Sandra Subotich
March 8, 2023

Transitioning into Spring with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Awakening from the dark, quiet, internal yin of winter into the driven, creative, expansive yang of spring.

While most people may not give much thought to the seasons and how they affect our personal wellness, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a plethora of things to say on this topic.

The four seasons all have specific colors, emotions, foods and even body parts that they are associated with. In addition, TCM acknowledges a fifth season, which is the 2-3 weeks of transition time between seasons.

The glorious time of spring is governed by the liver/gallbladder, associated with the color green and corresponds to the wood element. In a balanced and harmonious state, It is a time of expansion and unfolding; a time of creative inspiration supported by vision and followthrough. Its the ability to be flexible, like the swaying branches of a tree with a “no worries, it’s all good attitude”.

The transitional period between seasons always corresponds with the Earth element. It is governed by the Spleen/Stomach (digestive system) and is associated with the color yellow. In a balanced and harmonious state, we can savor the sweetness of life and of ourselves. We can easily digest and assimilate not only our food and our nutrients, but also our circumstances in life. We are able to trust ourselves and our intuition, while keeping our worries in check.

In the real world, for most of us, its a challenge to experience an idyllic, harmonious and balanced state. Its common to for the liver qi to stagnate or become sluggish in its function. This can happen from unresolved emotion, a less than ideal diet, lack of movement or too much movement and even iron levels below or on the low end of the spectrum. Our digestive systems are constantly taking a beating, not only from the foods we eat and the pesticides pollution and plastics that surround us, but also from the constant worry and emotional onslaught of our current environment.

As a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, the following are common symptoms and issues I see this time of year related to the Wood element of the liver and gallbladder and the Earth element of the spleen and stomach:

  • Allergies/sensitivities (environmental, chemical and food)
  • Neck/shoulder/back pain
  • Digestive issues including indigestion
  • Increased menstrual symptoms including PMS, cramping, changes in flow and duration
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Bowel changes
  • Heightened emotional responses including:
  • Panic attacks
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Worry
  • Compulsion
  • Anxiety
  • Depression/mania
  • Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
  • Disordered eating

While It is crucial to always seek out help from an appropriate medical professional for any changes in your mental health or symptoms that may be presenting, there are also a myriad of ways that we can help support ourselves.


Moving our bodies, particularly at this time of year, is crucial for both our physical and mental health. Movement helps move the lymph and detoxify the liver, as well as improving circulation and strengthening the heart. It also serves as an excellent tool to improve mood and lessen emotional charge. If you haven’t been moving much over the winter, starting with yoga, qi gong or pilates is a great way to get back into things. Even if you have been active through the winter, this transition time into spring calls for and appreciates the stretching, reaching, twisting and breathing that these types of exercises provide.

Remember that even doing gentle focused movement for 10-20 minutes a day can be enough to change your mood and get your qi and blood flowing. Don’t be discouraged if that’s all the time you have…any movement is good movement!


Spring is a wonderful time to cultivate or develop a practice, specifically ones that inspire our creativity or that connect us back to ourselves and/or the earth. Start the meditation practice you’ve been putting off, take an art class, take walks or hikes outside, start a grounding practice of walking barefoot in the grass for 5-10 minutes each day, start a focused breathing practice. The energy of spring and of the liver and gallbladder ask for inspiration, forward movement and strong decisions. But, they also ask us to nurture and soothe ourselves, lean in to flexibility and access flow state. We must tend to and cultivate our soil in order to grow and ascend into our potential of transformation.


As you can imagine, the foods that are favorable to the liver and the gallbladder and the season of spring are foods rich in the color green and that have a sour or pungent flavor. We also want to prioritize foods that impact liver cleansing, nourishment and movement of Qi. These foods include the following:

  • Green Foods: Foods that are rich in chlorophyll help nourish and rejuvenate the liver. This includes foods like collard greens, parsley, kale, wheatgrass, arugula, spinach, chlorella, spirulina, broccoli and mustard greens.
  • Whole grains: Brown rice, barely, millet, quinoa, oats and wheat berries. These grains are not only nourishing to the liver, but also to our earth element, the spleen and stomach.
  • Liver: From a TCM perspective. eating organ meats benefits our own organs. Not only does eating liver nourish our own liver, it also helps to nourish the blood and move stagnation.
  • Radishes: Wonderful for moving liver qi and aiding in digestion
  • Fruits: Raspberries, plums, strawberries
  • Sour Citrus Fruits: Sour fruits, especially lemons limes and even grapefruit are great at moving the liver qi and serve as a wonderful gentle detox for the liver.
  • Herbs and Spices: There are a number of herbs and spices that are phenomenal for our liver. These include, dandelion, ginger, astragalus, turmeric, schizandra berry, milk thistle, globe artichoke, mint, bupleurum, skullcap and goji berries,

In TCM, we have multitudes of herbal formulas particularly targeted to a healthy and well functioning liver. In my own practice, crafting individualized herbal formulas are at the forefront, and I regularly utilize formulations that support the liver. Im not saying were all frustrated, anxious and maybe even a little angry, but I’m also not, not saying that!

Foods to avoid

In TCM we generally advise staying away from foods that are going to be hard on the digestive system or create a heavy or “damp” environment. These include:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Processed sugar


The wood element of the spring asks us to get back out into the world and make meaningful connections with our fellow humans. We are a social species, and making time for connection with people we love and enjoy is paramount to our all around health. Given the last few years, now more than ever, this is something we should all make part of our top priority.

Chinese Medicine

I may be biased, but the art and practice of TCM is essential to our overall well being. It is a system that seeks to harmonize every aspect of our being, both seen and unseen. Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine are both phenomenal ways to address any of the physical, mental or emotional issues that may be sprouting up as we transition back into our longer, warmer and brighter days.

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