By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
Every organ is important in Chinese medicine and that is because they all work in tandem, each benefiting the other. Chinese medicine is a holistic system and each part of the human being is integral to the balance that is necessary to achieve and maintain health.
The organs are in a constant state of flux, moving between excess and deficiency, yin and yang. Nothing in the body is static, it is a dynamic system, always attempting to heal itself and rebalance. If we are able to give the body everything it needs, it is able to heal itself from almost anything. Like a garden, it must be tended, watered, weeded and if it is cared for, it will grow nothing but the most beautiful and healthy plants and flowers that are resilient and able to fight disease.
One of the first steps on the path to health is figuring out what it is that the body needs so that it can heal itself and remain healthy and strong. This, unfortunately, is not easy. This is why we read books on nutrition, exercise and go to doctors, we are all trying to figure out what it is our bodies are asking for. In Chinese medicine, there are organ systems that each have specific responsibilities. Each organ system works with the others to keep the body in balance. The spleen is one of the organs that, because of the society in which many of us live, becomes weak and can cause all kinds of health problems that are very common – from digestive problems, to insomnia, to weight gain to depression. Because the spleen is like the hub at the centre of the wheel, it is the foundation for many of the body’s important processes and therefore, we must try to keep it strong and healthy.
Here are some simple (but powerful) things you can do to strengthen your spleen.
Avoid Ice In Your Drinks
The spleen in Chinese medicine is the main organ of digestion. The difference is that it is not only digesting food and drink, but the emotions and everything that comes in through the sense organs. So, you can see that the spleen is busy. The spleen likes to be warm and dry and dislikes cold. It slows down its processes and cold is seen to extinguish its digestive fire. So, cold foods, like foods with a cold thermal nature, like many raw foods and seafood in Chinese medicine, as well as foods that are physically cold like ice cream, and frozen foods and desserts are very hard on the spleen. A simple way to give your spleen some love is to drink water and other drinks at room temperature and not add ice. Your spleen will love you for it. Unfortunately, ice cream too is a bit of a nono, but moderation! Everybody needs ice cream sometimes, no?
this lovely image from mindful.org
As stated above, the spleen has the important task of processing all of the stimulus that comes into our bodies from the outside world. That is no small task considering that we are constantly being bombarded with stimulus. Thanks to advances in technology, we are *always* connected and able to receive phone calls, texts, and emails, but this also means that we never really get a break or time to be away or unavailable. The spleen loves to focus, and do one thing at a time. That way it can concentrate its energy fully and completely to the task at hand, get the job done efficiently and excellently and then can move on to the next thing. The spleen loves to get things done, but it needs to be mindful and concentrate on one thing at a time.
Do One Thing At A Time
Yes! We are a culture that loves to multitask. We are often praised at work or school for the sheer number of things that we can do at the same time with the thinking that it makes us more productive humans. As life becomes more complex and we are more connected that we ever have been it becomes ever more difficult to be able to focus and do one thing at a time. Because of this, the spleen works extra hard and never gets to rest and easily becomes deficient leading to health problems that are often seen in clinic. Digestive problems, muscle weakness, prolapse of organs, bleeding and bruising easily, weight gain, formation of tumors are all symptoms of spleen deficiency. But, trying to focus on one task at a time allows the spleen to focus its energies without scattering its qi, thus keeping it strong and healthy.
Take A Break
this nice image from adweek.com
Because of all the reasons listed above, our crazy schedules, working many hours, often not getting enough sleep, over thinking and worry, the spleen’s energy becomes exhausted and we can develop various health issues from digestive problems to depression. We have full lives and many of us don’t get enough time to recharge our batteries. Taking small breaks throughout the day is not only good for the spleen, but your entire person, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We are all giving so much of our energy to our jobs, school, our families and often our worries that we need to be feeding ourselves too so that we have the energy to keep going.
