Late Summer is a time of transition, when we move from the most Yang time of the year to the beginning of Yin time. The earth is preparing for its next season. The 2-3 weeks between each season is the time associated with the Earth element, and a time to ‘return to center’ to prepare for the shift. In Chinese Medicine, the Earth element correlates with the Spleen and Stomach, which are considered primarily digestive organs. Digestion, as a functional concept, represents the central axis around which everything else revolves.
We should strive for optimal digestion all year round, but these transitional times between seasons are fantastic oppurtunities to strengthen this ‘central axis’ by slowing down and simplifying our diet while making sure it’s as nutritious as possible. The spleen has some requests regarding what we eat. First, keep things simple. It is important to shed complexity and avoid extremes. Find your goldilox zone when it comes to taste and temperature and quantity of food. Not too hot, not too cold, not too sweet, not too spicy etc. and not too much food at once. Stop eating before you’re full.
In that goldilox zone we find that warm foods are preferable. This helps to maintain that simple balance of temperature but also assists the spleen qi in maintaining the digestive fire. Excessively cold food (like ice cold drinks or ice cream) can extinguish that essential fire and must be avoided especially during the season change. Start to transition to cooked foods if you’ve been doing more raw fruits and veggies in the summer. Warm ginger tea, bone broth and mild spices like cinnamon and nutmeg can help gently fan the flames of dying embers.
The other threat to our digestive fire are foods that are considered ‘damp’ in nature. Greasy/fried foods, refined sugars, and excess dairy and gluten can slow down metabolism, weigh down the body energetically and eventually physically. We can see the down-river result of too much damp foods manifest in the body as weight gain, sore joints, a foggy-head, loose stools, and issues like candida and edema. Keep the spleen happy and the digestive fire burning with warm, ‘dry’ foods.
The spleen also likes sweet flavors, but again, we keep balance in mind. Think slightly sweet and naturally sweet. Foods that fit the bill are fruits like figs, plums, and apples, vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips and squash. Rice, potatoes and mushrooms are considered slightly sweet as well (along with whole grains which are okay for those without gluten sensitivities). Lentils and legumes can be added in for their protein and fiber which help to regulate the blood sugar. Avoid fruit juices, as they lack the fiber to balance the sugar.
To round out your meals, feel free to add some (free-range organic when possible) meat, nuts and seeds and leafy greens for balance. Soups and stews are a great way to bring together a few simple ingredients in a spleen-friendly way. Just don’t forget: slow, simple, balanced, warm, dry, and slightly sweet.
How we eat is often just as important as what we eat. In our fast-paced society, everything feels rushed. Yet it is so important to take the time to generate better awareness around mealtime. In simple terms: CHEW your food. Take a moment before eating to look at your food, appreciate it, and then ..enjoy the taste...slowly. Ask your body to receive it with love, while minimizing potentially stressful distractions. Make it a meditation. Or at least a moment of gratitude.
Follow these basic principles of nourishment during times of seasonal change and you’ll find yourself transitioning with ease.
Come in for a late summer tune-up with acupuncture to better harmonize with the transitional season, strengthen digestion and support your body through seasonal changes. We’re here for you!
Western medicine is catching up now on the fact that there's a link between the gut and the brain. Chinese medicine has known this for thousands of years. Western thinking can actually complement Chinese medicine and vice versa.
Patients with a lot of anxiety and worry can be treated with vitamins, particularly B vitamins. When the Earth element organs of the Stomach and Spleen are weak we crave sugar more. Sugar will compound this problem causing further weakness and an accumulation of dampness. Sugar can interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins - especially B-vitamins which are important for cognitive function and mental health.
Yi, or thought, is the spirit of the spleen. This is why overthinking can weaken the spleen and a weakened spleen can lead to overthinking. As an acupuncturist and meditation teacher I hear patients telling me every day, "I can't meditate because I can't switch my mind off or I've got too many thoughts." No amount of trying to control your thinking is going to work. Strengthening the Spleen will help and there are some ways you can:
● Eat your biggest meal between 7 and 11am.
● Avoid damp, sugary, cold, raw and greasy foods.
● Eat more warming foods, herbs like ginger, plenty of warming soups, cooked vegetables - particularly orange vegetables are really, really, really nourishing for the spleen. And barley, rice and ginger tea etc.
Overthinking is the mental aspect and worry is the emotional aspect of a weakened spleen. Worry actually knots the chi of the stomach and spleen. So if you're suffering right now from overthinking and worry, it's a reflection of the state of your body, the way the chi is moving in your body, in your digestive system and the way your digestive system is transforming energy for other systems. If the emotions are not being heard then that can cause a lot of issues, physically and mentally as well.
