and Chinese Rice Ginger Zhou (Congee)
by Michael Rinaldini (Li Chang Dao)
This past summer was a digestive nightmare for me. [I have a history of Spleen Qi deficiency or the clinical manifest as Irritable Bowel Syndrome by Western medicine] Usually my digestion problems become a major complaint during the cooler fall or winter months. This summer was an exception. It seems like I started having digestion problems early in July and they became progressively worst as the weeks rolled by. In the past, if I ate the wrong foods, I would have a problem for a couple of days, and then I would recover and move on. But not this past summer. By the end of July, I realized that I needed to take stronger action to get my digestion system strengthened and back in balance. I couldn’t be casual about eating any summer fruits, cold smoothie drinks or an occasional trip to the local ice cream parlor. The slightest food offense, like a large salad sent me to the bathroom numerous times the next day.
According to TCM food therapy, we need to chose the right temperature of food to balance the body’s condition. If one already has a weak digestive system (there may be Spleen and stomach deficiency), cold and greasy food will further compromise the energy flow to the organ and further weaken spleen and stomach that perform the transformation and transportation of food. We tend to consume cold food such as cold drink, smoothie, icy water, cold salad and fruits during the summer for cooling down, but the already weak digestion system takes a further blow. That is why digestive disorders tend to happen during the summer and early fall season.
How can we prevent it? There is an old Chinese Folk saying: summer’s ginger. That means, in order to prevent and protect our digestive system during the summer, consume more ginger it is warm, and will bring harmony and balance to the digestive system if you indulge in cool food during the summer.” (Editor’s comment)
Before I go on, maybe I should mention some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and Spleen Qi deficiency according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. I don’t need any references to do this, since I have been living with these symptoms on and off for many years. Here goes: Diarrhea, alternating with constipation. If not diarrhea, then at least loose stools and frequent bowel movements. Accompanying this pleasantry is abdominal bloating, whether I ate a small meal or larger one. The bloating makes me feel like I can’t do anything; I am in a mental and emotional cloud. Sometimes going for a walk helps, but never too far from a bathroom. A real bummer.
And there are more symptoms, like tenderness around my abdominal area, around the navel. There may be frequent belching and there is always the increased aroma of flatulence, another pleasantry. At least the flatulence disappears with the increased bowel movements. Another significant effect is a loss of energy. As a qigong practitioner, I feel this energy drain throughout my entire body. I especially have to be careful of my lower back, as this energy drain seems to temporarily weaken the lower back and make it more vulnerable to bending injuries.
Irritable bowel syndrome is also characterized by feelings of anxiety or depression. “TCM believes that the Spleen is responsible for transferring food’s energy to a specific energy “ clear Yang energy”. This energy only goes up to uplift our spirit. Once there is a Spleen deficiency, the body will lack of this energy , that is why depression always goes hand in hand with people who have a weak digestive system”. (Editor’s comment) Luckily, I am free of any depression, but do have some anxiety signs. These anxiety signs come and go for me and are usually associated with increased family obligations, and increased requirements to travel outside of my local geographical area where I live, like trips to L.A. Talking to my acupuncturist recently, he pointed out that even though there may be ways to directly treat the anxiety, like talking therapy, it is important to go back and treat the root organ deficiency, in my case, the weak spleen qi, or Earth Element..
Enter Food Cure.
As a qigong and Daoist practitioner, I try to bring all my skills and knowledge to the treatment of my digestion problems. I increase and direct my qigong practices to strengthening my spleen and kidney energies. And I increase my meditation practice to focus more on relaxation and letting go of damaging emotions to the spleen. In addition to these practices, I have been studying and applying the principles of Chinese food therapy for a long time. Chinese food therapy is a fascinating way of understanding food as medicine, especially when you have a weak digestion constitution. For now, I only want to write about one particular aspect of using food as a nutritional medicine.
This summer was particularly challenging for me because whenever I made progress in bringing myself back into balance, another incident occurred and I had a relapse. And, as I’ve already said, by the end of July I realized I needed to be more aggressive in strengthening my spleen qi. Enter my food cure-Rice Congee with ginger!
I was first introduced to rice congees in the late 1980’s when I started going to acupuncturists for my digestion ailments. My first acupuncturist put me on a diet I still refer to as the “No Diet.” No sweets of any kind, no raw foods, no cold drinks, no ice cream or other damp foods like watermelon. I could eat nothing that was not warming or could be cooked. The core of what I could eat was the rice congee soup. One part brown rice and nine parts water, slowly cooked for a couple of hours. Afterwards, eaten in small amounts. Over time I learned how to modify this basic formula with simple ingredients. One essential ingredient is fresh ginger root. Good thing I like the flavor of ginger. I have been eating and drinking ginger tea for years now. Ginger is a remarkable food. It is one of the most anti-inflammatory foods, good for many health problems. I cannot make a rice congee without any ginger. Use at least one inch of sliced fresh ginger root. Other ingredients I frequently add to my soups are carrots, white onions and skinless chickens. My acupuncturist told me I should add organic chicken bones to the congee for extra “qi and blood” benefits. That’s my basic congee formula.
You can add other ingredients as well. Millet is another grain good for the spleen. In my last soup I added a handful of millet to the rice during the last hour of cooking. Another cooking tip is that if the soup is getting too thick, add more water. This applies to when you are heating up leftover congee as well-add extra water and maybe another fresh slice of ginger. In my last soup, I threw in some goji berries, which have the five flavors beneficial for the five yin organs: liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys.
If you have access to raw Chinese herbs, perhaps through your acupuncturist or local herbal pharmacy, you can find Chinese herbs that you can put in your congees and eat them for your spleen tonification.
It is now late September. My digestion has settled down and the worst of this summer’s digestive flare-up has passed. I do have to be mindful of my eating habits as we move further into the fall and early winter. I’ll keep some ginger and rice in my kitchen at all times, ready to make a quick congee, as prevention, and as a food cure when needed.[Michael Rinaldini (Li Chang Dao)– is a Qigong teacher, and a 22nd generation Longmen (Dragon Gate) Daoist priest. Shifu Michael founded the American Dragon Gate Lineage with the support of Master Wan Su Jian from Beijing, China. The Lineage is a non-monastic community of members devoted to the spreading of Daoism and the cultivation of the Dao. Shifu Michael is also a practitioner and teacher of medical qigong, certified at the highest level (Level IV) Certified Qigong Teacher by the National Qigong Association, and a certified Bagua Xundao Gong Qigong Teacher by Master Wan Su Jian (Beijing, China). He offers Qigong Certification Program for Advanced Trainings. See more information at www.dragongateqigong.com]