| April Journal |

As the great Tree hides more below than that which we see above,
It’s subterranean body far outspanning it’s branches;
As the great Iceberg shows us only the tip of its robust sunken form;
So we are rooted mainly in the subconscious.
What we truly are is not that which can be seen;
Nor heard, nor felt.
We are spirit souls,
Timeless, ageless,
Formless as we shift from life to life,
Body to body,
Place to place.

Like the tree we seek the light,
Shooting ever upwards,
Navigating our path through the obstacles that try to stunt our growth.
We fight our way through the undergrowth,
Growing stronger day by day,
Until we reach the light,
And turn our smiling faces to the clouds,
And curtesy to the mountain tops. 

Chinese Brush Painting, source unknown

Element: Wood

The spring is the season in which we most easily observe the resonances of the wood element. Even the name “spring” conjures up the image of things jumping up, growing rapidly, leaping into action out of a state of slumber. Spring is Nature stretching her arms and reawakening after the darkness and dormancy of winter. The movement of Wood is upwards. Although Wood takes many different forms in the plant kingdom, it’s most quintessential incarnation is the Tree - sprouting from a seed and rocketing up to lofty heights, branches extending to the sun, filling the space, and reaching ever upwards. Healthy wood is strong, bends, and can overcome many obstacles that it may find in it’s path - think of the knarled trees you see growing out of cracks in a vertical rock cliff-face. Challenges to growth are overcome by those with the healthy wood element. The great flexibility of wood is demonstrated by the trees that bend and dance in the wind, keeping ever strong at the root. And perhaps the roots are the most important area for us to focus with regard to the resonance of the wood element. To note that the majority of the tree lives below the ground. Here root systems expand and branch out far beyond its above-ground form. A reminder that to be healthy in connection to our internal wood element, we must be deeply rooted. Remembering that our external characteristics and actions are only a fragment of the whole story. The the most potent parts of the true Self are planted out of sight, and it is here that the journey of nourishment must unfold. 

Honouring the Element: Engaging the Senses

How can we invite the wood element into our environments during spring?

If you are able to spent time with the trees - to walk in the woods, to sit and rest against the trunk of a tree: listen to its language, it’s sways and groans - smell it’s bark and sap - appreicate the budding leaves as they start to unfurl with the weeks. Or perhaps you have wooden furniture in your home - a wooden floor. There is no need to ritualise our relationship with the wooden objects in the home, but simply to become more aware of them. To notice the pattern of the grain; any odour the wood gives off; the texture, temperature, variation of colour... and on a much more intuative and emotional level - how does the wood make you feel? No need to rationalise or try to draw conclusions, simply be a witness to the natural inclinations of the mind.

As spring develops you may even notice that the air becomes clearer. Lighter. Fragrent. I always find myself outside drinking in the air on fresh spring mornings - like nectar for the soul. I throw open all the windows in the house first thing in the morning to infuse my enviroment with fresh prāna, removing any stagnancy. Although I feel less inclined during this time to burn heavy incense or rich essential oils, I do have two current favourites for immediately connecting me to the deeply rooted yet upward striving wood element.
+ Firstly, palo santo. Any time of year this is my go-to smudging fragrence for clearing space and promoting serenity. Literally translating as “holy stick”, palo santo is a wild tree native to the Yucatán Peninsula of Peru and Venesuela. The Tree belongs to the same family as Frankincense and Myrhh, and is awarded the same Holy status. Used ceremonially, for its energitic cleansing properties (similarly to sage and cedar), and medicinally due to it’s innate healing properties (traditionally used for relieving common colds, flu symptoms, stress, asthma, headaches, anxiety, depression, inflammation, emotional pain and more).
+ My second offering is something relatively new to me: Hiba Wood Oil. Aomori Hiba is a slow-growing, cypress tree native to Japan. It is highly reverred, both spiritually and functionally, and has been used in the construction of temples and important buildings throughout Japan for centuries. Hiba wood is antiseptic, water-resistant, insect-repelling and has a naturally calming, fresh aroma. The essential oil is extracted from waste lumber harvested from 250 year-old trees. Rather than being overpowering, the scent gives you the impression of walking through the ancient forests of Japan... not bad eh? I have this oil in a diffuser all day long at home and am a great suporter. You will also find this oil used in many Japanese homes as an air purifier - oil is dropped onto woodchips and kept at the bottom of waste bins, in bowls in cupboards, in shoes, cars, etc. However I prefer to treat it as I would an essentail oil. Much like the ceremonial Puerrh teas of Japan, the Hiba Wood Oil is simulataneously grounding and calming, whilst boosting energy and promoting deeper clarity and insight. 

