In TCM, the digestive system is seen as the foundation of overall health, as it is responsible for transforming food into energy. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese found ways to improve the flow of Qi or life force, which improves digestion. Qi flows through the body along specific pathways called meridians, and a blockage in the flow of Qi can lead to all sorts of health issues, including digestive problems.
What is digestive fire?
The old saying, “There’s a fire in my belly,” means you are experiencing a sense of ambition or determination. But why the belly – surely the heart or the head would make more sense? In fact, recent research is linking the microbiota of the digestive system to mental health with researchers referring to it as the gut-brain axis. So, to feel energetic and have a clear mind, the digestive system needs fire.
The spleen transforms food into Qi and blood, while the stomach receives and breaks down food. When these two organs function harmoniously, the digestive process moves smoothly. TCM doctors explain the spleen as the pot perched over the fire, which is the stomach. If there is insufficient fire, the energy will not be bubbling in the pot. A deficiency of Qi, can lead to the symptoms most of us have experienced at one time or another, such as bloating, gas, indigestion, and fatigue.
TCM Techniques for Reducing Bloating and Gas
No one wants to walk around with an uncomfortably blown up stomach, or the embarrassment of excessive gas. While acupuncture can help improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and alleviate symptoms such as bloating and gas, TCM practitioners also use herbal remedies. Many lesser-known herbs can help improve Qi flow and reduce symptoms of indigestion, such as lion mane mushrooms and ashwagandha. Then, the type of herbs and spices everyone has in their kitchen, such as ginger, peppermint, cloves, and fennel, also have a part to play. Ginger has been used for centuries to alleviate nausea and can help stimulate digestion, reduce inflammation, and enhance nutrient absorption. Certain foods like ginger will increase your digestive fire through its warming properties, so make sure to incorporate ginger into your meals, whether it is in a curry, soup or a smoothie.
To increase digestive fire eat warm, cooked foods. Cold or raw foods are believed to weaken the digestive system and can lead to bloating and gas – think of raw cabbage or raw red pepper chopped into a salad. Applying acupressure to a point called Stomach 36, located on the lower leg, also helps.
Experts says one should avoid overeating and eat slowly and mindfully. Try to stop eating when you feel 80% full as it takes around 20 minutes for the gut-brain connection to let you know you have had enough. Otherwise you get up from the table feeling overfull and need a nap!
The Importance of Proper Food Combining
Different foods have different energetic properties. TCM experts advise their patients to avoid combining energetically incompatible foods. For example, combining cold and raw foods with warm and cooked foods. It is also recommended to avoid combining foods that are difficult to digest, such as dairy and meat, in one meal. The TCM expert can best advise a program of foods to increase digestive fire tailored to your specific needs.
How Acupuncture Can Improve Digestion
Acupuncture works by stimulating specific points to regulate the flow of Qi and restore balance by reducing inflammation, improving nutrient absorption, and strengthening the digestive organs. Several acupuncture points are commonly activated. One such point is Ren 12, located on the midline of the abdomen.
Mind-Body Techniques for Stress Reduction and Digestive Health
The mind-body connection plays a crucial role in digestion. When we are stressed, our body’s natural response is to go into “fight or flight” mode, which can disrupt the normal functioning of the gut. Chronic stress can lead to long-term digestive issues and weaken the organs involved.
There are several mind-body techniques you can use to help reduce stress and improve digestive health.
With regular meditation practice, we can concentrate on our energy, promoting relaxation, which in turn enhances digestion. Yoga, with its combination of poses, breathing exercises, and meditation, also promotes balance, as does Tai Chi.
The Benefits of Regular Exercise
When we exercise, our body releases endorphins, natural mood boosters, so we feel good afterward. In addition to the feel good benefit, regular exercise stimulates blood circulation and the flow of Qi, both essential for optimal digestion. Rather than an all-out cardio effort once a week, try to fit in at least three to four moderate exercise routines per week, such as walking, swimming, practicing tai chi, or yoga. These exercises are gentle on the body and help reduce stress, a significant factor in digestive issues. You can start with our Five minute Tai Chi for vitality program when you wake up. Just five minutes to jump-start your day. It’s worth it!
Integrating TCM with Western Medicine
While TCM focuses on restoring balance and harmony in the body, Western medicine offers diagnostic tools and treatments that complement TCM therapies. For example, a person with severe digestive issues may benefit from undergoing an endoscopy or colonoscopy to identify underlying conditions. Once a diagnosis has been made, TCM therapies such as acupuncture and herbal remedies can assist in restoring balance. However, TCM should not be used as a substitute for Western medical treatment. Instead, it should be seen as a complementary therapy that can enhance the effectiveness of Western medicine and promote overall well-being.
If you desire to improve digestion in your body, seek a qualified TCM practitioner who can provide personalized guidance and support, assess your individual needs, and develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific condition.