Tag Archives: digestion

Taste of Earth

The arrival of the Late Summer season has me thinking of food. To be honest, I think about food in every season and several times a day. But the Earth season is particularly evocative of the sense of taste. Just look at all the wonderful harvest of fruit that appears in the markets at this time of year. Cherries, nectarines, peaches, melons, berries, apples, pears and more. A cornucopia of soft, sweet yumminess. To say nothing of the groaning tables of fresh vegetables at the Farmers Markets. Just thinking of it has me salivating.

While filming for the Earth video recently, I took a tour of the Adelaide Farmers Market and sampled all of the many different flavours on offer, thinking while tasting of the associations of each of the Elements. As I bit into a juicy Kalamata olive, the salty flavour evoked the Water Element of the sea from which our distant ancestors emerged. The sour taste of a grapefruit evoked the sharpness and directness of the Wood Element. The bitter flavour of dark chocolate gave a taste of the Fire Element as well as a caffeine charge to fuel its activity. The sweetness of all the fruits brought a roundness to the mouth that captured the Earth Element’s sweet character. And the pungent flavour of a spicy pie brought forth the Metal Element’s characteristics of concentration and distillation.

Much Asian cooking pays close attention to the balance of these five flavours in a meal. When the five flavours are in balance and harmony, we are accessing the very nature of the Five Elements and the harmonious interplay of their vibrations.

We can use this information about the five tastes in a number of ways.

You can begin by examining your food choices to see if any of the flavours are missing from your diet. If you notice, say, that you don’t have much sour food in your diet, you could start adding cider vinegar to soups or salad dressings,  putting a spoonful of sauerkraut on the side, taking lemon juice in water or adding slices of lime to drinks.

Notice if you have an aversion to a particular flavour which you exclude from your diet altogether. This may indicate an imbalance in the corresponding Element. For example an aversion to bitter foods may be telling you that your Fire Element is out of balance. Perhaps find some bitter foods that can be added to your food so you are not overwhelmed by the flavour on its own.

Also notice if there is a flavour which you crave. There is a clinical anecdote of a Polish man who habitually added a whole cup of vinegar to a bowl borscht soup, clearly signalling an imbalance in his Wood. Many people are addicted to sugar which is highly detrimental to the Spleen organ of the Earth Element. If this is you, try to substitute refined sugars with naturally occurring sugars in whole fruits and vegetables.

For me, the coolest use of the five tastes is found in the operation of the Five Element control (ke) cycle. In this cycle, each Element controls or restrains the Element that is the grandson, i.e. two positions ahead. Water controls Fire, Fire controls Metal, Metal controls Wood, Wood controls Earth and Earth controls Metal. If we look at the corresponding tastes, we find that the same principle applies in a very practical culinary way. Salt will control bitter in the way that the bitterness of eggplant is removed by rubbing salt into it. A bitter food will tame a dish that is too spicy. If your curry is too hot, grate some dark chocolate into it. A pungent herb or spice will control the tartness of sour tastes like citrus or vinegar. In turn, a sour flavour will make palatable a food that is sickly sweet. And finally a sweet flavour will overcome too much salt. This is a well-known strategy of food processors who use salt to preserve the food, then sugar to mask the salty flavour.

Next time you find that your pot of soup, stir-fry or other meal has one flavour that is overpowering the others, while you can’t remove the flavour, you can add another flavour to control it. Try it!

Check this table which lists some of the foods that correspond to each of the five tastes.

Salty Water Sea salt, miso, soy sauce, tamari, seaweed, dulse, arame
Sour Wood Citrus, cider vinegar, pickled/fermented vegetables, sauerkraut
Bitter Fire Cos lettuce, bitter greens, chicory, dandelion, citrus peel, dark unsweetened chocolate, tonic water, coffee
Sweet Earth Most fruits, pumpkin, carrot, sweet corn, rice, potato, cabbage, tomato, beets, almonds, walnuts, chicken
Pungent Metal Garlic, onion, spices such as turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, chilli; strong herbs such as rosemary, basil, fennel

One final use of the control cycle is in the case of overconsumption of certain flavours. When an excess of a flavour is consumed, it impacts upon the organ of the Element it controls, namely its grandson:

Too much salt injures the Heart.

Too much bitterness injures the Lung

Too much pungency injures the Liver

Too much sourness injures the Spleen

Too much sweetness injures the Kidney

Therefore be balanced in all of your consumption. The Elements and organs of your bodymind will sing harmoniously in gratitude.

Bon appétit.

How Effective Is Self-Acupressure?

One of the most common questions I get from clients and students is, “Can I do this on myself?” The answer is, certainly! But as you might expect, it is not as effective as working with a skilled acupressure therapist. (I want to keep my job after all.) Even so, there are some things you can do to make self-acupressure an important and effective part of your health maintenance program.