90% of what I see coming into the treatment room is emotional in nature, compounded stuck emotion and then all the overthinking and the stories on top that have come from trying to work out why you are feeling that way. Having acupuncture and giving yourself space and time to process your emotions in a healthy way is the best treatment for this. The earth element also thrives on a good routine, eating at regular times, going to bed, getting up at regular times is important. Ideally you want to be going to bed as early as possible, waking up as early as possible and eating your main meal as early as possible for energy, for immunity, for lifelong strong earth element and clarity of mind.
In five element theory we talk about the five elements. The wood element, the fire element, the earth element, the metal and the water. Each person has their own constitutional type. You will fall into one of those constitutional types as your main ‘imbalance’. What this means is a congenital imbalance. When you are born, one of these five elements will be constitutionally weaker within you. The way your acupuncturist diagnoses which element you're most likely to be is through observing your facial color, the sound of your voice. There's a vibe to you, a certain emotion that you give off. You also give off a vague fragrance. These are all ways that we can instantly diagnose your element when you walk into the treatment room.
Then we take a detailed case history in the initial consultation. We back up our diagnosis through finding out about your past, because how you began your life and what life was like for you in the early years will largely determine the potential state of your health for the rest of your life. We can get real clues as to what's going on in your current diagnosis by understanding what life was like for you growing up. A lot of your imbalances begin very early in life.
Your earth element is what we're talking about today, the organs of the Stomach and Spleen fall into the category of the earth element. If you were born with a constitutionally weaker earth element then you will notice issues with digestion, issues with thinking and worry, pathological overthinking and worry that can actually turn into OCD and obsessions. A lot of people do overthink and worry, but for an Earth constitution, overthinking and worry becomes disturbing to one’s peace of mind.
Weak digestive organs, namely the stomach and spleen, can actually lead to overthinking and worry. Your stomach and spleen are responsible not just for digesting food and transforming food into Qi, blood, fluids, essences that your body will use for all of its functions, but it's also for digesting information. When we take in a lot of information, or when doing mental work of any kind, it’s a good idea not to eat at the same time as this can overtax the digestive organs and over time weaken them further.
The virtue of the earth element is integrity. Integrity, balance and nourishment. Integrity in the body means the ability to hold things in their correct place, the organs of the earth element help to prevent other organs from prolapsing.
This element is all about getting needs met and maintaining the proper balance between giving and receiving. The earth element relates to a maternal or mothering energy. Receiving mothering and also giving mothering. Balanced masculine and feminine energies.
Color, Fragrance, Flavor and Dampness.
The color that is associated with the Earth element and Spleen is yellow, like the golden color of ripe wheat. If you're an earth element type you'll most likely have a slight yellow tinge to your skin, particularly around the corners of your mouth and corners of your eyes. This is why it is a good idea to NOT wear makeup to your first acupuncture appointment. Acupuncturists are trained to notice small signals of imbalance within the body. Showing up with a clean face will allow your acupuncturist to get a clear glimpse at your facial color.
The climate that's associated with the earth element is dampness. When the earth element is out of balance in our bodies, the internal climate becomes damp. One of the functions of the stomach and spleen is to transform dampness and to keep everything in balance. If the spleen is weak it won't be able to do that efficiently. Cold and dampness in the environment will affect your spleen. If you've got a weak spleen anyway you'll feel generally more cold and you'll have more dampness internally. Cold and damp environments will penetrate through your skin and actually really increase your internal damp state. Stay as warm and dry as possible, as often as you can.
If you experience a lot of dampness you'll find you have excess water retention, puffiness and you possibly produce a lot of mucus. As a result of this you may find that you catch more colds and that they linger. These are all signs of a weak spleen that's not transforming the dampness and the mucus very well in your body.
The fragrance which resonates with the Earth element is sweet, and the flavor is also sweet. Each of the elements has a flavor associated with it, if your earth element is out of balance you might crave a lot of sweet things. However, when you consume a lot of sweet things it can weaken the Spleen, therefore creating even more dampness. This compounded damp environment within the body will eventually increase the amount of water retention within the body, and can even make one appear ‘overweight’. This is one of the reasons Earth constituents typically struggle to lose weight. Calorie controlled diets are not the answer and can potentially create unnecessary suffering.
If you are curious about your constitutional element, give me a call. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM) offer unique perspectives on holistic healing and can effectively treat a vast array of conditions. Don’t wait, schedule your appointment today.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.