Ever have one of those days of mental burn-out, a day when the mind feels sluggish, tired from too many thoughts, worries, decisions, emails? Or maybe you were up all night studying for an exam or preparing to give a speech and now it feels like your mind is saying “enough already!”.
Or maybe we don’t even notice that our head or brain is all tied up in knots until we try to do something like meditate. Then, we see that we aren’t in our hearts at all! We’re up in our brain and it’s a mad jungle in there. We look at our mind and see that many of the thoughts are repetitious, going around in circles and not leading to any productive outcome.
Or are you someone who habitually surfs the internet or watches TV while eating? Are you taking in data from many sources at once like trying to read, text and listen to a podcast all at the same time. Yup, I get it, done that too. When we’re over-stimulated by so many sources of info all at once we can’t process it let alone remember what we took in.
Any of the above scenarios are all too common in modern life. A great acupuncture point for this mental overload is Stomach 8 “Head Tied”. This point works to unbind the knots of worry, obsession, and over-analysis and release the energetic imbalance in our Earth element that causes us to keep mulling over the same thoughts without end. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, worry is said to “knot” the qi, meaning our energy system becomes blocked and stagnant from over-thinking and this can especially affect the digestive system. As some patients have reported, the mind can feel like a bowl of spaghetti.
It’s time to unwind from all those mental knots and come back to centre. Contact me for an acupuncture treatment and give yourself some space to relax and recharge.
Yours in health,
Cynthia McGilvray, R.Ac.
Jerrat, Lonny. (2003). The Clinical Practice of Chinese Medicine. Spirit Path Press.
The body wants homeostasis, a relative balance in all areas of mind, body and spirit. In Five Element Acupuncture, the Earth element needs a balance between lack of nourishment and over-nutrition, a middle ground between Excess and Deficiency. Acupuncture point Stomach 40 Fenglong “Abundant Splendor” supports the body in avoiding the extremes of excess Damp (which can show up as excess weight, sinus congestion, runny nose, sneezing, growths, tumors, cysts and cystic acne) and its’ opposite, a weakness or deficiency in the Stomach system whereby the Stomach official is not breaking down food and nutrients are poorly extracted leading to under-development of the muscles and flesh.
We can see this Earth element imbalance physically in Type II diabetes where obesity, a form a Damp, is present in over 80% of patients.1 With Type II diabetes, TCM explains there is also typically Yin Deficiency with excess Heat in one of the three burners (Upper, Middle or Lower). Heat in the Middle Burner (the jurisdiction of the Spleen and Stomach systems) shows up with the patient having an insatiable appetite. In spite of eating more and more, there is no real contentment or satisfaction. Such a person may eat too much without satiation. Since they are often not receiving nourishment on the more subtle spirit level of the Stomach system either, the use of food to fill this void is to no avail. Where there is harmony in the Stomach system, a person is better able to feel a sense of contentment with respect to food and nourishment.
All acupuncture points work homeostatically, where the body reacts to the stimulation of the point by moving away from the extreme of conditions each point treats. Stomach 40 brings us into balance between the opposite poles of neediness, and ingratiation and the feeling of being burdened. 2 A person can be burdened by unprocessed or undigested thoughts, feelings, or trauma from the past. By using Stomach 40 “Abundant Splendor” in treatment a person can start to gain a release of this emotional baggage and feel greater satisfaction from the food eaten and life in general. It becomes possible to reap a harvest from within. They can feel a lifting of the burden of weight and the emotions that weigh down on them, transforming the physical and emotional expressions of the Damp into inner nourishment. As a result, they can start to feel a lightness in their being and satiation or fullness on the emotional plane that resolves excess hunger and promotes the feeling of abundance.
Holding on to excess that we no longer need is a theme that comes up with weight loss and is mirrored by another Earth element theme: clutter. Earth constitutional types are susceptible to these kinds of excesses. Once we start to break down the energetic pattern in the body that is holding them in place we can start to see these patterns of excess weight in the body, as well as clutter in one’s house start to dissolve. A good friend of mine is a de-clutter expert. Working with people who struggle with over-accumulation of possessions, she explains that people hold on to things often due to emotional issues that have not yet been processed or “digested”. She works compassionately to talk clients through the sensitive emotions that come up in the process of letting go. As the emotions are processed and digested, people feel a sense of relief, a lightness in the mind as they become ready to let go.
