The Earth element, Transitions, and the Yi
“The knowledge of the heart is in no book and is not to be found in the mouth of any teacher, but grows out of you like the green seed from the dark earth”
There are five elements in Chinese medicine theory. We are currently in the element, or phase, of earth.
Some key words of the earth element are: Yellow, singing, sympathy, thinking, ripeness, sensuality, community, fragrant, welcome, harvest, rumination, late summer, stability.
In Chinese medicine, the 5 elements are a helpful tool to help us reflect on our own inner lives. Each element corresponds with a season, and each season has its own dynamic energy. As we become aware of how these energies behave in nature, we can become more self aware of our own internal changes.
For example, The wood element is spring time. Spring is a time for growth, active living, and starting new projects. The unencumbered growth of plant life, like weeds growing through concrete, illustrates spring time. The wood element is all about vision, and planning. Any obstacles that are in the way of this can lead to frustration, which is the emotion of wood.
The earth element is the phase of late summer. Its energy is slow and considered. It is a time to return to our center, and nourish ourselves. Earth is the element of transition.
The earth element is distinct from the others in that it not only has its own season of late summer, but it manifests during each seasonal change. The movement that earth has, is that of transition. Earth time exists at the center, and all other elements flow around it.
Although Earth time is an energy of transition, The earth element is most associated with the “season” of late summer. This is the transition between summer and autumn, when the harvest is at its absolute peak, and when we are on the precipice of fall.
Fire (Summer) time is a time of spontenateous, joyful living. After the fervent growth of spring, summer is a time for enjoyment, embodiment, and elation. At this time, the leaves are at their most open, recieving the sun , and life is flourishing in a way that is complete and fully grown.
In life, fire is a time in early adulthood, following the springtime of adolescence and teenage years (more or less). There is a fullness of living, a brightness of being embodied and maturing into the self. There are ups and downs, just as a fire rises and falls. There are times of great elation, and times of emptiness, and quietude.
There is a time now, when we are nearing the end of this ecstatic and spontaneous season. The first leaves are beginning to fall. We are at the peak of ourselves, fully in the “yang” external energy of manifesting.
There is nowhere left to expand at this point, so Autumn must begin.
Autumn is a time of loss and grief. There is a sense of appreciation for the beauty of living things, and also an understanding that everything on earth is impermanent. This is like the life phase of retirement, of downsizing, and of reflection. During autumn, our lives are becoming distilled into the most pure and precious substance, so that we can be empty, and feel peace. The metal element (autumn) is like the earthly body. Although it is deeply connected to spirit, it is also fully aware of its impermanent nature.
The organs of the autumn time are the Lung and Large intestine. In autumn we are seeking the utmost purity and clarity. It is like breathing deeply that first burst of autumn air. The lungs bring in this clear energy, and are a very sensitive organ. The lungs only want the most clear air to breathe, and have no room for excess. In autumn time we should seek minimalism and clarity. The large intestine is also an organ of releasing, and of detoxification. The large intestine rids us of unnecessary waste.
Earth time is like a spiritual axis between these two phases of summer and autumn. The slow moving, considerate nature of earth helps the transition from being too abrupt. We are going from the blossoming, joyful, elated summer time, into a time when all these things are decaying and moving on.
During this transition, we have the gift of earth to keep us balanced. Earth helps us push through and to adapt, to have compassion and understanding during the changes.
Living in earth means enjoying all of the fruits that have matured in summer time. There is a sense of satisfaction, and abundance. In a life span, this would be around the time the kids are off to college, or when a career has come to fruition. There is an overflowing of nourishment. There is an empty nest, but yet a sense of fulfillment. It is time to enjoy the harvest. We are empty yet full.
Earth time can be a reminder of steadiness, commitment, and letting go of the previous season. Earth reminds us to return home, to sit with our loved ones, and enjoy our community . There is a sense of gratitude for all that we learned and gathered from summer (or any previous season). This gratitude is an especially valuable practice in this season of late summer. We can not relive the summer time (until next year), so we let go and are grateful for what we have gathered and become. We don’t hold on.
