Setting Boundaries is Essential to Your Health

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

About a year ago, my husband and I adopted a 1 year old Italian Greyhound mix we named Crystal. When we first brought her home from the rescue, she was terrified of everything. In fact, she'd spend most mornings hiding under our China cabinet shivering when we'd take her out of her crate.

She'd obviously been traumatized and likely been abused, so we decided to hire a trainer to help break her out of her fear.

After some trial and error, we hired Mike, an experienced trainer who would gently force her to stay present each time she got fearful and wanted to run away. By essentially forcing her to move into her fear it didn't take long for Crystal to realize she was safe and there was nothing to fear. Through this initially challenging process, Crystal quickly became loving and trusting of our trainer who created a very strong boundary with her.

Crystal loves to feel contained. Boundaries are essential for all beings to feel safe.

Crystal loves to feel contained. Boundaries are essential for all beings to feel safe.

The training worked wonders and though she resisted the process during many of the sessions, Crystal became more relaxed, more trusting and more affectionate after each session. Mike also helped us learn how to assertively yet lovingly hold boundaries to heal her behavior. 

The stronger we set boundaries around her reaction to fear, the more relaxed she became.

As a result, the anxiety and fear that once ruled Crystal settled down, and she continues to feel more safe and be more present than ever.

Humans have similar behavior patterns. Healthy boundaries between children and parents are crucial to cultivating healthy relationships and to prevent enabling unhealthy behavior patterns. Held with love, compassion and respect, boundaries help create a sense of stability and safety.

In Chinese Medicine, this sense of safety and security is supported by the Earth element as the basis for establishing healthy boundaries. 

The Earth element rules our digestive system and helps us process both food and thoughts. Energetically, Earth relates to all transitions - seasonal and otherwise - and is the ruling element of the late Summer. It's most important to balance and strengthen the Earth element during these times, but since change is a constant in life and we're naturally always going through transitions, cultivating a healthy Earth is essential to all aspects of our health year round.

 

Boundaries and the Earth Element

The Earth Element is the fertile soil that allows plants to grow and flourish to provide nourishment and sustenance; it gives protection and shelter as well as stability and substance. 

Earth contains water, creates boundaries to define continents and carries us through space with stability. Earth represents safety, protection and our home base. 

Being centered, calm, and balanced, feeling at home, and having a sense of harmony and peacefulness are the essence of a healthy Earth energy. Creating a comfortable home and cooking for oneself and one's family are essential factors to nourishing the Earth energy in one's life.

Rice fields from our 2015 trip to China. Earth contains water and provides the fertile soil where nourishment can be cultivated.

Rice fields from our 2015 trip to China. Earth contains water and provides the fertile soil where nourishment can be cultivated.

Cultivating a healthy Earth means understanding and prioritizing our needs. If we pour all of our energy into helping others or work excessively, we'll have nothing left for ourselves. If we don't discipline ourselves around our diet and set boundaries around eating generally healthy foods, our health fails. If we continuously go to bed late because we don't have the discipline to stop working or watching TV at night, we slowly but surely deplete our blood, our Yin, and our essence, which accelerates our aging process.

In other words, strong boundaries around how and with whom we spend our time, what we eat and even when we sleep is fundamental to our health.

In the body, these boundaries are established by the Earth element organs that govern digestion, the Stomach and Spleen.

 

Nourishment and the Earth element

Earth energy is about transformation; transformation of food into energy and raw material to rebuild the body, and transformation of our thoughts so we're not stuck obsessing about negative things and can have clarity of mind. 

Earth energy is also associated with our relationships with ourselves and others, which begins with our relationship to our family, especially our mothers. As the archetype for the Earth type personality, the Mother represents unconditional love and the nourishing qualities that exist within each of us.

Loving, supportive and nourishing parents help children understand they are accepted for who they are, which gives them a deep sense of security. Starting life with unconditional nourishment both through food and emotional support supports a calm and secure demeanor. It also prevents the development of excessive dependence on others to have one's needs met. 

Our first experience with nourishment comes from suckling at our mother's breast, ingesting the colostrum that activates our Earth energy.

Colostrum is so potent for the digestive system that it's been well established as a supplement to heal digestive disorders. For one thing, colostrum restores leaky gut to normal permeability levels. Serious health syndromes which we can recognize as Earth imbalances are now known to be associated with abnormally increased gut permeability. These include autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Colostrum can also benefit Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis, fibromyalgia, asthma, and allergies. 

