Spring into Healing with TCM: Wood Element and Liver/Gallbladder


Spring is the ideal time for a healing cleanse of the body, mind and spirit. Wisdom from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be a helpful guide on how best to cleanse your whole being, attuned to the seasonal cycles. In TCM, spring corresponds with the liver and gallbladder, recommending this as the best time to cleanse these organs. It’s also a good time to detoxify the mind and body’s toxic residue from emotional anger or indecisiveness, as these aspects correspond with the Wood element of the spring season in TCM. 



 I. 5 Element System     


            Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) rests on a foundation of 5 Element Theory, involving Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These elements are a 5-phase theory of interrelated, organic energies expressed in our body and nature. This pentagram within hosts a flow of energies that depict our personalities, emotions and health imbalances. Everyone has their unique energetic blueprint of 5 elements expressed through health patterns, and this can be a key factor in diagnosing for a TCM Practitioner. While some of this can be deep and complicated, meriting a 5 year degree to recognize, parts are simple and easy to recognize for anyone. This article is part of a 5 element series, focusing on the wood element for spring. Here is a table that sums up all of the elements and some of their correspondences:   


                                               TCM 5 Element/Correspondences Table  


  Element       Season            Organs                    Emotions       Color           Tone    Sound

Wood            Spring         Liver/Gallbladder         Anger             Green             E       SHHH

Fire               Summer     Heart/Small Intestine    Joy                   Red              G        HAWW

Earth         Late Summer   Spleen/Stomach         Worry            Yellow            C        WHOO

Metal            Autumn          Lung/Large Intestine        Grief              White             D        SSSSS

Water          Winter            Kidney/Bladder               Fear           Blue/Black        A      WOOO


        The interrelationships follow a flow in which each element feeds the next element and controls the second from it as depicted below. For example, Wood feeds fire and controls earth and so on. And Wood is fed by water and controlled by metal (think of an axe). We embody all five elements, however, many individuals express certain elements more strongly. For example, a Wood type would take on more traits of this element, being more of an independent self-starter with an ambitious nature.  


 II. Wood Archetype of Spring-Liver/Gallbladder                                                                              

The Wood archetype of TCM is one of the 5 used in TCM diagnosis, embodying the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the constitution. Being human, we are always out of balance with our own individual blueprints toward our highest nature. Working with and understanding the baseline can give guidance for objective assessments, helping to eliminate judgment and encouraging personal evolution. The wood element is yang overall, symbolic of the wood’s growth in springtime. It corresponds with the 3 earthly branches of springtime: Tiger (February), Hare (March), and Dragon (April). Wood’s symbol is the azure Dragon. Its direction of east on the feng shui ba-gua is associated with ancestors and family relationships. Wood qualities are bold actions, competition, and self-starting pioneer spirit of springtime. Wood-types are learning to control anger and channel their energies into constructive activities that benefit other people. Wood is a yang energy, but less yang than fire: the more yang is expressed through the upright, sturdy constitutions of the hardwoods and the yin is expressed as the more flexible, bending of the bamboo.   


Each element is associated with paired yin-yang organs and other emotions. The paired yin-yang organs for the Wood Element are the Liver (Yin) and Gallbladder (Yang), corresponding with anger and decision-making, respectively. TCM’s cultural perspective is different than ours in the West regarding emotions. With the exception of joy, from the western perspective, the other 4 TCM emotions of anger, worry, grief and fear would be considered ‘negative’ to most individuals. In TCM, the emotions are a source of disharmony with neutral connotations. All emotions have their place in healthy individuals and should be expressed in a balanced way to maintain health. Even too much joy can be a source of disharmony. In TCM, the emotion anger is associated with the Liver and decision-making with the Gallbladder. Expressing disruptive anger or “flying off the handle” can be symptomatic of a Liver imbalance; and a situation that causes a person much anger can bring imbalance to the Liver. When individuals are chronically indecisive or making irrational decisions, an imbalance to the Gallbladder may be the source. The body, mind and emotions are all connected in TCM with emphasis on treating the whole person for balance and health.   


