Have you ever thought about your spleen?
When it comes to the internal organs there seem to be superstars and one stepchild. You’ve been told to keep your heart healthy, detox your liver, be kind to your pancreas, breathe deep for your lungs and eat good food to maintain your stomach and intestines.
Yet there are no slick marketing campaigns telling us how to keep our spleen healthy. Western medicine would have us believe it is of no consequence and we can do just fine without it. A quick Google search produces some diagrams of the internal organs that don’t even include the spleen!
Personally, I don’t believe we were designed with any unnecessary parts.
The spleen is located behind the ribs in the upper left part of the abdomen, to the left of the stomach. It is fist shaped, purple and about 4” long. You can’t feel a normal spleen from the outside because of the protection offered by the rib cage but an enlarged spleen can be felt by a skilled practitioner.
While it may not get as much glory as the heart, the spleen is an organ of transformation and nourishment. It is a part of your immune system, producing and storing white blood cells to fight infection and keeping body fluids in balance. The spleen is responsible for filtering out any old or defective red blood cells that are no longer able to do their job. It also helps reduce your risk for bacterial infections such as pneumonia or meningitis.
And you can live without it.
It’s true that humans can live without a spleen. The most common injuries to the spleen occur in contact sports, auto accidents and falls. A spleen can become enlarged due to an infection, liver disease, a malfunctioning lymph system and inflammatory diseases. When a spleen ruptures, it spills blood into the abdomen creating a life-threatening condition that requires surgery to remove it.
But living with your spleen is so much richer.
In Chinese medicine, the spleen is associated with the stomach and plays a big role in digestion and nourishment. The spleen and stomach not only digest food, but they also help us digest the information that comes into our body through our senses. These days our bodies are made toxic by the amount of sensory information that we take in, constantly checking our phones and multitasking puts our spleens under constant stress.
The spleen is responsible for the power of thought. It is directly related to our capacity for thinking, how well we manage our thoughts, concentrate, exercise discernment and create intentions. It also holds the emotion of worry.
Because we live in a culture that is so bombarded by stimulus, most of us have deficient spleens. A deficiency can show up as loose stools, fatigue, muscle weakness, constipation, bruising, anemia, frequent infections, bloating and gas. Low spleen energy can contribute to excessive worrying, trouble concentrating and the inability to make decisions.
When our spleen energy is balanced we feel an inner sense of well-being. We feel content, enjoy the pleasures of life, feel abundant and secure. Our digestion is relaxed and efficient, our muscles work freely and our mind is clear.
Here are some ways you can bring your spleen into balance:
• Contact – The spleen loves touch. Get regular bodywork, hold hands with a partner, give yourself a hug. Human contact is a fundamental need.
• Stretch – Stretching eases constriction and opens the flow of nutrients into the muscles.
• Avoid Cold Foods – The spleen doesn’t like cold, it needs warmth to help keep the digestive fires burning. Limit icy drinks, ice cream and raw food. Eat warm, cooked meals.
• Promote Digestive Fire – Having some raw ginger before or during meals or adding warming spices such as black pepper, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon to food helps increase the spleen’s ability to digest food properly.
• Eat Mindfully – Relaxing the mind and body during a meal and properly chewing your food optimizes the body’s ability to properly digest food.
• Take A Break – Go for a walk outside. Leave your phone at home. Sit quietly and meditate. Taking even a small break can help you feel calmer, more aware and more at peace.