well, with recreational activities like hiking, biking, rock climbing, skiing. But despite a healthier work-life balance, I still see wood imbalance manifesting in a rigid discipline, as hard-core exercising and/ or all-or-nothing type dietary restrictions. While of course, I’m a huge proponent of exercise and a healthy diet, in individuals with an imbalanced wood element, this can turn into rigid fanaticism and even obsession.  Remember, a healthy tree sways in the wind. A supple branch is flexible. A rigid tree will snap and break. Rigidity cannot be healthily maintained indefinitely.

Luckily, there are ways to nurture the wood element and bring it into balance.

  • Exercise that gently moves your body can encourage your Qi to move. However, if you find that you tend to be an excess wood type, more gentle, restorative practices like Yin Yoga would be much more supportive and appropriate.
  • Greens like arugula, watercress & dandelion are great for your liver and have a very detoxifying effect. Milk thistle, Cilantro oil and selenium can all support liver function. Of course, I love my Detox Tea, which I formulated specifically to encourage healthy liver detoxification and function.
  • A clean diet is incredibly important, and when I say “clean,” I mean as free from toxins like pesticides and contaminants as possible. Choose organic eggs, meats, fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Especially if our livers are already toxic, it’s nearly impossible to detoxify if you’re continually inundating your system with the pesticides and pharmaceuticals that unfortunately are fairly excessive in non-organic meats.  If you can’t choose all organic fruits, at least avoid the “dirty dozen.”
  • Essential oils like lavender and bergamot can be especially beneficial in soothing the liver and awakening the wood element. Consider investing in a diffuser.  Certain essential oils, including my Purify blend can also help to absorb some environmental toxins.
  • Find outlets for your stress that do not involve alcohol. Yoga, massage, deep breathing techniques, meditation, long walks in nature, and of course acupuncture can all help your body turn off the sympathetic “fight or flight” response and stimulate the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

The energy of Wood is about life springing forth, about cultivating magic out of an idea, about creativity and aliveness. Sometimes just giving your liver a little extra support and nourishment is enough to help you create a life that makes you feel “alive.”