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"Some words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are endless."

Dan Millman


Proper Digestion is Vital to Good Health

When the high temperatures of summer come, we tend to cool ourselves down with chilled drinks and food. Let me explain what happens to our bodies when we do this, as it is an important part of shiatsu practice as well health and well being in general.

First, we need to understand how we derive energy from food and beverages. In Chinese medicine, digestive function is described as a process of transformation and transportation of the pure and impure parts of food and drink. Here we will mainly discuss the functions of the stomach and spleen in this process. Imagine the stomach as a pot where all food and drink is processed. The spleen is like a fire under the pot. The spleen's function is to distil and send the purest parts of food up to the lungs, where it will later become our vital force or energy.

The pure parts of liquids are sent up to the heart, where they become part of the blood. The impure food parts are sent to large intestine and impure liquids to the small intestine. Both distil pure parts from the impure so nothing is wasted. The body uses the pure liquids from the small intestine for cerebrospinal fluids (and nourishes Kidney Yin). The waste liquids from the small intestine are transported to the bladder and out of the system as urine. The pure food from the large intestine becomes fuel for Kidney Yang - called life fire.

Proper digestion is vital to good health. All organs must work in harmony in order to keep the body running smoothly and in peak condition. In shiatsu, a great deal of importance is placed on treating the stomach and spleen and on understanding their functions in the body. The stomach and spleen must 'cook' everything we ingest to a 'soup', which is heated to 100 F (body temperature is 98,6F). Obviously, whatever looks like a soup, i.e. well-chewed food, with a temperature close to 100 F, is easy to digest and promotes the production of vital energy.

And here we come to the point where Traditional Chinese Medicine and modern western nutritional belief diverge. Chinese medicine asserts that drinking and eating cold or frozen food or drink has a dampening effect on our digestive fire. As a consequence the body has to create an immense amount of energy to warm the contents in the stomach to 100 F. If the stomach and spleen fail to digest completely, there is less available material from which to produce our vital force, so we eventually feel sluggish and tired and can develop numerous kinds of digestive problems or complications in other diseases.

Eating ice cream or drinking iced water in summer cools the body but impedes digestion; to enable proper digestion, considerable amount energy is required to warm up the stomach, thus, warming up the body again. However, we may or may not be aware of this effect. Nevertheless, we should all keep in mind the importance of supporting and maintaining the healthy fire of digestion, as it is our only engine for this life.

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© 2006 Linda Zivnustkova