Nourishing Your Earth Element: the Key to Your Health

For many of us, September is a time of new beginnings – back to school, a new semester, or the busy season at work. But for our bodies and the world around us, it’s harvest time (at least if you’re in the Northern hemisphere!). While the external pressures are pushing us into longer days and more work, our bodies are banking their reserves in preparation for winter. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a mismatch between social expectations and physical needs, and it contributes to health issues for many people.

This time of year – harvest time, or late summer as it’s referred to in China – is allocated to the Earth element. The Five Element system in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a way of understanding the body in a holistic way and healing illness by bringing these elements back into balance. I go into this in depth in my online course, Rebalancing the Five Elements for Lifelong Health: a 5 Day Program to Heal from the Inside Out, but today I’m going to focus on the Earth element, because it’s where I begin with every patient I treat, for reasons I’ll get into later in the post. It’s also especially important to make sure the Earth element is healthy as we head towards winter – whether that’s the winter months or the winter of our lives – because the Earth allows us to store our energy.

Earth: The Foundation of the Five Elements

The Five Elements are often shown in a cycle, demonstrating the complex relationships between them, but they can also be displayed with Earth at the centre, because the Earth element is the foundation for health.

The 5 elements are most commonly shown in a cycle to demonstrate the complex relationships between them.

The 5 elements are most commonly shown in a cycle to demonstrate the complex relationships between them.

The 5 Elements are sometimes shown with Earth at the centre, indicating it's importance to our health.

The 5 Elements are sometimes shown with Earth at the centre, indicating it’s importance to our health.

If you’re a gardener, you know that if you want healthy plants, you need healthy soil. One of the tenets of organic gardening is that you have to feed the soil. In TCM, the Earth element primarily refers to the digestive system, which is the equivalent of our soil. How well our digestive system works in absolutely crucial, whether someone has digestive symptoms or not. Why? Because the digestive system (or Spleen Qi as we call it in TCM) is how we get all our energy and nutrients. If that’s not working at full capacity, nothing else can be.

The Earth Element in Action: Health Benefits and Consequences

So how does this look in practice? When the Earth element/Spleen Qi/digestive system is weak, poor digestion is a common symptom, but it’s not the only one. Just as common is low energy, weight gain, slow healing from injuries and illness, and a worried, obsessive mind that won’t stop thinking. A weak Earth element is also often a root cause of poor sleep, low immunity, anxiety, an overactive stress response, and many other common ailments.

Here’s how the human body ideally works, from a TCM perspective. We eat good food in a relaxed way that allows us to digest it, and turn that food into everything we need to survive and thrive. At the same time, we have a good balance of activity and rest, so we use some of the energy from our food, but not all of it. At the end of the day, we have some of that energy left to put in the bank (our Kidneys in TCM) – we replenish our reserves so that we have some extra energy for when we get old or if we become ill. By taking care of our Earth element through diet and living a balanced life, we always have plenty of energy to live a full, active life into old age.

Here’s how the human body works (or doesn’t) in the modern era. We eat whatever’s quick and easy (often high in sugar, which overwhelms the digestive system), often gulping it down at breakneck speed while worrying about something. Our Earth element has no time or opportunity to process that difficult-to-digest food, leading to poor nutrition and weight gain. We work too hard, think too much, and sleep too little, so instead of having extra energy to put in the bank at the end of the day, we’re constantly having to draw from our reserves to make our next deadline. (A classic example of this is having that extra cup of coffee to push through a long day, which gives us a kick of adrenaline to perk us up, but eventually leads to what is now being called adrenal fatigue in functional medicine). By constantly taxing our Earth element through a poor diet and a stressful life, we find ourselves exhausted and overweight, and our health declines in our 30s, 40s, and 50s – much earlier than it should.

As an aside, it blows my mind how much people spend on trying to look young and beautiful, when really the recipe for youth and beauty is this: eat well, sleep well, and lead a low-stress, active lifestyle.

How to Heal the Earth Element

There are many ways to heal the Earth element and set the foundation for your health, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine being two of the most powerful. But as powerful as they are, they can only provide temporary relief if someone’s lifestyle and diet are constantly draining the Earth energy. In the Rebalancing the Five Elements for Lifelong Health course, I teach practices for healing all five elements, starting of course with Earth, so if you know that you’re out of balance, check out the course and start making some healthy lifestyle changes.

Next week, I’ll be talking about some of the most important dietary changes you can make to ensure your soil is healthy enough to support your life. But to get our bodies ready to absorb the good food we eat, we need to assess our work-life balance. To begin to heal your Earth element, take some time this week to reflect on these questions:

  • How do you eat? What are you doing or thinking about while you eat? Do you feel relaxed and calm or stressed out while you’re eating?
  • Does your life have a good rhythm of work, rest, and play? Or are you working all the time, feeling like you don’t have time to take care of yourself?
  • How’s your sleep? Do you get enough? Do you wake feeling rested, or do you have to drag yourself out of bed after hitting snooze a few times?

Once you’ve got a realistic picture of how your life currently is, decide on a couple of key changes you can make so that you have some energy to bank at the end of the day, rather than constantly stealing from your reserves. If life feels too busy to make these changes now, remember that we’re playing a long game here – it’s not about whether you can keep pushing through for the next week or year, but whether you’ll still have enough for an energetic old age. Don’t steal from tomorrow to make it through today. Very few things in life are worth that.

Remember, your Earth element is the soil out of which you flourish. By taking care of the Earth, we can achieve the health goals we long for: plenty of energy, getting to and staying at a healthy weight, a strong immune system, a calm mind, and a youthful old age. So if you’re not sure where to start, start with the Earth.

Your health ally,

Moss

Moss
Moss Andrewes is an acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, specializing in women’s health and chronic illness. Originally from the UK and now residing in Canada, she is a writer, speaker, and event organizer, focusing on health, sustainable living and community. Her lifelong passion for making the world a happier, healthier place has led her through many adventures, including off-grid sustainable living, disaster relief, and various community health projects. She currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with her partner and two cats.

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