Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spring & Wood Element

The season associated with the element Wood is Spring. It is the time when Yang starts is ascension following the fullness of Yin during Winter. It is a time when a connection is re-established between Heaven and Earth. The process of life is invigorated on it’s way towards it’s full blossom which takes place in Summer.

The 3 months of spring are called springing up and unfolding. Heaven and Earth together produce life, And the 10,000 beings are invigorated. ~ Sun wen 2
Larre, Claude & De La Valle, Elizabeth Rochat (1994) The Way of Heaven p 107

Spring is a time of birth and regeneration. Wood which has been resting, storing it’s energy under Winter’s blanket now bursts upwards. New life pierces the Earth’s crust. There is a surge of rising energy. This is reflected in the shoots of plants which move upwards with a power and determination so much so that we can see their growth make it’s way through concrete. They have a simple blueprint for life and a “vision” and quality of fierceness to move towards realising their destiny.

Spring is the time of birth and regeneration. The burst of activity which surges out of the stillness of the winter has no equal elsewhere in the year; there is an energy of dynamic force abroad which brings life and vigor to everything.
Worsley, J.R. (1998), Classical Five-Element Acupuncture™ Volume III The Five Elements and The Officials p12

If we have been in accordance with the Tao and used the Winter to rest we are in a position to be ready to make new beginnings with a clear vision and a sense of purpose. To use the Spring to plant seeds for a future harvest. To look ahead and make new plans for the coming year and to take action to move towards realising these plans.

Hope is in the air. All things feel possible, as the future opens up before us.
Franglen, Nora (2001) Simple Guide to Using Acupuncture p76

Spring’s increasing warmth encourages us stay outside more than we did in Winter. The warmth we can experience also comes from the interaction we experience with friends and relations. We find ourselves going to and home from work in daylight!. We might be planning our Summer holidays. If we are in harmony with our Wood energetic then we will feel the natural desire for horizontal extension and to get up and expand.

Associated with Spring is the colour green which is the colour which most frequently ‘springs’ to mind when we think of Spring. Whilst the colour green is present throughout the entire year it is especially in springtime when we see the natural colour green in plants growing that we understand what these plants actually are.

The image of a tree is often used to illustrate the essence of wood. Indeed this is reflected in the ideogram for Wood (Mu),

This character represents a tree. The vertical line is the backbone of the tree, the trunk and root. The line at the top represents the branches. The horizontal line is the earth, reminding us that much of the tree is below ground.
Hicks, Angela; Hicks, John; Mole Peter (2004) Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture p 54

Take some personal time to reflect on a question that Prof. J.R. Worsley used to pose to his students: “What kind of tree are you?”. For example do you have deep roots, a strong connection with the Earth?  What colour are the leafs on your tree?  Is your tree easily ‘swayed’?  Does your tree bear any type of fruit?

The primary correspondences for Wood are listed in Table 1.
Season : Spring
Colour : Green
Sound : Shouting/Lack Of
Odour : Rancid
Emotion : Anger
Yin Official / Zang Organ : Liver
Yang Official / Fu Organ : Gall Bladder
Yin Official Peak Time : 1am – 3am
Yang Official Peak Time : 11pm – 1am
Climate : Wind
Sense Organ/Orifice : Eyes
Tissue/Body Part : Sinews & Tendons
Residue : Nails
Taste : Sour
Direction : East
Fluid Secretion : Tears
Power : Birth
Table 1 – Wood’s primary correspondences

The Wood Element within us provides us with the gifts and capacities to support our body, mind and spirit by providing us with a vision and hope for the year ahead. To make plans for our future and the decision making capability to realise these plans. There will also be challenges to face. Some of these gifts, capacities and challenges are discussed in the next sections of this paper.

Gifts & Capacities
The season of Spring offers us inspiration which, if we are in reasonable balance energetically with the other seasonal elements will overtake their presence in our lives. Some of these gifts and capacities are vision, decision making, expression of anger, growth, movement & flexibility and birth. These are discussed in more detail below.

Wood through the function planning and strategy capability provided by the Liver Official provides us with the ability to see a purpose in our lives. To have a roadmap to live in accordance with our Tao. This is our Hun or ‘Ethereal soul’ (spirit of our Liver), in function.

