It's that time of the year again, Friends. Whether we are students or not, I think that a lot of people still think of fall as the beginning of the year in a way...a time to get back to business after the loosy-goosiness of the summer. It is also a time when many fruits, vegetables, and grains are harvested. This time beginning in mid-August and ending in mid-to September is considered one of the five seasons in Chinese Medicine.
To most of us, especially those living in hot sticky climates like DC, this time also
coincides with the “dog days of summer.” The dog days used to occur more around July and the beginning of August but now it seems like they stretch all of the ways into the beginning of September.
Self-care is more important than ever because, with our ever-changing climate, we need to make sure that we are transitioning gracefully from one season to the next sometimes with some modifications.
Every season in Traditional Chinese Medicine is governed by an energetic organ pair and this organ pair happens to be the Stomach and the Spleen, also known as the Earth element.
The Spleen in TCM basically refers to the function of the digestive system as a whole and relates to how efficiently our bodies process our food and derive adequate nutrients. The spirit of the Spleen is the Yi, also known as the "Consciousness of Potentials" (I mean, SWOON!). The Yi and the function of the Spleen are
interconnected in the way that certain nutrients need to be derived from our food so that we may have cognitive capabilities.
The Spleen and Stomach are at the center of our physical and emotional health and well-being. Healthy digestion of food and ideas provide us a solid foundation from which to move forward. It is a time to gather in, ground ourselves, and step into our personal truth and power as we move into fall and eventually winter, a time of rest and introspection.
Spleen qi is responsible for transportation and transformation which is why it represents this time of year as well as the transition between the beginning and end of every season. A healthy Spleen and Stomach not only give us an appetite for food but also an appetite for our lives and therefore are the foundation for all creative change.
The physical manifestations of dampness are sticky, heavy, dirty substances like mucus, water retention or diarrhea. Emotional manifestations present as clinginess, a feeling of being stuck, lack of fortitude, or excess empathy that is self-destructive. Activities that weaken the Spleen are overconsumption of rich, cold, greasy or excessively sweet foods, inappropriate or mindless eating,
overthinking, worrying, and overanalysis. As we enter into a time of thinking, learning, and planning, it is important to make sure we are in tune with the season by caring for our Spleen and Stomach and thereby nourishing the Earth element so that we may move forward and realize our potential and fulfill our aspirations.
We can accomplish this by caring for ourselves in the following ways.
Acupuncturists are firm believers in eating with the seasons. Orange and yellow foods like pumpkin, squashes, carrots, sweet potatoes and yams are all excellent ways to nourish the Spleen. If you are experiencing loose stools and fatigue, these foods are wonderful at harmonizing the digestive system.
Choose apples and pears (preferably cooked) over processed sugar. Other foods are beneficial at this time are millet, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, fennel, ginger and moderate amounts of beef, lamb and other animal protein. If you are experiencing alternating constipation and diarrhea or bloating, try enjoying apple cider vinegar diluted in hot water with honey in the morning to help coarse/gently detox the Liver and harmonize the Spleen.
Excessive heat can burn out the earth element just as easily as excessive cold, especially since the summer heat, seems to be not only lingering around longer but also peaking right now. Bear this in mind especially if you are experiencing restless sleep, night sweats, a feeling of heat in the evening and at night, or vivid restless dreams. These are signs that the heat of the summer is pestering your spirit and your yin which is your body’s ability to rest (among other things) so dumping a bunch of energetically hot foods and drinks on top of that is only going to make it worse. If you are experiencing any type of heat in the stomach like foul breath, ravenous hunger or any type of rebellious stomach qi like acid reflux try incorporating cooling herbs like mint or nut milks.
The Earth element likes routine. The best time to eat breakfast in between 7 and 11AM when the Spleen and Stomach qi/energy is at its strongest.
That’s always the answer, right? Well, for good reasons! The tissue of the Spleen is muscle. A healthy Spleen supports healthy muscles and visa Versa. Lift weights or perform weight-bearing workouts like yoga or tai chi. With yoga and tai chi you have the added element of meditation. Sweeping the mind of mental clutter and releasing thoughts and worries even if for just a few moments will benefit the Earth element and thereby strengthen the Yi.
There is a beautiful qigong practice that benefits the earth element that I love and it is called “gathering the earth.” Stand with feet hip-width or shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and pretend that you are gathering up leaves from the earth. Lift the leaves towards your belly and then overhead as if you are sending them up into the air while making a circle with your arms and bringing them back down to your side. Repeat this exercise for 2 to 3 minutes focusing on your inhale as
you toss the leaves into the air and exhaling as you bring your arms back down to your side.
Sometimes I like to imagine that rather than leaves I am sending thoughts, feelings, wishes or even pixie dust up into the sky and the heavens. It is a beautiful way to ground yourself as well as let go of anything not serving you.
Cooking For Fertility by Kathryn Simmons Flynn
The Web That Has No Weaver by Ted J Kaptchuk
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