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Leaping Into Spring: Celebrating with Persian & Chinese Culture

This past Sunday marked the Spring Equinox for this year; the Spring Equinox is a time when there is equal day and night. It also marks the official transition into the Spring season.

For thousands of years, many cultures as well as religions have held celebrations around the Spring Equinox. One such culture is the Persian culture, who celebrate their New Year's on the Spring Equinox, which is called Nowruz.

Nowruz is the Persian New Year; it means "new day." It's a monthlong celebration, filled with parties, craft-making, street performances and public rituals. And, yes, lots of food!

The new year will ring in on Saturday, March 20 this year, although March 21 was officially recognized in 2010 as International Nowruz Day by the United Nations at the request of multiple countries.

It's no coincidence it falls on the first official day of spring. The Iranian calendar is a solar calendar, meaning time is determined, through astronomical observations, by Earth's movement around the sun. So, the first day of the year always kicks off with the natural phenomenon of the vernal equinox.

As for how Nowruz is celebrated?

One tradition in the inclusion of a specially decorated table, known as the haft sin, which includes seven symbolic items starting with the Farsi letter "S." They include wheat grass, herbs, dried food and vinegar, all representing various hopes for the new year, including health, wealth and prosperity. For example, "Sir," the word for garlic, represents protection from illness and evil, while vinegar, or "Serkeh," represents longevity and patience. The table will also include mirrors, candles, decorated eggs, water and various fruits. Many families also place a goldfish on the table for good luck and poetry books or the Quran to symbolize education and enlightenment. Hafiz is often used.

Iranian families also welcome the new year with sparkling homes and new clothes. They visit friends and neighbors and share meals and host parties. Communities come together to celebrate the beginning of spring and do so in hopes they will always be surrounded by healthy and clean surroundings, like their home.

Of course, the celebrations don't end when people ring in the new year. Thirteen days after Nowruz, families head outdoors and throw the wheat grass they've been growing (and using to decorate Haft Sin tables) into flowing waters. The tradition is maintained on the 13th day after the new year, a number usually considered unlucky. To ensure good luck for the year, communities throw out the wheat grass, which is said to absorb all the negative energy from each home.

What is interesting is that a lot of the food and items on the Haft Sin table are closely correlated with 'sour' foods that are recommended for consumption in the Spring in Traditional Chinese medicine. This is no coincidence as a lot of cultures, including Persian, look to by in sync with nature as a way of optimizing their health and wellness.

Moving from Nowruz to the season of Spring in Traditional Chinese medicine, we transition from the Water element and its' association with the winter to the Wood element and it's corresponding season of Spring. In Traditional Chinese medicine, there are five elements and each element corresponds to a season and moves in a cyclical manner. We have the Chinese Lunar New Year preparing to welcome Spring while still in the Water Element and winter season, while Nowruz is in the time of the Wood element and Spring.

Spring is a time for new beginnings, as the days get longer and the sun starts getting (a little!) warmer. But it’s also the season of strong winds. It’s a time of expansion rather than contraction, and starting to move and grow outward in the world after the hibernation of winter.

Wood exemplifies the energy of growth, change, and pushing through It is a very active energy that allows for a lot of movement and progress, both internally and externally. In Spring, we may have more energy to get moving on projects, hence the classic “spring cleaning.” It is a good time of year to work on any blockages. We want to get things moving so we can have access to all that great energy.

Again, the Spring is a time of action, change and rebirth. On the other side, when thwarted or constrained, wood is also the energy of frustration, anger and stress. Like the Wood element, anger can make us hard and unbendable – like the tree that snaps in a strong wind instead of swaying So what can we learn from the Wood element? The key here is flexibility. If we hold ourselves too rigidly, we will break and crumble. If we are too loose and wobbly, like a badly rooted tree, there is no growth and real potential for change. So, the healthy balance is to remain flexible but engaged. Because the Wood element exemplifies the energy of growth, it is also about vision, planning and decision making, essential for creative change. Try to be assertive (not angry), flexible (not rigid), and remain engaged with our eyes on the important people and projects in our life.

Wood exemplifies the energy of growth, change, and pushing through. As we know from previous videos, In Traditional Chinese Medicine, elements are also associated with body organs. The Wood element represents the liver and the gall bladder. The liver function is considered to be the grand architect for our vision of the future. The liver is the center of strategic planning. The Gall Bladder is thought to be the center of our ability to make decisions and judge wisely. From the functions of the liver and the gall bladder, we can plan and choose – we combine new future possibilities with the wisdom of the past and, as a result, are able to see the clear and appropriate choice to make.

In Traditional Chinese medicine, the liver has many functions. We are going to focus on the liver, because if we can optimize the functioning of our liver, we can best support our Wood Element and our body during the Spring.

The liver stores the blood: it regulates blood volume in relation to rest and activity; it regulates menstruation and it moistens the eyes and sinews. Going back to menstruation because this is an important component AND March is endometriosis as well as international women’s month (sorry, fellas!), if the liver stores blood normally, menstruation will be normal. If the blood of the liver is deficient, there will be amenorrhea or scanty periods. Think of someone who may be or appear anemic. If the blood of the liver is in excess or hot, the periods may be heavy. If the blood of the liver is stagnant, the periods will be painful. One could then say that many gynecological problems are due to malfunctioning of the liver-qi or liver-blood.