Colostrum contains growth factors and hormones to help repair damage to the intestinal lining, including damage caused by NSAIDS and other medications, and restore gut integrity. Colostrum is high in immunoglobulins to help control harmful fungi, such as Candida, and harmful bacteria, such as H. Pylori, which is known to cause ulcers. Colostrum has also been shown to increase the surface area of the intestinal lining to improve absorption of nutrients. And there are no known side effects from using colostrum.

Colostrum reduces inflammation, protects against irritation from toxins, prevents infection and promotes epithelial growth and repair. It's also a useful supplement to quickly boost the immune system following a strenuous workout or periods of intense stress. 

In this way, colostrum boosts Spleen Qi, which is fundamental for supporting Earth energy and therefore our ability to establish healthy boundaries.

Nourishment begins in the gut first with our mother through breast feeding and evolves into how we nourish ourselves. Thus the connection of the Earth element to our digestive function determines our ability to have healthy, harmonious relationships as well as strong immunity, or Spleen Qi.

 

Earth Element Imbalances

Physiologically, Earth element imbalances most commonly relate to weakness of the Spleen, which manifests as poor digestive function, as well as bruising and hemorrhaging. This is because the Spleen not only transports and transforms food and thoughts, but it is also the organ in Chinese Medicine that's responsible for holding blood in the vessels. A woman who has very heavy flow during her menses for example needs to focus on strengthening her Spleen and blood. Weak Spleen Qi can also cause leakage of Qi, which is a disorder we've discussed in a previous article.

Chronic digestive issues as well as eating disorders are common among people who have imbalances in their Earth element, which may have begun during childhood as a result of lack of nourishment emotionally and physically from one's parents or through excessive consumption of prescription drugs, especially antibiotics, which directly damage the gastrointestinal system.

When there is an Earth imbalance, or weakness in Spleen Qi, dampness or phlegm tends to develop in the body, which leads physiologically to weight gain and psychologically to obsessive thinking. This is why worry and pensiveness are common symptoms of imbalanced Earth energy.

Psychologically, Earth imbalance manifests as neediness, self-absorption, resentment or excessively self-sacrificing and lacking the ability to care for oneself.

A weak Earth also inhibits one's ability to hold strong personal boundaries, making one inclined to meddle in other people’s lives as a distraction from looking at herself or lack the personal boundaries to prevent other people from meddling in her life. 

Earth imbalance often creates a challenging relationship with both food and money, each of which energetically represent a form of nourishment that allows us to feel safe. 

People with an Earth imbalance will not only have digestive issues, but they'll often also have an unhealthy relationship with money management as well as with food, which that may result in eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia or simply addictions to food for comfort.

Balanced Earth means that we know how time, energy, food and money all fit into our lives. It allows us to feel abundant no matter how much we have. Therefore, an imbalanced Earth will cause us to feel lack, especially with our money and our energy.

 

Balancing Earth to Establish Healthy Boundaries

Having a more balanced Earth element helps us feel more calm, secure and nourished. When we feel more peace within, we can make our needs, and therefore our boundaries, more clear. Strong boundaries and a healthier relationship with ourselves allows us to then cultivate healthier relationships with others.

Here are some tips on how to strengthen the Spleen and your Earth element to help you establish stronger boundaries:

  1. Cook - the physical act of preparing a meal nurtures the mind, body and soul.

  2. Eat a healthy, low carbohydrate diet - carbohydrates and sugars increase the damp or fungal terrain in the body so it's important to reduce these foods and increase the consumption of leafy green vegetables, root vegetables and clean meats to clear this dampness, cultivate clarity and optimize your health.

  3. Eat regular meals - Earth thrives on a regular daily rhythm.

  4. Manage your time and money - Earth is about nurturing and abundance. Keeping track of how you spend your time helps you manage your energy. Managing your finances is another way to help consolidate your Earth energy and is an essential aspect to cultivating the feeling of security in your life. Money is energy which when circulated properly helps balance Earth energy.

  5. Journal to replace worry and obsession with contemplation and reflection.

  6.  Get involved in the community - find what organizations, church groups, charities, etc. interest you and see what role you can play to contribute.

Self-care is therefore essential to rebalance the Earth element. When your food, money, time and energy are properly managed, the mind becomes more clear and you're able to naturally set healthier boundaries that allow you to share the best aspects of yourself with others.


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


Are You Leaking Qi? How to Preserve Your Essence to Slow Down the Aging Process

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

Leaking Qi, or energy, describes the body’s inability to consolidate and hold in any type of fluid substance in the body. Leaking Qi is common because it relates to many different types of conditions.

In order to describe the different types of leakages, I will begin by describing the three divisions of the body according to Classical Chinese Medicine. These divisions are called burners, heaters, or energy centers and are associated in Chinese Medicine with the Triple Heater organ system. 