As Lonny Jerrat, acupuncturist and acupuncture scholar explains in his ground-breaking book, The Clinical Practice of Chinese Medicine, “dampness represents the accumulation (abundance) of all unintegrated experiences.” By stimulating Stomach 40 through acupuncture or moxabustion the body can start to process the mental and physical dampness and come into a sense of having enough.
Yours in health,
Cynthia McGilvray, R.Ac.
1. Stephenson, Clare. (2017). The Acupuncturists Guide to Conventional Medicine. Singing Dragon: London, UK.
2. Jerrat, Lonny. (2003). The Clinical Practice of Chinese Medicine. Spirit Path Press: Stockbridge, MA.
Kombucha is a raw, living, fizzy sweet tea drink prized for its numerous health benefits. The earliest record of its use dates back to China’s Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BC) where it was given names such as “The Tea of Immortality” and “Stomach Treasure”. It was later brought to Russia and Europe by travelers in the 20th century when it started to re-emerge in popularity after a disappearance during the sugar and tea rationing of World War II. Many people discovering kombucha, myself included, feel so good after drinking it that it quickly turns into a daily habit. Kombucha drinkers report many benefits from much increased energy, immunity to colds and flus to excellent digestion and even increased hair growth. Why is that? Well, here is some of what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has to say about kombucha.
It Detoxes the Liver
One of the main patterns seen by TCM acupuncturists in the modern world is a pattern called “Liver Qi Stagnation”. This means that the Liver energy is clogged, over-heated and excessive (although sometimes deficient) most often due to emotional stress and poor eating habits. Kombucha has a number of properties that make it an excellent remedy for the Liver system. TCM considers kombucha to be sour, bitter and warming. The sour flavour in TCM herbology and nutrition is used to cleanse the Liver and Gall Baldder. Similarly, Western science has identified a number of naturally occuring acids (think sour) in kombucha such as glucoronic acid which benefit the liver and have been found to prevent the build up of toxins in the tissues. These healthy acids have a similar effect as lemons which are acidic before being ingested but are transformed inside the body and in the end leave the body more alkaline, i.e. healthy. Kombucha’s bitter properties mean that it has the ability to improve circulation, reduce inflammation and clear toxins from the body. The bitter flavour in TCM also has the ability to prevent infection and prevent tumors.
Kombucha Tea Improves Digestion
Kombucha supports the “Middle Burner Qi”, meaning the proper functioning of the Spleen and Stomach systems. The stomach’s job is to break down food. The Spleen system also has many jobs including extracting nutrients from the food to support the production of blood. When the Spleen system is “deficient” there are often sugar cravings. It’s interesting to note that fermented foods, including kombucha, actually work to reduce sugar cravings. Raw kombucha is probiotic containing live beneficial bacterial cultures which support the breakdown of food and digestion (for the full beneficial effects, always check that store-bought kombucha is truly raw – read labels and check for strands of the culture in the glass).
Being warming in its thermal nature, kombucha helps the Spleen system which prefers Yang (warming) food and drink. The Spleen system is often weak because of the Liver imbalances where the over-burdened Liver “attacks” the Spleen. So kombucha tea helps both organ systems. Warming food and drinks such as kombucha also help those is transition from a more meat and dairy type diet which is more warm to a vegan or raw vegan diet which is more cooling. The effervescent quality of the drink resembles soda pop and is used by many to overcome the craving for pop drinks. It is a sweet-tasting drink but the sugar content is very low (7 grams per 250mL).
When the energy of the Spleen and Stomach improves, the side-effect is better immunity. In TCM, immunity relates to the Metal element which governs the Lungs. In the Five-Element cycle, The Earth element (Spleen and Stomach) is the “mother” of Metal (Lungs and Large Intestine). So when the Spleen and Stomach are healthier and stronger, they send their extra energy to nourish the Lungs to build “Defensive Qi” to fight off external pathogens such as colds and flus.
