Healthy Transitions: 6 Keys to Support your Earth During Times of Change

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

The one universal constant for all of us in life is the presence of change. 

During various points in our lives, we all go through periods of transition — from birth to graduation, to marriage, and finally death. Throughout our journey, we see the evolution of our bodies and minds, hormonal changes including menarche and menopause for women and andropause for men. 

Because transition can be challenging and throw off your rhythm, it’s easy to end up sick or so tired that it takes weeks to recover and feel like yourself again.

While the only constant in life is change, it doesn’t have to be so hard — but it is essential that we equip ourselves with better self-care and be mindful of the potential effects of these changes on our health.

According to the Five Element system of Chinese Medicine, transitions are orchestrated by the Earth element which is associated with the primary organs systems that are in charge of digestion, the Spleen and Stomach. 

These organs are responsible for the transportation and transformation of food and thought, and they’re therefore the organs that are most needed, and thus most vulnerable, when something in your life is changing.

Any kind of change affects the Earth element, which is why it’s important to pay close attention to this element during times of transition.

Especially during transitions, it’s essential to harmonize the Earth element and ensure that it’s kept strong and balanced. 

 

Cultivating a Healthy Earth

The health of your Earth element relates to your digestion, as well as your ability to take care of yourself and others. 

An out of balance Earth type can present itself most often in one of two ways.

First, a person with an Earth imbalance may over-care for people. In other words, he or she will lack boundaries, meddle and offer advice to people who don’t ask, and be overly concerned with other people’s needs. This person may also tend to accumulate a lot of extra weight and present with a pattern of over-indulgence, whether food or relationships. 

In contrast, another person with an Earth imbalance may lack the ability to provide care for herself and others. This presents as poor self-care, as well as a lack of awareness of her own needs. This imbalanced Earth type may complain that she doesn’t like to cook or is always drained from doing too much as a result of her internal disharmony. 

In both cases, when Earth is out of balance, the individual will most often have accompanying digestive symptoms including diarrhea or constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or simply an excessive or poor appetite depending on the type of imbalance.

The best way to prevent an Earth imbalance is to make sure you’re doing proper self-care, especially during times of transition. 

Times of transition include all seasonal changes, weddings, graduations, menarche, menopause, andropause, back-to-school, moving to a different home or business, and the loss of a loved one, including a pet.

Since Earth is the element that transforms and supports change, it is important that this element be kept strong and vital during any transition or life change. Since the Spleen and Stomach are the primary organs associated with the Earth element, it’s imperative to strengthen and support your digestive system during these times. 

6 Ways to Support Your Earth Element During and After a Transition

  1. Eat More Nourishing, Hydrating Foods such as yams, sweet potatoes, and soups. The easier foods are to digest, and the more cooked they are, the easier these foods will be on your digestive system.

  2. Commit to a Daily Relaxation Practice. Your digestive system is closely linked to your parasympathetic nervous system, which when activated helps you rest and digest. If you’re under a lot of stress, the sympathetic nervous system— our fight or flight response—will become active, and over time will result in physical and mental tension and focus that keeps you in survival mode thus inhibiting your ability to properly slow down. To protect and optimize our digestive system, and thus the Earth element, you must learn to relax. Yoga, Qi Gong and even a simple 10 minute mindfulness meditation can be immensely powerful to foster this sense of relaxation throughout each day.

  3. Optimize Your Self-Care. This involves taking time to slow down and relax, but beyond that, it also means you maintain boundaries with your time and energy. One very important aspect of self-care that’s related to a healthy Earth is cooking for yourself and making sure to take time to eat without distractions.

  4. Create a More Regular Daily Rhythm or Schedule. Whether or not you work a 9-5 job, it’s important that you create some sort of regularity with your sleep, eating and exercise. Earth thrives on rituals and predictable rhythms and your digestive system will thank you for knowing when you’ll get your next meal. Changing this rhythm during weekends and vacations is natural and of course acceptable.

  5. Manage Your Finances. Earth has to do with all the things that nourish and keep us feeling a sense of safety. In the material world, money is one of those elements. That’s why it’s important to keep track of where your money is going, to balance your checkbooks and reduce debts in order to prevent the worry that is characteristic of an Earth imbalance.

  6. Clean and Organize Your Home and Office. Earth types who are balanced keep a clean and very organized home and workplace, whereas those who are out of balance, misplace things and tend to accumulate a lot of clutter. Try to maintain a sense of order with whatever system most resonates with you in the places where you spend your time.