 

The Triple Heater System

The Triple Heater, also referred to as the Triple Burner, is called in Chinese Medicine San Jiao, meaning three warmers.

According to Chinese Medicine, the Triple Heater system is an organ but it has no form. This is a system that essentially coordinates the organ functions of the body held within these three energetic centers and is responsible for maintaining overall metabolism within the body.

Imbalances in the Triple Heater system can lead to leakage of Qi that can then cause damage to the fluids and essence of the body. 

The three energetic centers controlled by the Triple Heater are the lower abdomen (called the lower heater or Lower Jiao), the middle abdomen (called the middle heater or Middle Jiao) and the chest (called the upper heater or Upper Jiao). 

The Lower Jiao located in the pelvic basin contains the genitourinary system responsible for reproduction and elimination. The Middle Jiao contains the organs of digestion, including the Spleen, Stomach, Pancreas and Small Intestine, and controls digestion and absorption of nutrients. The Upper Jiao contains the Heart, which controls circulation, and the Lungs, which control respiration.

It is through the action of these systems that fluid dynamics are maintained in the body. Depending on the type of leakage one may be experiencing, we can determine what heater, or Jiao, is out of balance and needs support.

Excess Sweating as a Form of Leaking Qi

Sweating easily or excessively is often associated with a weakness in the Upper and Middle Jiao. Sweating too easily is often due to the Qi of the Lungs being too weak to control the skin function to properly contain fluids. A weakness of the Lungs is often concurrent with a weakness of the Spleen since the Spleen supports the health of the Lungs. For example, if the Spleen is weak and overly damp due to a diet high in carbohydrates, sugar and dairy, then the Lung function will suffer and a person may tend to sweat too easily with or without exertion.

Sweating due to hot flashes is a different situation and is related to weakness in the Kidneys and Lower Jiao. Excessive sweating that occurs with hot flashes is usually a hormonal imbalance related to hyperactive adrenal glands and dryness of the sexual organs due to a depletion of Yin fluids. Lack of Yin fluids, coupled with hyperactivity of the adrenals that are trying to produce more Yin as the ovaries decline, generates a deficiency heat which induces sweating. Correction of this type of sweating is different than the Lung Qi weakness issue as it requires nourishment of Kidney Yin to relax the adrenals.

Both of these situations involving excess sweating and the leakage of Qi. If left uncorrected, leakage of Qi will damage one’s Constitutional Essence and accelerate aging.

 

Dietary Tips to Strengthen the Lungs and Reduce Excessive Sweating

From a dietary standpoint, for a weakness of Lung Qi causing excessive sweating, the use of compact fruits eaten on a daily basis are helpful to strengthen the Lung energy.

Compact fruits, including apples, pears, Asian pears, persimmons and quince tonify Lung Qi in Chinese Medicine.

Stewed pears and apples are especially nourishing to the Lungs but be aware that too much can lead to phlegm in the Lungs. For example, if a person has a lot of sinus congestion, eating these foods can exacerbate this condition.

Japanese persimmons are more useful to help stop sweating than Chinese persimmons. Japanese persimmons are higher in tannins which gives them a strong astringency affect on the body to deal with profuse sweating and prevent leakage of Qi.

Citrus fruits are also effective for tonifying Lung Qi.

Citrus is hydrating and high in vitamin C to boost the immune system. More sour citrus fruits are better astringents to stop sweating that causes leaking Qi.

Though lemon and lime are highly concentrated in citric acid, once ingested, they become alkalizing to your body and help balance an acidic terrain so they have a cooling affect on the body.

Too much citrus, however, will induce the opposite effect and induce heat. For example, drinking a lot of orange juice is not a healthy habit as it creates a lot of damp heat in the body in the form of excessive mucous which can then lead to sinus and ear infections over time. Consumption of orange juice during acute infection can cause chronic infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

Overall, since citrus, including oranges, produce a lot of fluid, they are especially good for dryness, but excess consumption can induce phlegm very easily when a person has a lot of dampness.

Infusing or steeping citrus peels in water is an especially effective way to support astringency without inducing the dampness that easily develops from drinking the juice.

Citrus peels are also used to produce essential oils. In Chinese Medicine, citrus oils help regulate Qi to reduce epigastric distention and bloating. These oils can simply be rubbed on the belly for immediate benefit.

