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I got through the weekend, and this afternoon’s comfort-cookie crisis with Trader Joe’s Druid oatmeal cookies. As I was savoring the lovely chewiness of my third lovely cookie with tea, I had an “aha!” moment about the sweet-tooth comfort-food connection.

In the Traditional Chinese Medicine system, sweetness is associated with the Earth element. So when Earth element (associated with the Stomach and Spleen meridians) is out of balance, sweet cravings often ensue.

When might Earth element be out of balance?

  • The Earth is associated with home, the place we feel “homey”, so a move to a new house, or traveling could cause a tip in balance.
  • Or maybe you have too many ideas flying around your head, and you don’t feel “grounded.” You might reach for a cookie or ice cream.
  • Think about a plant; only when it is strong and grounded in the earth can it grow up and out.
  • For women, the Earth element is also related to the menstrual cycle, which helps us understand PMS sweets-cravings.

In my case, since I broke my ankle last week, my connection to the Earth has diminished. I can’t put both feet on the ground. I’m hobbling around on my right foot and two crutches. And even though I’m mostly stuck at home, it’s difficulty to feel homey. My foot is up in the air. My energy is way above the floor; I think it’s in my shoulder area because my shoulders are tired from using the crutches. Oy!

So, a few thoughts on balancing Earth energy:

  • First of all, it’s OK, I say, to eat my cookies! As long as I’m enjoying them, and in moderation. (I’ll run out at any rate, and can’t exactly run down to the store to get some more. That’s the silver lining.)
  • Now that I’ve identified this Earth-imbalance, I can be mindful about other ways to address it:
    • Enjoy healthier sweetness. Fruit. Dried dates. I’ve been eating fruit puree (frozen mangoes and blueberries) with yogurt.
    • Squeeze my muscles; the Earth element loves this. My right leg is working really hard, as are my arms, so I’ll give myself a little massage later.
    • Create routine, especially since I’ve had to adjust and adapt so much of the way I normally do things. I wrote about this, plus other tips in a post related to the Earth element.
    • Energize the Three Mile Point (Stomach 36). Sit down with feet flat on the floor. Make a light fist and rub vigorously along the outside of your shins, a couple of inches below your knee.

OK. So I now have a plan to help address my un-earthiness, and tame my cookie monster!

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In Chinese Medicine, the end-of-summer “season” (as well as all the “end-of” seasons) is associated with the Earth Element. It’s the time when some things come to a close, while other things begin.

At such a time of transition, the Earth Element reminds us to be grounded; think about healthy roots that help weather the uncertainties of transitions. The Earth Element is also about being centered; after all, the earth is the center of the other elements: metal, water, wood and fire.

Here are some ideas to support you in being more grounded and centered at summer’s end, and on any day.

Natural Sweetness

Do you find yourself at times craving sweets more than usual? When I feel stressed or wanting some “comfort”, I’m mightily tempted to indulge in my favorite almond croissant. The flavor associated with the Earth Element is sweetness, so that sugar craving can signal a state of being uncentered. The problem is that sugar can add fuel to the fire, by throwing you off balance even more with spikes in blood sugar and energy. Consider some natural sweetness: add honey, instead of sugar, to sweeten your tea; treat yourself to the natural and healthier sweetness of dried dates.

Acu Point: Hara

This point is a couple of fingers’ width below your bellybutton. This is your “energy center”, the place from where you have greatest balance. If you have lots of thoughts and ideas flying around in your head, you might feel light, ungrounded. If you’re dragging your feet, heavy on the ground and sluggish, your energy needs some uplifting, to be centered. Next time you feel uncentered, take a seat with your feel on the floor, or stand with your weight evenly on both feet, and rest one or both hands gently on your belly, under your navel. Take a few long deep and slow breaths. Learn more about this.

Grounding Through Routine

In Chinese Medicine, routine is associated with the Earth element and the idea of “home”. Do you have a daily routine that feels “homey” to you? A daily morning walk, afternoon yoga practice, or bedtime reading… I talked about this earlier in terms of the benefits of routine for healthy travel, but consider that every day of your life is a journey.

Jet lag, uncomfortable hotel beds, hauling around luggage…these are just some of the things we deal with when traveling. Here are some tips for wellness on the road. We’ll cover these and others in the next wellness class, “Travel Better with Acupressure” at Elephant Pharmacy.

Stay Hydrated

Did you know that air on airplanes is dryer than the desert? To improve your experience during and after your flight, drink water before, during and after; one glass per hour. Also, soak in water–a bath, pool, the ocean–as soon as you can after the flight. I took a nice hot bath after a 16-hour journey; I think it helped since I didn’t experience jet lag! Read more tips here.

Acu Point: Inner Gate

This point can help quell a queasy stomach on a turbulent flight or taxi-ride, as well as help relieve insomnia that might be related to feelings of anxiousness. It’s on the inner forearm and easy to hold wherever you are. Read on to learn more about the point.

Grounding Through Routine

When we travel, by definition we are away from home. This can be fun and exciting, but it can also be disconcerting to be away from the grounding foundation of home-base. In Chinese Medicine, routine is associated with the Earth element and the idea of “home”. So next time you travel, consider if there’s part of your home routine that you might take with you–whether it’s your daily morning walk, afternoon coffee break, or bedtime reading.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, balanced daily routine is said to be a key to long healthy life. I think about my grandfather who was very organized; for example, he had his breakfast at 8:30am every morning. I could practically set my watch to it. And he lived fully to 92.

So let’s say you agree that routine is good. But can too much of a good thing become not so good? I’ll share my friend’s experience of getting herself out of a rut.

For five years, my friend started each day with a walk around her neighborhood. It energized her. Got her off to a good start to write. (She’s a poet.) Recently, however, she noticed her aversion to her walks. She just couldn’t get going in the morning. She had walked herself into a rut. (Imagine if she had walked on a dirt path–instead of concrete–for 1800 days; there might be an actual rut in the road.)

So one day, she decided to make just one change. Instead of turning left, when she stepped out, she turned right. That was it. She walked the exact same route, but in the opposite direction. And that one difference made all the difference she needed. She was more present on her walk, because she couldn’t go on automatic pilot. She noticed things anew. She’s now back to her healthful routine. With that one simple–but profoundly effective–change, she has gotten out of a rut.

What daily routine could you change by just one facet, to give you a fresh new experience?

Some ideas (inspired by a great little book on neurobics called Keep Your Brain Alive):

  • Use your non-dominant hand when doing everyday things. For example, if you’re right-handed, use your left hand to brush your teeth, button your shirt, open the door, stir your coffee or tea…
  • Stimulate your other senses. For example, use touch, rather than sight, to pick out your clothes. Smell your lunch before you start eating; can you pick out the ingredients?
  • Change your seat. Choose a new spot at the dinner table. Or try a new seat at your next meeting. You might get an entirely new view of things.

Please share rut-releasing tips that have worked for you!