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Go Outside and Play

Before I entered the field of acupuncture I was a high school science teacher. I remember one spring day the windows to my classroom were open and I had junior and senior students all working diligently on some project. The room was silent. I looked up to see one of my seniors, Scott, staring out the window.

“Scott, what are you thinking?” I asked.

“Well, Ms. Lello, you know what I miss?” The rest of the class stopped what they were doing and all turned to look at Scott.

“No, Scott, what do you miss?”

“I miss being told to go outside and play. Nobody tells me to go outside and play anymore.”

Everyone in the class got a good laugh out of this, including me. But he was absolutely correct and I confessed to him that I miss this too.

As an acupuncturist I have studied Chinese medicine, which was developed more than 5,000 years ago. The early practitioners of this ancient healing system looked to the natural world to obtain information on how to best balance and heal the human system. This practice of looking to the natural world remains a big part of the study of traditional Chinese medicine today.

As our earth tilts on its axis toward the sun the Northern Hemisphere begins to experience longer and warmer days. This time of year we begin to notice that birds are beginning to sing again and are becoming more active. I’ve noticed crows, who are mated pairs for life, beginning to do their dipping and diving flights of fancy with each other. This is the time that all of us need to begin to get outside, and, like our feathered friends, begin to move more in the morning. Start by having a short little outing before work to just move; to walk, or dance, dip or twirl … whatever your flight of fancy might be, but just begin to step outside into the warming sun and move.

This movement awakens the Qi, or energy, of our liver meridian. In Chinese medicine, the study of the 5-Elements tells us the liver meridian is the wood element and governed by the spring season. As the sap in trees begins to flow we can benefit from getting our own wood element's sap running smoothly again. This is best done by getting our digestive juices flowing. Again, we look to the natural world. As the snow melts (and have faith, it will!) we begin to see greens bursting through the ground. Spring greens are the first to emerge. It is these early greens that are the most beneficial foods for us to be eating now to get our sap running.

These greens are known as being bitter or astringent in their flavor. I know them as yummy: Arugula, kale, spinach, parsley, watercress, mustard greens, dandelion greens or nettles, to name a few. Many of these can be found at the local grocery store and certainly our farmers' markets will begin to have these fresh spring greens available soon. Throw some into your salad, add them to your omelets in the morning or use them as additions to your stir fry.

As bitters they stimulate the digestive juices and help regulate the gut to better absorb nutrients and to reduce inflammation in the intestines. You can nourish the liver meridian, your own wood element, with these bitter greens.

And, of course, acupuncture can help to regulate the Qi of the liver meridian. The imbalance of the liver meridian is responsible for many digestion symptoms: IBS, gas, bloating, constipation or loose stools. Stuck Liver Qi is also responsible for many mental and emotional imbalances such as outbursts of anger (“road rage”), irritability and impatience, depression, anxiety and lack of focus. You may also experience mild insomnia and fatigue.

Thus, the benefits of balancing and nourishing the Liver Qi offers you the positive aspects of the wood element: being less irritable and anxious, sleeping better, having more stamina and less fatigue, being more focused and feeling better physically with better digestion.

So I’m going to tell you to "go outside and play' and to eat your (bitter) greens.