By Nancy Byrne
We’ve all heard the saying “You are what you eat.” It’s true, but acupuncture lends further insight into our relationship with food by suggesting that we are also how we eat.
On some level, we know this already. Think about the times when you’ve skipped breakfast and then gorged yourself much too quickly on a huge lunch. Chances are, you felt a little irritable and anxious before stuffing your face, after which you probably felt uncomfortably full and bloated.
Low blood sugar followed by undue stress on your digestive organs is one way of looking at this scenario. However, acupuncture offers an explanation that’s much more interesting and broader in scope. Understanding this perspective is an initial step toward avoiding weight gain, constipation, bloating, acid reflux and even bad breath.
Focus on Spleen and Stomach for good digestion
In acupuncture, the paired Spleen and Stomach are the main organs associated with digestion. This refers to the digestion of food as well as the digestion of thought.
Digestion of thought? Huh?
This can be a leap for those of us who have been indoctrinated into seeing the body and mind as separate entities—as Westerners, this means most of us. Mainstream medicine is based entirely on this notion, that our organs have physical functions that are entirely separate from our emotions. Acupuncture is based on a different worldview.
Acupuncture takes an all-inclusive perspective, which means that the organs of the body have physiological functions as well as emotional characteristics. This body-mind connection cannot be unraveled.
The emotion associated with the Spleen and Stomach systems is thoughtfulness or pensiveness. When these organs are out of balance, it manifests as worrying or over thinking.
So when we say that the Spleen and Stomach are responsible for the digestion of thought, we mean that these organs—in the same way they do with food—help us take in thoughts, transform the useful pieces into productive action, and discard of the ones that are wasteful to our state of mind.
The physiological and emotional aspects of an organ equally figure into its overall state of balance. This means that over thinking can do as much damage as over eating to your ability to digest food properly.
For example, if you are feeling stuck emotionally, endlessly brooding over some aspect of your life, you may start experiencing stuck-like symptoms in your digestion. These include constipation, bloating, and an inability to lose weight. Your imbalanced Spleen and Stomach are preventing you from efficiently ingesting, transforming and discarding food. Overtime, this can create a pattern known as Stomach Heat, which produces symptoms that include acid reflux and bad breath.
This, of course, is a vicious cycle because many of us, when we feel stuck emotionally, use eating to soothe ourselves. This further clogs up digestion and worsens the problem. And as our digestive problems get worse, we worry and feel even more emotionally stuck, and so on.
No wonder the whole world has Irritable Bowel Syndrome!
5 self-care tips for nourishing your Spleen and Stomach
So, how do you stop the cycle of worry, over eating and consequent digestive disturbances?
Regular acupuncture treatments really do work wonders for maintaining digestive heath. In between sessions, you can improve existing symptoms, and prevent new ones, through self-care. Here are five tips for nourishing the physiological and emotional aspects of your Spleen and Stomach:Sip with spice
Instead of sprinting for the train with your coffee, and spilling as you go, schedule a few extra minutes in the morning to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. Adding cinnamon and ginger to your brew enhances digestion. If you’re a tea drinker, find an herbal blend with ginger, peppermint, fennel and/or licorice, all of which aid digestion.Chew slowly
At mealtime, or even while munching on snacks at your desk, be mindful of how you are chewing your food. Can what you’re doing even be described as chewing, or is it more akin to inhaling? Focus on chewing and do it very slowly. Pay close attention to the texture and flavor of what’s going into your mouth. Make each bite count.Sit down to eat
Eating on the go is the norm for many of us. However, establishing a routine where eating is more of a chore than a form of sustenance is detrimental in the long run. Eating should be a focused, almost meditative experience. Challenge yourself to sit down to all three meals for one day, then work up to a week, then two. While you’re sitting, put away the laptop, close the magazine, turn off the TV, end the phone call. This time is all about you, the plate in front of you, and the people seated next to you.Eat your yellows
Everyone knows dark-green leafy vegetables are good to eat, but we don’t hear much about eating our “yellows.” Just as all organ systems in acupuncture have an associated emotion, they also have an associated color—and the color of Spleen and Stomach is yellow. Pay homage to your inherent yellowness by pairing your greens with some healthy yellows. Examples include butternut squash, corn, yellow peppers, golden beets and sweet potatoes.Make plans
Having thoughts is natural. It’s when these thoughts become obsessive and unproductive that they can start doing damage to your Spleen and Stomach. Next time you find yourself worrying or over thinking about something, challenge yourself to channel it into an action-oriented plan. It’s okay if the plan is as simple as making a to-do list that outlines the steps involved in making change. Stewing, no matter what it’s about, will remain fruitless until it becomes a tool for moving you forward.
Photo by Sara Calabro
Nancy Byrne is a licensed acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist. She runs a private practice, Breathing Space Acupuncture, in New York City. Nancy’s passion is teaching mindful medicine and mindful movement, and she believes deeply in empowering patients through education. Her goal is to offer patients an understanding of their existing patterns of imbalance as well as the skills to correct them.
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