Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Nourishing the Middle Jiao and Gu Qi During Times of Transition.

As we begin to understand more and more about our current pandemic, I feel more equipped  to write about how we can take care of ourselves during these challenging times. I study as much as I can now and I am learning from the doctors who are sharing their hands on experiences in China. Having access to this information has been incredible. I spend a lot of time processing what I am reading and hearing so that I may translate this information into meaningful and life affirming content for my patients, family and friends.
The current consensus is that this is a pathogen that moves through several energetic layers, from a Chinese medical perspective, and presents as a damp condition. Knowing that dampness is a key part of the presentation of the virus once it enters the lungs, it feels important to support our systems with exercise, regular meals and quality foods.
During this transition I have been advising everyone to lean into preparing their own meals, especially soups. The possibilities are limitless. I prefer to slowly make them in layers.
To begin, we start with the broth as a base and then add greens, other vegetables and toppings.
Soups warm and nourish the middle Jiao. This is the energy center of the core that includes the Chinese Spleen and Stomach. The energy that is created by the transformation and transportation function of the Spleen is called Gu Qi.
For many reasons, cultivation of Gu Qi encourages the manifestation of Righteous Qi, as part of a continuation of Qi through various organ systems.
If we are eating appropriately and at regular times, the Spleen will be happy.
It will then be able to nourish Blood and ultimately many other functions of the body that enhance a healthy Wei Qi or Immunity. When the Spleen is regulated we are less likely to create excessive phlegm. The lungs are particularly susceptible to dampness excess, especially for those of us who live near the ocean.
Having a healthy Spleen supports stability, nourishment of the mind, the heart and appropriate timing in the acts of giving and receiving.
Here are just a few ideas for creating nourishment during these swirly days. I hope that they inspire anyone who reads this entry to explore one's own capacity to create warmth and goodness in one's life right now.

The soup above, began with a chicken broth, and vegetable broth. Black rice, sea lettuce flakes, scallion, ginger and goji berries were added for releasing the exterior and building Blood.
After drinking this elixir I felt my skin open and the heat move Qi at the surface.
This was wonderful for a cold Spring day.

The ingredients photographed below include: goji berries, shiitake mushrooms, cranberries, lemon peel, and violet flowers. I cut the ingredients finely for the carrot, ginger soup. Additional ingredients include celery, onion, carrots, small golden potatoes, spinach flakes, sauerkraut, coconut milk, paprika, chipotle powder, garlic, topped with dandelion and parsley.

Below is a detail of the violet flowers sitting on dollops of coconut milk. Given the contrast of the opposing orange and purple, the beauty warranted its own special image. When soups are beautiful, they evoke a sense of curiosity and joy. Theses are important elements of digestion.
The ancients say that digestion begins with our eyes.

Below is another detail which includes, shiitake mushrooms. I soaked these in warm water twice and used the mushroom infusion as an addition to the soup. It adds an earthy flavor that gives it an added layer of musky beauty.

Below is the soup in its entirely.
The colors orange and yellow, belong to the Earth Element. I made this soup today after a cold and wild rain. It feels appropriate to have a warmer soup because of yesterdays wind and dampness. The gusts were so high that it felt like a hurricane. When we have this kind of unstable weather, the Earth Element enjoys special attention.

Lastly, this Spring green soup was made from asparagus, kale, parsley, cilantro, garlic, vegetable broth, sauerkraut, topped with lemon peel, carrot slices, asparagus shoots, goji berries and shavings of a savory Dutch gouda.
Sauerkraut is sour. The energetics of sour foods condition/tonify the Wood element in Spring. It is a small added ingredient to the soups that adds flavor and energetic support to awaken the detoxifying function of the Liver.
The green soup was pureed after the greens were sauteed in sesame oil. This oil is warming in nature but gives the fresh greens a nutty and earthy element. I like adding sesame oil to soups because it can soften the clawing nature of leafy greens.
Parsley and cilantro are excellent for detoxification and supporting the Liver in Chinese medicine.

It is important to remember that if we have histories of trauma, we may rush through meals, override that para-sympathetic function of digestion and forgot to taste the sweetness of life. Some of us may actually be holding the freeze response in the viscera. Paying special attention to this aspect of our physiology is a meaningful part of our unwinding and healing.
I find that after a nourishing meal, sitting for a bit with a hot water bottle over the stomach is wonderful for allowing the process of digestion to continue. We want to hear the peristalsis, this often means that we are digesting well and that the function of the Chinese Stomach is online. 
Hot herbal tea, a drop of peppermint oil on Acupuncture points Pericardium 6, slowing down for a little bit before resuming activity allows the Middle Jiao to reorganize and for our bodies to absorb the goodness of the meal that we just enjoyed. 
When we have appropriate time for digesting food, we are also digesting information in our lives that may be asking for time and integration. In Chinese medicine 'Yi' also known as 'thought', is stored in the Spleen. When we slow down to truly digest our food, we may also be digesting past or present thoughts, and appropriately allowing assimilation not only on a nutritive level but also on the physiological, psychological and energetic level of the Chinese Earth element. 


  1. The saying "You are what you eat" is highlighted here in that we can support our immune systems, inspire our organs to become vigorous to fight viruses and, by taking time to digest, settle the stress in these nervous times. Soups are my favorite foods, and your visual accompaniment inspires me to try these elements in my own creations. Thank you for this post!

  2. HA! I inhale my food! Many years as a restaurant worker actually facilitates this bc often times there is no time to sit and eat. It’s eat while moving and although I no longer work in that environment, the habit has continued. Very interesting about trauma being an attribute to that type of eating style. 2 for 2! I love soups and look forward to getting access to fresh ingredients again one day to try. Thank you Maria. Food for the soul!