Power of Energetics: Digestion in TCM

Well, this is the last post in my Power of Energetics Blog series!  I hope you learned a little bit more about the how Chinese Medicine views food and how to use food as medicine.  Thank you for sticking with me! Here is my last installment! Enjoy!

To start, one needs to understand the difference between Western organs functions and TCM organ functions. In Western Medicine, the organ is located in a specific part of the body where specific physical tasks are performed, as well as there being hundreds of different organs and structures that work together to make the body run.  In TCM, there are 12 main organs that do the majority of the body functions and these functions are done at an energetic, physiological, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. Some of the functions associated with each organ align with Western Medicine model, others do not.  The difference can be difficult to process at first since the organ functions in TCM can be fundamentally different, but hopefully, these next few blogs can help cultivate an understanding.

The digestion process in TCM is the job of the Spleen.

The physiological function of the Spleen is to “transform and transport”, meaning that it transforms food and drink into gu qi and transports the gu qi to where it is needed. Gu qi is the nourishment needed to support the body via the processes of making qi, blood and healthy fluids.  The stronger our Spleen functions the better we extract nourishment and support the needs of our body.

The Spleen’s physical function is our thinking process. The Spleen governs our ability to study, concentrate, and process information. Therefore, the Spleen is needed to digest and process both food and information into something the body can use. You can see this connection in the “food coma” when we have a meal or overeat and then we get tired and mentally sluggish.  You can also see it when you have too much worry (considered overthinking in TCM) and your digestive system gets “knotted up” and we get nausea or a stomachache.

The Spleen’s emotional level is also tied to the digestive system.  At this level, the Spleen is our ability to meet our needs emotionally to give emotional nourishment and support.  We feel comfortable, secure, nourished and supported when all our needs are met.

Ways to Keep the Spleen Functioning Properly

  1. Eating with joy and a positive attitude. Eating food when we are in a happy and content place literally allows our bodies to accept food more effectively. When we start labeling food bad and good, we are cultivating guilt and resentment, which can impair the Spleen’s function.
  2. Be present and relaxed.  The Spleen works best when we are focused on enjoying the meal and are not distracted by other influences.  Try not to do anything other than eat during meals; no TV, reading, conducting business, etc.
  3. Chew well.  Chewing food lessens the work that the Spleen and Stomach need to do to transform food into nourishment.
  4. Try to stop before you are full.  When we overeat we create stagnation and as a result, our body ends up using more resources to digest the excess food. Chronic overeating will tax the Spleen and impair its ability to Transform and Transport, which then can create a domino effect on the other organs abilities to perform their functions as well.
  5. Do not drink too much during meals.  Drinking too many fluids during meals can dilute the digestive action of the Spleen and leads to weak digestion.  The Stomach needs warmth to “cook” and help the Spleen process food, and too much liquid will cool down things too much.  Drinking some warm liquids during meals is best.
  6. Too much raw and cold foods also injure the Spleen. Prolonged or excessive use of chilled or raw foods can impair the Spleen’s functions. As stated earlier, the Spleen and Stomach need warmth to process food.
  7. Do not eat late at night.  At night our bodies are in the yin phase, slowing down and preparing for sleep and repair.  Eating late at night can inhibit this process and lead to stagnation of food in the digestive tract, create heat, induce insomnia, induce dream-disturbed sleep, and other complications.  It is best to eat before 7:00 p.m. for optimal digestion.
  8. Listen to your body.  Cravings are not always a bad thing, sometimes the body craves certain foods because it is in need of that particular food’s nutritional or energetic quality.  If you see a pattern to your cravings, take note, your body may be trying to tell you something.

As always with anything please remember: A little bit is medicine, a lot is poison.