The Earth Element
Chinese Medicine & The Five Phases
When did you last stop and evaluate what was the centre of your Earth? The places, people and sensations that most ground you, most nourish your body and soul?
Too often in our frantic modern day lives we’re left feeling as if the world is spinning uncontrollably out of our grasp. The modern devices and media which surround us perpetuate a hunger to be constantly fulfilled, to always taste life as sweet, demoting the bitter to something which we should never have to experience, by right we’re told! But the more we search to connect with the world in this way, the bigger the gap in our stomachs become, and the hollower we feel, as the tribe which we’re craving to create becomes ever more intangible and disparate and striving keeps us mindlessly running around in circles in chase of our tails.
Add to the cooking pot of modern living the lack of nutrients that are entering into the mix. Overfarmed, pesticide sprayed foods transported from the other side of the world with no regards to the natural season in which they should be produced and eaten,and food that has been tampered with to such a degree that no trace of the original energy is left behind. It’s no wonder then that so many of us are feeling ungrounded and undernourished on a physical and emotional level.
The Earth element in Chinese medicine represents the central point between the 5 elements. It’s the coming home and recentering of self, the returning to your tribe and to the comfort of Mother Earth who loves you and supports you unconditionally. Earth’s energy balances, contains and holds you, nurturing you with its gentle warmth and letting you know that you belong. It represents the kindness and ability to care that lies within, helping us to build intimate bonds with people with roots that grow deep. Just like a delicious stew should be prepared slowly in order for the sweetness of the flavours to come out, relationships in the Earth phase marinate and mature over time.
The energetic pathways associated with this 3rd phase of the Chinese Wuxing cycle are the Stomach and Spleen meridians. These organs are deeply connected with our ability to extract nourishment from not only the food we eat, but also from the experiences we live and the information we consume. Non too surprisingly imbalances and blockages in this element are rife in the Western society, whereby our physical and mental digestive systems are overloaded with so much toxicity and information that they constantly get overworked. This in turn makes it hard for us to extract and absorb what we really need from life. As the Spleen houses thought, symptoms such as anxiety and overpensivness often result as our guts (our second mind) constantly turn all this overload over but fail to let it settle down into something digestible.
The role of the Spleen in Chinese medicine is crucial to the production of Qi; the bioelectricity which acts as an organising and metabolising force of the body, which travels throughout our being via bodily fluids such as blood and the plasma between our fascia. It is the role of the Spleen to extract the nutritive essence from the food that we eat to then send to the heart for blood production. Whilst the Heart is considered the Emperor of our personal kingdoms and governs the blood, the Spleen controls the blood, and in the relationship between these two organs manifests the production and transportation of blood. Conversely problems of excess, deficiency or stagnation in the blood affect the free flow of blood transformation and transportation potentially causing issues with circulation, menstruation and the containment of blood within the vessels.
Whereby the Spleens role is of extraction of essence, the Stomach is responsible for the breaking down and ripening of food ready for this process. Care should be taken with cold food and drinks in the case of poor digestion as these can weaken the digestive fire and give rise to dampness in these organs. Such dampness can cause phenomena such as bodily swelling, hazy thinking or overly loose stools, which makes it difficult for you to extract the nutrients from the food you consume. The Spleen’s close relationship with other Zang (Yin) organs also extends to the Lungs and Kidneys for the production of Qi and for the even distribution of moisture around the body.
Ways to counter imbalances in the Earth element include; eating cooked naturally sweet foods such as root vegetables, grains, eggs, and most meat, fish and nuts, along with some sweet herbs such as licorice. Try to eat these meals in company with loved ones,taking your time to experience the whole event of the meal from preparation to tasting the flavours and the dinner table chat. The earth element responds well to routine so try to get into some regular patterns with not only your eating times, but also with your sleep and activity time as well as balancing mental and emotional habits to the best of your ability. And finally taking timeout in nature will help you to connect with the energy of the Earth. When possible walk barefoot in order to absorb the healing electrons from the earth through your skin, and the accompaniment of a furry friend always feeds your heart and soul.