Summer is winding down, which in Chinese medicine means that the intensity and dynamism of the fire season will soon give way to the earth time of year. Chinese medicine tradition parts ways from our four season model to accommodate a fifth season – otherwise known as the earth season or indian summer, that period of time that pivots us from the heat and excitement of summer into the more somber and structured fall, or metal season.
The earth element is seen in Chinese medicine as the pivot point around which the remaining four elements orbit, and this time of year exemplifies this relationship. Earth is about nurturing and nourishing; just as the soil grows crops that become sustenance for us, the earth element – made up of the spleen and stomach organ systems – provides substance in the form of qi and blood for the body.
With that in mind, this time of year is an important one for nourishing and nurturing – both outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly, this can take the form of giving more attention and care to family and friends as well as tending to professional pursuits or passion projects that might have been pushed to the back burner during the summer. Inwardly, this might look like ratcheting up your self-care efforts, slowing down and incorporating some restorative activities into your routine – yin yoga, epsom salts baths, meditation exercises, massage, journaling, etc.
Because the earth element is so intimately related with consumption, it’s important to note that this pertains to all forms of consumption – not just in the literal sense but in the mental and emotional senses as well. Mentally-speaking, we tend to consume information all day, every day, whether we seek it or not. Constant bombardment of information from all forms of media, our jobs, etc can over time take a toll on the spleen and stomach organ systems, ultimately manifesting in imbalances. Likewise, emotionally-speaking we may absorb the feelings – good or bad – of those around us, particularly those with whom we have close bonds. We all know the feeling of walking into a room where a difficult interaction has been going on, despite the fact that we weren’t involved or aware of it – we just sense the tension viscerally and if we’re not careful, can take that on internally.
As every element has numerous associations beyond just its connection to a given season, there are many ways in which imbalance may manifest. See below for some examples of earth imbalances, as well as an archetype of a person with a healthy earth-dominant constitution.
Personality: accommodating, loyal, collaborative
Out of balance: worrier, disorganized, overthinking, meddling, smothering, needy
Common issues: muscle aches (ex. fibromyalgia); digestive issues; excessive hunger or complete lack of appetite; bleeding gums; bad breath; can get ‘stuck’ – in a thought pattern, with a particular challenge or in a phase of life
Sound: singing; earth types will often speak in a sing-songy way, it might sound somewhat pleading
Color: yellow, an earth type may have a yellow-ish tint detectable at the outer corners of the eyes
Taste: sweet; earth imbalances may involve cravings for sweet foods – candy, baked goods, etc.
Mental/emotional: the earth element is related to the intellect and in particular, short-term memory; any taxation of the earth element can show up with problems in the realm of memorization or recall (for example, students often place a great deal of stress on their stomach and spleen systems just by the nature of their work).
I see a lot of earth imbalances clinically as the way we live our lives in this culture tends to tap the earth energy; we nurture and care for other people and other things – children, parents, friends, jobs, pets etc – and we often do so to the exclusion of our own self-care, putting our own needs on the backburner. While this might be well-intentioned, the effects build over time, ultimately taking a toll on the spleen and stomach. Below are some ways you can love on the spleen and stomach, which if tended to, while serve you in so many beneficial ways.
Avoid cold, raw, damp foods, choosing warmer foods whenever possible
Dairy and wheat are also big offenders, as they generate ‘dampness’ or a fluid accumulation akin to inflammation in the body.
Cold foods have their place in the diet, but since digestion is an energy-intensive process, putting cold food into the body requires much more work on the part of the stomach and spleen to properly digest food and turn it into usable energy.
If cold salads are your main squeeze, have some warm tea with them or top with warm, cooked vegetables and protein
Place one hand on top of the other and move them in circular motions around the naval, moving up on the right and down on the left (or the opposite direction if digestion is on the more, ahem, expedient side); because earth is the center or pivot, massaging this area gently nourishes the stomach and spleen.
Be mindful of your intake:
Avoid excess ‘consumption’ at night when you should be winding down
This pertains not only to food but also information, so limiting screen time can be helpful here
Carve out time every day for self-care:
It can be five minutes or 2 hours, as long as it’s focused on you and nothing else; there’s power in being declarative about what you focus on
It can be as simple as stepping away from work and taking a few deep breaths