The spleen (Pi) is one of the five Zang organs. In Traditional Chinese medicine, it is endowed with a number of functions that are very different from the Western view of the organ:
- control digestion,
- control the limbs and flesh,
- keep blood in the blood vessels,
- store intention of determination
- linke to the mouth/appetite
It is basically seen as central to digestion and muscle development. The spleen is believed to absorb the nutrients from food and then to stimulate the dispersal of this "food essence" through the body.
If spleen Qi is strong, the digestion and distribution of nutrients work well and the body is healthy. If it is weak, the tissues will become malnourished. The spleen performs the same function with water extracted from food. It sends it through the body to reach the kidneys. This association with nutrition explains why the spleen is said to be responsible for building strong limbs and well-developed muscles.
It is said to control the limbs and flesh, so muscular aches and pains or weakness can suggest spleen deficiency. Strong spleen Qi is needed to keep blood flowing in the vessels - if it is weak then there may be haemorrhages or subcutaneous bleeding.
The spleen is also involved in mental activities and is specifically responsible for "Yi" which is variously translated as intention, willpower, determination, or an awareness of the possibilities open to us to make changes in our lives.
The relationship between spleen and stomach
The stomach (Wei) is paired with the spleen. It takes in and digests food and is regarded in Chinese medicine theory as the reservoir for food and water. Its effectiveness in starting the digestive process is seen as a function of stomach Qi - if it is strong, the "turbid" component from food is propelled to the small intestine. However, if it is weak, food tends to stagnate in the stomach.
The spleen and stomach are very closely associated - more so than the other Zang-Fu pairings, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The stomach rules "descending" activities while the spleen controls "ascending" actions:
the stomach sends nutrients and waste materials downwards, while the spleen is involved in the upward transportation of water and has an aversion to dampness.
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