Exploring the Earth Element in Chinese Medicine: Nurturing Balance and Harmony

by Lauren Becker, LAc |

Exploring the Earth Element in Chinese Medicine: Nurturing Balance and Harmony

 According to Chinese Medicine theory, there are five natural elements that exist within us, as they do in nature. Each season belongs to a particular element and has unique correspondences. When we study nature’s patterns and cycles, we can learn how to support our own health and stay well year-round.

The long, endless days of summer are winding down and we find ourselves transitioning into the season of the Earth Element, the season of harvest. It’s time to take stock in the celebration and abundance of summer and let that nourish our body and mind.

Earth Element

Earth is a gentle rolling hill, a long golden beach, or a staggering mountain range. Within us, Earth is family and friends. It is the fabric of life that we create and nurture with integrity. The season of Earth Element belongs to a “fifth season” that spans from the hazy days following the peak of summer to the start of fall. During this time of year, we focus on the digestive system, nourishment, and stability. 

The Spleen and Stomach

The Spleen and Stomach meridian systems belong to the Earth Element, and they play a very important role in our overall health and wellbeing. So much so that in 1180 CE, famous Chinese physician Li Dong Yuan founded the Earth School because he believed that the etiology of most diseases was a result of injury to the digestive system.

According to this school of thought, the Spleen and Stomach are at the center of one’s health. The Earth School teachings remain relevant in today’s practice, especially in light of the recent research on the relationship between gut health and immunity.  

Earth Element

The Spleen is in charge of making our body's Qi and blood, which are the vital substances needed to stay healthy. Additionally, the spleen “holds” the blood in the vessels, and ascends energy to prevent prolapse of various organs like the uterus and bladder.

Most importantly, the Spleen transforms the food we eat into energy and transports that nutritive energy (“ying Qi”) to other parts of our body. When the spleen is weak or out of balance, various health issues from digestive to gynecological to emotional arise.

In Chinese medicine theory, every organ “houses” a spirit, which corresponds to a certain aspect of our psyche. Our thoughts and mental capacity relate to the spirit of the Spleen, called the Yi (which translates to Intellect). The Yi influences our capacity for studying, concentration, memorizing, etc. With school back in session, supporting the "Spleen Qi is essential!

Your Emotions, Your Feelings & Earth Element

The emotion associated with the spleen is worry. With its connection to the mind and thinking, the Yi is be prone to worry, anxiety, and overthinking. When caught in this loop, spleen Qi deficiency symptoms arise, like digestive weakness, IBS, and fatigue. Meditation and calming the mind are very important for spleen health.

The Earth Element relates to issues of dampness (humidity, heaviness, phlegm) - the climate of late summer. Dampness shows up in the body in many ways: physical fatigue, mental fatigue, worry, digestive problems, and muscle weakness to name a few. Because the spleen and stomach meridian systems are particularly impacted by dampness, food therapy becomes so important to keep everything on track.

Seasonal Wellness

In Chinese Medicine theory, we take seasonal changes as opportunities to better our health and prevent disease. Just like the seasons cycle, our health is not a fixed state. When there are changes in nature, it’s important that we adjust to the natural rhythms and flow of the earth. Addressing our health in this way will help us cultivate balance, harmony, and holistic health throughout the year.

Now is the time to reinforce the vitality of the Earth Element and Spleen Qi- acupuncture, food therapy, and mindfulness are particularly supportive.

Looking Ahead: Preparing for the Fall and Transitioning to Metal Element

“Earth generates Metal”.  Fall is the season of the Metal Element and the lung meridian system- and of course, when colds, flus, and seasonal allergies circulate. Cultivating a balanced Earth Element and strong Spleen Qi in the late summer contributes to a stronger immune system and healthy lungs in the fall. Preventative medicine is the best medicine!

“Knowing how to treat the center is knowing how to bring all networks into balance.” - Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644)

Recommendations to Boost Vitality of Your Earth Element and the Wellbeing of Your Mind, Body and Spirit 

Warm it Up. The Earth Element thrives on a nourishing diet, and nutritional therapy related to the Spleen is key for maintaining good and balanced health. Cold raw food creates dampness in the spleen, which interferes with its role of the transportation and transformation of nutrients and energy, and its ability to produce Qi and blood. This leads to a variety of health imbalances. Maintaining warmth in the Earth center of the body is very important.

