Supporting Digestion

A Self-Care Practice for Late Summer Using 

The Wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine


This is the fourth entry of Alison's 5 part TCM self-care series.

Northern Hemisphere: mid-August to September 

Southern Hemisphere: mid-January to February 


According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), each season is deeply connected to an element, organ, emotion, sense organ, and taste. In TCM, there are 5 seasons, the extra one being "late-summer". This can be thought of as the monsoon season, or Indian Summer when it is warm and damp. This is the season when the energy of the stomach, and its paired organ the spleen, are at their peak, so it is a great time to nourish these organs. By tending to these organs during late summer, you will be a step ahead when it comes to transitioning into and negotiating flu season. 

What does the spleen have to do with digestion?

In TCM the stomach has very similar functions to that of modern medicine - we're going to focus on the spleen, which is thought to be the more important organ of the two. Although from the Western Medicine perspective you can live without your Spleen, TCM finds that it is crucial for your immune system and for filtering your blood. In TCM, your spleen is thought to be in charge of 'transportation and transformation'. This means that you need the energy of your spleen to transform the food you eat into energy, and for that energy to be transported to every other system in your body. If the spleen is out of balance then you cannot assimilate the nutrients from your food, and it will have a knock-on effect (domino effect) on the rest of your body. The spleen also has a 'holding' function. Meaning that it holds the blood in the vessels and holds organs in place. So if you bruise easily, have heavy periods, or have a prolapse then it is worth exploring how to support the function of your spleen. 

What knocks your spleen out of balance?

  • The spleen really likes routine, it likes it when you live in synch with your circadian rhythm, so an irregular sleeping and eating pattern is one of the things that will likely cause an imbalance.

  • The spleen prefers it when you have your meals at the same time every day when you sit down to eat with no screens, when you chew your food, and when you allow your food to digest before you get on with your day. Eating on the run and eating in front of a screen - especially if you are watching something disturbing like the news, will upset your digestive health and the balance of your spleen energy.

  • The spleen dislikes damp environments. This can be the external environment like living in a damp house or working outside in the rain. There can also be what we call internal dampness, which is usually caused by eating too much sugar, wheat, dairy, or greasy foods, and also from drinking too many cold drinks, or eating too many smoothies or raw foods.

  • Your digestive system is where you digest your food, but it is also where you digest your emotions, and some things are hard to swallow. Suppressing or denying your emotions, or pushing down your emotions with food will have a knock-on effect on your spleen and your digestion.

  • These organs belong to the earth element, so it is important that you feel grounded especially when you're at home. Having the builders in, being in-between homes, or having nuisance neighbours can upset the balance of your stomach and spleen, and leave you feeling ungrounded.

Symptoms of stomach and spleen imbalance:

  • Bloating, diarrhea, IBS, poor appetite, craving for sweet foods

  • Fatigue, water retention, a feeling of heaviness, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

  • Prolapse, heavy periods, varicose veins

  • Brain fog, excessive worrying, intrusive thoughts 



How can you bring balance back to the stomach and spleen?

  • Take your drinks warm or at room temperature.

  • Eat something by 9 am - the stomach fire likes to be stoked between 7 am-9 am, skipping breakfast can mean you start the day stressing your body. This may be in conflict if you are intermittent fasting, so do what works for you, you can still get the benefits from intermittent fasting by having your eating window between 9 am and 5 pm.

  • Have your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime so that your digestive organs can sign off for the night while you sleep.

  • Limit dairy, sugar, and wheat, there is usually no need to eliminate them entirely, but notice the effect they have on your body when you do eat them.

  • Be aware of how you are eating, and chew your food thoroughly. 

  • Make your eating environment as calm as possible.

  • Eat slow-cooked foods like stews or soups, and bonus points if you eat lots of yellow and orange coloured foods (peppers and butternut squash rather than yellow m&m's and orange lollies!).

  • Try not to self-medicate with sugar, it is the perfect immediate energy booster, but it will cause a crash in your blood sugar which will make you feel low again.

  • Take time in nature, especially getting your bare feet onto the earth.

  • Take a moment of gratitude for the abundance of these warmer months - this is the energy that will see you through the autumn and winter. 


At-home acupressure point Spleen 9

Seeing an acupuncturist will give you a well-rounded view of the function and interplay of all your organs, but a quick at-home point you can use yourself is, Spleen 9 or 'Yin Mound Spring'. Run your finger up the inside of your leg, and you will find a dip as the tibia bone begins to flare out. This can be quite a tender point, so gently massage it using different depths to find what feels good for you. It can be used for:

  • Bloating

  • Water retention

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Foggy thinking

  • Painful periods

  • Knee pain

A word about earth types:

The stomach and spleen belong to the earth element, and 'earthy types' tend to be natural worriers, empathic, nurturing, and reliable. If they don't have strong boundaries then these compassionate qualities mean they are likely to soak up other people's worries too. We know that excess worry can cause digestive issues, but telling someone not to worry is more than useless. Worry is there to stop you from doing stupid stuff. Sometimes, it is more useful to thank your worry for everything it has done for you and to give it the opportunity to tone down its wild imaginings, by being present in the here and now. Immersing yourself in the present moment may help that protective part of you from imagining all of the possible future worst-case scenarios. Earth types tend to be very good at caring for others; the healing can be found in learning how to receive care.

The earth element is about finding your centre

The Earth provides us with nourishment, stability, and bounty. Focusing on staying grounded - literally spending time with your bare feet on the earth - will help you to keep your centre when life events come to knock you off your feet. Finding what nourishes you as well as finding joy in taking care of other people will improve your stomach and spleen vitality, and bring balance to your earth qualities.  

Bring balance back to your earth element and promote the vitality of your spleen

By paying attention to the what, when, and how you eat, processing your emotions, and connecting with nature you can bring balance to your digestive organs and support your earth element. If you feel like your digestive system or over-thinking needs some extra support then reach out to your local acupuncturist, and they will do a full body evaluation and give you tips and tricks that are personal and manageable for you.

To learn more about Alison Williamson and her practice in England, check her contributor bio.