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Finding Stability in a Stressful World: The Earth Element

Inner Works Acupuncture is a Five Element acupuncture clinic in northwest Portland, offering treatment for chronic health conditions and the impacts of traumatic stress. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 503-227-2127.

Nourishment and Stability Are Foundations of Health

Every living thing seeks proper nourishment and stability to flourish.  The nourishment we take in allows us to maintain balance and stability throughout body and mind.  Likewise, stability supports our capacity to digest and be nourished by what we take in.  The ancient Chinese regarded digestion as the foundation of health, and the Earth as the ultimate source of nourishment.  In Five Element acupuncture, the Earth Element governs digestion and the harvest season (Late Summer).  Earth is at the center of every aspect of our existence.  To learn more about Late Summer and the Earth Element, watch the video.

Stability is not the absence of change.  Stability means finding balance in a changing world.  When we are fully nourished, the Earth Element within us is robust.  We can securely ride the waves of change.  Faced with stress, we have the resources we need to restore balance.

In the midst of a global pandemic, the human world feels insecure.  All around us, social and economic systems appear to be breaking down under stress.  The future may seem threatening and dangerous, even when we are not facing imminent personal threat.  When we sense danger, our bodies respond with fear.  The acute stress response (ASR) temporarily shuts down digestion, until threat has passed and we feel safe again.  In stressful times, we need a robust Earth Element within to help us regain balance, flourish and be nourished in an uncertain world.

Our Diet of Information and Experience

In Five Element acupuncture, digestion is understood as more than just a physical process.  The Earth Element also governs the digestion of information and experience – in other words, thought process and emotion are part of digestion.  Current neuroscience confirms the importance of the gut brain (enteric nervous system) in signaling safety or threat, triggering emotional shifts, and regulating the immune system.  The ancient Chinese understood this long ago, without the benefit of modern research.

Information and experience form our mental, emotional and spiritual diet.  Just like food for the body, nourishment depends on the quality of what we feed our minds.  We can make choices about our mental diet, just like we can choose what to eat for dinner.  Social media, news, movies, novels, art, music, and advertising all form part of our information diet.  Work, play, conversation, relaxation, exercise and social connection are part of our diet of experience.

Chronic Stress and Traumatic Experience

Sometimes, we don’t have a choice about the information and experience we take in.  Bad things may happen to us or to someone we care about – perhaps it’s just a mean word from someone, or getting stuck in a traffic jam.  And, most of us are exposed every day to disturbing news that evokes fear and anger.  Negative experiences can easily trigger an acute stress response (ASR), especially if someone has a prior history of traumatic experience or is under chronic stress.  When the ASR is triggered too often, fight-or-flight (sympathetic nervous system) may become the baseline state, making it more difficult to return to rest-and-digest (parasympathetic nervous system).  

Chronic stress leaves the body and mind in a state of hyper-arousal and fear.  Fuelling the ASR, it robs other body systems of much-needed nourishment.  Heart, lungs, brain, nervous system, and immune system all suffer.  The damage can show up in many places – heart problems, high blood pressure, poor sleep, acid reflux, to name a few.

Restoring digestion and returning body and mind to parasympathetic functioning (rest and digest) is the role of the Earth Element.  While the process of digestion is involuntary and below the level of consciousness, we can help strengthen the Earth Element through healthy choices and habits.

How to Heal and Support the Earth Element Under Stress

  • Eat a nutrient-dense whole foods diet that provides all the metabolites your body needs.
  • Limit exposure to media, advertising and news.  Choose carefully and consciously.
  • Reach out to friends and family for mutual support.
  • Spend time in nature.  Go to a park or green space.
  • Choose a hobby – arts, crafts or music – that engages the creative “right brain” and gives the linear thinking “left brain” a rest.
  • Engage in exercise or movement, even something as simple as taking a walk can help.
  • If you are suffering from chronic stress, consider wellness treatments, such as acupuncture, or Zero Balancing, that can help shift the body/mind to parasympathetic function and allow it to heal naturally.

References

Alaine D. Duncan.  The Tao of Trauma.  North Atlantic Books, 2019.

J.R Worsley.  Classical Five Element Acupuncture, Vol. III:  The Five Element and the Officials.  1998.

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