Organ: Liver

From the perspective of Chinese medicine, the liver is the yin organ of the wood element. From an āyurvedic perspective the liver is a predominantly Pitta organ, meaning it is regulated by the element of fire. 

From a very physical place, the liver is the store house of the blood in the body. It controls the volume of blood as well as regulating menstruation. Blood moistens the sinews and therefore we need more blood at times of exercise than at rest. If the liver is not working adequately a person will become easily tired. Women may also notice menstrual irregularities arise from an imbalance in the liver - deficiency of blood/excess of blood/stagnant blood leading to clotting and pain. The regulation of blood also plays an important role in maintaining resistance to external pathogens, which contributes to the health of the immune system.

The liver is responsible for ensuring the smooth passage of qi or prāna (life force energy) through body. The qi must be sent everywhere in the body to support the appropriate movement of qi within all organs and meridians. Both Eastern and Western medicinal traditions agree that the liver supports almost all other organs in the body. When the smooth functioning of the liver is lacking or absent, we may witness symptoms of agitation, anxiety, shaking, nausea, and lack of coordination.

From the most subtle level, the liver houses the Ethereal Soul. Each of the yin organs in the body is said to house the ‘spirit’ of the element it is associated with. The liver is associated with the Wood element, and therefore the Wood spirit, otherwise known as hun. The hun is responsible for planning and finding a clear path through life. 

Purification: Spring Cleanse

As the primary planning months of the year, the spring presents us with an optimal time to declutter, to shed some of the heaviness that we held on to throughout the winter months. In order to soar to new heights, we first need to minimise our baggage and take stock of what we are carrying on board. The goal is greater clarity and a loosening up of anything keeping us tied to something that is not beneficial to our progress. The ties could be material, in the form of items cluttering your office space or home, or could be more subtle, perhaps a relationship or old belief pattern that weighs you down and prevents further progress. Spring cleaning is nothing unheard of. For centuries people have used this opportunity to sweep out the cobwebs and freshen up nest after hibernation.

Spring is about bringing forth new life - new ideas, perspectives, and projects. But before bringing anything new into the world we must prepare the space for it. And when we are talking about calling in new expansion and creativity, we must address every area of our ‘space’. This includes our homes, gardens, work environments, body, and mind. 

A clean space...

Finding peace and clarity in order to root and rise with the spring season has a lot to do with both our internal and external environments. It is often said that our external situation is a reflection of what is happening in the mind. Whether you subscribe to this idea or not, there is no doubt that it is much easier to sink into a meditation or yoga practice in a clean and calm environment that from a cluttered space. It is hard to rise clean from chaos and muddle, so as far as we are able, we owe it to ourselves to take some time to create a clear space to reside or work in. On a simple level this means de-cluttering - clearing surfaces and putting things away. Dusting those areas we neglect for the rest of the year. Minimising and consolidating our wardrobes and cupboard. Getting rid of the things that don’t hold so much meaning for you any more. Opening the windows and doors to let in the light and air. Sweeping out stagnant energy and making room for fresh ideas and inspiration to come in. A spring clean is also a chance to dedicate some more attention to the sacred space where we do our sadhana, our daily practices, prayer, self care. Collecting flowers or branches to decorate. Smudging with sage or palo santo, or burning incense or essential oils. Playing light and uplifting music to infuse the enviroment with positive vibrations. All or any of these activities will give your home or work place a little energetic boost, which will be supportive as you move into the cleansing practices for body and mind. 

A clean body...

