The Transformational Power of Fire in Nature and in the Body

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. & Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

This year Indian Summer, which in Chinese Medicine refers to as Late Summer, came on historically strong in California with extreme heat waves. This dry, hot time of year often coincides with fires sprouting up in our forested regions and we are reminded of how this is a cycle of life that is natural for the earth to become replenished.

In fact, during our visit to Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks a couple weeks ago, we were reminded how important fires are for the survival of the majestic, magnificent Sequoia trees.

Fire is a necessary process for the earth to gain nutrients through the burning of plant material.

Many of the Sequoia trees we saw during our visit to Sequoia National Park wore wounds from past fires they'd survived. The bark on these trees is an effective fire retardant and the scars left on these incredible trees following a forest fire slowly heal over time.

Many of the Sequoia trees we saw during our visit to Sequoia National Park wore wounds from past fires they'd survived. The bark on these trees is an effective fire retardant and the scars left on these incredible trees following a forest fire slowly heal over time.

Forest fires are a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem. Fire turns dead trees and decay into ashes that become nutrients that return to the soil instead of remaining captive in old vegetation so that new plants and trees can grow and flourish.

In Five Element Theory, Fire nurtures the Earth energy. In nature, as fire burns, ash forms to enrich the soil. The same idea holds true in the body's energetic system as Fire is also needed for our own internal Earth energy to be strong as well.

Fire supporting the Earth within the body can be explained with Stomach acid, more specifically called hydrochloric acid.

If the Fire within the Stomach is strong, digestion will be healthy. If it's weak, digestive power will also be weak.

Many people are misdiagnosed with excessive stomach acid.

People who suffer from GERD or acid reflux are often erroneously given medications to reduce acid production in their stomach. Symptoms may be alleviated, but the condition often will not change because the root of the problem is actually a lack of stomach acid.

To clarify, it is not uncommon that digestive disorders such as GERD and acid reflux are rooted in a digestive system that is under producing hydrochloric acid (HCL). Therefore food sits in the stomach and travels upward into the esophagus because there is a lack of acid to stimulate the emptying of the stomach.  

It was once believed that stomach acid declined with aging, but this idea has been disproven. With that said, many people through a history of excessive medication usage and poor diet, have weak stomach fire or a weakness in stomach acid production. In Chinese Medicine, we can assess this by taking a person’s pulse. There is also a simple test a person can do at home to make an assessment if they have weak stomach acid.

You can do a simple test by drinking 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water 15 minutes before eating a high protein meal. If this alleviates your acid reflux or indigestion, you'll know that you lack stomach acid to stimulate enzyme activity to digest your protein intake.

Betaine hydrochloride with Pepsin can be purchased as a supplement to increase your ability to digest protein and reduce symptoms such as bloating and acid reflux.* Over time, your need for such supplementation will be reduced as these substances act as a tonic to strengthen the stomach's function.

When a stomach is weak and under producing hydrochloric acid, as you restore the Fire of the Stomach, not only are you likely to alleviate digestive problems like GERD and bloating, but your body will also be able to better utilize the amino acids in the protein ingested to rebuild tissue for regeneration.

This simple example shows the importance of enhancing Fire energy to support Earth energy, which is essential to optimize our overall health. (For other tips on how to specifically support your Earth energy, read this article).

 

Essential Oils to Manage Stomach Fire and Improve Digestion

Here are some cooling essential oils suggestions to alkalize excessive Stomach Fire:

  • Peppermint is a popular choice to help with symptoms of indigestion including gas, bloating and even intestinal spasms that can occur with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It also helps decongest the liver and is useful when stress is a trigger for digestive difficulty. Peppermint is a cooling oil so it helps calm the nerves and is very useful for headaches. Peppermint should be avoided for cases of GERD related to hiatal hernias as this oil can relax the esophageal sphincter and exacerbate the symptoms of acid reflux.

  • Lemon and Orange Peel based Essential Oils such as Sweet or Wild Orange, Bergamot, Bitter Orange and Blood Orange all help with acid reflux, nausea and bloating. Citrus oils are especially useful to relax diaphragmatic or epigastric constriction and help the Stomach energy descend for improved digestion. As the citrus oils are very cooling, they tend to work well when a person has too much Stomach Fire with excessive appetite or food stagnation from overeating.

