Emotions and Chinese Medicine

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Emotions and Chinese Medicine, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

In Chinese medicine, disease has both internal and external causes. One of the internal causes is emotions. Each of us experiences all emotions and that is normal. However, when an emotional state persists, or we “dwell” there, it can become pathological. Traditionally, the seven emotions are anger, joy (over-excitement), worry or overthinking, grief, sorrow, fear, and terror. Although each emotion affects the whole body, it is believed in Chinese medicine that each emotion most affects a particular organ system. Ultimately, all emotions have an effect on the Heart.

In Chinese medicine, anger affects the Liver. Imagine what happens when you become angry. You tense up, your face becomes red, your voice becomes louder, you might clench your teeth, have headaches, or experience neck and shoulder tension.

Over-excitement affects the Heart, a little bit like falling in love! You might laugh inappropriately, find it hard to settle down and fall asleep, or even suffer mania or hysteria.

Worry or overthinking affects the Spleen. The Spleen is the major digestive organ in Chinese medicine, which includes digesting and assimilating ideas, as well as food. Worry can cause either an increase or a loss in appetite.

Grief and sorrow affect the Lungs. This shows up as a lump in your throat, heaviness and emptiness in the chest.

Fear and terror affect the Kidneys, causing uncontrolled urination.

According to the Su Wen, part of the Huang Di Nei Jing (the Yellow Emperor’s Canon) which was compiled over 2,200 years ago and is still used today, the emotions disrupt the flow of Qi in the following ways:

When there is anger, the Qi rises up.
When there is elation, the Qi becomes loose.
When there is sadness, the Qi disappears.
When there is fear, the Qi descends.
When there is cold, the Qi is gathered.
When there is heat, the Qi flows outwards.
When there is startling with fright, the Qi is in disorder.
When there is fatigue, the Qi is damaged.
When there is obsessive thought, the Qi is knotted.

There are several ways to reverse the detrimental effects of emotions: Acupuncture is very good at moving Qi and releasing stagnation in the body.  Using your breath and consciously feeling tension release from your body as you exhale is also helpful. Another way is through meditation – sitting silently and having no relationship with whatever arises, realizing that it’s temporary. And yet another is to recognize that only part of you feels a particular emotion, while the rest of you is fine.
As Pema Chödrön says, “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

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