One of the most important principles in chinese medicine is the 5 element or 5 phase theory. This theory explains that all of life moves through 5 phases: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each element corresponds to a season, colour, sound, taste, and organ(s) in the body. For example, wood is spring, fire-summer, metal-fall, and water-winter. You might be thinking, what about earth? Well Earth corresponds to late summer, early fall. But, more importantly it relates to the period of transition between the seasons. The transition from one season to the next is marked either by an equinox or solstice, which is often around the 21st of September, December, March, and June. 7 and a half days before and after the equinox and solstice corresponds to the “Earth time”.
This is a time where the organs relating to the Earth element (the Spleen and Stomach) are much more solicited. In a general sense, the Spleen and Stomach regulate digestion, assimilation and integration of nutrients in the body and blood. This is why in this 2 week period we can often have digestive issues come up to the surface such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, sugar cravings, etc. We can also feel more tired, heavy or lethargic. These symptoms can emerge as well on the psychological and emotional planes as ruminations, worrying, obsessions, agitation, restlessness, and a general feeling of heaviness or density… They are calling our attention to take care of the earth element in us.
The transition from one season to the next calls us to digest, assimilate, and integrate the lessons, gifts, challenges, and experiences of the last season in order to move into the next season from an integrated, centered place. For example, right now we are moving from summer to fall: from Fire to Metal. The energy of Fire is expansive: freedom, joy, play, movement, expression, exploration, fast-moving, outward, sun, etc. The energy of Metal is contraction: structure, organization, discipline, responsibility, internal, letting go, slowing down, moving into the yin or more receptive qualities of our being. Both energies are needed in order to maintain balance and harmony within the cycle of life. But it can be rather jarring to move directly from one to the next.
This is where the Earth energy comes in as transition: grounding, stability, center, contemplation, reflection, immobility, equanimity, neutrality, self-care, nurturing, balance of yin and yang. A long, long time ago, the ancient Chinese emperors would spend this 2 week period around the equinox and solstices in a yellow-painted room (yellow is the colour of the Earth element), where they would reflect and contemplate on the last season and prepare for the next. Unfortunately, in our society we don’t always have the opportunity to retreat for 2 weeks 4 times a year, or a conveniently yellow-painted room to contemplate in… BUT we can use this time as a reminder to cultivate the earth element in us, in the way that we connect to it.
How do you connect to your center? What practices help you feel your ground, your foundation, without feeling heavy or weighed down? What activities bring you into a state of neutrality or balance?
Here are a few that resonate with me:
1***Sit in nature (even in the parc in the city) and take in the smells and sights; the way the light and wind moves through the branches. The sitting posture corresponds to the earth element, as it encourages a sense of stability and grounding. Feel your connection with the earth, feel roots going down through the feet or coccyx and allow your body to sink into that connection. Let anything that is worrying you or any fatigue or heaviness melt down through those roots and imagine it being mulched, composted, transformed by the earth`s moist and fertile ground. Then take a few breaths to invite and receive new, fresh earth energy up through those roots and fill your whole body.
2*** Yoga poses that focus on strengthening the legs are really helpful to bring that sense of GROUNDING – warrior poses as well as balance poses such as tree pose are great. Spinal twists are also wonderful in this time as they give the digestive organs a good massage. And last but not least, a long held child’s pose (with knees together, the head on a cushion if necessary) is a great way to empty a busy mind. Visualize thoughts pouring out the top of the head.
3***Abdominal massage- Lie down with your knees bent and feet on the ground (or even on your bed, this is a great practice to do before going to sleep and if you`re feeling bloated) and rub the hands together vigorously. Place them over your belly button and begin to massage your abdomen. Massage in and around the belly button especially, this will strengthen the earth energy. Explore, use your intuition to feel for the tensions, and use the exhales out the mouth to release them. Be gentle and loving!
4A**Cooking is a practical and fun way to connect to the earth element… the Spleen LOVES hanging out in the kitchen. It also loves ROOTS, especially the orange and yellow kind- squash, carrots, parsnips, beets, rutabagas, whatever grows down into the earth! Whole grains such as brown rice, millet, oats, quinoa, buckwheat will also make the Spleen very happy as well as warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves. The Spleen also loves rhythm: regular meal and sleep times bring that sense of grounding (awww…time to let go of the summer habit of sleeping whenever!)
4B***Watch out for the Spleen stressors: sugar, flours (yes, that includes bread and cookies), alcohol, dairy products, too much raw food, cold drinks, and tropical fruits (yes, that includes bananas…) can create dampness or humidity in the spleen and can contribute to a feeling of heaviness or lethargy. Baked apples with cinnamon can satisfy many of these cravings!
To conclude, during this 2 week period around the equinox it can be very helpful to come back to simplicity in all ways, with food as well as with activities and practices. It’s a time to cultivate a sense of stability, regularity, grounding, in whatever way that resonates with and works for you. Equinox is the moment when the sun crosses the equator; night and day are of equal length. Let us invite this sense of balance of light and dark into our lives so we can move into the next cycle from a nourished, centered and grounded place.