Citrus essential oils contain a chemical called limonene, which has a plethora of potent health benefits. Limonene (also called d-limonene) makes up over 90% of orange oil and is found in citrus peels. It helps aid digestion for problems such as acid reflux. Limonene also helps support elimination by reducing sluggish bowel movements especially when Candida is involved. It's also been shown to help reduce cholesterol and improve Gallbladder function to improve bile flow and support fat digestion. In addition, limonene has been found to be helpful for weight loss as it suppresses appetite and regulates blood sugar. 

 

Leaking Qi and the Middle Jiao

Leakage of Qi as it relates to the Middle Jiao, or middle burner, involves how the Spleen is managing blood. In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen’s Qi is responsible for containing the blood in the vessels. A person who bruises or hemorrhages easily likely has a weakness of the Spleen Qi. 

Hemorrhaging can be associated with many conditions so a proper diagnosis is required to establish an accurate treatment protocol. With that said, hemorrhaging can occur in many ways. Hemorrhaging can include mid cycle breakthrough bleeding during menses, excessive menstrual bleeding with long periods, frequent nosebleeds, and can be as serious as gastric or intestinal bleeding or stroke involving bleeding in the brain. 

The saying “Spleen Qi manages the blood” means that the Spleen keeps blood from leaking out of the vessels. Thus, varicosities are associated with weakness of Spleen Qi as well and if there is also edema in the legs due to venous insufficiency, the Kidney Qi may also need support.

Here are a few Western and Eastern herbs commonly used for the purpose of reducing leg edema and varicose veins: 

  • Butcher’s Broom is an evergreen shrub known to contain phytochemicals that are both anti-inflammatory and astringent to tighten up blood vessels and strengthen capillaries as well as reduce edema. Butcher’s Broom is also a folk remedy for hemorrhoids, another form of leakage of Qi due to a lack of vascular integrity,

  • Chestnuts are good for strengthening the vascular system as well and Horse Chestnut seed extract has been known to be especially effective as a vascular anti-inflammatory and to strengthen weak veins and capillaries causing edema due to vascular insufficiency.

  • *Gotu Kola is an Asian herb that has been successfully used to reduce edema and poor circulation leading to varicosities. Studies have also found Gotu Kola to be regenerative to the brain by supporting neuron growth.

  • Gingko Biloba is another super herbal supplement to improve circulation in the brain and strengthen vascular integrity for the treatment of varicose veins which is a common type of leakage of Qi.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, these herbs strengthen the vascular system and therefore also strengthen Spleen Qi. Herbs that reduce edema in the legs also strengthen Kidney Qi.

A simple dietary tip in Chinese Medicine for weakness of the Kidneys is to eat both toasted and raw sesame seeds as well as pumpkin seeds. And if a person is not urinating completely and this leads to edema, eat the sesame seeds with cucumber. This needs to be eaten at every meal of the day so it’s a big part of one’s diet.

 

Leaking Qi and the Lower Jiao

Incontinence is a common form of leakage of Qi that relates to the Lower Jiao, or lower heater. Getting up during the night to urinate is also a form of leaking Qi related to the Lower Jiao, and is due to deficiency of Kidney Qi.

Acupuncture is highly effective to improve incontinence.

Some of the most useful herbs in Chinese pharmacopeia that treat incontinence are commonly used in cooking. Many of these Chinese herbs are seeds, including lotus seed (Lian Zi), Astragali seed (Sha Yuan Zi), Euryales seed (Qian Shi) and Cherokee Rose Hip fruit (Jin Ying Zi).

From a dietary standpoint, seeds are important to strengthen the Kidneys. The primary seeds that target the Lower Jiao and the Kidneys are pumpkins seeds and sesame seeds. Small amounts should be eaten 3-5 times per day.

In general, foods that are high in zinc strengthen the Kidney system. Zinc is essential for the health of the prostate, which is part of the Kidney genitourinary system in Chinese Medicine. Foods highest in zinc are oysters, lamb, pork and grass fed beef. Toasted wheat germ, pumpkin and squash seeds are also potent food sources of zinc.

 

Conclusion

Leaking Qi is common and while challenging to one's health, it can usually be resolved with proper treatment and dietary modifications. Preventing the leakage of Qi is essential not only to have healthy levels of energy, but also to maintain one's constitutional Essence in order to slow down the aging process to achieve optimal health and longevity.


*I’ve used Gotu Kola with my 91 year old father who has moderate level dementia, swollen ankles and poor kidney function. After a few months of taking Gotu Kola twice daily, his mind is clearly working better, his ankle edema has reduced and his recent blood test showed his kidney function has improved. He is much more mentally alert and present than before he started Gotu Kola.


Please note: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and not intended for diagnosis or treatment. Please contact a licensed health provider for lifestyle, dietary and herbal recommendations specific to your condition.


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, PhD, 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.