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The Earth Element and Digestion

Nature’s elements are guiding principles for understanding the human form, physiology, and life cycle. The elements are related to seasons, colors, smells, flavors, sounds, emotions, organs, and so forth. The elements provide a conceptual framework from which disease states can be understood and treated. In observing the elements and the respective natural phenomenon associated with these elements, we are better able to understand ourselves.

The earth element in particular, is related to the abdomen, digestion, and maturity. It is portrayed by the hot, summer season in which fruits and grains ripen. For this reason, it is associated with the sweet flavor. In physiology, the earth element consists of the spleen and stomach channels and their role in digestion. The earth element thus relates to our center where the spleen and stomach reside in our bodies.

Digestion is the core of our body’s daily functions. The goal of the earth element is to achieve harmony. Digestion requires for food to be transformed into potential energy (the action of the spleen channel) and transported to be absorbed as viable energy (the action of the stomach channel). As such, the earth element is important when considering digestive disorders.

Diet and lifestyle contribute greatly to the strength of the earth element. Both nature and nurture affect our digestive strength. This is why we see food allergies which are inherited genetically and/or food sensitivities which develop later in life due to lifestyle choices. For example, an individual may be born without the enzymes to digest dairy or an individual may develop a sensitivity to tomatoes from eating too many acidic foods over time.

In addition to dealing with the physical function of digestion, the earth element also accounts for our sense of humanity. The question of digestion is further extended to include what an individual can tolerate and digest in their experiences and relationships with others. We can take the example of sharing meals. Digestive disorders may include the consideration of who we invite to our table and how this impacts us. The earth element asks us to take note of how our digestion changes in response to who we interact with as well as our reaction to the types of food we eat, times of day we eat, the environment we eat in, and our overall mental state when eating.

This brings us to the psychological process and the earth element. The earth element is associated with the Yi, the “intellect.” In its ideal state, the Yi offers us insight and promotes critical thinking. When the earth element is out of balance, we see the emotion of worry arise and in more severe cases, obsession. Obsessive thoughts and even addiction develop when the earth element is not in harmony.

How do we achieve harmony?

Reflect on the following questions to check in with the state of your Earth element.

What foods give you energy?

What foods do you crave? How do you feel when you eat these foods?

What experiences provide you with sustenance?

What is it that you cannot “stomach”?

Do you have relationships that leave you with a sense of satiation?

Do you have relationships that leave you with a pit in our stomach?

What habits and/or thoughts serve you?

What habits and/or thoughts would you like to change?

Nourish the Earth element

We can support the earth element by inviting simple practices into our daily lives.

1. Dietary considerations:

The earth element is strengthened with the sweet flavor. You may notice sweet cravings appearing in times of stress and worry. Your body is signaling you to find comfort and to build resources. While baked goods are the go-to for the quintessential sweet, you are better served with the sweet flavor as nature intended.

  • Water! Often, the sweet cravings stem from a desire for moisture in the body so replenish your fluids first.

  • Honey! You can take a teaspoon and enjoy it or add it to a cup of tea.

  • Chamomile and ginger tea are great options for digestion.

  • Fruit! Papaya and bananas are especially good for the earth element.

The earth element is further supported by the following foods:

  • Vegetables especially squash, carrots, and sweet potato

  • Grains especially oats and millet

  • Seeds especially sunflower and pumpkin seeds

  • Beans especially pinto beans and chickpeas

  • Protein especially pork and beef

2. Lifestyle Considerations:

  • Slow down. Give yourself time to absorb what you are experiencing. Often, we lose sustenance from doing too much both physically and mentally.

  • Sing. The sound of the earth element is singing. Earth likes to harmonize so go ahead and sing your favorite tune.

  • Examine your relationships with friends and family. Take note of how you feel around different people and do your best to make choices which foster supportive relationships.

  • Strengthening exercises. The earth element controls the tonicity of the flesh and is associated with the abdomen and limbs. Squats and plank pose are great options.

  • Grow plants! Cultivate and get your hands in the earth. House plants and gardens are great options.

  • Take a walk in the soil. We absorb minerals and good bacteria through our pores. Look into “barefoot” practices.

  • Gather with loved ones and cook a meal together.

  • Take a moment and connect to your breath. Pay attention for 12 breaths and try to extend the inhale and exhale every time. Reflect on what is important in the moment and ask yourself how can you move forwards to achieve harmony?

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