Our Hun is responsible for our ‘life plan’, sense of purpose and sense of direction.
Hicks, Angela & Hicks, John (1999) Healing your Emotions p 22

In Sun Wen 5 it is written “the Liver masters the eye”. This relationship between the Liver and the eyes is not just restricted to physical vision but also to mental and spiritual vision. Hence on one hand we can have a sense of ‘hope’, ‘vision’ and ‘purpose’ to our lives but on the other hand we more often find that ‘despair’, ‘futility’ and ‘hopelessness’ are the sense that people have in the stress and strains of day-to-day living.

Decision Making
Having a plan is fine but we need to be able to make decisions which, will enable us to carry out this plan. This is the function of the Gall Bladder Official. Decision making is also very important in our day-to-day living and is a gift which most of us take for granted because it is almost a subconscious activity. One only needs to reflect on all the decisions that we make for example from the time we wake up in the morning to starting our journey to work.

Expression of Anger
Being able to express the emotion associated with Wood, i.e. anger is important because there are times when it is appropriate to express anger. Constantly suppressing our anger, an imbalance in Wood, is known to have damaging effects on our health. The other side of a Wood imbalance can be an over expression of anger and as Su Wen 5 tells us anger injures the Liver.

In springtime anger is seen as the typical expression of the will. Anger is only one of the possible translations, and it is difficult to because it sounds reproachful in our interpretation of language. It implies the same tension that you get when you draw a bow. In your mind, your will power corresponds to anger. It is just tension.
Larre, Claude & De La Valle, Elizabeth Rochat (1999) The Liver p 56

Anger as pointed out above dose not really convey the emotion which arises from the Wood element. The energy of Wood is powerful and thrusting and when it is blocked we can get a sense of the hostility, resentment and frustration which arises. It is important therefore to realise that people get angry for many different reasons.

For most people the association with growth and Spring seems like a natural association when we think of images of buds emerging, daffodils and snowdrops appearing. It is important however to be aware that this growth is not just restricted to the nature around us and that Spring is also a time when we as humans can use the opportunity to, for example, let go of old hurts. It is also an opportunity for us to take a ‘fresh look’ at ourselves and maybe see parts of ourselves we are unaware of.

Movement & Flexibility
The Chinese associate the Wood Element with the sinews and tendons

Our muscular forces are similar to Wood in that they can bend and stretch and then straighten out. Like the branches of a young tree our bodies are more flexible when younger and as we grow older just as in a tree where the sap ceases to flow our sinews and joints tend to stiffen up. Our sinews and tendons also us to move in a way which has a purpose and goal.

The association with birth is usually an easy one for us to relate to in Spring. It’s a time of birth for example for a lot of the animal kingdom. We can usually easily visualise new born lambs in the countryside. The Yang rising power is also present in the function of the reproductive organs. Indeed the meridians of the Liver and Gall Bladder both traverse the genital area in both sexes. On a mental level we typically can find we are ‘hatching’ fresh ideas and plans for the year ahead.

So whilst there are many gifts and capacities which the Wood element bestows to us we need to be aware that we can as it were ‘go to far’ in the exuberance and vigor of the rising yang. We need to be aware that we can fall into the trap of being over attentive, pay too much detail to structure and rules.

We need to be aware that we can end up chasing distant dreams and not slowing down to ‘smell the roses’ and enjoy the fruits of our labours. On the opposite side of this we can become rooted to a spot and inflexible, solid and dependable but totally incapable of any real movement. We can become over assertive and become too belligerent. We need to recognise boundaries and know when to stop otherwise we can end up rambling on and aimlessly expanding for no apparent purpose.

Associated with the Wood Element we have the Liver (Gan) and Gall Bladder (Dan) Officials. The Liver plays an important role in storing and distributing blood and the Gall Bladder in supporting our decision making processes for our body, mind and spirit.

The Liver (Gan) Official

The Liver has the functions of a military leader who excels in his strategic planning.
Veith, Ilza (2002) The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine p28

The Liver official is the Zang/Fu organ of the Wood Element. It provides a significant role in filtering toxic chemicals form our body.