Chew Your Food
Because the spleen, with its yang partner the stomach, are the main organs of digestion, they are responsible for breaking down all the food and drink that we bring into the body. The spleen uses the “digestive fire” to break foods down so that they can be used by the rest of the body, so the spleen needs to be strong and have lots of energy to break down foods properly. One of the things you can do to take some of the burden off your spleen is to chew your food well. This means that you are saving some of your spleens’ precious energy so other things (and there are a lot of them, believe me!). The better you can break down food with your teeth by chewing means the less work the spleen and stomach have to do to break it down for you.
this beautiful photograph from beefandlamb.com.au
Ever wonder why you are told to eat soup when you are sick? Well, when the body is sick it has been compromised in some way leaving it in a weakened state. Its resources are being diverted to fighting the infection or rebalancing from whatever imbalance has caused you to get sick in the first place, so you want to be as gentle and kind with your body as possible. Soups cooked for long periods, full of delicious veggies, especially root vegetables that grow in the ground have a double positive impact on the spleen. The first is that they are warming. Soup is warming, and the longer and slower it has been cooked, the more warming it becomes. Secondly, vegetables that grow slowly in the ground are also considered warming which the spleen loves. The spleen loves to be warm and dry, and soup is like its medicine. The other reason soup is so wonderful when you are sick is that it has been cooked and most of the foods in it have been broken down from the cooking process so it takes the body (and spleen) less energy to break it down so that it can be spending its energy focussed on making you better. So, if you didn’t love soup before, you will now! Your spleen loves it too.
Move Your Body
Our bodies were designed for movement! Unfortunately, many of us have sedentary jobs that require that we sit at desks and in front of computers for many hours a day. Our poor bodies are not designed to sit for extended periods, and it causes all kinds of problems. When we were all living in hunter-gatherer societies, we spent our days hunting, cooking, traveling, always moving. We all have energy in our bodies. The Chinese call is “Qi”. That Qi needs to be in a constant state of movement or it gets stuck or becomes stagnant. A blockage of the flow of Qi is also at the root of many illnesses. The spleen has its own unique Qi, and for the body to be healthy, we must keep that Qi moving. And what is the best way to keep your Qi moving? That’s right, by moving your body. It can be as simple as walking around the block, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, sitting outside on a park bench instead of inside the cafeteria, or standing up at your desk a few times a day to do some stretches. I promise, just doing this one small thing will make you, and your spleen, feel so much better,
Every organ in Chinese medicine has an emotion associated with it. And the emotion associated with the spleen is worry and over thinking. We are a culture of worriers and over thinkers. Worry hurts the spleen and leads to deficiency of its energies and the reverse is also true, that a deficiency of the spleen can cause a propensity to worry. A vicious cycle. It is an easy thing to stay to just stop worrying, lord knows I haven’t been able to do it and I’ve been trying for years, but I know that when my spleen is being overworked, the worries come more often and more intensely and that is always a sign that something is out of balance. The wonderful thing is, that with a balanced spleen, you will find that everything else in your body and your life will fall into place as well. This is not to say that you will never have a worry or a cause to over think, but it will not be the dominant emotion in your life. The whole philosophy in Chinese medicine is balance, in all things.
I think as a people and society we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what is “wrong” with us and not nearly enough time focussing on what is “right” with us. When I turn on the news (and I try not to turn on the news unless really necessary) I am always bombarded by the darkness in our world. But, when I spend my days treating patients, and listening to their struggles, I am confronted with the light. There are so many wonderful things about this planet and so many of the people living on it. In the newsletter every month I deliberately seek out stories of inspiration, and I always find them. There are wonderful, joyous, generous, kind and loving things happening all over the planet. People being kind to people. Helping the environment. Saving animals. Saving themselves. I believe that we all have a light and that if we feed it, it will reach out and touch others, helping them to see the light in themselves. Self-love isn’t unique to the spleen, or any other organ, I think it is important for human beings. We often have so many worries, fears, and troubles, that we forget to focus on the positive, wonderful things about being human, happiness, joy, kindness and love.
This lovely spleen chart by Chinese Medicine Living
**The beautiful featured image from technogym.com
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