We recognize the Five Element or Five Phase theory as part of the wisdom that informs our qigong view of life and nature. The Five Phase theory posits that everything in the universe, including our health, is governed by five elements, which incorporate their corresponding organs and seasons: wood/liver/spring, fire/heart/summer, earth/spleen-pancreas/Indian summer, metal/lungs/autumn and water/kidneys/winter. Note that in Chinese medicine, unlike Western medicine, the ‘spleen’ is responsible for the tasks of both the pancreas and the spleen.
This fifth season, the Earth phase, is quite distinctive as it corresponds to two unique time periods: the short season called “Indian summer,” those last warm days of September or October, and the times of change a few weeks before and after the solstices and equinoxes.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the spleen-pancreas are the organs of digestion and nutrition. Their function is so pervasive in our lives that their influence is not limited to one season. The Earth element is our foundation and it is always there in the background. Earth helps us stay centered and balanced in late summer as we approach autumn and begin to prepare ourselves for winter, the season of rest.
We have an exceptionally intimate relationship with the Earth by virtue of our food, all of which comes from the Earth. The stomach receives the food we eat and begins to process it. The spleen-pancreas then distributes nourishment throughout the body. This function is vital as it transforms everything we eat and drink and then sends it to other parts of the body where blood is made. This is an essential and complex process. Another extremely important function of these two organs is to regulate our blood-sugar levels.
The spleen-pancreas is responsible for clear thinking and our ability to concentrate. Excessive worry is the challenging emotion associated with the Earth element and is usually accompanied by analytic thought patterns. When this pattern is active we can easily spend much of our time analyzing and studying, as we try to absorb or digest information. This can lead to insomnia and difficulty in calming the mind. How can we resolve this? By cultivating trust. When we begin to trust, if only for one moment at a time, it becomes easier to trust life. This takes practice.
“Open yourself to Heaven and Earth, then trust your natural responses . . . and everything will fall into place.” – Lao Tzu
In addition to practicing calming and nourishing qigong methods during the fifth season, we can further support ourselves with consistent eating habits. These include eating at the same times each day, not skipping meals, eating moderate amounts, taking time to enjoy our meals and cultivating gratitude for the Earth’s bounty. This is an important time to substitute excessive studying with more time for relaxation and being outdoors.
The Earth is where we live, it is our planet and it is constantly changing. Even though we are living in a constant state of flux, the Earth is our best stabilizing force during times of change.