  • Chamomile is another popular choice to reduce symptoms of abdominal distention, gas, nausea and diarrhea.

  • Lemon Verbena is a very useful essential oil for excess Stomach fire causing halitosis, burning epigastric discomfort and nausea or vomiting. It also is especially useful to calm an over-active stress response that is interfering with the digestive process. Lemon Verbena is an important oil to reduce fire in the Liver and Heart causing symptoms such as anxiety, tachycardia and nervousness.

Here are some warming essential oils that are best used when Stomach Fire and digestion are weak:

  • Anise Seed is a popular choice when a person has overeaten causing food stagnation that leads to vomiting, nausea and excessive gas and bloating.

  • Cardamom is said to descend Stomach Qi and harmonize the Spleen and Stomach. It is used for poor appetite and weak digestion leading to diarrhea, nausea and indigestion. It may be beneficial for gastric ulcers causing acid reflux.

  • Black Pepper is useful when a person has very weak digestive fire resulting in Cold in the Stomach that causes epigastric pain, nausea, vomiting and constipation or diarrhea. This type of person also tends to have a very weak appetite, fatigue and lethargy with poor concentration and weak, cold extremities. Smelling Black Pepper essential oil is very powerful to make the mind more alert and sharpen concentration.

  • Clove is beneficial to expel cold in the Stomach and Spleen. As described above, this person will tend to have a poor appetite and suffer with abdominal pain as well as nausea and diarrhea. Clove is also used if intestinal parasites are involved. Smelling Clove essential oil is also a powerful stimulant for the brain to increase focus and concentration.

  • Oregano is also used to promote appetite and helps with intestinal pain as it destroys parasites. If taken internally, Oregano should be used short-term such as for periods of 10 days then take a break to reduce strong die-off symptoms called herxheimer reaction.

  • Coriander is a much safer and gentler oil to use. It is a Spleen tonic to promote healthy digestion when a person has poor appetite, loose stools and abdominal bloating. Used over time in can help reduce fatigue, weakness of the limbs, poor concentration and depression.

  • Cumin is a common culinary herb especially popular in Indian and Persian cuisine. Cumin is a Spleen Qi tonic and beneficial for a person with weak digestion, poor appetite, fatigue and a tendency to have loose stools.

  • Lemongrass is another culinary herb that is very useful for weakness of the digestive system. It is said to strengthen the Spleen's Qi to support its function in transforming and transporting that which is ingested. In this way, lemongrass can help reduce flatulence, abdominal bloating, increase a weak appetite and even help with fatigue, lethargy and poor concentration. Through it's function of increasing the Yang Qi of the Spleen, lemongrass is especially useful to slowly bring warmth back to the body when a person has cold limbs.

These oils can be taken internally if they are food grade quality.

Please consult a holistic practitioner who specializes in Essential Oil therapy for specific guidance regarding your needs. We offer this service at our clinic. 

 

*Any form of orally ingested hydrochloric acid must be taken with food otherwise it will cause burning and pain. Furthermore this treatment suggestion is contraindicated in the presence of any ulceration of the stomach or small intestine. In fact, in the presence of ulceration, antacid medication or supplementation is often beneficial. In addition, it is not uncommon for stomach ulcerations to be caused by an excess of H-pylori bacteria. H-pylori infections require either anti-bacterial medications or herbs to eradicate this type of pathology and the associated digestive problems.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Essential Oils for the Five Element Personality Types - Wood

By Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

The Five element model begins with the Wood element as it relates to Spring, the season of growth and new beginnings. The Wood element also relates to time management. Difficulty with maintaining a schedule and the tendency to be late to meetings and events for example may relate to an imbalance in Wood energy. Difficulty maintaining discipline is also a weakness in Wood energy because this has to do with an inability to keep a schedule or routine. Difficulty getting things started also relates to a Wood imbalance as it relates to Qi stagnation of the Liver with Qi not moving well in a person's life. 

The Liver and Gall Bladder are the primary organs of the Wood element and the reason this element relates to time management is based on the Liver's primary function of maintaining the smooth flow of Qi, or energy, in the body.

