In the five element theory, each element matches a given season (e.g. fire = summer), except for the Earth Element, which corresponds to the time of transition between one season and another. The Earth element is also believed to represent the late summer time (or “Indian summer”), where we transition from the yang summer energy to the more yin autumn energy.
In nature, it is usually the time of abundance, harvesting, fertility, nourishment and harmony. That time of the year where we harvest, collect and store for the colder months. Therefore the earth element brings us back to the ground, to the centre (the Earth is in the middle of each element) and houses the intellectual and practical energy. It enables us to have opinions and to learn from our environment. Earth is where life emanates from and it is the mother of all beings. Compassion and being able to have empathy for others are key aspects of the earth. Its energy gives us the ability to think and ponder, which in excess can turn into worrying and over-thinking and can be damaging. Because this element is part of all transitions between the elements, balancing the earth element can help all other elements as well.
The Stomach – Yang organ
The Stomach provides all the cyclic patterns of the body. It tells you when to eat and how much to eat (because it learns what suits you in your environment). This reflects all the regular processes such as menstrual cycles, habits and breathing patterns. Regular small meals help to stabilise and overcome habitual modes of behaviour in all forms.
The Stomach governs the flesh (between the skin and the muscles) and the lining of the mouth (gums, inside of the cheeks and palate). When your Stomach function is damaged/poor, you can get drowsy when trying to concentrate. The stomach meridian includes not only the stomach organ itself but all organs of the alimentary canal (mouth, digestive organs, muscles, breasts).
Traditionally, the function of the stomach is to “accept internally those things that came from the outside world”. Psychologically, it’s being able to accept one’s immediate environment.
The Stomach is a learning organ, and if it is weak you become dull. Your first line of connectedness with the universe is the Stomach.
The Spleen – Yin organ
The Spleen & Pancreas regulate the digestive function from the hormones in the tongue to the bowels, and guide everything in terms of absorption, storage and distribution. The tastebuds of the tongue tell the rest of the body what hormones to secrete and get the body ready for whatever comes next. The Spleen function tells the rest of the body how to digest and what to digest from the taste. It deals with storage but it does not deal with amounts (that’s the stomach function because the stomach is about learning).
In Western Medicine the spleen clears the blood: it collects the old blood cells (the protein cover has exploded and only the iron is left), cleans them and rebuilds the protein around and send them away ready.
The Spleen and Pancreas are two different organs but for us (in the five element theory) it’s the same function: they work together to regulate the digestive function. The pancreas secretes insulin to help your body process sugar.
Upon receiving stimulation such as smell or taste, the Spleen then provides the appropriate forms of digestive fluids and reactions to absorb nutrients. This is extended to all forms of human functions of digestion such as attentiveness and ability to receive. The Spleen gives you desire.
Sugar is the end result of digestion: most of your digestive function is working to create sugar (so that you have energy). About ¾ of the food you digest is used as energy to help you digest.
When you damage the Spleen function, one of the first signs is that you lose your taste buds’ sensitivity. You need the taste buds to tell the rest of the body what to do and either its good or not. The best nutritional guide of the whole body is the taste and smell. You have to be healthy enough to tell what’s good for you or not, because the body automatically craves what it needs.
Expansion & contraction of the Spleen meridian (which runs along cheeks) happens through chewing, which in turn stimulates the secretion of saliva (1st step in digestion). In the abdominal area, the Spleen meridian is around the navel (where the solar plexus is, also known as the 2nd brain).
Chewing heightens the function of the spleen, whose meridian also controls the brain and the pancreas. Thus diabetes (caused by deficiency of the insulin secreted from the Langerhans islet of the pancreas) exhibits signs of spleen imbalance.
The Japanese say that chewing fosters intelligence.