Part of why I love acupuncture theory so much is that it acknowledges and relies on the wisdom of our bodies. Western Medicine, too, acknowledges the body’s inherent wisdom with its feedback loops that regulate hormone balance, body temperature, hunger, thirst, and all sorts of other phenomena; indeed, pharmaceuticals themselves are designed to mimic delicate and intricate systems that are already in place in the body but which are, for whatever reason, not functioning optimally.
Acupuncture takes a different approach, which is part of why it serves as a wonderful complement to Western Medicine. Where Western Medicine introduces to the body a “replacement” for what it should be doing (such as a medication), acupuncture seeks to listen a bit deeper and “hear” what it is the body is trying to say underneath the chatter of its symptoms. It then takes that information and works with the body to bring it back into its own place of balance.
Take fatigue or being overweight as examples. Both of these are related to the functions of the Spleen in acupuncture theory (bear in mind that each organ in acupuncture theory is actually an energetic system, so where we talk about the Spleen we are referring to an energetic system and not the physical organ itself). The Spleen is responsible for both digestion and the transformation and transportation of fluids in Chinese Medicine, and so when the Spleen experiences imbalance it can become sluggish, resulting in excess weight and fatigue, among other things. The Spleen also governs the muscles, and so imbalance in the Spleen can lead to muscle fatigue and “flabbiness,” adding insult to injury.
But this isn’t bad! Fatigue and excess weight are both types of body language; the body is telling us, through these conditions, that the Spleen needs some attention – the trick is in understanding what that means. What acupuncture does is work with the organ systems that are using the strongest vocabulary to help bring your body back to its place of natural balance. This is partly why acupuncture treatments can be so relaxing – the body is being silent and “listening back” to the quiet message of the needles, helping it (the body) return to its natural quiet and peaceful state. But the needles are only a part of the treatment; our body is a beautiful system that constantly interacts with the world around it, and so if we want to experience longlasting health it is our responsibility to learn its language and work with it as a partner. So many times we see our body as our enemy, when in actuality all it is doing is trying to get our attention; we are the ones acting antagonistically, not our bodies.
The symptoms of fatigue and excess weight weren’t chosen randomly for the sake of this article; they happen to be typical symptoms for this time of year. Each organ system in Chinese Medicine is related to many things in the world around it: A time of day, a season, an element, a personality type, an emotion, a mental state, a relationship dynamic, specific sensations, and, of course, the physical organ itself. The Spleen is related to the Earth Element, and the Earth Element is strongest at this time of year, the Late Summer. Being of the Earth Element, the Spleen is related directly to the quality of nurturing (the quality of a mother, which, on some level, the Earth is to us). And, because the Earth Element is strongest in the Late Summer, it means that this is the time of year when, if we are not taking care of (nurturing) ourselves, our Spleen will become unbalanced and we may experience things such as weight gain and fatigue, to use our previous examples. Furthermore, if you happen to be an Earth, or Spleen “type” (which your acupuncturist can help you determine), this is the time of year when you want to pay extra careful attention to taking care of yourself and nurturing yourself with good food, good relationships, good rest, and acupuncture.
The Spleen is all about balance; it reacts strongly by going out of balance when it feels judgment from its neighbor, the Liver (more on the Liver in another newsletter) – so pay careful attention this season to how you judge yourself. Do you see yourself as fat? As unsuccessful? Unlikeable? Your Spleen will take those judgments and internalize them on a physical level, leaving you feeling fatigued, sluggish, and down. It may put extra weight on you to “protect” itself, and it may then turn muscles into flab because it is so busy protecting itself with extra weight – which, in turn, makes you more fatigued and possibly even lethargic. Or depressed. You get the picture.
So in this season of Late Summer, I encourage you to start listening to your body language and to the messages your Spleen, or Nurturer, is sending you. Look particularly at the things you don’t like about yourself; they are clues to something that needs to be nurtured in you, whether that be from better nutrition or more rest or self forgiveness. Pay attention to how you speak to yourself, and make a commitment to be gentler in your self talk. And make sure to put time aside for you – and, of course, for acupuncture.