Issues of time also relate to cycles in one's life, such as a woman's menstrual cycle. If the menses tends to be early, delayed or comes irregularly, it may also indicate Wood imbalance. In fact, maintaining regularity is a Wood energy issue even in relation to having regular daily bowel movements. This is why when the Wood energy gets full and stagnates right before the onset of a woman's menses it is common for a woman to experience constipation during her premenstrual phase.

Wood energy is a part of all of our lives and learning about it's energetic qualities allows us to become more self-aware and self-empowered. For some, learning how to enhance the Wood energy in their life will help them become more assertive since Wood relates to assertion. For those who have excessively strong Wood energy on the other hand, toning down this assertiveness will help them less aggressive in dealing with others. This can foster diplomacy and an easy going attitude rather than the tendency to force one's agenda which a strong Wood type person often has. 

The following discussion will outline how Chinese Medicine breaks down the nuances of Wood energetics that can be expressed with great variation based on the Yin and Yang characteristics that define the dualistic nature of each element. The Yang energy is more masculine and assertive and Yin energy is more feminine and receptive.

Essential Oils to Balance the Wood Personality Types

A Yang Wood type of person is a strong, courageous and enthusiastic personality who likes to be in charge because they like to be noticed and are very competitive in nature. This person is very Yang with a lot of energy, tremendous stamina and drive so it can be hard for people trying to keep up with them. Yang Wood types can be very entertaining, but also with so much heat in the Liver system they can be emotionally volatile with a hot-temper and prone to anxiety attacks or nervousness.

The Yang Wood type person typically bites off more than he can chew so though a good leader, this person needs others to support him in following through with plans. 

Another typical trait of this personality is that he's often in a rush; he runs from one commitment to another and often gets very uptight if he's late for any date. Rather than being unable to keep to a schedule, the excessively Yang Wood person is obsessed and rigid about keeping to a schedule.

Typical imbalance symptoms of Yang Wood types are high blood pressure, heart disease, muscle spasms and stiffness of the neck, insomnia, headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances such as stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Essential Oils that can be used to calm the nervous stress and cool the emotionally hot-tempered and uptight nature of Yang Wood personality types are: Roman and German Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon and Spikenard. These oils are all powerfully effective for the associated physical imbalances as well. German Chamomile is stronger than Roman Chamomile so for children exhibiting the very temperamental qualities of a Yang Wood imbalance it is best to use Roman Chamomile.

A Yin Wood type personality is also nervous but more timid and indecisive (vs. the overbearing leader that is displayed by Yang Wood personalities). The Yin wood person, though highly intelligent, lacks the courageousness we associate with the Yang Wood person. 

And even though a Yin Wood person is success driven, he tends to have a low self-esteem or self-worth issues,  feeling insufficient and not good enough within himself.  To help fortify this sense of insufficiency, the Yin Wood person needs to nourish the Liver Blood. 

In Chinese Medicine, Yin Wood types are also moody and emotionally unstable, and since they often withhold the expression of their feelings they can be physically rigid and tend to have a wiry type of muscular build. These people typically are not very flexible in body or mind. As they tend to internalize their feelings and emotions, Yin Wood types are prone to both depression and anxiety as a result of the emotional build up from repression.

Yin Wood types have a lot of ideas streaming through their minds, so it can be difficult for them to focus on a particular project. They are prone to headaches, digestive upsets and sexual frigidity, nervous tics and twitches. 

The Yin Wood type personality needs to also calm his or her nervous system but rather than cooling the system down, he or she will need more blood nourishment to relax internally. Supporting the blood will help boost vitality so they are more courageous and sexually invigorated.

Essential Oils that support nourishment of the blood are Angelica sinensis root (Dang Gui), Angelica Archangel (seed and root),  Ligusticum Wallichi (Chuan Xiong), Carrot Seed, Celery Seed, Rose and Vetiver. Winter Savory is also an important essential oil to stimulate the Spleen in its production of blood to benefit the Liver.

All of these oils can be diffused or made into blends and applied topically over acupuncture points to regulate and nourish the Liver or to sedate the Gallbladder thereby establishing a healthy rhythm for your Wood energy. Some of these oils can be taken internally as well. Please consult an acupuncturist who practices Medical Aromatherapy to learn specific protocols for your particular needs.


Salvador Cefalu, L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.