When we go through times of change, maintenance of our rhythm and order is what usually falls off our radar first. So the next time you find yourself entering a transition of any kind, try being more mindful of maintaining the simple things including your regimen, a good diet, and a clean home. These simple things can provide a sense of harmony as you move through the uncertainty and constant changes of life.


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. Setareh 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

How World Events Can Impact Your Health: A Chinese Medicine Perspective

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

A few nights before the full moon, I woke up at 1:30 am and after tossing and turning for a while, I simply couldn’t get back to sleep. I finally got up and went to our guest room to do a meditation. At first this settled me quite a bit but within several minutes I felt stricken with a tightness in my chest, difficulty breathing and tension throughout my body.

The anxiety I felt was something I’d never experienced before, and it literally took every tool in my toolbox to get my heart to settle so I could finally go back to sleep.

I woke up exhausted early Monday morning and walked into the kitchen as Salvador read an article aloud about the massacre in Las Vegas. Like most people, I was initially just shocked. But as the reality set in and I read—and bawled over—story after story about the victims, the heroes and their families, a deep sense of grief took over.

Salvador pointed out later that day that there may be a connection between the way I’d been feeling the prior night and the incident. I felt the truth in this right away. 

Even though I didn't personally know anyone involved in the Las Vegas shootings, I felt a deep sense of compassion and empathy for all involved.

The human interconnection is something we all participate in and yet we seem to have lost sight of it lately trying to fit into a race, a gender, a religion, a political party, a certain way of thinking. 

These classifications create a broken nation, a divided world in which brothers and sisters turn against each other and we forget how deeply connected we all are.

But in moments like this, when fear strikes and lives are lost, we realize when other humans suffer, each of us suffer on some level.

Now more than ever, our greatest task is to preserve our health so that we can ultimately begin the healing that the world so desperately needs.

 

How Trauma Impacts Our Health from a Chinese Medical Point of View

All of us feel the same emotions. These emotions are one of our many common threads as human beings, though we may each process what we feel differently.

Li Dong-yuan, founder of the Earth School in Chinese Medicine, focused on what he referred to as the “five thieves,” or the emotions of joy, anger, sorrow, pensiveness, and fright, any of which in excess become pathological. 

All of the emotions that Li Dong-yuan mentioned are excessive emotions that can cause pathology to develop in the body. For example, the Earth attribute of yi, or the mind, which is associated with the Spleen and Stomach, has a tendency to worry or become pensive. Nei Jing Su Wen, an important classical Chinese medical text, stated: “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207). If pensiveness is not properly transformed, it leads to obsession. The attribute of the Heart is known as the spirit, or shen. Over-joy, which includes excessive desires and passions, can overwhelm the Heart and disrupt the shen, since the Heart is the organ that manages joy. Over-joy can transform into anxiety and eventually mania.

According to Chinese Medicine, emotions are merely the movement of qi, or energy, directed by a certain organ, but excessive or repressed emotions have pathological consequences. 

Trauma shocks the entire system, and eventually sets into the internal organ system.

Trauma initially strikes our Kidneys with fear and fright, affecting our adrenal glands, our willpower, and even our faith.

Our Hearts are also affected and since the spirit resides in the Heart from a Chinese Medicine perspective, the spirit suffers as well. We may lose sleep, becoming restless and anxious.

Grief impacts our Lungs and the resulting weakness can cause shortness of breath, coughing, depression and even infections such as pneumonia. Weak Lungs also affect our ability to let go, which is a virtue of the Lungs.

Anger fires up our Liver causing irritability and even affecting the body’s detoxification and digestive processes, which then impacts our ability to assimilate both our food and thoughts.

Trauma can also stir up Wind as a form of resistance to change. (See more about Wind as a challenge to healing in this article)

 

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

Stress impacts the body and mind on so many levels and tragic events activate our stress response - whether we watch the news, read the paper or hear about it from a friend or family member.

This does not mean you should tune out entirely to protect your health, but it's important not to lose yourself in world events. When it feels like too much, do something nourishing. Cook a warm meal, call up a good friend, or go out and spend time in nature. It's crucial that you learn to consistently take care of yourself.

Self-cultivation and self-care are the only things we can control and the most important way to make a difference in what seems like a wounded, frightening world. 

To do this, we have to take more time alone. Take time to sit quietly, to feel the anger, sadness, fear, hopelessness. As the feelings move through you, you can let them go.

