Conversations from Clinic

The Spleen

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Elephant jokes aside, some things really are too big to digest all at once – the news of a serious illness, the death of a loved one, job loss, a global pandemic…the list goes on. These parts of life are so out of the range of our everyday experiences that we can feel completely at a loss as to how to proceed. When big things are thrust upon us we can experience shock initially but when that passes we can be left with an all-encompassing sense of overwhelm. We have taken in more than we can process or understand

The Spleen meridian is the yin partner of the Stomach meridian and both come under the umbrella of the Earth element. In Traditional East Asian Medicine, the Spleen is assumed to have the dual function of transforming food into energy and information into useful action. 

Similarly, the English language has turns of phrase that liken mental processes and overwhelm to digestion:

“Bitten off more than I can chew”
“I have too much on my plate.”

When we are deep in thought we say we are ‘chewing over an idea’ or ‘ruminating’ which is the same verb we use to describe a cow or goat repetitively chewing its cud. 

Young children do not have fully developed Spleen energy and therefore are easily overwhelmed by both food and too much information.

Consider putting smaller amounts of food at a time on your child’s plate if they reject what is placed in front of them. Now home-schooling has become the norm for many families, try and break down the tasks your child has been given in to discreet, small activities that can be faced one at a time and not have too many toys on display to choose from so that overwhelm does not arise.

Like a mother bird or father wolf pre digests their offspring’s food before giving it to them, the human caregiver is partially digesting the information before delivering it to their child. Breaking down material into bite size chunks is a skill we develop over time, with practice and one might say, with strong Spleen qi.

The mental aspect of Spleen goes hand in hand with its other major function, transforming food in to blood. Blood is a wonderful transport mechanism to deliver immune cells to fight infections, nutrition to our body, hormones to their receptors and waste products to be filtered and eliminated. This is why we say that Spleen governs transformation and transportation, somewhat like the logistics part of an enterprise. We may have lots of demand and supply (Stomach) but without effective sorting and transporting, food and/or information can accumulate. This backlog causes stress which manifests as Heat in the body. Sometimes accumulated food can deteriorate or break down ineffectively generating what Traditional East Asian Medicine calls Damp. Signs of Damp can include candida, an opportunistic overgrowth of naturally occurring gut flora that thrives when our ‘soil’ is not abundant in diverse bacteria and fungus that compete for nutrients and keep the candida population manageable.

Supporting the Spleen so the Spleen can Support You

  1. Make a pleasing space to enjoy your food
  2. Take a moment of gratitude before eating
  3. When you eat, just eat . Don’t watch television or read or study. Then all the blood flow can go to digesting your food rather than brain activity
  4. Chew each mouthful completely – digestion starts in the mouth and food will satisfy you more
  5. Avoid consuming drinks apart from small amounts of wine or warm tea/water with your food – big amounts of liquid will dilute the gastric juices
  6. Relax after eating but do not go straight to sleep – relaxation will help you digest your meal but eating too close to bed time will disrupt your sleep
  7. Develop supportive but not rigid routines –  regular meal times, waking and sleeping at roughly the same time each day and not having to overthink every choice provides a reassuring framework to your day as a form of self care – “The Spleen likes Routine”

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