It would appear that for most folks the Spring of 2017, was intense! Through the months of March and April, almost every patient that walked through my office door was experiencing a new flare-up of an old issue, overwhelming fatigue, or an outright, full-on emotional breakdown. After a nice and somewhat predictable Winter season, the Spring energy of 2017, emerged with full force shaking things up and out in every direction. From the demise of long-term relationships to the current US political scene it was a trying time for many people to say the least. But fortunately, long before attending university for Chinese Medicine, when I was a massage and Polarity therapist, my father offered some comforting insight into the unpredictable nature of the Spring season and the mechanics of its energy.
In 1999, as I browsed through old patient files while preparing my taxes, I began to notice something interesting. As I sorted through and tracked the ebb and flow of busy versus slow months for the previous three years, an undeniable pattern began to surface. I noticed that there were numerous patients that would only come in for treatments during the Spring, from mid March through the end of April. After a few treatments they would promptly disappear again, not returning until the same time the following year. March and April were the only months of the year that I would see these patients. And when they made their way back to my office the following Spring, a year later, the intake was always the same as the year before, “Oh it’s this old knee again(or elbow, ankle, depression, melancholy, etc.) the same thing that was giving me trouble last year.” How interesting. A chronic injury that was recurring at the same time every year. The more I examined my records the more I was baffle. There was indeed an undeniable connection between the Spring season and the resurfacing of chronic issues.
So, in passing and very casually, I shared these findings with my father. Not expecting an explanation, he without missing a beat said, "Well, of course. The sap is rising.” “The what?” I uttered confused. My father continued, “The sap is rising. The Spring is here and the sap is rising in the trees. The old folks have always said everything is more difficult in Spring when the sap is rising.” My dad is a farmer in North Carolina. As a matter of fact, as far back as we can trace, many of my ancestors on my father’s side were farmers. These were the “old folks” to which he referred.
Unclear about this new information I pressed on, “What does that mean and how does it work? The sap is rising?” My father explained, “When the Spring comes and the sap starts to rise in the trees and the flowers began to bloom things can sometimes get tricky. For instance, you can have a terribly sick cow that will somehow hold onto life and survive the worst winter imaginable. Through snow, ice, blizzard like conditions, this animal will somehow hang onto life through it all. Finally, Winter subsides and it starts to warm up, the cow begins to feel a bit better and you think he’s going to make it. But then the Spring comes, the sap starts to rise, the flowers start to bloom, and strangely, the cow dies.” My father went on to say that he had seen this pattern on the farm all of his life and it was indeed accurate, you could count on things being a bit unpredictable when the Spring comes and the sap is rising.
How had I never heard my father or my grandfather mention this before? How does a statement like “The sap is rising” somehow slip by me after years of growing up on farm with these two men? And then the obvious smacked me right in the face. The Wood element… We are exiting the utmost yin that is Winter and moving into the lesser yang that is Spring. The expansive Wood energy of Spring is beginning to move. Of course, the sap is rising!
Stay with me I’ll explain. All acupuncturist, bodyworkers, and qi gong practitioners are required to learn the nature of the 5 Elements-Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water. Almost every book one can read about the founders of ancient healing speaks of how these hermit like individuals lived on the land, growing their on food and herbs, all while tracking and recording the cycles of the seasons. They tracked these patterns until ultimately embodying the wisdom of how these basic, universal, elemental qualities effect human beings, the disease process, plants, and animals. These ancient Sages mapped for us how the aforementioned elements are alive and functioning, making up ever part of our existence. After countless years of mindfully documenting the natural cycles of our planet and universe they derived a system, a way of healing, farming, eating, a way of life based on the five elements. In short, everything on the planet is the result of yin, yang, and the five elements.
As hippie-dippie as all of this might sound it’s quite logical when properly explained so I’ll give it a go. As our planet tilts closer to the sun taking us out of the hibernating phase of Winter, all things began resurrecting into that of the awakening phase of Spring. With more sunlight, the new expansive energy of Spring begins to move up and in all directions. This causes the "sap" to rise in plants, animals, and humans. In plants, new leaves start to grow and blooms and flowers began to appear. Literally, the sap/syrup in maple trees starts to rise from the root into the trunk of the tree. This is partially why the syrup is harvested at the first sign of Spring. In humans, Qi/energy, as well as fluids, that have been holding close to the core begin to move flooding the acupuncture channels pushing out anything that is causing stagnation. If the channels are blocked and the energy cannot flow freely, pain, emotional upset, and sometimes even death (in the case of my father’s cow) can be the result.
Classic text on acupuncture suggest that needle insertion and depth should be more shallow during the Spring than the Winter due to the Qi being closer to the surface of the body. This is also why the best time to do an internal cleanse is in the Spring, when the body is naturally letting go, expanding, and releasing that which was being held closer to our core during the hibernating winter months.
Even after 21 years of working with patients I am still awed to see the five elements at work within us. And thanks to my father, I now recognize the symptoms that coincide with “the sap rising” every March and April, as Spring approaches. Now, every year, I keep a watchful eye on my patients, as well as the changes in my own life, as we shake off the winter and emerge into a phase of new growth in a new year. For many the Spring of 2017, was not a painless process. But somehow having the wisdom of knowing that perhaps it was just “the sap rising” brings a sense of peace and reminds us that this too shall pass and Summer is on the way.