Retreating also allows us to nourish the blood to help open the orifices and eventually make changes in our perception.

Solitude provides space and time to fully process our emotions so we can start to see things more clearly with a greater sense of compassion and less fear. Time alone is important to help the energy of the Heart move back down into the Kidneys so that we feel purposeful and clear. This then calms and pacifies the Wind that stirs us up internally with the changes so that we no longer have the nervousness that prevents us from facing the world and the issues. 

Wearing stones such as Amethyst, Moonstone and Amber help calm the Shen, or spirit, to calm the mind and Heart. Herbs such as biota seeds and jujube seeds help to nourish the Heart. Nourishing the heart means being good to yourself, being kind to yourself and also being kind to the world so that you can develop a greater sense of compassion. 

When we’re healthy and compassionate, we act from a place of love, which allows us to be more available to support others who aren’t as strong or who are going through a difficult time.

Once you calm your Shen and nourish your Heart, you begin to open the orifices to change your perception of the world. 

As we change inside our bodies, the Yang of the Kidneys will support us to move through the difficult changes in our lives. Pacifying Wind through calming practices helps settle the Yang to have the courage to make change.

Only when we’re healthy and empowered can we truly make a difference. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The more love we cultivate within ourselves, the more this love ripples into the world.

Our fundamental emotions, arguably the only emotions, are fear and love. The opposite of love is fear, not hate. The only way back to love is through a change in the perception of the world and the eradication of all other emotions that represent fear.

The first step to make this change is to recognize what we actually feel. Only then can we move through these feelings and channel their energy toward making positive changes in the world.

Our teacher, 88th generation Daoist Master Jeffrey Yuen has said many times: "The consciousness that brought on the disease cannot be the same consciousness that brings about healing." This goes for our individual healing and for the healing of the world as a whole.

 

A Meditation to Support You

Many years ago, I developed the BEME Meditation, which stands for Body, Emotions, Mind and Environment. Becoming aware of each of these aspects builds a deeper consciousness that connects us to how we truly feel. 

Mindfulness is a powerful tool to help us be more present, and can be profound to help settle the mind during difficult times. A calm mind becomes a clear mind and eventually provides the foundation for guiding the change that brings about healing.

You can practice this 10-minute meditation daily from the comfort of your home.

 

What You Can Do To Help Others

There are so many people who need our help right now. Here are a few ideas on what you can do for the victims and families affected by the recent tragedies:

Las Vegas

Puerto Rico

California


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

Food as a Mirror

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat” but what may be more true is that what you eat is a reflection of how you feel about yourself. 

When we make healthier food choices, we're also making choices about the quality with which we want to live our lives.

A healthy lifestyle comes from knowledge through the proper resources but also through tuning in with the self. Adapting a healthy lifestyle means looking at all aspects of your life – your work, relationships and your diet.

Proper nutrition is one of the primary pillars of healthy living and, for a lot of people, it’s also one of the most challenging. My hope is to empower you to be more conscious of your diet because it is one of the most impactful aspects of your health over which you have total control.

 

Food and Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach are the primary organs responsible for digestion. Everything you eat and drink has to be digested and transformed into Qi, or energy, with the help of these organs.

There are two major kinds of Qi in the body - the essence Qi, often referred to as the prenatal Qi, and postnatal Qi, which is produced from food and drink (Gu Qi), in the Stomach. Prenatal Qi is the constitutional essence with which we're born and postnatal Qi is our basic daily energy that we cultivate through our diet and lifestyle. The healthier the diet, the better quality Qi we can extract and therefore the greater our endurance.

The Gu Qi, or “grain” as it is often called in the classics, that enters the Stomach, is transmitted to the Lungs to produce the defense or “guard Qi,” also known as Wei Qi, which is essential for maintaining one’s circadian rhythm.

Wei Qi forms in the Lungs through the Gu Qi that first enters the Stomach. As Chapter 21 of Nei Jing Su Wen stated, “Beverages enter the stomach. Overflowing essence Qi is transported upward to the spleen. The spleen Qi spreads the essence, which turns upward to the lung” (Unschuld, 2011, 375). 

The Spleen sends Gu Qi up to the Lungs, where (with the help of Kidney Qi) it combines with air and transforms into another form of energy known as Zong Qi, which is often referred to as "gathering Qi." 

Zong Qi is formed from the combination of Gu Qi extracted through food and drink and Lung Qi extracted through the breath. Therefore, the more nutritious your diet and the better your capacity for deep respiration, the better quality Qi you'll have to support the various organs' Qi in the body.

