The Yin and Yang of Digestion
Digestion isn’t what most people think of when I say “Yin and Yang.” Just about everyone has heard of Yin and Yang, many have seen the symbol, and some have an idea that it represents balance. In the West, exposure to this concept often ends there, yet the paradigm of Yin and Yang informs so much of Eastern thought and is critical to understanding and improving digestion.
A medicine with Yin and Yang as a core principle of understanding has a unique window into the function and animation of the human being. At the most basic level, Yin is the substance, the fluid, and the tissue, whereas Yang is the warming, moving, energetic function of the body.
For example, the Spleen (an organ/channel complex) is a very important organ of digestion, but like all of the organs in Asian medicine, it is also the domain of other important functions. The Spleen, for example, transports and transforms the fluids, “checks” lifts/holds the organs in place, and also keeps the blood in the vessels to prevent unhealthy bleeding.
Have you ever thought you completely understood and believed in a theory or method only to have your own skepticism revealed to you? I love when this happens, as it did one day very early in my practice before I even had a license to use needles in my home state. More on that in a moment.
Moxa is a integral and important part of an acupuncture practice. Considered the only substance that is pure Yang, Moxa (Artemesia vulgaris) grows plentifully in Asia.
Dried and run through finer and finer screens, moxa becomes a lovely wool-like texture that can be formed into cones or rice sized grains. Called moxibustion when burned over the skin, this treatment is exceptionally effective for simply warming joints that hurt in the cold, but more importantly, treatment with moxa actually improves the functions of the organs themselves.
Back to my light bulb moment when my friend called to ask if I could help slow the extreme menstrual bleeding she was experiencing so she could drive two hours to the big city to see a specialist. She came over right away and I realized this was perfect for my current situation because I could treat her without needles.
The primary treatment for menstrual flooding such as this is to burn 7-10 rice grain moxa rolls on Spleen 1 in order to increase the function of the Spleen to hold the blood in the vessels. This acupuncture point is on the big toe.
Once I had burned 7 moxa grains on each Spleen 1, snuffing them out before burning the skin, my friend got up off the table. She came out of the bathroom looking confused and then ecstatic as the bleeding had completely stopped, no sign of it!
I was stunned. Yes, I had witnessed some amazing things in school and even while interning myself, but I had yet to really experience the truth of what I had learned on a much deeper lever. Yes, I believed, understood, memorized the functions of the organs in Asian medicine, but clearly part of me doubted.
From that day forward I never doubted again. I fully embraced the wisdom and importance of keeping the Yang of the Spleen strong, the approaches to keeping it strong, and how to treat it when it is weakened by excessive worry, overthinking, iced drinks, and raw or cold foods. Learn more in my article, Temperature vs Nature of Food.
This was a dramatic example of how important it is to keep your Spleen warm and happy. During the same time period I had started to seriously experiment with congee recipes. I was even more motivated at this point to optimize my recipes for strengthening the Spleen and Stomach.
There are many ways to be kind to your Spleen. Managing worry is one of the most important ways, but eating warm cooked food is often an easier and more predictable way to take care of this sensitive organ of digestion.
What is one thing you can do today to help your Spleen? Leave a comment below and let us know, or share one thing you’ve learned that has helped you to reduce worry or to warm up your diet?