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  • April Hulvershorn

Balancing an Element

When I first met Eve in the waiting room of my clinic, I was struck by her eclectic fashion sense and big smile. She was clearly eager to be there and happily followed me to my treatment room. As we sat down to talk, I noticed that under those cool clothes, she appeared to be very thin. We fell easily into conversation as she told me why she was seeking treatment.

The past five years had done a number on her health. Her daughter, now three years old, was born prematurely and the first anxiety filled months had been terrifying. Soon after that, her mother fell ill and died a few months ago. Eve was exhausted from caring for the baby and watching over her mother. Once the high stress of her mother’s illness was over, Eve began to get sick herself. Chronic diarrhea, strange rashes, colds that would linger for weeks, and fatigue had been plaguing her for months. She worried that she would not regain her health.

It was clear that Eve was a very capable and intelligent woman. She had been a busy writer prior to having her daughter, researching and writing articles for various publications. For the last three years, her work had become a minor thread in her life. She could not imagine having the metal clarity for it now. As much as she adored her daughter, parenting felt like a grind and it took everything she had just to keep the basics covered. She was doing her best to present herself as poised and together, but inside she was run down and barely keeping up.

Through the course of our conversation and assessment, I observed the sensory clues that would lead me to the Element most in need of help in Eve. There was a subtle odor that emanated from Eve’s body. We call it fragrant, but it smells a bit like stomach contents, like vomit. Yellow danced around on her face and her voice had a singing quality. She deeply craved being understood.

When we were finished talking, I stepped out of the room while she undressed and became aware of a wash of thoughts and feelings: “Oh no! How will I ever help her!” I felt unsteady and worried, like I was casting around for something to grab onto, my thoughts spinning.

An important part of my work is to listen between the lines for the subtext of the interaction. Eve communicated exactly what she needed, not with her words, but with her way of being. I realized that I had absorbed her state and with this understanding, I knew exactly how to help her.

The sensory data I noticed with Eve lead me to identify the Earth Element as the aspect most in need of balance. When the Earth Element is healthy, we feel stable and grounded. From this place of security, there is trust in the unfolding of life which leads to feeling relaxed and at ease. Like a baby in its mother’s arms, being held and enveloped, we feel completely supported and comfortable

The Earth Element governs digestion and helps us to digest and assimilate our food. When this Element is healthy, physical digestion happens without a second thought. We are also able to smoothly process information and our thinking is clear and efficient. We can take in the beauty and wonder of life. A balanced Earth Element allows us to be nourished, physically, mentally and spiritually, leading to fulfillment, gratitude, and satisfaction in life.

When the Earth Element is out of balance, none of these things happen well. Eve was undernourished physically and her digestion was not functioning optimally. Her thinking was foggy and unclear. Constantly on alert, she was unable to settle into herself and truly relax. Her attention was on whatever or whoever might need her, but she was not in touch with her own needs.

An image came to me of a garden with depleted soil, the plants lackluster and pale. No matter what you do, the harvest will not be rich until the soil is nourished.

At that first visit, I began by gently balancing Eve’s Earth Element. When I saw her the following week she reported that she did not experience any change in her physical symptoms, but she did feel calmer in herself.

I saw her weekly over the next three months and carefully tended to the Earth Element within her. Slowly, she improved. First came feeling more centered and relaxed. Then deeper and more restful sleep, followed by a revival of her appetite and diminishment of the diarrhea. As she started to feel more grounded and clear, she realized that she needed to have some time to herself before each day began. She rediscovered her yoga practice and resumed journaling in the mornings to center herself.

Each positive change built on the one before and she is now back on her feet. Her physical health is much more robust and she is beginning to reengage with her writing career. The work of raising her daughter and keeping a home no longer seems overwhelming. It is actually a source of stability and joy. She takes pleasure in the simple act of preparing a meal or snuggling with her daughter, finding nourishment everywhere she turns. The soil is fertile and the harvest is rich.


Note: There are serious ethical quandaries involved in writing about clinical work. On the one hand, patient stories are very useful for teaching or sharing information. On the other hand, there is nothing more sacred than the trust placed in me as a practitioner and a big part of that trust is strict confidentiality. So, in all of my writing I make the people up. They may be influenced or inspired by people I have treated, but they are invented for the purposes of effective communication.

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