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What do emotions have to do with digestion?
Emotional Health Tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine
Something as simple as wearing flip-flops will stimulate your liver meridian and trigger the Wood element to release negative emotions. Supporting your gut with a daily probiotic, like the refreshing Passion Fruit Biotic, can also help to harmonize the Wood and Earth elements.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), any emotion that we hold on to can affect the digestive process. “Holding on” can be:
- Anger, resentment, depression, or any variation of these emotions. This could be a bad day at work, an argument with your spouse, or feeling overwhelmed with responsibility, life circumstances, a long line at the supermarket, or even traffic.
- Oscillation between the familiar roles that we unconsciously play out, especially in stressful situations. Playing out these roles, such as the victim, martyr, or savior, causes us to run certain mental programs that push us through an emotional rollercoaster.
- Feeling irritable or weepy before menstruation. The time between ovulation and menstruation is for many women a time of greater emotional sensitivity. Often this corresponds with more digestive troubles and constipation.
Emotions affect our ability to digest life. Have you ever had a disagreement with another person and felt pressure in the abdominal area? Or even nausea? Have you ever felt heartache or experienced the loss of a family member and lost the desire to eat? While western science can use the endocrine system to explain these phenomena, Chinese medicine often uses a system called Five Elements.
The Chinese system of Five Elements works with Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood.
In this system, emotions play a role in every element but are especially dominant in the Wood element:
- Wood Element and Emotions: The emotions of worry, doubt, obsession, anger, resentment, and depression are especially related to the Wood element.
- Wood Element and Expansion: The natural tendency of wood in nature, such as roots underground or the branches of a tree, is to move outward and expand. Wood in Chinese medicine is a creative force.
- Wood Element and Constraint: Disharmony can develop when this expanding force is contained or bound up, which frequently happens with emotional overload.
The earth’s role in nourishing our bodies and supporting life corresponds to the Earth element in Chinese medicine:
- Earth Element and Nutrition: The element Earth is most associated with digestion of food and drink.
- Earth Element and Dampness: Earth is also responsible for the movement of nutrients throughout the body. When the Earth element is weak, food moves very slowly through the digestive tract and weighs heavily on all organs in the body. This is what Chinese medicine calls dampness and is sometimes associated with mucous, lethargy, or weak immune function.
Emotions slow movement within the body.
Emotion can slow down the movement of blood and lymph through the body. Studies show that stress weakens the immune system and prolongs infection. (1) This means that:
- The body does not receive vital nutrients.
- Toxicity is more likely to develop.
Sometimes emotional overload shows up as a lump or stuck feeling in the throat. The throat is associated with speech and expression. When our immune system becomes weak from constant stress, often a sore throat is the first symptom to develop. Wood needs the freedom to express itself. Likewise, we know from general psychology that one of the best ways to dispel an emotion is to acknowledge it.
When the Wood element becomes stagnant, this can weaken the Earth element and generate dampness. In Chinese medicine, this is what is known as Wood overacting on Earth.
4 Simple Steps You Can Take to Harmonize the Wood and Earth Relationship
1. An acupoint for balance, Liver 3: If you have ever received a massage, you know that the body has sensitive zones, such as the shoulders, where stress seems to collect. There are literally hundreds of points that are used in Chinese medicine to create balance, and many are found in these sensitive zones. Just as a massage will encourage muscles to release and relax, an acupoint can tell the body to relax.
Liver 3 (LV-3), also called Tai Chong or “Great Surging”, is an acupoint that is located on the top of the foot where the bones of the big toe and the second toe meet. This is about an inch from the webbing between the first and second toe.
LV-3 is an Earth point on the Liver meridian. The liver is a part of an organ system that belongs to the Wood element. Because LV-3 is an Earth acupoint on the Wood meridian, it greatly influences the Wood and Earth relationship.
Gently massage this acupoint when emotions feel bound up, and you will find some relief. This point can also soothe digestion and reduce cramping or spasms in the body. It is often used to reduce menstrual cramping.
2. Wear flip-flops or sandals that connect to the sole between the second and big toe: Mikio Sankey, an acupuncturist in Los Angeles, CA, tells his patients that this type of shoe will stimulate movement in the Liver meridian.
Because the Liver meridian is a part of the Wood element, activating it is useful when the Wood element is constrained. The Liver meridian begins on the big toe and runs between the first and second toe. The strap of the sandals gently massages this area as you walk.
3. Enjoy young coconut water kefir as much as possible: Kefir provides us with a “sour” flavor, which is not commonly found in the standard American diet. This sour taste balances out the other food flavors that we enjoy in our meals. Sour also corresponds to the Wood element. Likewise, fermented foods and kefir, both sour, are able to control Candida fungal overgrowth.
Candida fungal overgrowth is a form of dampness in the body and typically associated with a weakness in the Earth element. The sour taste of the Wood element and the beneficial bacteria in kefir is able to control excessive dampness.
Two ounces of probiotic beverages a few times a day is a great choice to harmonize the Wood and Earth elements.
4. Chew your food well. The act of chewing can bring you into the present moment, especially when done mindfully.
If you are truly in the present moment, you are not playing and replaying an emotionally charged event in your mind. You are also enjoying what is before you. This sense of enjoyment activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for smooth digestion of food and relaxation.
Chewing also stimulates both Wood and Earth meridians that are found along the jaw and mouth. Have you ever noticed that chronic stress leads to clenched teeth and a tight jaw? Consciously and patiently chewing your food opens this space up both physically and energetically.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
In western medicine, we know that chronic stress or even a single stressful event will typically affect our digestive tracts and immune response. Traditional Chinese medicine has developed its own system for understanding the relationship between the central nervous system and the digestive system. This system is known as Five Elements.
Four simple steps you can take to support your emotions and optimize digestive function:
- Massage the acupoint known as LV-3, found between the first and second toe.
- Use the sour taste of cultured foods to balance the Wood and Earth relationship. Kefir and fermented foods are full of good bacteria that eliminate dampness.
- Wear sandals.
- Chew food mindfully.
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- Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K., Lynanne McGuire, Theodore F. Robles, and Ronald Glaser. Psychoneuroimmunology: Psychological influences on immune function and health. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 70(3), Jun 2002, 537-547. DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.70.3.537
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