Traditional Chinese medicine uses the meridians to better understand the flow of energy through the body. Practitioners of TCM know that our subtle body system is fully reliant on the unobstructed flow of energy through the meridians. Six of these meridians are specifically involved in the health of our digestive system: the stomach, spleen, small intestine, large intestine, liver, and gallbladder. Each digestion meridian plays a specific role in the processing, creation, and movement of energy in the body.
The process of digestion using the meridians begins in the mouth. We physically break down the food by chewing, and our spleen meridian controls the saliva that aids the break-down process. The stomach is responsible for churning food, breaking it down into smaller pieces. From there, the essential components pass through the spleen, which transforms nutrients into energy (Qi), blood, and necessary fluids.
The remaining mass, called chyme, is directed to the small intestine. The small intestine further separates the pure from the impure with help from the gallbladder and the liver. The gallbladder delivers bile to the stomach, which digests fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. The liver produces the bile and regulates the flow of Qi in the body.
The thin walls surrounding the small intestine protect the rest of the body from harmful bacteria, while any essentials that were missed by the stomach get distributed throughout the body. Any waste leftover from the previous processes is sent further along to the large intestine for disposal.
These systems are all interdependent, but you can see that if one of the meridians is dramatically out of balance, the whole system will be affected. For example, if we are exhausted our body will struggle with the initial break-down that happens in the stomach and the rest of the meridians will have to work harder to compensate.
We are all familiar with the physical process of digestion where the body break-down food and drink and converts them into usable energy. The meridians go a step further. Each meridian influences different parts of our subtle body. They manage the flow of digestive energy and assist with processing emotions, thoughts, and spiritual pursuits.
The Stomach: Depletion Control and Initial Break-Down
The subtle energy from our food can affect the stability of our whole system. Similar to the way hunger pains alert us when our body needs sustenance, our stomach meridian alerts us when we need nourishment emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.
The stomach meridian combats depletion with exhaustion. When we do not listen to our body’s signals, we throw ourselves out of balance. When we are out of balance, we may use compulsive eating to fill an emotional void. Emotional exhaustion can inspire us to oversleep because we do not have the energy to deal with stressful situations.
To strengthen the stomach meridian:
- Do stomach and spleen meridian exercises
- Eat whole foods that are easy to digest.
- Drink before or after, but not during a meal. And if you have to drink during a meal, sip hot water with lemon.
- Start a nighttime routine and take it easy when your body tells you to rest.
The Spleen: Transformation and Distribution
The spleen in Traditional Chinese Medicine transforms the nutrients in our food into food energy or Gu Qi. It takes what is usable and transports it throughout the body. The Spleen meridian works with the Lung to supply Qi everywhere in the body.
If the spleen is not functioning, we can feel lethargic and low energy. We may try to fix this low energy by eating carbohydrates and sugars. Sugar gives us a burst of energy but eventually leaves us more tired than we were before. The classic example would be eating a piece of chocolate every day.
To strengthen the spleen meridian:
- Do stomach and spleen meridian exercises.
- Eat natural sugars over processed sugars (fruit>candy).
- Eat warm and nourishing foods.
- Walk outside with bare feet. This is called earthing and helps ground you to the earth.
The Small Intestine: Separator of the Pure From the Impure
The small intestine separates pure and impure in the physical body as well as the emotional, spiritual, and mental bodies. It influences our mental clarity and judgment. In decision making, the small intestine helps us distinguish our options with clarity and gives us the power of discernment. Discernment informs our decision-making process, which is controlled by the gallbladder.
To strengthen the small intestine meridian:
- Do small intestine and heart meridian exercises.
- Practice a creative pursuit. Dance, sing, paint, draw, arrange flowers, whatever works for you!
- Take a probiotic to reintroduce healthy gut bacteria.
The Large Intestine: Final Separation and Disposal
The main job of the large intestine is the disposal of the unnecessary and the reabsorption of fluids at the end of the digestion process. Ailments normally attributed to the large intestine in Western medicine do not necessarily indicate a large intestine meridian imbalance in Eastern medicine. Issues with constipation and bloating are characteristic of a liver meridian disharmony; while issues with diarrhea and blood/mucus in the stool are characteristic of a spleen disharmony.
To strengthen the large intestine meridian:
- Do large intestine and lung meridian exercises.
- Practice breathing techniques and meditations that activate Mula bandha.
- Drink lots of water and eat lots of fiber.
The Liver: Neutralizer of Toxins, Controller of Qi
The liver meridian is responsible for detoxification and ensuring the smooth flow of energy (Qi). It moves the energy gained during digestion throughout the body. This energy nourishes our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies. Without the liver, the proper flow of energy in the body can either stagnate or become overstimulated. If the energy stagnates, we become apathetic and reliant on the guidance of others. If overstimulated, we get easily frustrated and lash out at those around us.
To strengthen the liver meridian:
- Do liver and gallbladder meridian exercises.
- Take a break from caffeine and alcohol, which put a strain on the liver.
- Eat small meals and stop when you are only half full.
The Gallbladder: Champion of Sleep, Protector of Rest-and-Digest
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the gallbladder is the regulator of sleep. The digestion process can only take place when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. The parasympathetic nervous system is our “rest and digest” system. The body has only three resting systems and eight activating systems. So it stands to reason that the activating systems dominate our body most of the time. This is especially true when we are under extreme stress.
Gallbladder meridian health is essential for activating the parasympathetic nervous system. It also gives us the courage to make decisions. In times of crisis and anxiety, we can often feel paralyzed by indecision. All it takes is one decision made at the right time to push us in the right direction.
To strengthen the gallbladder meridian:
- Try gallbladder and liver meridian exercises.
- Eat healthy fats like avocado and nuts instead of saturated, over-processed fats.
- Take the time to research your decisions. Make to-do lists. Start small and build up to decisions on more important topics.
Reimagining Healing With The Meridians
The healing power of the meridians is boundless and incredible. Small changes to our diet and daily life can change the whole flow of energy in our body. The meridians heal not only the body’s physical imbalances, but can also heal the mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies.
We cannot always fix the body the way we would repair a car by replacing the defective part. Sometimes our body takes a long time to heal and only a few days to harm. We need to heal our bodies slowly and from the inside out. We need to stop looking at the body as parts and start to understand how to body works as a whole.
These digestion meridian tricks are most effective when done regularly. Try incorporating some into your daily routine and see how much better you feel.