With all my experience and knowledge, I cannot treat myself as well as another practitioner can. The main reason for this is that when you self-treat, you are trying to be both practitioner and client at the same time and so your intention becomes divided. As client you cannot fully relax because you are holding and focusing on the point; as practitioner you cannot bring all your attention to treating the point because you are trying to relax into it.

Another major reason that self-acupressure is limited is that it is almost impossible to see ourselves objectively. You can’t see your own blind spots. So when you try to diagnose your imbalance, you simply can’t see what you can’t see. Another practitioner is more able to view your case objectively and so may be able to choose points that will more effective for you.

When it comes to treatment of self or other, there are four levels of increasing depth at which we can treat:

  1. First Aid
  2. Symptomatic
  3. Diagnostic
  4. Constitutional

Self-acupressure is best suited to the first level, that of First Aid. Let’s say you are feeling bloated and nauseated after eating too much. Holding Stomach 36 will probably ease your condition. Maybe you have a headache with pain at the back of your head and behind your eyes. Gall Bladder 20 is a good choice for easing the pain. At this level of treatment we are choosing a single point for a single condition.

The second level, what I call the Symptomatic Level of treatment, is where you notice a range of symptoms and associations from which you recognise that a particular Element is calling for attention. Let’s say you have stomach pain and reflux, are feeling more fatigued than usual, and there is a build up of fluid in your lower legs and ankles. The Earth Element is clearly calling for attention. A treatment pattern that combines Stomach and Spleen points is probably going to treat you more deeply than simply holding Stomach 36. However, if you are doing self-acupressure, it can be difficult to hold points in combination because of the contortions you have to make. For example, holding Spleen 4 with the opposite Spleen 21 would be a good combination, but even Houdini might be stretched with this one.

The third level, the Diagnostic, looks at the interplay of all the Elements. In the above example, where the Earth is out of balance, I would be most interested in the mother Element which in this case is Fire, and the grandmother Element which is Wood. How are these other Elements involved, or even contributing to the Earth imbalance? While a practitioner can observe you objectively, you may not be able to see your own wobbles. This is especially true when working at the psycho-emotional level where our old patterns, beliefs and behaviours might obscure a clear view of ourselves.

The deepest level of treatment is at the Constitutional Level where treatment focuses on points of the Element that is at the core of our energetic structure. It can be particularly difficult to self-diagnose our Constitution. It’s hard enough to do it for someone else. If you know your Constitutional Element, then you can focus on the points of that Element, but it is not possible to sink deeply into the treatment when you are focused on doing the treatment

So far I’ve been pointing out the limitations of self-acupressure. But that is not to say that you can’t get some very good benefits from working on yourself. Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of a self-acupressure treatment.

Choosing the right point

While holding any acupoint at all will make a positive intervention into your own energetic structure, the more closely you can match your symptoms and conditions with appropriate points, the better the results will be. My book ‘The Way of the Five Elements’ is useful because it describes the locations and related conditions of 54 powerful points. It also has a good index to match points to conditions. In addition, each point comes with a list of related points so you can make your work more effective with point combinations. If you don’t have my book, simply go online and search for your condition + acupressure and you will come up with many suggestions. You could begin with a keyword search of this blog site.

Finding the point accurately

An acupuncturist who is inserting a needle needs to be accurate within 1-2 millimetres; but when using finger pressure we have more latitude as the pressure is exerted over a wider area. Even so, the more accurate you are, the more powerful the treatment will be. While a point location book will give you a picture or an anatomical description, this is not the point itself. A map is not the territory. What you must search for is the feeling of the Qi of the point. Feel for the pulsing, waving, whooshing, tingling vibration that is the sensation of the movement of Qi. This is how you will know you have the point. If you don’t feel this, try moving your finger slowly around in a small circle, looking for that feeling. It may take time for you to develop this skill, but be patient and the Qi will come to you.

Being present with the point

Do your self-treatment when you are in a quiet, restful place. Doing it while watching TV or chatting to someone will not make for effective outcomes. As you hold the point, send your mind down into the point. The Japanese symbol for an acupoint (tsubo) shows a vessel with a long neck and a little lid over it. Sustained pressure will remove the lid and allow your intention to go down into the depth of the point and influence the Qi. Treat your session as a meditation.


Noticing the effects

Observe what happens as you hold the point. Be as present as you can with the physical sensations, and any emotions, thoughts or memories that might arise. Just be with them without judgement or a need to change anything. You might notice energy moving in other parts of your body and perhaps other points calling to you for treatment. Don’t rush to treat elsewhere, but wait until the point you are holding feels complete before moving on. You will find one level of release after two or three minutes, but sustained holding will go to deeper and deeper levels of release.

Concluding the treatment

After you’ve finished your work, sit or lie with the effects. Notice what has changed. Notice what has not changed. You might hold your hands over your belly centre (Conception Vessel 6) as you contemplate your treatment. And when you do get up, try to take the new awareness of yourself into your daily life.

I wish you well in your explorations.