III. Taoist Healing Sounds and Tones/Anger Meditation   

In TCM, there is an ancient Taoist concept of the Six Healing Sounds or Liu Zi Jue. Each of the 5 elements and paired organs have a healing sound and tone. Triple Burner is the sixth sound and integrates the other 5 sounds and will be explained in the Summer or Fire Element blog. The tone for Wood Element is E and the healing sound is SHHH. There is a Taoist Qi Gong exercise where you lean to the left with arms and palms up, inhaling deeply then exhaling while saying the healing sound, SHHHHH. The Six Healing Sounds are thought to transform the stagnant energy stored in the organs and meridian pathways into a vital life force. This also includes an exercise, similar to the western modality, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprogramming). In the Liver exercise, you imagine a person who has made you angry, then separate the person from the anger. Next, imagine your eyes move down into your liver. While focusing on the anger, move your eyes back and forth, imagine the eyes in your liver moving back and forth, eliminating the anger. This exercise can be practiced with all organs and their corresponding emotion and vocal healing sounds. In addition, you can use color therapy and imagine vibrant green light penetrating the liver and Gallbladder during this meditation.  


IV. Liver Herbal Cleanse                                                                                                                                        What a better way to do a spring cleaning of your own body, mind and spirit than to detoxify the organ, known as the master gland for detoxification in western anatomy, in sync with the timing of TCM. As we all know, our own planet is in need of a good detoxification and just living on it brings health consequences that build up in our systems. This partial list includes heavy metals (lead and mercury), pharmaceuticals, preservatives (parabens, formaldehyde, and formic acid), pesticides and herbicides (glyphosate), plastics (polychlorinated biphenyls, bisphenol A, polyvinyl chloride), cosmetics, solvents and glues (benzene, toluene), and gasoline additives. Chemicals cause inflammation to the liver and the heat leads to stagnation. According to TCM, this stagnation of liver qi and blood inhibits the liver’s enzymatic detoxification process. Through acupuncture and herbal medicine, we can help to restore the flow of our liver qi and support the liver cells and their enzymatic activity for detoxification of the body.


                      Milk Thistle


There are many herbs according to TCM and Ayurvedic Medicine, as well as from the West for detoxing the liver and gallbladder. I am just offering a partial list from 3 different cultures, suggesting that individuals consult a health practitioner on the best herbal medicine combination suited for their holistic health needs. Most concoctions include herbs combined into a synergistic remedy. In TCM, this can include a simple 2 herbal remedy with chai hu (Radix Bupluri) and bai shao (Radix Paeoniae Alba). Other herbs to move the liver qi include xiang fu (Rhizoma Cyperi) and chuan lian zi (Fructus Meliae Toosendan). Therapeutic herbs to move liver blood include chuan xiong (Rhizoma Ligustici Chuanxiong), dan shen (Radix/Rhiz. Salviae Miltiorrhizae, and yu jin ( Radix Curcumae). In Ayurvedic Medicine, herbs include Belleric Myrobaian Fruit, Boerhavia Diffusa root and herb, Eclipta root and herb and Tumeric root. European herbs include Milk Thistle, dandelion root, artichoke leaf and aloe vera. It is also important to supplement antioxidants as in Phase 1 of the liver’s detoxification, there is a production of damaging oxygen radicals. The amino acid, Glutathione, and Alpha Lipoic Acid (fat and water soluble) are crucial antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals from detoxification. Another factor to consider is fiber to help cleanse the toxins out of the Large Intestine. Many cleanses focus on the soluble fiber to leach the toxins out of the colon. However, it is important to recognize the balance of the soluble (slows digestion) with the insoluble (speeds up digestion) fibers according to your own body’s needs, plus to always be gradual in adding fiber to your diet.


 V. Gallbladder Cleanse   


Cleansing the Gallbladder is complementary to the liver cleanse and vice versa from both Eastern and Western perspectives. In TCM, the liver (yin) is the paired organ to the gallbladder (yang) for the wood element. In western anatomy, the liver produces the bile, used to emulsify fats and the Gallbladder stores the bile until released into the small intestine for digestion. Gallstones are formed out of bile components when there is a deficiency of organic sodium in the body. A sodium deficiency is usually caused by eating too many acid-forming foods, a high protein diet, stress or a combination of these. Sodium is used up by the body through the sodium bicarbonate buffer system, in process of neutralizing these acids. In TCM, the pattern diagnosis for gallstones is damp-heat in the Liver/Gallbladder, causing the bile to dry up and harden. The only way to diagnose Gallstones with certainty is with an ultrasound.    


