Now that you know the basics of how Traditional Chinese Medicine regards the Spleen, let’s look at some practical ways to cultivate spleen energy.
1. TOUCH: Contact in whatever form that you find enjoyable (and is consensual, of course, if it involves another person) is a great way to nourish spleen qi. This includes massage, wrestling with your nieces and nephews, rolling down a hill, snow angels, cuddles, hugs, and shags. Sometimes, when we lack comforting touch, the desire to fill ourselves with food becomes enhanced. If you find yourself hyper-focused on food, take a moment to consider whether your need for loving human contact is underlying the focus on food. Food and touch are two essential forms of nourishment that every person needs in order to thrive (and different people need different amounts, so figure out what makes you feel comfortable and work from there).
2. STRETCH: The spleen absolutely loves it when you stretch and move your body around. In fact, if you can, take a second to stretch right now! Seriously. Your spleen will thank you for it.
3. MAKE A NEST: A nice comfortable home (or room, or whatever your living arrangement) is great for cultivating spleen energy. Take the time to clear out clutter. Hang some pictures of the people and things you love. Reorganize your space if it’s become old news. Burn some sticks of Palo Santo or sage and smudge the area if it’s become stagnant. I sound like a hippy, you say? Hey, don’t knock it ’til you try it!
4. ROUTINE LIVING: Okay, okay. I know it’s hard to follow an exact routine, since life is so unpredictable. But the Spleen likes routine and structure; consistency can help with feeling grounded and safe. I manage “routine” by setting small goals. For instance, a 4 out of 7 day goal is usually attainable for me. I set the goal to rise in the morning at a consistent time and to do at least 40 minutes of movement – yoga, stretching, walking, jogging – at least 4 times a week. This kind of routine is more manageable than telling myself that I will carry out this regimen for the rest of my life, every single day. Also, I’m a competitive lady – so routine becomes fun if it’s framed as a challenge! Be creative with how you frame your goals. It helps.
5. REFLECT UPON HOME: What was home like for you when you were growing up? If it was a dependable, healthy place where you could go to recharge, then send some thanks to the Big Great Goddess. If it wasn’t so stable, then reflect upon what a healthy home would have looked like for you. You deserve(d) whatever a healthy home is to you – more importantly, you can always create that space with the people you choose to call family. Remember, family does not necessarily imply those whom we are related to by blood – we can choose our family and love the ones we choose. Strong community has powerful effects on health, as shown by the Roseto effect. (Briefly, in the 1960s a doctor discovered a small town in Pennsylvania that had a lower rate of heart disease among its citizens than other comparable places in the the country. After some research, the doctor and his colleagues discovered the reason for this difference was not genetics, or diet, or exercise. It was the extremely tight-knit nature of the community. People were very social and connected, and it kept their hearts happy and healthy).
6. STOP THINKING. Ha! I know the inherent irony of this, considering our chattering monkey mind, as well as how important it is for us to cultivate critical thinking skills, and to be able to think about our world and our experience. But brain rest is important, too. Occasionally being able to practice non-thought (i.e. breaking from our constant cranial churning) can be very restorative to the body and spirit. Meditation, dance, swimming underwater, spinning in circles, listening to music, being silly with friends. Your mind truly needs a break sometimes, and figuring out ways to momentarily unplug yourself (when possible) is a great skill to cultivate.
So, close out Facebook and spin in circles until you feel like the world around you is a colorful blur. If you are in a small space, trying this simple technique used in Zen practice. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your chin slightly tucked. Close your eyes, take a couple of big, deep breaths – then let your breath come naturally. To begin the exercise, count “1” to yourself on your exhalation, then “2” on your second exhalation, and continue this up to 5 exhalations. When you reach 5, start a new cycle. Never count higher than 5, and count only your exhalations. You’ll quickly realize how the monkey nature of your mind when you find yourself at the number 17… multiple times. Once you realize your mind has wandered, don’t judge yourself – simply restart a cycle.
7. WARM IT UP: Steam, saute, bake, and use the dutch oven and the crock pot! The spleen likes to stay warm and dry (energetically speaking). It loves slightly warmed foods that are easy to digest (the longer you cook it at a low heat, the” easier” it is on the spleen). It also loves warming spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, and ginger.
8. OM NOM NOM: The Spleen loves sweet things. Not super sugary sweet things – but naturally sweet things, like root vegetables and whole grains. A party at Spleen’s house would be just like a vegetarian Thanksgiving feast – pumpkins, butternut squash, parsnips, turnips, yams, and carrots – all bumpin’ and grindin’! In moderate amounts, the spleen also benefits from raw honey, unsulfured molasses, and dark maple syrup.
9. PLAY IN THE DIRT: Literally.
10. EAT THIS/DRINK THIS…NOT!: As my last piece of advice, I’m actually going to avoid telling you exactly what to eat or drink, considering that the most important thing about nourishing the spleen is nourishing yourself. So, whatever it is that you put in your plate when you take a break to eat – take a moment to appreciate where that food came, and if it’s possible, sit down to eat that food surrounded by the people your love. But most importantly… enjoy it.