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The Earth Element

earth element

Post-Natal Qi

When talking about the Earth element in Chinese Medicine, we are in fact talking about the state of the Spleen and Stomach. In previous blog posts I have talked about the heart and lungs. The Spleen and Stomach is responsible for creating post-natal or post-heaven Qi. Upon birth, we get a certain amount of pre-natal Qi from our parents; think of this as the genetic code that’s in our DNA. This pre-natal Qi determines our constitution: our strengths and our weaknesses or more accurately, our areas that we need to pay more attention to. This primordial Qi sits in-between the Kidneys at the Ming Men or Life Gate of Fire. To restore and replenish this Qi, the Spleen and Stomach takes the essence from the food and water we drink in the form of Gu Qi, mixes it with Qi from the Lungs and turns it into post-natal Qi, along with supporting blood and body fluids.

The Spleen and Stomach

Akin to Western Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach relies on a healthy and balanced diet to remain strong, so that it can maintain the energy to support the rest of the body. In this case you can say that this system is central to our health, and that’s why in Chinese Medicine, we see the Spleen and Stomach (Earth Element) as being the centre of all the other elements and systems of the body.

So what does a healthy and balanced diet look like?

It really is dependent on the person. A practitioner of Chinese Medicine can determine what your body’s needs are and make suggestions based off that. Traditionally though, a healthy and well balanced diet in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) revolves around meals that lightly steamed/cooked vegetables take up about half of the plate, a carb like rice (rice is the best stomach food in TCM) takes up a quarter and a protein takes up the other quarter. Typically meals should be cooked to be served warm. Too much cold raw food damages the Spleen and Stomach and can create conditions of dampness in the body (like too much fat). Warm meals ensure that we keep the digestive fire stoked.

Other tips to follow:

Breakfast and lunch should be the biggest meals of the day, and one should only eat to about 70-80% capacity. Eating too much, or to when you are completely full can hinder the Spleen and Stomach function and make a person feel lethargic. Think about Thanksgiving dinner and how you become tired after such a big meal. This is because most of your blood is shunted to your digestive tract to break everything down. Same is true in TCM, for you are spending most of your Qi trying to break down all of that food to extract the nutrients. Dinner should be your lightest meal. Another good reason behind this, is that once you’ve eaten, food takes anywhere from 4-8 hours-depending on the person-to pass through the digestive tract. So if you can imagine eating a big meal at night, before bedtime, how this can affect your sleep. Your body’s energy is now being used to digest, instead of to rest. You want all that energy during the day to help you get through it.

What else is the Earth element responsible for?

Other than supporting the rest of the body, the Spleen and Stomach are responsible for the muscle in TCM. A strong Spleen and Stomach will reflect in a strong body and healthy skin as well, for it helps to generate the flesh. I talked before about the Earth element being centering, and in TCM it is responsible for holding everything in place. A weak Spleen and Stomach can show in organ prolapse, prolapse of the fetus and easy bruising and bleeding, for it is not keeping the blood in the blood vessels. A strong Spleen and Stomach will also reflect as a well balanced person, the kind of person that is very centered. This person has a good outlook on life, is organized, their emotions are in check and they deal with stress easily.

What can damage the Spleen-Stomach?

Other than an unhealthy and irregular diet, worry and stress are the biggest causes of imbalance, and they usually feed into one another creating what can sometimes be a vicious cycle. Signs and symptoms of a weakened or damaged Spleen-Stomach can include, but not limited to: bloating, cramping, IBS, Crohn’s disease, lethargy (especially after a meal), sensitivity to food, GERD, increase in weight gain, thyroid imbalances, and diarrhea or constipation. These manifest in TCM as: Spleen or Stomach Yang deficiency- basically there is not enough digestive fire to break down the food; Dampness, accumulation of mucus and fluids; Phlegm, which is dampness left unchecked; Sinking Qi, when the Qi of the Spleen is not strong enough to send nutrients (good Qi) upwards; Rebellious Qi, when the proper flow of Qi is reversed causing issues such as hiccups, or vomiting; Stomach Heat or Stomach Fire, when there is too much digestive fire, leading to symptoms like GERD; and Dryness, when there is not enough fluid to support the digestive system. There are other patterns as well, but these are some of the more common ones.

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