The functions of the Liver are listed in Table 2.
1 It stores Blood
2 It ensures the smooth flow of Qi
3 It controls the sinews
4 It manifests in the nails
5 It opens into the eyes
6 It controls the tears
7 It houses the Ethereal Soul
8 It is affected by anger
Table 2 – The Functions of the Liver - Maciocia, Giovanni (2005)
The Foundations of Chinese Medicine p 117

Some of these functions are discussed below:

1 It stores Blood
The Liver regulates the volume of Blood in the body according to physical activity. When the body is active, Blood flows to the muscles and sinews; when the body is at rest Blood flows back to the Liver

The Liver bears the Yin responsibility of storing and the Yang role of distributing the blood.
Beinfield Harriet, Korngold Efrem (1991) Between Heaven and Earth A Guide to Chinese Medicine p 107

This reflects an old Chinese explanation for the ideogram Mu which, explains that it is only because there is a deep rooting that there can be a springing upwards towards heaven. The sap rising is likened to distribution of the blood by the Liver.

2 It ensures the smooth flow of Qi
This is the most important of all the Liver functions and it is central to nearly all Liver disharmonies. The Liver ensures the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body, in all organs and in all directions. The smooth flow of Liver Qi affects the emotional state, digestion and secretion of bile. It facilitates descending Lung Qi, ascending Spleen Qi, descending Stomach Qi and descending Intestines Qi. From a mental perspective this supports our powers of reason.

7 It houses the Ethereal Soul
Blood is the residence of Hun. The Hun along with the Po (spirit which resides in Lungs) are the Yin and Yang expression of the Shen. The Hun and Po are an archetype of Yin and Yang working in a human being. The Hun influences the capacity of planning our life and finding a sense of direction in life.

The Liver meridian begins as the superficial pathway at the lateral nail point of the big toe and has a deep pathway which runs to the top of the head.

This is the beginning of the motion after the hibernation of winter. The muscular forces must be unleashed again. The qi must circulate freely now, and go up to the top of the body which is the end of the Liver meridian. You will remember that it is the only yin meridian which has a pathway through the head to the summit and the meeting point of all the yang qi.
Larre, Claude & De La Valle, Elizabeth Rochat (1999) The Liver p 18

Some examples of points on the Liver meridian which, describe their possible application in supporting the body, mind and spirit and also reflect their relationship to the Wood Element are listed in Table 3 below:

Point   Title                 Example point application
Liv 1   Great Esteem   Grants patient confidence to surge forth with the power of springtime – to push ahead, give birth and grow.
Liv 13  Chapter Gate  To help patient move on to a new Spring in their life .
Liv 14  Gate of Hope   Where patient is depressed, ho hope, and can’t see potential to realise their plans.
Table 3 – Example of points and their application on Liver meridian

The other half of the Wood Element Officials team is the Gall Bladder Official. Whilst the Liver is charged with planning the Gall Bladder is charged with the decision making capability which helps us to execute our plans.

The Gall Bladder (Dan) Official
The Gall Bladder occupies the position of an important and upright official who excels through his decisions and judgement.
Veith, Ilza (2002) The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine p28

The Gall Bladder is the Yang/Fu organ of the Wood Element. It is one of the extraordinary fu in that it has a function of storing essences. So in effect it has a double role. It is concerned with what is clear and pure, in a manner which is central and which gives exactitude.

The functions of the Gall Bladder are listed below in Table 4:
1 It stores and excretes bile
2 It controls decisiveness
3 It controls sinews
Table 4 – The Functions of the Gall Bladder - Maciocia, Giovanni (2005)
The Foundations of Chinese Medicine p 199

Some of these functions are discussed in below.

2 It controls decisiveness
The Gall Bladder controls our capacity to make decisions. Whilst the Liver is said to control our life planning ability it is the harmony of both these Officials functions so that can plan and act accordingly.

If the Liver and Gall Bladder are dissonant, action occurs without judgement, decisions go unactualised , or a Hamlet-like paralysis of decision and action persists
Beinfield Harriet, Korngold Efrem (1991) Between Heaven and Earth A Guide to Chinese Medicine p 108

The Gall Bladder also has a role in supporting the other Officials in that it is said to motivate them.