The stomach and the spleen are the organs of Earth. Any digestive upset, over thinking, fatigue, or emotional dissatisfaction, may be due to an earth imbalance. As we move into autumn, it is a great time to reflect on ourselves, on what we need to feel nourished in body, mind and spirit. In this way, we can enjoy the fruits of our labor, and feel satisfied.
All of the elements have a Spirit
The spirit of earth is the Yi, and is housed in the spleen. The Yi is considered the intellect in Chinese medicine.
Physically, the Yi manifests as our body’s digestive process. The ability to push through, and process information in the form of food/nourishment, is part of the role of earth. The earth element manifests in the flesh and muscles. Fatigue and a lack of stamina to push through the day, can often be a sign of a spleen deficiency.
The emotional/mental aspect of the Yi has to do with our ability to concentrate, to hold attention, and to churn through and digest information. When this function of processing information is out of balance, we find ourselves overthinking or thinking in circles. The function of a healthy earth is not only to process, but to transform this information into being. If we find ourselves ruminating on the same subjects over and over, it’s a sign that our earth is in need of care, and balance.
The spirit level of the yi has a lot to do with giving and revieving of nourishment on the soul level. Are we receiving in a way that is balanced with how much we are giving. Is there an even flow? Is the nourishment we are receiving being integrated into meaning and clarity?
During this transition, and into autumn, it’s important to keep a simple diet of nourishing, easy to digest, and moistening foods. Autumn is a time of dryness in Chinese medicine theory, so steamed foods are helpful (steamed broccoli, squash, pears etc.)
It is important to avoid excess sweets, and processed foods. Everything we intake (food, information, energy) must be integrated by the earth element. Raw foods, cold foods, and processed foods are far more difficult to digest, and stress our system.
If we eat toxic foods, or eat in excess, we are asking our Earth to integrate these unnecessary vibrations, which will possibly be rejected, leading to dis-ease. Unwholesome foods can lead to more rumination, lack of energy, and overall disruption.
Key words for late summer/early autumn nutrition:
naturally sweet, yellow/orange, simple, whole, slow, moderation, steamed, Local, communal, thoughtful, masticated thoroughly.
Some key foods for earth time and Stomach/spleen health:
Sweet potatoes, carrots, yellow squash, rice, quinoa, salmon, turkey, corn, papaya, pineapple, peaches, peas, pumpkin seeds, baked apples, baked/steamed pears.
Processed foods, added sugar, dairy, overly salty foods, raw foods, cold foods, iced drinks.
Acupuncture point of note for earth time
Spleen 8. “Earth Motivator”
This point located on the anterior lower leg, speaks to the earth within us.
Sometimes if we are feeling stuck, sluggish, foggy—like our lives are going in a loop, it’s time for a seismic shift. This point “motivates” earth to move and shift when it is stuck.
Likewise, it a person is constantly unbalanced, not finding regularity (physically or emotionally, or in general), and not feeling integrated, we can use this point to bring earth back to stability and center.
“Bear” Qi gong for earth time:
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent. Protrude your belly out and your arms out as a sort of zombie walk (bear walk).
In this way imitate a bear and slowly walk around the space, keeping knees only slightly bent.
Visualize yourself as a bear, visualize everything around you as your domain and home, feel the abundance and satisfaction that comes from being a bear. Stick out your full belly like a bear.
The most important aspect of this qi gong exercise is the visualization, so don’t drop it!
Do this as long as you like.
Larre, C., Elisabeth, R. de la V., Root, C. (2001). The Lung. Monkey Press.
Jarrett, L. S. (2015a). The clinical practice of Chinese medicine. Spirit Path Press.
Chang, S. T. (1986). The Complete System of Self Healing. Tao Publishing.