Kombucha improves Stomach Acid and Nutrition
While the body does need alkaline reserves, some areas of the body do need to be acidic to do their job. One such is the stomach lining which needs to have a pH of around 2-3.5 in order to be able to break down food. If Stomach acid is weak or lacking (which happens quite frequently in the modern age because of adrenal stress – the fight or flight response shuts down digestion) the result is poor absorption of nutrients causing malnutrition. Yes, this means that even if you are eating amazingly fresh, organic tree-ripened foods, if your stomach doesn’t have the acids to break it down enough to extract the nutrients, you will be malnourished. It’s not just what you eat, it’s what you absorb. Kombucha to the rescue! Kombucha has been found to contain seven plant acids as well as various B vitamins, vitamin C, enzymes and amino acids. These plant acids increase the acidity of your stomach lining which gives your stomach the ability to break down food. The improved Spleen and Stomach function from this drink results in improved athletic performance (the Spleen governs muscle tissue in TCM) as well as mental ability (the Spleen governs the intellect in TCM). People have also reported increased hair growth which would be because of improved nutrient absorption.
Resolves Dampness and Phlegm (AKA Tumors and Cancer)
Dampness and Phlegm are TCM terms used to describe a Yin pathogen that shows up as discharges such as excessive vaginal discharge (leukorrhea), excessive nasal mucous (rhinitis), productive cough, watery swellings, wheeping discharges from the skin, and excess body fat. When pathogenic Dampness has been in the body for too long, it becomes hardened by the natural heat of the body and becomes Phlegm which appears as hardened nodules, lumps or tumors. Dampness and Phlegm produce stagnation in the body. Kombucha, which has similar properties to vinegar in TCM, is used to remove stagnation by moving Qi and Blood. For this reason kombucha has been used traditionally for cancer patients – by increasing the Qi flow, the body can resolve the dampness and phlegm. According to the ancient axiom in TCM, where there is Qi (energy) flow there is health, harmony, where there is no Qi flow there is pain, disease.
**Please note: If you are a child, are pregnant, have a compromised immune system, or have kidney disease, it may be advisable to talk with your doctor before beginning to drink kombucha, especially if you are doing a home-brew. Kombucha can cause the body to detoxify strongly and pregnancy is not the time to begin to detox. If you have been a regular kombucha drinker before becoming pregnant than drinking kombucha while pregnant should not be a concern, however starting to drink kombucha after becoming pregnant is not advisable.
Now that we are entering Earth season, also called “late summer” in TCM, here are some seasonal tips to support your Earth energy and Spleen.
Lifestyle:The Spleen is about nourishment, mothering energy and feeling grounded and connected. It’s about the way food is eaten, ideally sitting down, chewing thoroughly, enjoying regular meals eaten mindfully in a peaceful setting. The mental side of the Spleen is the Yi (say “yee”) which means intellect. Students, people who study a lot, or anyone doing a lot of concentration and difficult mental tasks are using Spleen energy which can be supported by these tips here.
Exercise: The Spleen governs the muscle tissue of the body. Massage is excellent for the Spleen system. A balanced amount of exercise, neither too much nor too little is ideal. Listening to your body is important. Regularity is best, a little each day, even 10 or 20 minutes of walking, dancing, stretching, or weights is great. A stretch for the Spleen channel is a yoga pose called “Reclining Hero Pose”. A Qi Gong exercise for the Spleen can be found at: https://cynthiamcgilvray.com/2013/02/07/5-yin-organ-exercises/
Diet: The Spleen belongs to the Earth element in TCM. Earthy things are round and have earthy colours such as brown, orange and yellow and as such Spleen foods include grains, squash, carrots, potatoes, and beets (esp. good for women). The Spleen is associated with naturally sweet foods such as dates, grapes, maple syrup and molasses. The Spleen needs Yang (warm, dry) energy to function at best so adding some warming foods such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper and clove to foods will help with digestion and strengthen Spleen Qi.