Some examples of points on the Gall Bladder meridian which describe their possible application in supporting the body, mind and spirit and also reflect their relationship to the Wood Element are listed in Table 5.

Point     Title                Example point application
GB 24 Sun and Moon To help patient see all possibilities and see both sides impartially by the “light of the sun” and the “light of the moon”.
GB 20 Wind Pond      For relief of migraines and headaches, especially around back of neck area.
GB 37 Bright and Clear When patient is stuck in the dark and can’t see the light.
Table 5 – Example of points and their application on Gall Bladder meridian

Liver Imbalance Manifestations
In this section I have listed some of the manifestations on body, mind and spirit which can arise as a result of imbalance in the Liver Official.

A Liver disharmony, then, would be the converse of smoothness, and so the Liver is the Organ most sensitive to stagnation, or “stuckness”
Kaptchuk, Ted J (1983) The Web that has no Weaver p 59

Imbalance at physical level is reflected in the body’s rhythms which, depend on the planning function of the Liver. For example infrequent or over-frequent periods, mid-cycle bleeding. As planning function breaks down the order within the body starts to break down too. For example we can suffer from gastric pains as food arrives in the wrong place at the wrong time. Other signs of imbalance at body level would include dry or red eyes, myopia and other distortions of the lens. Loss of suppleness in tendons and ligaments. Nails which are brittle, pitted and ridged.

Where there is excessive Qi rising there can be pains in the head and or blurred vision. If the descending function of the stomach is overcome there can be vomiting. In extreme cases the Liver may lose it’s function of storing blood and then there will be blood in the vomit or spitting of blood.

Where blood does not get to nourish the tendons and ligaments there can be cramps, spasms and muscular contractions, which can reach the point of paralysis if the lack of nutrition lasts a long time.

As the Liver meridian passes through the genital area imbalance in Liver Official can result in swollen genitals, spasm and cramps in the penis or vagina, and poor sexual function.

Liver Official Imbalance at the mental level can result in person being unable to make plans. In some cases person may get involved in too many plans, blowing with the wind with none of the plans anywhere near completion. Person maybe unable to plan their own life but think nothing of jumping in feet first to tell someone else how to organise their life.

Liver Official Imbalance at the spirit level can result is person having no plans or purpose for their whole life. Person cannot see any future and may feel that they might just as well give up. A feeling of depression and resignation. Person may however be attached to one rigid plan and be very inflexible about intolerant of others who do not share what that person sees as their future. They can spend their life missing opportunities because of a tunnel vision.

In conclusion in this paper we have looked at the importance of the energetic of the Wood Element which provides us with the primary abilities to plan and make decisions. These abilities we examined are provided by the two related Wood Officials of Liver (Gan) and Gall Bladder (Dan).


Beinfield Harriet, Korngold Efrem (1991) Between Heaven and Earth A Guide to Chinese Medicine
New York: Ballantine Books

Franglen, Nora (2001) Simple Guide to Using Acupuncture.
Kent, England: Global Books Ltd.

Hicks, Angela & Hicks, John (1999) Healing your Emotions
London, England: Thorsons

Hicks, Angela; Hicks, John; Mole Peter (2004) Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture
Churchill Livingstone

Kaptchuk, Ted J (1983) The Web that has no Weaver.
London: Rider

Larre, Claude & De La Valle, Elizabeth Rochat (1994) The Way of Heaven
Monkey Press

Maciocia, Giovanni (2005) The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, 2nd Ed.
Churchill Livingstone

Veith, Ilza (2002) The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.
London: University of California Press, Ltd.

Worsley, J.R. (1998) Classical Five-Element Acupuncture™ Volume III The Five Elements and The Officials.
J.R. & J.B. Worsley


College of Traditional Acupuncture (2005) Blue Group S2005 Session Ten Notes.

Connelly, Dianne M. (1994) Traditional Acupuncture The Law of the Five Elements. 2nd Edition.
Maryland, U.S.A.: Tai Sophia Institute

Larre, Claude & De La Valle, Elizabeth Rochat (1999) The Liver
Monkey Press