Doing a spring cleanse means implementing changes to your everyday diet and lifestyle practices in order to eliminate any lingering toxins within the body, support the healthy function of the immune and digestive systems, and a greater sense of lightness and clarity. When we flush out the liver and cut out any products that are inhibiting the smooth flow of natural processes, we allow the body to fall into a harmonius equilibrium, and although we do not go into the cleanse with any intentions of losing weight or getting glowing skin, we may find that these are organically occuring benefits of cleaning up the system as a whole.
There are certainly varying levels of intensity with regard to a spring cleanse, and it is entirely dependant upon the nature of any symptoms arising or your desired outcome. There is so much information available about Ayurvedic spring cleanses on the internet, and by all means take some time to do your own research about what practices might work best for you. I would recommend, however, that you do not enter into a heavy detoxification or make significant lifestyle alterations (including adding a lot of herbs to your regime) without consulting a practitioner. I have listed below some basic guidelines that I always follow when going into a 10 day spring cleanse. These are simply steps that anyone can safely incorporate into their routine (unless of course, you are dealing with a particular diagnosis).

- Sleep: sleep is vital for the rejuvenation of the system and supporting the body in it’s natural detoxification process. I would recommend increasing the amount of hours you sleep during the cleanse to 8-9hours per night, or as close to this as possible. I urge you to try to get to sleep earlier and rise early for the greatest impact on the body and mind.
- Detox: depending on the nature of the cleanse I am doing I am more prescriptive about which dietary elements I need to reduce or cut out completely - however no matter what detoxification route I go down: caffiene, alcohol, sugar, dairy, and white flour have to be cut in order to restore equilibrium to the blood and help encourage a smooth passage of the digestive system. I would caution, however, being overly prescriptive about cutting out food groups unless you are taking professional guidance.
- Hydrate: increase your water intake as much as possible to help flush out āma (undigested waste that sits heavily in the body, like a mucous) - and this means room temperature or warmer, and from as clean a source as is available to you. Try starting every single morning by drinking a large glass of warm or hot water with fresh lemon (and perhaps some ginger too). Then, throughout the day, for a little variation and added nutritional benefit I like to have lots of herbal tea’s and infusions. To optimise your detoxification and renewal process, drink a lot of nettle and raspberry leaf infusion - this means that the loose leaves have been steeped in boiling water overnight for at least 4-8hours to draw out its potent vitamins and minerals. This particular blend is a favourite of mine for its supportive role towards the hormones - it’s also great for the skin and hair! Another classic āyurvedic blend is Cumin, Corriander and Fennel seed tea (CCF tea). This combination of herbs has proved to be very soothing for the digestive system, reducing bloating and and inflammation, as well as supporting healthy weight loss. Simply steep 1/2 tsp of each seed in 3 cups of boiling water for around 10 minutes. I often will also add fresh ginger to the blend.
- Herbs: as always, its best to proceed with caution when introducing a new herb to your body, so be sure to do a lot of research and consult a practitioner if you have any queries or conditions that may need to be taken into consideration. Each of us has a different consitution and therefore there is no one-size-fits-all approach to rejuvenating herbs. Having said that, I always take ashwagandha when I cleanse as it is a powerful rejuvenative safe for almost everyone and is excellent for deepening sleep and supporting the body’s natural healing process. I wrote more on ashwagandha in the March Journal (see HERE).  My other go-to herb when detoxing and cleansing the body is Amla, or Amalaki. Find more info on this herb in the medicine section below.

- Nourish: make sure you are eating plenty of freshly prepared, wholesome food. Use spices that will aid in easy digestion, such as ginger, tumeric, and black pepper. You may feel called to lighten your diet, making more juices, soups or cosy vegetable stews. Unless you live in a particularly warm climate or you are aware that you have a very strong agni (digestive fire), I would steer clear of raw food diets for the purpose of detoxification. Raw foods are much more fibrous and tend to be more difficult to digest and can cause some bloating and gas. Instead āyurveda favours freshly cooked vegetables and grains in smaller quantities.
- Abhyanga: āyurvedic self massage is done with warm oil (sesame for those of a vāta or kapha consitution, or coconut the pitta’s). Just as we are hydrating the body from the inside, we can nourish the skin from the outside using organic, natural oils. By massaging the oil into the skin, rather than simply moisturising, we aid the circulatory system as well as stimulating lymphatic drainage. Depending on the energy with which you practice abhyanga, you may find the massage stimulating, or it can be relaxing and help you prepare the body and mind for sleep.
- Movement: when we are detoxifying it is important not to stress or strain the body by too much aggressive exercise. Encouraging rest and an easeful state is integral to the clearing of the mind. Nevertheless, keeping the body moving and dislodging any areas of stuck energy or tension is an important part of clearing space. Gentle yin and restorative yoga, qigong, hiking in nature, and swimming are a few examples of ways to support healthy movement in the body. Prānāyāma (breathing exercises) and doing lots of twisting stretches for the torso are also excellent ways of releasing blocked passages and channels, both physical and energetic. 