Since Gu Qi is also used to produce Wei Qi, which controls circadian rhythm and supports immunity, a healthy diet also supports sleep and healthy immune function. 

An unhealthy diet that's high in sweet, spicy, fried and processed foods taxes the digestive system and over time will make us not only feel lethargic but also can damage the gut, or the Spleen and Stomach terrain, and lead to chronic inflammation.

In Western Medicine, the impact of nutrition on overall health has been confirmed through recent studies on the gut-brain axis (GBA).

Eating healthy can be so simple (and beautiful!) - Sprouted quinoa, lentils and adzuki beans with brussel sprouts, arugula and beet salad, avocado, butternut squash and baked sweet potatoes. We dressed the salad, grains and brussel sprouts with organic olive oil, black and cayenne peppers, and lemon juice from Meyer lemons in our garden.

Eating healthy can be so simple (and beautiful!) - Sprouted quinoa, lentils and adzuki beans with brussel sprouts, arugula and beet salad, avocado, butternut squash and baked sweet potatoes. We dressed the salad, grains and brussel sprouts with organic olive oil, black and cayenne peppers, and lemon juice from Meyer lemons in our garden.

The Gut-Brain Axis

Recent studies have revealed that the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is a system of neurons within the gastrointestinal tract and often referred to as the ‘second brain,’ may be linked to immune function, hormonal regulation, psychological disorders, and even autism. The bidirectional communication between the brain (i.e. the central nervous system) and the ENS is known as the gut-brain axis (GBA), an information superhighway of chemicals and hormones that provides constant feedback and influences - among other things - our moods, emotions and sleep patterns.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It passes through the neck to the abdomen and interfaces with parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. Evidence indicates that the communication between the microbiota in the gut and the brain involves the vagus nerve, which transmits information from the luminal environment of the gut to the central nervous system (CNS). 

Important hormones and neurotransmitters such as melatonin, which regulates sleep, and serotonin, which affects mood, are produced in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, about 90% of serotonin, which can affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function, is produced in the gut. 

The health of the gut therefore impacts the health of the brain and our ability to process information, manage stress, sleep, balance our emotions, as well as digest and assimilate food.

 

Chinese Medicine Perspective of Digestion, Emotions and the Gut-Brain Axis

Li Dong-yuan (1180 – 1251 c.e.) was a Chinese medical scholar who is considered to be one of the Four Great Masters of the Jin-Yuan period of Chinese Medicine. As founder of the Earth School, Li believed that the health of the Spleen and Stomach was the foundation for disease prevention. He developed the concept of Yin fire, which he believed is produced by excessive emotions and poor diet, both of which damage the original Qi and overwhelm the Spleen and Stomach. Excessive emotions engender heat internally. This heat, accompanied by weakness in the Spleen and Stomach, eventually flares upward into the Heart causing symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety and insomnia.

The gut-brain axis dynamics discussed earlier parallel Li Dong-yuan’s emphasis on the pivotal role of the Spleen and Stomach, or gut health, for all human functioning. Li believed that disease pathology manifests as a result of damage to postnatal Qi, the source of which is the Spleen and Stomach. 

The Spleen and Stomach is responsible for creating the Gu Qi, or energy that is transformed from food. Excessive or unbalanced emotions and stress weaken the Spleen and Stomach and therefore the gut. According to Li Dong-yuan, this weakness leads to stagnation of Stomach Qi that eventually turns into heat or Fire. This pathological heat relates to any inflammatory or infectious condition within the gastrointestinal tract.

We can therefore surmise that heat accumulation in the gut eventually affects the brain and interferes with the harmonious interplay between the gut and brain. Furthermore, pathological heat in the gut burns out the Stomach Yin which correlates to the destruction of the intestinal mucosa.

Over time, as the mucosal lining of the gut deteriorates, "leaky gut" syndrome develops allowing for undigested proteins to leak into the blood stream and begin the cascade of inflammation throughout the body. This is one of the fundamental pathological processes underlying a host of autoimmune diseases.

 

Diet and Your Health

Some argue that to eat healthfully is too costly or a less convenient option. But we can’t be short-sighted. The long-term return on your investment is quite high, even if in the short-term it is a little more expensive to cook healthy foods at home rather than eat processed foods, for example.

Nothing is worth more than the health of your mind and body. And nothing will give you as great a return on your investment.

