The truth about the Spleen
We’re six weeks in lockdown and many people are not only anxious and frustrated but surprisingly exhausted and run down, even though it has been the perfect time to hunker down and take control of your diet, lifestyle and squeeze in some extra hours of sleep.
A global pandemic has knocked us, not only taking the lives of too many wondrous people and loved ones across the world. But to boot, those who have been lucky enough to not catch Covid-19 seem to be feeling it too. It’s ironic that anyone would feel zonked during a lockdown, yet while the whole world seems to have shut down, we’re all trying our hardest to claim back some sort of normality. The struggle is real. If you’re also feeling fatigued and worrying throughout the day, it could be that your Spleen is in need of a little TLC. Here are a few nuggets of Chinese wisdom to help restore and rebalance its function, boost your energy/ Qi and calm your mind.
Role of the Spleen in Chinese Medicine
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), our Spleen plays an important role in transforming and transporting vital essences around throughout the body. The Spleen, paired with the Stomach, are the two organs that are associated with the Earth Element and are in charge these digestive processes in the body. Normally, our digested food is turned into nutrients by the Stomach and Spleen, transported upwards by the Spleen to the Lungs; the Heart and Lungs then take over and generate Qi. To maintain this proper and smooth digestive process, the ascending function of the Spleen Qi is absolutely vital. When the ascending Spleen Qi is impaired, the Qi flows downwards and may result in symptoms such as fatigue, weakness in the four limbs, oedema, bloating, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, chilliness, over-thinking and worry.
Damp and the Spleen
Damp is one of the external influences that may affect our health in TCM. In the Spleen, damp can occur if it is incapable of transporting and transforming body fluids, leading to an accumulation of moisture in the body. A major indicator of damp is a feeling of heaviness that’s hard to shift. It often starts at the legs and goes up towards the abdomen. Other symptoms may arise depending on the location of where it occurs: vaginal discharge or bladder infections are a result of damp in the female genital area. If damp accumulates in the intestines, it may result in loose stools. Other symptoms caused by dampness may include nausea, a stuffy chest, a muzzy head/ dizziness and a thick greasy tongue coating.
Worry and the Spleen
Each organ has an emotional aspect to it in Chinese medicine. The Spleen’s role is one of sympathy. This works in two ways: too much sympathy, worry and overthinking can affect the Spleen and its role to carry out it’s function of transportation. Equally a deficient spleen can weaken the mind, leading us to worry and muddled thinking. The psychological or spiritual aspect associated to the Spleen is the Yi or ‘thought,’ which is directly related to our capacity to think, concentrate and remember. The Yi is the spirit that guides the movement of Qi in a conscious manner. The difference with western medicine is that the role of the Spleen in TCM is to not only digest and process food but to digest and assimilate any stimulus or information that comes through the mouth and lips.
“Worry and grief generate illness….When you think about something and don’t let go of it, internally you will be distressed, externally you will be weak.” Original Tao, 4th Century BCE
Foods that repair the spleen:
- Organic lightly cooked vegetables: celery, watercress, pumpkin, turnip, alfalfa sprouts, radishes,
- Brown rice, barley, rye, oats, legumes, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils
- Lean organic meat (lamb, venison), poultry and fish (lobster, mussels, prawns, shrimp, trout and tuna)
- Small amount of fruits, raspberry, peach, strawberry, cherry and lemon
- Sesame, pumpkin, sunflower seeds
- Seaweed, kelp
- Walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, pistachios
- Black pepper, cinnamon, clove, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, horseradish, cayenne, nutmeg
- Teas: Green, Jasmine, Raspberry leaf, chai
Foods to avoid:
- Dairy, wheat
- Cold raw foods (incl. raw vegetables)
- Cold drinks, ice, fruit juice
- Processed foods
- Refined sugar and sweeteners
- Deep fried foods
- Coffee, alcohol
- Peanuts, bananas, avocados
- Be mindful when you eat each and every mouthful
- Chew your food properly to make the Spleen’s job a little easier
- Eat soups – easy for the Spleen to digest, using its remaining energy to fight the Coronavirus
Acupuncture points to boost the Spleen – massage:
Spleen 6 (Sanyinjiao)
4 fingers width directly above the ankle bone. Apply firm pressure or massage for approximately one minute at a time. Repeat 3 times every day on each leg to help resolve damp and fatigue.
Stomach 36 (Zusanli)
4 fingers width below the knee cap and 1 finger width lateral to the shin bone. Repeat as above to help boost and energise your Qi. Its translation is “Leg 3 miles.” It was a point reputedly used by ancient Chinese soldiers to enable them to go the extra three miles in their marches. For not only does this point strengthen the legs, it fortifies the whole body, tonifying the Qi and eliminating fatigue.
Yin yoga poses to balance your Spleen/Stomach organ:
Sitting on the floor. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. The closer you draw your feet towards the groin, the more stress you’ll feel in your inner thighs. If you bring your feet away from the pubic bone, many people feel more sensations on the outer thigh. Slowly fold forward into Butterfly with a relaxed spine. Hold for 3-5 minutes.
Lie down on your belly and prop onto your elbows. Make sure the elbows are more or less aligned under the shoulders. Relax your lower body and shoulders. To modify the pose, move your elbows further forward, lowering your chest closer to the floor. To intensify the pose, move to Seal by extending your elbows coming onto your hands. Continue to relax into your shoulders. Hold for 2-4 minutes.
Start kneeling on the floor so that your heels touch the outside of the buttocks. Lean back on your hands and eventually make your way down on to your back. If the lower back arches to the point of discomfort, place a bolster lengthways under the spine. Hold for 3-5 minutes.
Lying down on your back, place a block under the sacrum on the low or mid-level. Extend your legs and optionally reach the arms up above the head. Hold for 3-5 minutes.
When your Spleen is functioning well, you will feel energised, your digestion will be smooth, your bowels regular and your thoughts and intent will become clear.
Because most of us have some level of Spleen deficiency, above are some of the simple things you can do to take the pressure of this splendid organ. Your Spleen will thank you!