A clean mind...

When we are undergoing a cleanse, physical excercise is paired down and we have the opportunity to explore more practices promoting mental clarity. This may simply mean extending the length of your current meditation practice, or sinking a little more deeply into breathwork. Or this can present an opportunity to engage with a whole number of daily activities from an altered mindset. If it isn’t already part of your daily practice, see if for the 10 days of your cleanse you can dedicate time every morning and evening to practice some form of meditation and breathwork. There is no need to be overly ambitious. Start with something within reach and simply allow the practice to develop as you sink in over the course of the week.  

Medicine: Amalaki

Amalaki is a traditional India fruit. It is one of the most effective and potent rejuvenatives in āyurvedic medicine. It is most often used as a rasayana for Pitta dosha - a strong support to the blood, bones, liver, and the heart. One of it’s main functions is rebuilding and maintaining new tissues and increasing the red blood cell count. It’s support of the cleansing of the liver makes it an ideal medicine to incorporate into a detox program as well as supporting the seasonal Wood element of TCM. Amalaki has also proven to cause the nails and hair to grow faster and with more strength and lustre. As it mainly deals with the fire element (agni) it stimulates the digestive system as well as improving eyesight. It is the highest natural source of vitamin C and is therefore great for the immune system and regulating blood sugar levels.

Amalaki is also the basis for chyavanprash, a herbal jam that is used as a general all-around tonic and restorative medicine in āyurveda. It is sattvic in quality (in the ‘mode of goodness’) and is said to give good fortune, love and longevity. If you can get a hold of chyavanprash it is a wonderful medicine to take during the spring time to ward off seasonal illnesses. Everyday simply take a teaspoon as it is, or it can be melted into hot water or milk. 

As always, please proceed with caution when considering taking a new herb. Consult with a practitioner or do your own detailed research, particularly if you have any current symptomology.

Vitalising Prānāyāma: Swana Prānāyāma (panting breath)

Working with the breath is vitalising as it ehances and stimulates the pranic system. This particular panting breath is very dynamic, arousing the body and mind, creating an alertness and heat at both the subtle and physical levels, which is stimulating for the detoxification process. Vitalising prānāyāmas increase the energy in the body, which in turn pushes stagnant energy and toxins from the body.

Swana prānāyāma is often practiced in preparation for techniques such as bhastrika and kapalbhati - both strong, cleansing breaths. Swana means “panting”, and this breath is an abdominal movement combined with oral respiration. It is a simple form of agnisara kriya (agni means fire, and sar means movement). This practice is therefore the stimulation and movement of the internal fire element which is centralised just above the navel. Swana prānāyāma involves a rapid respiration and engagement of the abdominal muscles - this action is different from normal abdominal breathing, which focuses on the diaphragm.

Practice... begin seated in bhadrasana or baddha konasana (soles of the feet touching and drawn in as close to the pelvis as comfortable, knees falling towards the ground) with the hands on the knees, or in simhasana (a wide seated pose - starting on all fours, bring the toes to touch but draw the knees apart. Come to sit upright on the heels) with the palms of the hands on the floor, fingers pointing towards the body.
Keep the head upright and breath slowly and deeply, in and out through the nose. After several rounds of breath, open the mouth and extend the tongue. Breath forcefully in and out through the mouth ten times but pushing the abdomen in and out, engaging the core muscles on the exhale. Focus on maintaining a harmonius rhythm. With each exhalation the stomach is drawn inwards, navel to spine, and with each inhale it extends outwards. The breathing should be just like an animal panting. Begin slowly and rhythmically, but over time gradually increase the speed and the number of breaths up to 25 per round. Between each round just breath normally and softly through the nose. Practice 5 rounds.
Once you are very comfortable with the practice, you can add a breath rentention on the final breath of each round. Simply inhale deeply through the nose, retain the breath for as long as comfortable whilst engaging jalandhara and mūla bhandas (the throat and pelvic locks). When ready to exhale, simply release the bhandas and take a long steady exhale through the nose. 