As summer draws to a close, it’s time to phase out your consumption of cold raw foods, including smoothies, ice water, and salads. Dairy, refined sugars, and fatty and greasy foods also contribute to dampness.

Do include warm, cooked meals. Aromatic spices like ginger, fennel, coriander, caraway, and cardamom help to warm things up, resolves dampness, and strengthen the spleen Qi.

Say Yes to Sweet. Sweet flavors, in small amounts, favor the Spleen and Stomach (sadly, we are not talking about ice cream).  Sweet foods that strengthen the Earth Element include whole grains, like millet, rice, and root vegetables, such as yams, sweet potatoes and carrots. Enjoy the sweet fruits and veggies that are in season and available in the late summer harvest.

Don’t Skip Breakfast. According to the Chinese Medicine clock, the Stomach has optimal digestive capacity between 7-9 am. Your meal should be substantial and fortifying. A good breakfast strengthens the stomach and spleen Qi and yang for the day. Optimal breakfast foods are energetically warming foods, prepared with warm cooking methods that stimulate the body and do not spread dampness. A favorite in Chinese Medicine food therapy is breakfast congee, a highly nourishing and healing way to start the day.

(get our congee recipe here!)

The Color of the Earth is Yellow. The Su Wen Chapter 10 states that, “yellow corresponds to the Spleen”. Eating foods that are yellow and orange are especially supportive for Spleen health. Examples include squash, sweet potato, yams, corn, papaya, and carrots.

Find Your Center. The Earth Element is about stability, nurturance, caregiving, and bounty. Seek activities that keep you centered and grounded; focus on what nourishes and fulfills you and those you care about. With fall just around the corner, the season of "letting go", we will soon think about the things we have too much of and begin the process of releasing, clearing, and simplifying. 

Be Mindful About What You Mentally Ingest. As our focus turns to the health of our Spleen and Stomach organ systems and its relationship to the "Yi"- our mind and intellect- we need to be mindful about what we "mentally ingest", as well. This is a perfect time of year to think about our relationship with social media and the news and to create boundaries around screen time. 

And Finally- Sing Like No One’s Listening! Every element has an associated sound, through which it expresses itself. The sound of the Earth element is "singing". Whether your stage is the shower, the car, or a stage, get those vocal chords warmed up and sing your heart out!

Consider Acupuncture, Herbs and Oils to Help

The transition from summer to fall can be tough, and some people dread this time of year. Resistance to the changing seasons can cause stagnation in the body and weaken the immune system. Acupuncture helps our body and mind move effortlessly with seasonal changes.

Earth Element

For a daily earth-strengthening fix, try patchouli essential oil. Entering the Lung, Spleen, and Stomach channels, this oil resolves dampness and phlegm and harmonizes the digestive system. On an emotional level, patchouli can help the body transform and release pent-up emotions and calm a worried or restless mind. We also like neroli for tonifying spleen Qi, soothing a nervous stomach and easing anxiety, and grapefruit for uplifting the spirit and resolving stagnation caused by food and dampness.

There are many helpful herbal formulas for fortifying the Spleen Qi and balancing the Earth Element, and the best option for you should be determined by your acupuncturist. Some formulas are better for draining dampness, and others for building Qi and blood, treating digestive weakness, or calming worry and anxiety.

Try Acupressure on Acupuncture Point Spleen 9 (Sp-9 Yin Ling Quan)

Located on the inside part of the lower leg, in the depression of the lower border of the medial condyle of the tibia below the knee. The easiest way to find the point is to run your thumb up the edge of the bone on the inside of your lower leg until it falls into a hole- if the point is active, it will feel tender. 

This is "the" acupuncture point for resolving dampness anywhere in the body. Gently press on this point for 20-30 seconds to help relieve abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas pains, and lethargy after eating.

This point also helps treat edema, swelling, thirst and urinary difficulty. And if you find yourself trapped in a cycle of worrisome or anxious thoughts and circular thinking, press on Spleen 9 to help break the pattern and bring ease to a worried mind. 

Chinese Medicine proposes that we will feel our best if we live according to the seasons. In late Summer, it is the Earth element that is the most active and also the most vulnerable. With appropriate diet and lifestyle adjustments, we can cultivate a healthy Earth element, a strong gut and optimal immunity.

Lauren Becker, L.Ac., is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and the founder of Balance Acupuncture. She successfully used acupuncture to support her own health beginning in her teens for allergies and asthma, and has since been dedicated to the medicine. Learn more about her at (https://balancecharleston.com/).

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