Why It's So Hard to Let Go, and What You Can Do to Make it Easier

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

Your spiritual practice teaches you that suffering comes from attachment. So to end your suffering, all you have to do is become more detached.

Sounds easy, right?

But then the day comes when you get fired from your job, lose a loved one, breakup with your partner, or get into a fight you regret with a friend.

You read your self-help books, your literature on walking the spiritual path and tell yourself not to worry and that it’s not a big deal, but the reality is that you feel worried, that it IS a big deal and that you’re NOT ok.

Logically you know that holding onto the emotions and grievances that come from life challenges don’t serve you. But these struggles are real and inevitable for us all. And sometimes, it doesn’t help to know that to avoid suffering, all you have to do is let go because that’s a lot harder to practice than it sounds.

But why is it that sometimes it’s so hard to let go?

According to Chinese medicine, there are three essential things that need to be supported for you to let go, and if these aspects are not working well you’re likely to have a hard time letting go.

First, you have to breathe through the process and accept it, and this requires Lung Qi. Next, you have to be able to digest or transform whatever’s bothering you, which is a function of the Spleen and Stomach.. And finally, you have to be emotionally settled, which requires that you have a calm mind and Heart.

Let’s explore how the Lungs, Spleen and Stomach, and Heart can challenge your ability to let go, and what you can do to support yourself in the process.

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You Have to Accept to Let Go

The first step in letting go of anything is to come into full acceptance of the challenge or emotion with which you’re dealing. In other words, if you’re angry or scared or sad about something that’s going on in the world or in your personal life, you first have to completely accept and embrace the feeling without judgment. Be fully present with the emotion. Only then do you have a place to move from to process it to release.

The Lungs comprise the organ system that most closely relates to your ability to accept and therefore let go of anything.

Your ability to let go is the virtue of the Lungs in their balanced state.

Your lungs are part of the respiratory system, providing a connection between your external and internal worlds through the breath. Inhalation draws in fresh oxygen and Qi, or energy, while exhalation helps you let go of toxins. 

The Lungs' natural movement is to disperse and descend Qi.

The Lungs disperse, or spread, the body fluids as well as the Wei Qi, the defensive Qi that runs on the surface of the skin to protect you during the day and travels into the body to help you sleep at night. This ensures that Wei Qi is equally distributed under the skin and to the muscles to warm and moisten the skin, allowing for a normal amount of sweating, and to protect the body from external pathogens that can cause colds, flus and skin problems (see more about this in a previous article).

As the uppermost organ, the Lungs also descend Qi to communicate with the Kidneys, which are said to 'grasp' the Lungs’ Qi, to allow for deep breathing. Dysfunction in the communication between the Lungs and Kidneys can result in wheezing and asthma from the failure of the Lungs to descend the Qi or weakness in the Kidneys, preventing the grasping of the Lung Qi.

The health of your Lungs therefore determines your capacity to let go.

Weakness in the Lungs perpetuates sadness and regrets about the past.

Strong Lung Qi provides us with greater endurance and stamina and supports us to take more full, conscious breaths. Conscious breathing allows you to be more present and helps you cultivate a sense of mindfulness to support the process of acceptance.

Only when you fully accept the feelings and circumstances you’re in can you begin the process of letting go, and your breath is the first tool to initiate this process.

One essential way to strengthen your Lungs is through regular exercise. This doesn't have to be running marathons or climbing steep mountains, but a simple daily walk is a great way to keep your Lungs strong and vital.

Key tips to strengthen the Lungs: take deep breaths and keep your body active.

You Have to Transform It to Let It Go

The Spleen and Stomach are the primary organs of digestion and transformation of food and thoughts into energy, or Qi.

The Spleen and Stomach transform and transport food and drink, extract their nutrients for absorption in the body, then send the remaining waste to the colon to release through the bowels.

When the Spleen and Stomach functions are weak or their energy is stagnated in the gut, this process is impeded.

In other words, if Spleen Qi is insufficient, your digestion will be weak and rather than gain energy from food and drink, you’ll feel lethargic, bloated and generally uncomfortable after you eat.

These symptoms indicate that the Spleen is unable to transform the nutrients from your food and drink into Gu Qi, or food energy, that then supports the production of Wei Qi to support your immune system.

In addition, the energy of the Spleen ascends to bring energy and fluids upward to support the Lungs to function optimally.

Furthermore, the energy of the Stomach descends and if this movement is stagnated, the function of the Large Intestine will also be stagnating resulting in constipation and accumulation of toxins in the body.

If energy is not able to ascend properly upward into the brain and if energy cannot descend properly to release toxic waste, your mental function will be impacted.

This is how brain fog, mental fatigue and lack of clarity and focus can relate to your Spleen and Stomach. In addition, if the health of these organs is compromised, the body will accumulate dampness causing you to feel stuck in your life. Dampness can also contribute to obsessive thinking, which can cause you to hold onto thoughts and get stuck in patterns of rumination.

To let go, you have to be able to release thoughts and feelings that no longer serve you. Since the Spleen and Stomach govern the transformation of food and thoughts, it’s therefore essential to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach to support your ability to think clearly and let go of things that no longer serve you.

The most essential way to support the organs of digestion is to pay attention to how and when you eat.

Take time to cook your meals and avoid eating under stress and eating on the run or while distracted. This will support healthy digestion and transformation since the health of your gut is intimately connected to the health of your brain, and therefore the mind.

To give your digestion even more support, take enzymes with meals to help break down food and prevent stagnation and heat accumulation in the Stomach. Along with a balanced probiotic supplement, enzymes are essential for your gut health, which is the core of your immune function and brain health. (If you’re not sure what to take you can call us at 408-244-8565 or stop in and pick up a bottle of our favorite probiotics and enzymes).

Key tips to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach: take time to cook and eat warm, nourishing foods without distractions.

You Have to Calm Your Mind to Let Go

According to Chinese Medicine, the Heart houses your Shen, or spiritual aspect of your body which is expressed through your mind. Since the Heart is the primary organ of the Fire element, it can easily become overheated with unsettled emotions and this will disrupt your mental state. Therefore, the type of symptoms that arise with an imbalanced Heart are usually related to some form of mental instability and can range from nervousness to insomnia and in more severe situations involve palpitations, shortness of breath, anxiety, and even mania.

Meditation and self-cultivation practices, maintaining healthy relationships, and literally listening to and following your heart’s desires, all help to quell Heart fire and therefore reduce anxiety while supporting the Shen, or spirit, to rest.

Since Fire energy can generally cause restlessness, it’s really important to do cultivation practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong and meditation regularly to tame the Heart Fire and calm the mind. One of the best ways to initiate and immerse in these practices is by going on retreat. The quiet time away from your distractions is a powerful way to reset the mind.

Fire energy needs to circulate freely so it’s also essential to find creative outlets such as painting, knitting, dancing and anything else that feels exciting and playful.

Key tips to balance the Heart energy: meditate/retreat, be creative and play more.

Supporting Your Ability to Let Go

One of the the most effective ways to support these organ systems is through Classical Acupuncture. By focusing on a meridian approach, Classical Acupuncture techniques work to help you not only to rebalance the systems that are impeding your ability to let go, but also to specifically free traumas that keep you stuck in the past so that you can be more fully present in your life.

Naturally, your lifestyle choices will always be important for the efficacy of any treatment. By cultivating a state of acceptance and calm, you can transform anything in your life. And by strengthening and balancing the energy of the Lungs, Spleen and Stomach and Heart, you’ll be able to let go of anything that no longer serves you so you can live a freer, healthier and more fulfilled 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. 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