Contraindications: this practice should be done on an empty stomach, or at least 4 hours after eating. I recommend practicing first thing in the morning to stimulate the digestive system and get the blood pumping for the start of your day. This practice should not be attempted by anyone who suffers from intestinal or stomach ulcers, hernia, heart disease, high blood pressure, overactive thyroid gland, or chronic diarrhoea.

Benefits: improves digestion, tones the visceral organs, muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Fatty tissue on the abdomen is reduced and the lungs are cleared of mucous and stale air.

Movement: Flow of Qi/Prāna

Conscious movement
Deliberate gesture performed with a blossom-like delicacy.
As though each breath in,
Each extension of the arm,
Were a dance lost in time.
A fleeting moment caught on a passing breeze.

Qi (pronounced “chi”) is most commonly translated as circulating life force energy, and is regarded in Chinese medicine much the same as prāna is regarded in Āyurveda. Rather than being something physcially tangible, qi is the most subtle yet most vital energy within the body. The state of our qi, or prāna, dictates the state of our entire health: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. Qi is energy in a broad sense of the word. It is both universal and innately personal. Chinese medical texts define life as the gathering of qi. A healthy and happy person is composed of a dynamic and harmonius mixture of the qi that makes us unique. But qi is in a constant state of flux and flow. It is neither created nor destroyed, but endlessly tranforms from one state to another. It manifests itself throughout the body and mind in various forms and is responsible for the overall health of a person.

Learning how to harness our qi, or prāna, keeping it fluid and smooth, is one of the top most ways to ensure the healthy functioning of our bodies and minds. Prānāyāma practices are designed specifically for this purpose. To draw out healthy prāna and send it around the body to nourish, heal, and restore. Qigong is another such way of engaging with qi. Qigong integrates posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent. Just like yoga, there are thousands of qigong styles, schools, traditions, forms, and lineages, each with practical applications and different theories about Qi and Gong (“skill cultivated through steady practice”). Qigong requires the practitioner to slow right down and harness deep concentration to get into the powerful subtlties of the practice. Just like in acupuncture or acupressure treatment, qigong opens the flow of energy in the meridians and koshas, making us feel more aware of our Life Force, inviting deeper communication with the body, mind, spirit, and our environment.

Qigong found it’s way into my life only recently. I never looked beyond my yoga and prānāyāma practice for ways to get more in touch with the subtlties of my energetic body. But soft elegance of the qigong practice quickly drew me in and it has become an irreplacable part of my self-care sadhana. Especially for this season of clearing space and inviting smooth flow and upward growth, the practice of moving qi fluidly throughout the body and opening up and calming the nervous system in the process is key for engaging with the wood element. If you can find a qigong class or teacher in your area I highly recommend giving it a go. Otherwise, we are blessed to be in the era of youtube! So if you are like me and live far from any qigong practitioners, see if you find a teacher you are drawn to over the internet. (Top Tip: check out Michael Bijker of YogaLap if you don’t know him already). 

Practice: Tea Meditation

Preserve the heat and begin to absorb peace,
With slow, graceful movements,
And a heart free from obstructions,
Everything is finished in one breath.
(Traditional gongfu poem)

Spring is the season of life. Wood is the element of growth. Of soaring heights, flexibility, and deeply sinking roots. The tree is the symbol of a connection. The connection between the divine, heavenly realms, and the ground that we are born from. Tea is all about life. A Tea ceremony breathes. The energy of the medicinal Tea liquor both unifies and then seperates from time and space. We return to transcendence with each steeping of leaf in kettle. Whilst the health benefits of Tea are numerous and very supportive to the healthy functioning of most of the internal systems, that is not why we come back again and again to this practice to invite deep healing and connection.
Tea Master Wu De describes Tea as being the bridge between the Sacred and the mundane. Just as we must learn to recognise the beauty and profundity of everyday objects and activities, the ordinary act of brewing and drinking a hot beverage here changes to become a guide to great spiritual teaching and philosophy, encouraging us to grow in our own personal truths. The Tea leaves facilitate this juncture where the spiritual realm meets our daily life. Our energy dances in the stillness of the bowl as we absorb the deep healing wisdom of the woody, earth sprung tea. 

