One of the common complaints that I have come across in my clinical experiences as a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician treating patients are bloating in the stomach occurring mostly after eating. To understand why this occurs, we need to have a simple understanding of the digestive system physiology according to TCM theories. The Spleen and Stomach are the two primary organs for digestion. The Stomach is like the woodman who chops up firewood, accepting the food (which in this case is the firewood) as it comes in and chopping it, organizing it and making it ready for the fire (which is the Spleen) to burn up. As the Spleen begins to burn the firewood sent over by the Stomach, heat and steam arises from the fireplace. The heat and steam is the Qi, or vital energy, that is required for all other organs to function properly and for one to be energized. It is thus important to maintain a strong and healthy fire or I call it the digestive fire.
When this digestive fire is low or weak, any firewood introduced from the Stomach will not be able to be combusted entirely, hence food stagnation occurs with the partially digested food stuck in the digestive tract, fermenting and producing gases, causing bloatedness.
In this case, bloatedness is but one of the many symptoms of poor digestive health. What we are more concern is that with this poor digestive health comes a whole chain of other related health issues such as lethargy, chronic fatigue syndrome (as little vital energy is being transformed from the food for distribution to the rest of the body) and weight gain problems.
I hereby introduce some remedies from the TCM, Ayurveda and Yoga perspectives to deal with bloatedness and poor digestive health faced by modern women today.
1. Take fennel seed-infused teas
According to TCM, fennel seed is warming in property and this property enters the Spleen and Stomach meridians. Hence it harmonizes the Stomach of any coldness and tonifies the Spleen qi, thereby increasing the digestive fire required for digestion.
According to Ayurveda, fennel seeds act as a general toner for the digestive system, and is particularly good for enhancing Agni,the digestive fire, without aggravating Pitta. In India, eating a few toasted fennel seeds after a meal is a common practice, both to aid digestion and to freshen breath.
2. Eat only cooked food
According to both TCM and Ayurveda, raw and cold food extinguishes the digestive fire even further. Hence eating cooked food means the food is “pre-digested” before it enters the body. With that, the digestive fire does not have to work as hard to process and break the food down, lowering the chances of any undigested food and gases produced from the indigestion.
3. Self massage Acupoint Zu San Li
The acupoint Zu San Li controls the work of the organs that are located in the lower half of the body. It controls the functions of the spinal cord in the parts that are responsible for proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract, digestive tract, sexual organs, kidneys, adrenal glands. Therefore frequent self massage of this point can clear bloatedness and improve the functionings of the Spleen and Stomach.
Location of this point: located about 3 inches or 4 finger widths down from the bottom of the knee cap, along the outer boundary of the shin bone. If located correctly, a muscle should pop out as the foot is moved up and down.
4. Acupuncture and Cupping
TCM uses cupping to remove gases due to poor digestion from within the system by special techniques and stimulating certain points along the meridians of the stomach and large intestine. This causes bloating symptoms to dissipate. At the same time, acupuncture techniques can be used to strengthen the body's digestive fire and functioning of the Spleen and Stomach.
4. Practise wind-releasing poses
As its name implies, Pawanmuktasana, or wind-releasing pose, helps to push out trapped air in the Stomach.
To practice, lie on your back. Hug your right knee into your chest. Inhale deeply, then exhale and reach your knee toward your nose. Hold this position for a few seconds, then inhale and release.
Order is very important here—do the exercise 3 times on the right side first, and then 3 times on the left. This follows the natural movement of the colon so that you’re literally pushing gas out.
Lastly, hug both knees into the chest and hold for a few seconds. Repeat three times.
Dr Lim Xiang Jun is registered Dr of Traditional Chinese Medicine Physician whom first completed her BSc(hons) in Biomedical Sciences in Singapore before completing a BSc in Chinese Medicine, MSc and PHD in Acupuncture in Beijing. She is also qualified in Yoga and is a certified Ayurveda Practitioner.