In TCM the spleen is the central organ of digestion and is linked to the earth element, as such it is associated with transformation, transportation, nourishment and support. These functions are expressed at our physiological, anatomical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels.
Physiological level: The spleen transforms and transports food and fluid throughout the body, adapting foods to nourish and support our body via our digestive system. The stronger our stomach and spleen energies are the more effective we are at extracting and absorbing nourishment from our diet.
Mental level: The spleen also plays a crucial role in our thinking process and clarity of thought. We digest information from the world around us and as such our powers of concentration and our digestion are inherently linked.
Emotional level: This relates to our ability to meet our needs in the world, to give and receive emotional support. The link between food and comfort is established during breastfeeding and a healthy spleen energy enables us to develop and supply this nourishment for ourselves as we progress through life. In this way the spleen represents our internal mother and home. The emotions that are particularly damaging to the spleen are over thinking and excessive worry.
Anatomically: At this level the spleen governs the fascia and soft tissue of our body, here again it is a source of support and containment, literally holding everything in its correct place. Havig a strong a physique and feeling at home in your body is also a sign of healthy spleen energy.
Food for thought: Here are some basic TCM suggestions for healthy eating and a happy spleen.
Joy: Enjoyment of food is crucial and allows our body to accept the food into our system and nourish us fully. Whatever we chose to eat the labels that we assign to it as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can positively/negatively affect our reaction to them. Whatever you chose to eat it’s more helpful to accept and enjoy it wholeheartedly in order to gain maximum nourishment from it.
Relaxation: Whenever possible the Chinese advise a relaxed atmosphere when eating, not mixing food with work or other distractions such as TV as our digestive system works most effectively when fully focussed on the enjoyment of the meal.
Chew well/don’t flood or chill the spleen/stop before you’re full: We can make up for our stomachs lack of teeth by chewing our food well, this lightens the load for the stomach and spleen, warms up cold or raw food and means that nutrients can be extracted more efficiently. The digestive process requires warmth and eating too much cold or raw food can weaken the digestive fire. Drinking too much fluid with a meal is considered detrimental as it floods the spleen, diluting its action and weakening the digestion so it is preferable that the bulk of our fluid intake is consumed in between mealtimes. Overeating creates stagnation and we all know how that makes us feel…..it places great strain on the spleen energy.
It’s all about timing: It makes it much easier for your digestive system if you eat a large breakfast, followed by your main meal at lunchtime and a smaller meal in the evening. Eating late at night taxes your stomach and spleen energy again leading to stagnation.
Use the force: Whenever possible choose organic foods that have strong vital energy, are seasonal, fresh and locally grown. Sometimes we crave our poison, but there is a deeper knowing about what our body needs in our diets which becomes easier to access once we bring an awareness to our eating.
Take a load off: The spleen has to work hardest to deal with rich foods such as fatty meat, raw or chilled food. In contrast soups and stews support your stomach and spleen energy as they are prepared, warmed and partially broken down which resembles the digestive process. This is perfect food for autumn and winter especially as yellow and orange fruits and veg are particularly nourishing for the spleen so it’s a great, healthy way to use up all the Halloween squash and pumpkin!!
Most importantly – enjoy! x