“Understanding the need for a connection to our transcendent Oneness and timeless spiritual self is a huge part of living skillfully and in a healthy way. But that shouldn’t come at the expense of a body - the ordinary, linear life in time and space. For it is our linear seperateness that allows for deeper connection with Nature, self and others.” - Wu De, Tea Medicine

Our technique in brewing or serving those we love is not to be judged or over analysed. The main focus of this meditation with Tea is to find a space of stillness and shared experience with those you offer to serve. To sit in silence and accept the role of server with no attachment to ego, simply allowing the leaves to work their magic in the boiling water. As you offer up bowls of this potent liquor with love and humility, accepting a bowl yourself in silence. With reverence for the medicine. Just like the bowl from which we drink, we too become a vessel. Quietly receiving energy as it pours into us from above, from below, and from the bowl. Connecting to the history of the leaves, the wisdom and stories they have to tell. As we become clearer in mind, steadier in body. Our perspectives shift and the focus becomes one pointed. As we steep the leaves for a second, a third, a fourth time. Offering up the bowls again and again. Alone or in company. We feel our roots sink deeply into the earth beneath us whilst our mind is elevated, our hearts lift. 

Journal: Seeing Our World Through Fresh Eyes

In the dark, cool ripples of winter our sense of hearing predominated. Nature encourages us to use the winter as a time to look inwards, and our outer gaze has been less active. As spring bursts forth and the climbing, upwards energy of wood invites more light into our days, the sense of sight begins to blossom. Now our eyes are called upon to be much more focused. However, just as listening does not necessarily mean hearing, looking does not always imply sight. Whilst our eyes have the amazing ability to receive visual input, it is not until that information is consciously engaged with that it becomes real vision. Chinese medicine sees this as the difference between dull and bright eyes. 

The eyes are the windows to the soul. The hun, the ethereal soul that resides in the liver, is accessed through sight. The way we percieve and integrate is therefore intrinsically linked to Wood and the health of the liver. Thoughts and feelings are of a finer vibration than the body, and so their energies are swifter and can change more rapidly. When we cleanse the body, and promote greater clarity of the the mind, our way of viewing the world may also be altered. When we clear space, emotional patterns, beliefs and attitudes that have become fixed or entrenched within the body and psyche can suddenly become unstuck through the circulation of qi/prāna. It is important that we enter into the season of Wood with an understanding of our personal relationship with sight - be that foresight, insight, or general perspective on the world. By doing so we are more likely to become aware if we are becoming too fixed and rigid in our vision. If we start to limit ourselves or our beliefs.

By exploring the landscape of Wood on a psycho-emotional level, we can come to a place of greater understanding about how we situation ourselves in relation to the rest of the world and how we can then expand ourselves, becoming more open and receptive to the subtle messages of the elements. We can come to see our world through fresh eyes, with new perspective and acceptance. 

Questions to ask yourself:
- What is your vision for your future? And what is the nature of said vision? Is it clear? Fixed or fluid? Heavy or light?
- Note the emotions that you associate with your plans for the future and the direction you life is taking. Do you feel any rigidity or resistance to variation? Are you attached to the idea of a certain outcome?
- What do you consider to be the most important ingredients for your personal happiness?
- How well are you able to judge situations and the energy or intentions of people and environments in which you find yourself? How quick are you to make judgements or come to conclusions?

Chinese Brush Painting, source unknown

April is an exciting month of growth and upward movement. Of harnessing the nourishment and support of our root system, deeply entwined with the cool, steady support of the earth. It is a month of heightened clarity and creativity. A shift in perspective and direction. We are guided from the liver, from the qualities of Wood, and the subtle energetics of qi.

x x 

+ If you are wishing to dive deeply into a more personal cleanse, designed with your own body specifically in mind, I am offering Journal subscribers a 20% discount off āyurvedic consultations with me through the month of April. Simply email chuzbell@gmail.com and quote APRILJOUR to book via sykpe or in person. +