‘Tis is the season of digestion! According to the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine, in the Northern Hemisphere we are in the short season of Late-Summer and the associated Element of Earth. Mother Earth nourishes, supports, and nurtures all living things. The organ associated with the Earth Element is the Stomach. It is the Stomach qi (chi = energy) that transforms what we take in (physically and emotionally) and feeds our bodies and organ systems to give them energy to do their jobs.
Sometimes we have trouble with our digestion. Many of my clients can’t digest gluten or raw vegetables. If you have food sensitivities or intolerances that means your stomach/earth energy is out of balance.
What can’t you digest?
Blockages such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), constipation, diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, heart burn, indigestion, and liver issues are all related to the Stomach energy system. Yes, I said liver issues!
While your liver has many vital roles such as detoxification, it’s also involved in your digestion. The large energy channel (or meridian) of the Stomach begins below your eyes then flows up the side of your head, downward through your neck, breast, through the liver, down the legs, ending at your second toe. The liver produces bile and processes the nutrients absorbed from the small intestine. Bile plays an important role in digesting fat. If your liver is not functioning properly, you will have difficulty digesting and eliminating.
Energy flows through your meridians like water through a river.
When this flow gets stuck or blocked, a stagnant pond can form. This pond can provide a substrate for offending organisms to grow such as bacteria, viruses, yeast, and more. Health requires the smooth and harmonious flow of energy through the rivers and streams (meridians) in your body. For the Stomach meridian system, smooth flow involves healthy digestion, assimilation, and elimination.
But it’s not only physical digestion that keeps things flowing smoothly, mental and emotional digestion are just as important, and often the controlling factors, in all digestion and elimination. While traditional Chinese medicine has known for thousands of years that the mind and body are connected, more recently Western Medicine has found that bacteria in the gut can affect your mental state, leading to mood, cognition and behavioural problems.
Have you ever had ‘butterflies’ in your stomach?
I have! Underlying this feeling is an extensive network of neurons lining our guts scientists have nicknamed our “second brain”. This neural tissue is filled with important neurotransmitters and has been shown to determine our mental state. It’s like there is a brain in your belly. So the stomach can go about digesting and such without having to bother the brain. In fact, about 90 percent of our neural communication goes from the gut to the brain, not the other way around! And 95% of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels!
I can’t help but notice the similarities of the neural network in the gut to the mycorrhizal (fungal) network that plants use to communicate and assimilate nutrients in the forest soil. Communication between plants, even among different species of plants, is faster and more effective because of this fungal network.
This ‘second brain’ helps explain our gut instincts and the mind-body connection.
Some life events may be difficult to digest, or even impossible.
I recall getting some bad news a couple of years ago and I immediately threw up! I couldn’t digest the information. When we experience trauma, either as children or as adults, it often gets stored in our body and comes out later in life when we are better equipped. I also recall having to visit the bathroom a multitude of times before taking part in a running race. My guts knew what was up and my brain couldn’t control it!
Wouldn’t it follow then that a happy healthy gut would lead to a happy heathy person? At least 90% of the time?! Much research is being done on the connection between gut bacteria and depression (and medications). Fermented foods and probiotics may play a big role in your mood!
Another interesting pool of research indicates that at least 70% of our immune cells are located in the gut in a vast system of bacteria. So not only can you boost your mood by having a healthy gut, you can also boost your immunity!
Getting back to the Five Element Theory, there are emotions, both positive and negative, associated with each element (and organ system). This season of Late Summer and its associated Earth element and stomach energy (meridian) system, has the challenging emotions of worry, anxiety, and overthinking.
If you have anxiety, you may find this season more challenging.
While it’s normal to experience these emotions, when you get stuck in them it can cause damage to your digestive system which will then affect the vital functioning of your liver, digestion, elimination, your second brain (intuition and your ability to hear it) and your immune system. This can open the door to confusion, instability, brain fog, feeling ungrounded as well as viruses, bacteria, and the bad fungi.
But each element also has positive emotions that can help to balance and heal your organ systems. For the Earth element these emotions are Peace and feeling Grounded. Making some changes in your life where you can experience more peace and/or visualizing a peaceful scenario or setting. Getting outside and spending time in nature can also help you feel grounded.
Sounds like a peaceful trip to the ocean is in order where your body and mind can relax, where you can digest and assimilate while boosting your immunity. Allow your gut to guide you on the right path of your life by digesting peace to help you have a healthier and balanced fall and winter!
Watch for Part 2 of this post where I will share ways to further support this vital body system which will help you receive, digest, assimilate, and eliminate the energy of the earth (including qigong!). I promise this time ;)!
Have a peaceful day, enjoy a walk outside, and listen to the messages that your gut is communicating to you!
Love and light,
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