There is a popular olive oil protocol for cleansing the gallbladder and stones, with varying details depending on the source that takes about a week. It is recommended that the diet minimizes all acid-forming foods, such as, meat, sugar, dairy products and wheat for the week. In addition, you eat as many apples, apple juice or cider (preferably fresh) as possible throughout the week, realizing that the more you consume, the softer your gallstones will be. Then, on day 7 before going to bed mix 4-8 ounces of warm unrefined extra-virgin olive oil mixed with 4-8 ounces of organic lemon juice at room temperature. Then go directly to bed, lying on your right side. Obviously, this all can make you feel a bit nauseous but it will be worth it. Some professionals advise to get a colonic the next day, however, there are mixed opinions on the benefits of colonics. For the rest of the day, refrain from eating anything heavy, so as to give the digestive system a rest. Ultimately, it is best to do the liver/Gallbladder cleanse in the spring: a 2 -3 month liver cleanse, with the Gallbladder cleanse after being on the liver cleanse for at least a month.


There are many herbs that stimulate bile production, such as, dandelion (taraxacin) and milk thistle (silymarin). Increasing the bile production, decreases its concentration and also can help flush gallstones. These greens can be taken as a tea or eaten raw as a salad or steamed like spinach. One of my herbal teachers from China recommended corn silk tea for gallstones. Rosemary is another herb that stimulates bile production and is well-known for its abilities to support fat digestion, which is why it is often included with high fat dishes. There is compelling research on using peppermint oil capsules (enteric-coated) to stimulate bile production and help dissolve gallstones. As discussed here, there is no shortage with Mother Nature’s Materia Medica to prevent and help eliminate gallstones, while potentially preventing a removal of the gallbladder organ.                                                                               


 VI.Castor Oil                                                                                                                                                  

A topical cleanse can be done to complement the internal cleanses for both the liver and gallbladder with castor oil packs. This ancient remedy has been used in many cultures for centuries, as far back as ancient Egypt. The Healing Clairvoyant, Edgar Cayce, recommended castor oil packs in hundreds of his readings for many diseases, including gallstones, liver diseases and many digestion problems. The organization, Association on Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) is dedicated to researching the thousands of readings done by Edgar Cayce, including many that recommend castor oil packs. Castor oil is pressed from the castor bean, and it brings healing to the areas applied. An Acupuncturist and Teacher of mine, Rick Gold, in San Diego used to apply castor oil packs over my liver while I received acupuncture, so I can attest to its soothing properties. It stimulates the lymphatic system and circulation, reduces inflammation, bringing new life to whatever it touches. Castor Oil packs are applied with flannel squares, dampened with castor oil, then covered with a wrap and topped with a heating pad for enhanced penetration. There are many variations to length of time and quantity of treatments. It is recommended to keep them on for at least an hour. My suggestion is to do it at least once a week during the liver/gallbladder cleanses. It is particularly beneficial for gallstones, so it may be helpful to do it daily during the gallbladder cleanse.


VII. Liver/Gallbladder Meridian Therapy      


Liver Meridian 


In TCM there are 12 principle meridians that correspond with organs. There are paired organs, 1 yang/hollow and 1 yin (solid) pairs for each element and season, with the exception of the fire element having 2 pairs. As aforementioned, the wood element of spring is the paired Liver/yin and Gallbladder/yang. The meridians are channels, where the qi (life force) flows, transforming energy to material and vice versa. The acupuncture points used for needling are along these channels. However, there are many ways to stimulate the points without acupuncture needles, using essential oils, acupressure, massage, Reiki or tuning forks. I will mention some power points that anyone can utilize for self-healing. The Liver channel originates on the big toe and travels up the inner shin bone & thigh, terminating in the liver. Anyone can support the flow of the qi in the meridians by stretching or doing yoga. For the liver meridianstretching the adductor/quadricep thigh, medial lower leg and ribcage supports the qi flowing smoothly. When we are stiff, our meridians kink like a garden hose, obstructing our free flow of qi. Obstructions can lead to pain or disease from an imbalance or blockage in the body.   3 of the 14 power points on the liver meridian are the following:   Liver-3: "Gushing Spring"-2 finger widths proximal to place where big & 2nd toes join for Stress, pain, irritability, anxiety, headaches, anger. Liver-4: "Woodworm Groove" Medial surface of leg; 5 cun* above inner malleolus for Hernias, libido, lower abdominal distention, UTI’s, groin pain. Liver-14: "Cyclic Gate"-6th intercostal space, mid clavicular line for Digestion, GB inflammation, hepatitis, PMS, sighing, irritability.                       *Cun=thumb width for measurement  



