The many dimensions of the Spleen

This post is copied from our older, original blog. Original post date 2/15/2011.

By Marcie Bower, Lic.Ac.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we talk about many organs – the Spleen, the Lung, the Heart, the Gall Bladder, for instance. However, when we talk about these organs, we are not referring to the physical organ that sits inside your body, the organ that Western medical doctors know of.  In TCM, we deal with the energetic side of these organs. You can think of it like this: Each energetic system in the body is named after an organ. Often, these energetic systems have an influence on that particular organ or run through that organ. However, the energetic system is much bigger than just the physical organ. Each TCM energetic system functions in the body on many levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

The Spleen is an energetic system that we often treat in TCM. (And even if you have had your physical Spleen removed, you still have a Spleen energetic system!)

The Spleen in TCM is related to the Earth element. It occupies a central place in the energetic make-up of the human being. The Spleen controls digestion and nourishment. It is the Spleen’s responsibility to transform, transport, and absorb nourishment into the body. On a physical level, the Spleen is responsible for transforming the food we eat into qi – the fundamental energy of our body. On a mental level, the Spleen absorbs insight and information and transforms it into knowledge. The mental aspect of the Spleen is called the Yi, or the intellect. When balanced, the Yi can help guide you through your life and help you to absorb nourishing energies and information. When unbalanced, the Yi creates internal chatter that can be distracting and cause overthinking and worry.

In all dimensions, the Spleen allows our body to welcome and process the nourishment we deserve. When the Spleen is weak, we are undernourished, in body, mind, and spirit, no matter how much food we eat or how much we surround ourselves by nourishing places and activities. So how do we avoid damaging our Spleen? Unfortunately, in today’s world, protecting the Spleen takes conscious work. First off, the Spleen is damaged by cold temperature foods. Whenever possible, try to eat warm foods, like soups and stews. When that is not possible, follow your meal with a cup of warm tea. Also, the Spleen is easily damaged by overworking, expending too much mental energy like studying, or staying up too late and not getting enough sleep.  Just as a weak Spleen can cause excessive worry, excessive worry also damages the Spleen energy system.

Nourish the Spleen through Food

Often, in addition to acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, a front-line treatment for any Spleen problem is to treat with diet and nutrition. As mentioned, try to eat warm foods whenever possible.  The Spleen is nourished by naturally sweet food, such as grains and root vegetables. Squash, lentils, and carrots are particularly nourishing for the Spleen. Additionally, the Spleen desires a comfortable digestion process.  Try to unwind yourself from any tangled positions while eating. Focus on your food. Chew thoroughly.

Nourish the Spleen through your habits

In addition to nourishing the Spleen through food, you can nourish all the dimensions of the Spleen through your lifestyle choices. The Spleen loves touch. Get a massage. Hug your partner or your friend. The Spleen also loves to stretch, as this nourishes our tissues. Take a yoga class, or perform some simple stretches when you get out of bed each morning.

Also, the Spleen is connected to the Earth element, and therefore connected to the Earth. Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you are grounded and connected to the planet. Lie on the ground. Meditate sitting on the floor.

Just as the Spleen craves groundedness in body, the Spleen craves groundedness in our daily lives.  If you feel overwhelmed by a crazy and busy schedule, try to find ways to mitigate the stress of the calendar. Develop a schedule that you know, you understand, and that works for you. Take a moment each morning to center yourself before embarking on your day.

Lastly, remember that this groundedness is mirrored in our home. Work to create a living space that you feel comfortable in, that makes you feel at home. This will nourish the Spleen, which will in turn nourish you, in all the dimensions in which you exist.

For further reading about how to nourish the Spleen and other energetic systems through food and lifestyle, I highly recommend Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett.