How to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

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

 

Let's admit it. We all strive for more of what we love, whether it's a deeper connection to our partner, greater success in our work or finances, a more abundant lifestyle, recognition, and even contribution and personal development.

Whether it's true to our human nature or not, we've been taught that more is better. In addition to our own personal goals, we have social media and television telling us that we should and could have more if only we buy X, Y and Z.

The great paradox is that once we buy and do everything we desire or feel is 'required' of us, the tendency is to still find that something's missing.

So when is it enough?

To be fulfilled means to cultivate a feeling of enough. 

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach, which encompass the Earth element, are the primary organs of digestion and assimilation. These are the organs that satisfy the feeling of enough on a physical level by transforming raw material from our diet to help the body regenerate on a daily basis. 

The Spleen and Stomach digest and process not just food, but also our thoughts.

If the Spleen and Stomach are harmonized, our digestion is unobstructed and our mind is clear. But when there is an imbalance in either of these systems not only do digestive difficulties manifest, but mental processing can also be disrupted causing problems such as a foggy mind and obsessive thinking. 

When the Earth energy is out of balance there is a tendency to overthink and worry. According to one of the foremost classical Chinese medical texts, Nei Jing Su Wen, “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207) and if it is not properly resolved, it leads to obsession.

The Earth element relates also to our ability to feel completion, abundance and fulfillment.

When you eat a plate of food, the gut sends signals to the brain so it knows that you've had enough. 

Excessive Stomach Fire can create an imbalance in this process, leading to binging, excessive thinking, obsession, and neediness. Stomach Fire most often results from a poor diet with acidic foods, as well as mental overstimulation. This heat in the Stomach ultimately burns out the Spleen Qi and leads to severe fatigue. This pattern is common among students and can cause post-college burnout and Spleen weakness. 

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen also plays a key role in producing blood. A weak Spleen therefore impairs one's ability to build blood.

This is especially crucial for women who work or study excessively since mental overstimulation weakens the Spleen, inhibiting it from building back the blood that’s lost during monthly menstruation. For vegetarians, the ability to build blood is even more challenging since animal products help to nourish the blood. 

The key is that not having enough blood causes one to feel empty inside regardless of one's circumstances.

The feeling of not having enough relates therefore to either weakness of the Spleen in its production of blood, or excessive heat in the Stomach system causing obsession and the need for more and more.

Cultivating a feeling of enough brings a sense of security, nourishment and abundance.

Cultivating a feeling of enough brings a sense of security, nourishment and abundance.

Strength in the Earth element via the Spleen and Stomach helps ground us in the present moment. When our energy, or Qi, and blood are strong we feel less vulnerable and more secure in all aspects of our lives.

Furthermore adequate blood reserves provide a sense of comfort and security as well.

In fact, a deficiency of blood can cause one to feel a lack of wealth and prosperity no matter his or her financial status.

A feeling of inadequacy may also result from excessive heat in the Stomach, which not only causes mental overactivity and agitation, but can also lead to addiction, such as to sex, drugs, shopping or alcohol.

Excessive heat in the Stomach system physiologically manifests as inflammation anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract, or the gut. This is how Stomach Heat in Chinese Medicine correlates with the pathology of the brain and numerous mental and emotional imbalances via the gut-brain axis. 

Essentially, the health of the gut determines the health of the brain and therefore our ability to process information, manage stress, and balance our emotions.

When the Stomach is full of heat, it can dump this heat into the Heart. 

When in balance, the Heart stirs a healthy level of creativity, passion and desire. However, excessive heat in the Heart induces excessive desires and passions, and this can overwhelm or disrupt the Shen or spirit of a person leading to different types of neurosis, including anxiety and even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

Since Heart imbalances can result from excessive heat generated in the gut, it's clear how our gut health influences both our state of mind and emotional well being. 

 

Tools to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

Since the Spleen and Stomach are the source of Qi and blood in the body, they are also the source of our nourishment and therefore the basis of our ability to feel comfort, security and wholeness. 

We’re all prone to developing a weak Spleen causing blood deficiency through poor diet, irregular eating habits, lack of physical exercise, and excessive mental activity. 

If the Spleen is weak, digestive enzymes can support the breakdown and assimilation of nutrients to produce blood and healthy cells.

Maintaining a clean diet with more alkaline foods will also support your Earth element. Alkalizing foods are especially important for people who tend to be "over-thinkers" as this leads to over acidity in the Stomach. This can lead to Stomach Fire that can over time lead to both gut inflammation as well as imbalances in the Heart.

A person with an especially weak Spleen will experience a lot of fatigue and feel too cold, so in cases like this it may be best to eat less damp producing foods such as grains, dairy and sugar which feed the fungal terrain known as Candida that ultimately suppresses the body's energy.

Eating cooked, warm foods will also support the Earth organs while raw, cold natured foods, especially during colder seasons, can weaken the digestive system and exacerbate Spleen Qi deficiency.

There's a lot more you can do to balance your Earth element, including setting healthy boundaries and being especially mindful of your self-care during seasonal transitions.

The simple yet powerful practice of gratitude can also contribute to a feeling of enough by helping to amplify all that's good in your life now. It's so easy to focus on what's not going right and this is the root of why so many of us feel like we don't have or are not enough. 

A daily and consistent gratitude practice can be done simply by being mindful of and acknowledging things as they flow into your life. It's best to start with the little things so you can easily begin to see how quickly what you appreciate appreciates.

Small and simple changes can provide a great impact to help you restore balance in your Earth energy and bring a sense of comfort and satisfaction to your life.

Only through a healthy Earth element can we truly foster a feeling of enough where nothing feels missing or empty. Through this deep sense of abundance we're able to have a greater capacity to cultivate a prosperous and 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. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. 

Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California. 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.

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

Is Your Skin Driving You Mad? A Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective on Psoriasis and Eczema

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

Skin problems are some of the most challenging health disorders to resolve. Here we will examine two of the most common types of skin disorders we see in our clinic: psoriasis and eczema.

As with most skin disorders, flareups can often be associated with an increase in stress.

However, simply trying to relax is not going to cut it as a treatment option. We need to understand the factors driving these inflammatory conditions in order to begin resolving these problems from the inside out.

It is my hope that you will be empowered through understanding a Classical Chinese Medicine perspective on these often challenging health conditions so that you can seek a path to healing and resolution rather than suppression.  

According to Western medicine, the key difference between psoriasis and eczema is that psoriasis is an autoimmune over-reaction of the skin and eczema is rooted in an allergic, inflammatory reaction of the skin known as dermatitis (derma = Greek for skin, itis = inflammation). Both of these skin conditions can become chronic and often require the use of toxic internal and topical medications. These medications are designed to either suppress the immune response or the inflammatory heat, both of which can lead to other more serious diseases. 

Though the healing process can be challenging and require lifestyle changes, with patience and perseverance, eczema and psoriasis can be treated safely and very effectively through Chinese Medicine.

A Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective on Psoriasis and Eczema

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, there is a distinct difference between the pathogenesis of these two skin disorders.

Psoriasis is an outward expression of pathological heat emanating from the deep bone level of the body which is correlated with the Kidney system.

Eczema, on the other hand, manifests as an allergic response to something either internal or external that initiates the skin reaction. It may be triggered by food or an environmental chemical that irritates the skin and causes the inflammatory reaction which can spread as long as the allergic reaction continues.

Both psoriasis and eczema can be disorders with hereditary predispositions that have been passed along genetically.

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, both conditions are associated with heat in the Lungs which over time will weaken the Lung Qi, or energy. 

Weakness of Lung Qi causes weakness in the immune system as well. This is why chronic sufferers of eczema or psoriasis become prone to secondary infections on top of their skin sores. Furthermore, since patients with either psoriasis or chronic eczema can develop weak Lungs, it is also common for these patients who chronically suffer from either of these skin disorders to develop asthma.

Both eczema and psoriasis can present with sores that form clusters on the skin. This clustering indicates that the root cause is likely related to diet. In Chinese Medicine, clustering indicates internal dampness that is exuding out to the skin level.

Dampness in the body and is often rooted in overconsumption of foods that are very sweet, oily, or processed, as well as heavily dairy or carbohydrate based. These clustering type of skin diseases may also be associated with some form of food sensitivity or allergy such as gluten or lactose intolerance.

Another common problem associated with eczema and psoriasis is a history of gastritis, which in Classical Chinese Medicine terms can be associated with excessive Stomach Fire. 

In Western medicine, gastritis is often rooted in the presence of the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori (aka H Pylori) in the gut. From a Classical Chinese Medicine point of view, both Dampness and Heat are major pathological factors in this case. The Dampness creates the clustering sores, and the Heat creates the Wind/itching, the redness and causes the condition to spread more rampantly.  

If Dampness is present with eczema or psoriasis, this suggests that there is also some problem involving the bowels likely with excessive Heat trapped in the large intestine causing constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or colitis. Heat and Dampness can also get trapped in the bladder causing recurring urinary tract infections or interstitial cystitis that creates cramps and pain in the lower abdomen often following urination.

There is a close relationship between the Lungs (skin) and the Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine. If excessive inflammatory heat overwhelms the gastrointestinal system, it cannot eliminate the heat sufficiently through urination and defecation, and therefore the body will try to release it out via the skin creating inflammatory skin issues.

Gluten sensitivity is one of the factors commonly at the root of gut inflammation which underlies both eczema and psoriasis problems. 

Heat from chronic gut inflammation can spread anywhere throughout the body. In psoriasis, as the heat tries to penetrate the deepest organ level, which is the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys will push it away. If this process continues, the body will inherently push this inflammatory heat into the bone level at the joints to protect the Kidneys. This is how psoriasis can become psoriatic arthritis, a related autoimmune problem. This is also the mechanism for how gout develops.

In these cases, the body is basically overwhelmed with metabolic heat rooted in an imbalanced diet and gut inflammation. Over time, this heat gets pushed into the joints as a way to try suppress and control it.

If Stomach Heat is part of the Chinese Medicine diagnosis, it is essential to identify if any foods are causing the inflammatory reaction. Stomach Heat (gut inflammation) can also be created by an imbalance in the intestinal micro-biome due to a fungal or bacterial overgrowth including what is becoming a far too common problem, Lyme's disease.

From a Western medical perspective, psoriasis, as an autoimmune problem, is much more complex than eczema. 

From a Classical Chinese Medicine point of view, Psoriasis is created from heat coming out of the body's deepest energetic level, the KIdney or bone level. When heat comes out of this deep Constitutional level it is called a "Steaming Bone Syndrome."

"Steaming Bone" suggests that the Kidney system is pushing excessive metabolic heat away from itself in order to protect the Jing, or Constitutional Essence, that it stores. Jing corresponds to our cellular genetic makeup, so protecting our genes from heat invasion is a fundamental survival mechanism of the body. Toxic heat can create genetic mutations on a cellular level leading to more serious problems such as cancer. If heat is not being sufficiently cleared through the elimination channels of urination and defecation, this heat gets pushed upwards and prevents the Lung energy from properly functioning.

If the Lung Qi cannot descend properly because too much heat has weakened the lungs, asthma can develop. 

Furthermore, if the Lung energy cannot descend properly, then the Lung's action of diffusion out to the skin becomes overactive and this process pushes heat outward to the skin resulting in overstimulation of the epidermis and the development of psoriasis.

Early stage psoriasis will first manifest on the scalp, palms and soles of the feet.

As the condition becomes more chronic, the psoriasis moves toward the joint regions of the elbows and knees as the Dampness and Heat migrate closer to the center of the body and the trunk, where the psoriasis makes its way around and down to the base of the spine.

 

The Causes of Heat that Underlie Eczema and Psoriasis

The heat that gets penetrated to the deepest aspect of the body (the Kidney system) can come from emotional trauma, hereditary factors, diet, vaccinations, and exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides and herbicides, especially in the farming industry.

Vaccinations induce tremendous heat directly into the blood. Diet can also contribute to inflammatory heat in the body, especially a diet heavy in processed foods, bad fats such as hydrogenated oils, sugar and hot, spicy foods such as caffeine and alcohol. 

Lifestyle can create inflammatory heat that eventually explodes out via the skin. Unhealthy habits including excessive mental stress, smoking, drugs, and even excessive exercise and sex can generate too much heat in the body and consume the blood reserves needed to cool down this heat pathology.

As we age, our blood reserves decline so it is imperative to keep our systems cooler. As our blood declines with aging, our vision declines, our memory decline, and our skin and muscles dry up. Adequate blood reserves also keep inflammatory processes of exorbitant heat under control as blood cools the fire in the body. Once blood weakens with aging, inflammatory disorders begin to express themselves and latent heat can begin to surface on the skin with dark skin pigmentations, liver spots and moles. These are all indications of heat that has been trapped in the body, now being released.

Constitutionally, we are all born with different levels of strength. However, all children are deficient of Yin and Blood. If a child's Jing, or Essence, that is stored in the Kidneys is particularly weak, he or she will be prone to early onset of diseases. This is especially true when aggressive vaccinations are administered at an early age. Vaccinations put toxic heat directly into the blood system and in general children have very vulnerable immune systems, which is why a lot of chronic diseases begin at a very early age.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, childhood onset of psoriatic arthritis arises when inflammatory heat penetrates to the level of the bones or joints. Excessive inflammatory heat at an early age is likely created from some type of stress (vaccinations, birth trauma, a stressful pregnancy of the mother or food sensitivities) that compromise the child's Jing, or Essence, and prevent him or her from properly dealing with it. The child's body with its innate wisdom traps this toxic heat in the joints to protect the vital organs, and this creates arthritis. If the skin gets hyped up as a way of venting the heat, this leads to the painful chronic autoimmune problem of pediatric Psoriatic Arthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis occurs concurrently with around 30% of the people afflicted with psoriasis.

The good news is that Classical Chinese Medicine has a way to understand the pathogenesis of these complex skin diseases and a systematic way to treat and address both the acute and chronic phases of these disorders. Through the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, essential oils and diet modifications the often stubborn conditions of psoriasis and eczema can be brought under control safely and effectively to bring healing and a sense of peace to one's life.


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.