 The Gallbladder meridian begins at the lateral eyes going in front and around the outside of the ears, down the side of the neck and along the lateral ribcages, over the Gallbladder and back into the gluteal muscles. Then it comes around the hips and down the sides of the legs and down and out the foot and 4th toes.  I have highlighted 6 of the 44 power points on the Gallbladder meridian: GB-20: "Wind Pool"-Where base of skull & top of neck meet, depression lateral to trapezius tendon for Stiffness or pain in neck, nasal congestion, allergies, headache, blurry vision, vertigo, tinnitus. GB-24: "Sun & Moon"-7th intercostal space, mid-clavicular-line for Indecisiveness, lacking gall or courage, hypochondriac pain, acid reflux, hepatitis. GB-30: "Circling Jump"-On gluteus muscle, lateral 1/3 on line from trochanter and sacral hiatus for Sciatica, leg pain and weakness, hemiplegia. GB-34: "Outer Mound Spring"-Directly below and anterior to fibula head-Empirical Point for all the tendons and ligaments in the body. GB-37: "Bright Light"-5 cun* directly above the tip of external malleolus, on anterior border of fibula-Improves vision-blurry vision, night blindness, opthamalgia. GB-41: "Close to Tears"-Lateral foot dorsum, proximal to 4th metatarsophalangeal joint in depression for Temporal headaches, migraines, hypochondriac pain, malaria, eye pain                         *cun-thumb width


VIII. Spirit of the Liver: The Hun                                                                                                                           


Lastly, the spirits of the yin organs will be discussed. In TCM, 5 of the yin organs all have a type of spirit linked to them, conveying how the physical organ is lived out emotionally, mentally and spiritually in the body. In a sense, you could say these spirits are housed in their organs during our mortal span of life. For the purpose of this article, I will explain the Liver’s spirit named the Hun or “ethereal soul.” The Hun is the force behind all of our movement in life, even the one that carries out into the Heaven’s after death. At the most basic level, the smooth flow of our liver qi, is the foundation for all of our other movements and can mirror our movements in life. If our liver qi is stagnant, we can experience pain and irritation, which slows us down and inhibits movement and inspiration. The Hun guides all of our capacity for inspiration and motivates us forward. It manifests our abilities to lead and foster new ideas and creative endeavors. It is our drive for accomplishment, relationships and our purpose. Life is movement and the force behind mortality. All of our billions of cells are in constant vibratory motion, expressing our resonance and magnetic fields around us. The more we exercise movement in life, the less we resign to the rigor mortis of death.


IX. Conclusion/Guided Healing



In conclusion, this article was intended to simplify and provide an overview of TCM or Taoist principles on the 5 elements. This system is interrelated into a cohesive whole, so this article on the Wood element of springtime is initiating a 5-part series that will complete the seasons of the East Asian year (see other blogs on Fire, Earth, Metal and Water). This article is especially beneficial to consider in the spring, however, anytime you have imbalances with the liver/gallbladder or their associated emotions of anger and decision-making this can be helpful to read and apply. As a TCM Practitioner, I offer seasonal cleansing services with individuals, using Acupuncture, herbal cleanses, castor oil packs, and qi gong exercises. In addition, I have written and co-produced guided healing meditations with Eileen Dey and Michael Mercker as a 5 Element East Asian Series for each season and its corresponding organs/emotions.  Here is the link to purchase the Mp3 Download for the Guided Healing Meditations on the Wood Element's Spring Season and Liver/Gallbladder, click on the CD:         




Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose, cure or treat any disease. Consult a health practitioner for any illness.

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