The liver ensures the smooth flow of qi: this is the MOST important all of the liver functions as the smooth flow of liver qi affects one’s emotional state, digestion and secretion of bile. For those who have been to see me, whenever I notice any areas of purple on your tongue body, this can be indicative of liver qi stagnation or more likely, liver blood stagnation.

The liver controls the sinews or it can be said it nourishes the sinews: if liver blood is normal, than you have supple sinews and tendons, free or easy movement. If there is a deficiency, you can experience cramps, numbness, and tingling. If there is stagnation, you may experience stiffness of sinews, rigidity and pain.

The liver manifests itself in the nails and opens into the eyes. If there is a deficiency, you may notice ridged, dry, brittle nails. With stagnation, you may even see some purple discoloration. For the eyes, dry, itchy or red eyes can be indicative of a disharmony with the liver. If there is a deficiency, there may also be blurred vision, myopia, floaters, or color blindness.

The liver controls our tears.

The liver houses the ethereal soul or the Hun in Chinese. The Hun is said to influence the capacity of planning our life and finding a sense of direction in life. It is also the source of life dreams, vision, aims, projects, inspirations, creativity and ideas. If someone has trouble staying asleep or has vivid dreams or nightmares, I often correlate this with a disharmony with the Hun and thus the liver.

Finally, the liver is affected by anger. Anger can cause stagnation of the liver qi and eventual ‘heat’ symptoms, if not corrected.

So how do we support our Wood element via the Liver?

The first is through dietary therapy.

In TCM, green is the color associated with the Wood Element. Think green for a healthy Wood Element. Raw foods remind the body of youthfulness. Green foods that nourish the Wood Element are dandelion greens, artichokes, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cabbage, celery, endive, green beans, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, nettles, parsley, peas, sorrel, spirulina, watercress, spinach, radish leaves, wheat grass and zucchini.

You can also incorporate sour foods as Sour is the taste associated with the Wood. Adding food such as sour plum, lemon, apple cider vinegar can support your Liver. Enjoy tart apples, acerola cherries, grapefruit, kiwi, leek, lemon or lime in water, green olives, peaches, pickles, plum, pomegranate, sauerkraut, strawberries, and apple cider vinegar. Don’t take on an empty stomach if you have gastritis. A little sour helps to drain and cleanse the liver. Spicy condiments can stimulate the liver. Use more sour foods when there is heat is present in the body. Sour foods reign supreme in activating the liver and gall bladder’s many functions. Aim for balance and avoid excess greasy, spicy and sour foods

Additionally: It is best not to always rely on bread or biscuits for a quick energy boost. Focus on complex carbs like legumes, brown rice, quinoa, and high protein snack (nuts, yogurt, cheese) for a slow sustained energy release. When Qi stagnates, over time it generates heat. Hence adding small amounts of raw food or cooling property food (green bean, chrysanthemum tea) can help to clear the heat and prevent heat build-up.

Roots help detoxify the liver, helping stagnant energy be released. Consider beets, carrots, dandelion root, garlic, onion, parsnip, radish and sweet potato.

Good grains for the Wood Element are quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, millet, buckwheat and are good sources of complex carbohydrates. Nourishing nuts for Wood are Brazil, cashew, and sunflower seeds. Beans for Wood include lentils, lima beans and split peas. And, sprouts for Wood are alfalfa, barley, mung, and wheat.

The best fats to nourish the Wood Element can be derived from olive oil, sesame oil, butter cream, mayonnaise, sour yogurt, or oily fish.

Herbs to season food that help one to be mindful of their Wood Element are anise, basil, bay, caraway, dill, fennel, ginger marjoram, parsley, peppermint, saffron, sage, and turmeric.

Aside from dietary therapy, there is also exercise and movement to help support the Liver. Movement is required to help keep the Liver Qi moving in the tendons/sinews; to keep them from becoming too inflexible.

We all need physical activity, but for Wood Element types, it is especially important to stay active and be flexible. Rising early and taking brisk walks to help balance may serve Wood people. Stretching softens muscles, relieves pressure and improves circulation. Martial arts and kickboxing help to nourish Wood Element. Yoga poses such as Tree pose will be helpful for better Wood balance… And, don’t forget to express! Punch the air or a pillow. Drum and stomp!

Stretching and softening the muscles and tendons can prevent spasms and cramps. At the same time, the movement will cool your head and encourage blood circulation.

Some other important ways to support the Liver include body work, breath work, and allowing the expression or venting of emotions. We need to make sure that we vent or express anger/frustration: Wood Element people can release emotions by writing down feelings on paper to vent.

Again, each season comes correlated with its' own element in Traditional Chinese medicine. By supporting the organs associated with that season or element, we can best support our health during that season. Right now, that means supporting our liver to help keep us healthy throughout the spring which has officially arrived!

And as my relatives would say: Nowruz Mobarak! Happy New Year and may the spring be kind to you!

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