Dr. Marina’s interview by Elena Iacovou for Nature & Health magazine.
Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Marina Christov says that the gut is one of the most important parts she examines when seeing a patient.
“From the bottom-up an upset gut can trigger changes in your mental state, suggesting that a diminished balance of gastrointestinal function in your body could conversely be sending signals to your brain that cause neurological and emotional symptoms such as depression, anxiety and mood swings”.
“The same is true from a top-down perspective, implying that emotional imbalance like ruminating on negative emotions, worrying and overthinking, can disturb the digestive process and possibly lead to pathology”.
From a physical/energetic perspective
From a basic TCM perspective, the stomach and its partner, the spleen, are responsible for the digestive process and “rule” the extraction of Qi, or our life-force energy that is sustained and produced from the food that we consume. Energy deficiency of both the spleen and stomach is a distinct syndrome in Chinese medicine. This syndrome may be seen in ulcers, chronic gastritis, chronic enteritis, chronic dysentery, functional disorders of the stomach and intestine, tuberculosis of the intestine, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver, with such symptoms as poor appetite, belching, acid reflux, nausea, vomiting and stomach ache.
The pair also represents the Earth element. This element is like the mother and just as it is a mother’s job to nurture and support; the stomach-spleen duois the foundation and the basis for all of the other systems in the body.
“This suggests that when the pair is in balance, an abundance of energy is created for the body to utilise and repair deficiencies in other systems”.
We asked Dr. Christov which foods support the function of the stomach and spleen. She advises consuming seasonal root vegetables, good quality grains like oats and rice and herbs including fennel, ginger, nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon, garlic, peppermint and rosemary. To help her patients in gently strengthening the digestive capacity, she has created an all organic herbal formula which can be used on a daily basis.
Other advice on improving digestive function is to encourage her patients to be mindful and undistracted when they are consuming their meals. In other words, not using technology when you are eating and taking care of the energy you put into the food as you are preparing it.
From a mental perspective
The next interesting point that Dr. Christov raises when it comes to health in general, is the impact of our emotions and life experiences, and how they relate to digestive capacity.
What naturally occurs when one is anxious is that you’re stuck in a perpetual loop of mental overactivity, that draws the energy up toward the head and away from the digestive centre. This state depletes the energy of the whole body, and thus impairs nutrient absorption and detoxification.
Dr Christov suggests to begin rectifying this imbalance, the priority is to stabilise the earth element, and come back to the centre of who we are. This allows one to become more present within the body, and become enabled to tune in to one’s emotions.
“When we move the energy down into our gut, we become more present with our body and can better feel our emotions. Becoming centred also allows the parasympathetic nervous system to focus on digestion and healing. This state also encourages the activation of our intuition and the innate intelligence of the body to kick in; allowing more authentic interpretations of life events, instead of the clouded judgment that results from a lack of presence”.
Dr Christov explains that the earth elements will greatly benefit from regular self-care practices. These could be anything from taking 30-minutes to ourselves to meditate in a way that’s meaningful. This could be walking barefoot in nature, giving yourself a foot massage, slow yoga, breathing practices and lovingly preparing a home-cooked meal. “When you slow down you go to a place of self-respect and become receptive enough to absorb your thoughts, feelings and emotions,”.
From a spiritual perspective
As the earth element is connected to the archetypical figure of the mother, our first source of nourishment. If as children we perceived that our mother figure was unloving, uncaring or unable to feed and nurture us, we may go through life seeking to fill the void, searching for the absent mother.
This may express itself as over-mothering, endeavouring to ‘fix’ everyone else, or ignoring our own needs and rejecting sympathy or help entirely from others, distrustful of their motives.
As this is related to the spleen, this depleted state can manifest as: being stuck in self-pity and lacking the ability and motivation to move towards one’s goals. Feelings of dissatisfaction, a constant state of lack and jealousy that others are being cared about more, may arise.
The support we give ourselves is the support that is the basis and an extension of the support we give to others. This is why it is important to nourish ourselves and take care of our needs, in order to give to others in equal measure.