Your health is the pillar of your future success, happiness and fulfillment. Nothing is possible without health, and in health anything is possible.

So it should naturally be the number one place where we put our resources.

In Chinese Medicine, diet can be used as a modality in and of itself to heal chronic illness.

Diet is also the most important self-care tool we all have. Our diet provides an opportunity to feel empowered because we're able to have a say in our self-care and well-being through the choices we make with food.

What we eat is a mirror for how we feel about ourselves, and the choices we make with what we eat also allows us to choose how we want to feel and what we want to create in our lives.

Once you've finished reading this article, I'd love to hear from you on any or all of these questions in the comments below --
* How does what you eat reflect how
you feel?
* Do you eat better or worse under stress?
* What's one change you could make in your diet to better reflect what you want to create in your life?


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is co-owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California. The Silicon Valley-based health and wellness clinic specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture with a clinic and studio where Setareh 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

What it Means to Be Healthy (and why it's easier than you may think)

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

“The first wealth is health.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The topic of health can instigate a variety of feelings and responses. If you’ve ever struggled with your health, the word alone can be a trigger. 

You may even feel shame and guilt about your choices with your health or think that being healthy may be too costly. 

And quite frankly, with all the information that’s available about the topics of health and wellness, it can be challenging to know what to believe or even where to begin. 

By definition, health is “the condition of being well or free from disease.” But to be healthy means “enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit.” 

So, to be healthy is to be free from disease and have vigor of body, mind or spirit.

Note that the spirit is embedded in this definition, which is why we’re going to look at why being healthy is fostered through a deeper relationship with yourself. 

Having a healthy lifestyle does not mean letting go of all the fun and pleasure in life and it certainly doesn’t mean making healthy choices all of the time.

Being healthy simply means doing things that keep you feeling good physically, mentally and spiritually. 

The World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” illuminates just that.

We are all comprised of a physical body, a mind and a spirit. So why is it that most of us forget about at least one of these parts of ourselves throughout the day?

The most complicated element of the human experience is the mind—and it’s also the most difficult to condition. Luckily, if you notice that your mental state is imbalanced early on, you can use your physical body to reshape your thinking. Ancient practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong and Meditation are designed to help with this.

The ‘monkey mind’, as many of these ancient traditions call it, needs to be trained. Otherwise, the mind will run in all directions and lead you to the demise of both your physical body and your spirit.

But what if you have a problem with your body physically, perhaps as a result of an illness, an injury or some type of chronic pain? 

When your body suffers, you have two choices—you can dwell on the pain or dwell on the process of healing.

When you’re able to change the station that’s playing in your head to focus on healing, you can more effectively uplift your spirit to then help your body recover. This can be done through a variety of spiritual practices and very simply through the daily and routine practice of gratitude. 

Gratitude creates space for positivity and joy to flow into your life. 

The more you focus on the good you have, the more you magnify those things and begin to cultivate better things to come into your life. This is the fastest way to heal your body, which is a reflection of the health of your mind and spirit.

To be healthy then does not necessarily mean eating the right foods, exercising and sleeping well.

In its very essence, health is cultivated through a sound, peaceful and positive body, mind and spirit. 

Health is the state of ease you cultivate through an intimate relationship with your body and mind.

This means that you care about and pay close attention to both the body and mind. 

To pay close attention, you have to be fully present. 

When you’re present, you feel what you need and want in each moment and are therefore far less likely to make decisions based on impulse. 

When you’re present, you often choose nutritious foods because you’re in tune with the impact of food on your body and mind. 

When you’re present, you’re more more mindful of the people with whom you spend your time because you want to feel nourished by your relationships. 

When you’re present, you listen to the cues to exercise not because you feel you have to, but because you actually enjoy it. 

Paying close attention to your body and mind means being present with how you feel moment to moment, and this cultivates self-love. Self-love brings ease to the body, mind and spirit and prevents disease manifestation.

Self-love means that you care enough about yourself that you fill your life with the people, things, foods and activities you enjoy

It’s more important to have your life be fullfilling than to have it be full

For many of you this may mean that you do less, rest more and spend time in fewer yet more nurturing relationships and surroundings.

Tips on what foods will give you energy, which exercises are appropriate for your body, element and age, and which practices will help recondition your mind are certainly helpful.

But the truth is, no matter what I or anyone else tells you, the choice to be healthy must authentically come from you. 

And once you really slow down and pay close attention to yourself, the realization of a truly fulfilling life simplifies making healthy choices.


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. Setareh 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