- Sally Gao
What affects concentration according to TCM?
According to TCM, our mental activities are closely related to our body’s physical functions. In particular, the kidney and spleen both play important roles in concentration. The kidney is responsible for creating and storing qi (vital energy), and is linked to memory and willpower.
Poor concentration is often a result of excessive yang (warm) energy in the kidney, and a relative deficiency in yin (cool) energy. If this is the case, you may find yourself being unusually talkative, impulsive, scatterbrained and physically clumsy. You may also have dull hair and nails, as well as facial redness.
The kidney is also responsible for receiving and transporting fluid. Clear fluid is sent upwards, where it moistens and lubricates the body, while “turbid” fluid is sent to the bladder. Problems with the kidney can cause dampness to accumulate in the body, causing a clouded, heavy mind.
Another important organ to consider is the spleen. Apart from regulating digestion along with the stomach, the spleen houses yi (thought), so a weak spleen can cause concentration and memory issues.
The spleen also produces blood, so lack of qi in the spleen can cause blood deficiency, affecting the heart. Signs of a heart-spleen qi deficiency include fatigue, absent-mindedness, lack of appetite and poor circulation.
Key ingredients for a sharper mind
Walnuts: Walnuts are known to nourish kidney qi and to develop the brain. You will notice that a shelled walnut somewhat resembles a miniature brain and according to TCM principles, like supplements like! This is why walnuts have been considered “brain food” in China for centuries.
Ginseng: This yang (warming) root stimulates the mind and improves alertness. It’s said to replenish yuan (primal) qi and to soothe the spirit. Some studies have shown that taking ginseng may indeed have cognitive benefits for stroke patients and those with Alzheimer’s. Freshly chopped ginseng root can be brewed to make a nourishing tea.
Codonopsis (dang shen): Also known as poor man’s ginseng, codonopsis is a popular substitute for ginseng. It’s used to replenish qi and to nourish the spleen and stomach. To eat it, simply add some powdered or finely chopped codonopsis to a soup or rice dish.
Ginkgo leaves: Taken from the ginkgo tree, the world’s oldest living tree species, ginkgo leaves are said to sharpen the mind, clear dampness, and strengthen the heart and lungs. Early studies suggest that ginkgo supplements can help patients with dementia. Try looking for ginkgo supplements in your local pharmacy or online.
Reishi mushrooms: Reishi mushrooms have long been used by Taoist monks to induce a calm yet focused state that’s ideal for meditation. They are said to nourish the heart, enrich qi, and calm the shen (spirit). You can usually buy reishi mushrooms in dried form. You can make a tea out of them by soaking the mushrooms in hot water for several hours. Alternatively, soak them overnight and add them to a stir-fry or a soup.
Other tips to improve concentration
Try acupressure: Acupressure is conceptually similar to acupuncture. It involves massaging particular areas of the body to stimulate certain organs. To enhance concentration and memory, try gently pressing on the Third Eye point, which lies directly between your eyebrows.
Next, find the Gates of Consciousness points at the back of your neck. These are located in the hollows at the base of your skull, on either side of the center of your neck. About an inch below the Gates of Consciousness, you’ll find another set of hollows called the Heavenly Pillars. Pressing and massaging these areas of your neck for three to five minutes will encourage circulation to your brain, stimulating your alertness and cognitive function.
Qigong: Qigong is a form of dynamic meditation that involves a series of physical movements and postures in addition to focused breathing techniques. It encourages qi and blood to flow freely through your body. Practicing qigong early in the morning will help you feel mentally refreshed for the rest of the day.