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Listen to how you feel

Classical Chinese medicine texts have some pretty interesting things to say about our emotions in the context of disease and health. Emotions are considered a cause of disease under certain conditions, such as the prolonged experience of one emotion or even the suppression of an emotion/s. The emotions we experience have a correlation within a larger context, including a correspondance to an organ system and an element. Dysfunction in the organ systems can also cause emotional symptoms; for example when the Liver system is out of balance, one of the signs our body gives us is the experience of anger.

There is anger, fear and grief the world over right now. I've heard it from you in the clinic, we see it on the news and it is all over our social media feeds. Our bodies are taking in information at an alarming rate and our brains are trying to process things we were never meant to see or experience. There are many reasons right now to feel overwhelmed emotionally, so I would like to offer some perspective on our primary emotions in the hope that you will find some comfort or insight. 


According to Chinese medicine theory, worry is related to the Spleen and the Earth element. The Spleen is responsible for transforming food into vital nutrients and transporting those nutrients to the rest of the body. In other words, the Spleen ensures proper digestive function. Excessive worry and overthinking tax the Spleen so it can’t do its primary job of digesting food. Prolonged deficiency of the Spleen leads to an accumulation of fluids and dampness, weighing you down physically, mentally and emotionally. This further weakens the Spleen system, impairing our capacity to think clearly and focus, and leaving us susceptible to even more worry. 

Mindfulness is one of the best practices to benefit the Spleen. Like most of us, the Spleen is not great at multitasking, and unfortunately for our Spleens we are living in a time of endless distraction. Many of us try to do multiple things at once because we worry we will forget something, but doing this can further burden our Spleen, leading to even greater worry. Give your Spleen the space to do one thing at a time. Whether you’re eating, reading, or working, try doing just that one thing and nothing else. You will have improved digestion and less worry as a result. 


According to Chinese medicine theory, grief is related to the Lungs and the Metal element. The Lungs are our first line of defense against external pathogens and their primary function is to disperse and disseminate Qi throughout the rest of the body. Prolonged or unprocessed grief will impair the Lungs’ function and consume Qi, leading to exhaustion, lassitude and shortness of breath. 

It is important to remember that grief has something to offer those experiencing it. Grief contracts by nature, encouraging us to look within to make connections with the source of grief, express it and learn to move past it. Our lungs give us the power to feel and express our grief.


According to TCM theory, anger is related to the Liver and the Wood element. The Wood element is all about growth and expansive movement, and the Liver directs this internally, both physically and emotionally. Anger is the natural response to any interruption in the Liver’s mission to move and grow. At the same time, an excess of anger or repressed anger inhibits the Liver’s function, leading to further emotional imbalance and feelings of frustration, resentment, aggression and depression. Imbalance in the Liver system will manifest physically with headaches, waking up between 1-3AM and tension in the neck and shoulders. 

Anger can injure the body when it is either vented excessively or repressed. But the value of anger is that it gets our attention when things are out of balance in our body and in our world. Protesting, speaking out against injustice, and demanding action are all signs of the Liver doing its job in response to anger. Anger drives us forward and compels us to change and grow, as individuals and as a collective.


According to Chinese medicine theory, fear is related to the Kidneys and the Water element. The Kidneys are the root of our constitutional strength and are responsible for the natural unfolding of the life cycle. They are the storehouse of Jing, which is often translated as Pre-Heaven Essence and is basically our genetic material; it’s what we come into the world with, passed down from our ancestors. Jing is precious stuff that can’t be replaced, so the energy for our everyday activities should come from food and air. If we don’t nourish ourselves properly, the body’s reserve of Jing gets depleted, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. 

So what does this have to do with fear? Prolonged fear, or sudden fright or shock, will damage the Kidney system and deplete the Jing. Conversely, excessive fearfulness or a tendency to frighten easily are symptomatic of weakness in the Kidney system. We can’t banish fear from our lives, but we can pay attention to it. Because the Kidneys store our ancestral inheritance of Jing, in this way they also contain the seed of our destiny. And entwined with that seed of destiny is fear. Fear can warn you of danger but it can also point you in the right direction. If we listen, if we spend some time with it and try to learn from it, fear can point us toward our highest purpose. 


According to Chinese medicine theory, joy is related to the Heart and the Fire element. The Heart houses the Shen, which is our emotional and spiritual being. The Shen embodies consciousness, emotions, mental function and vitality. The blood of the Heart nourishes the Shen and provides a resting place for it at night. The Heart is truly our emotional center, and is said to rule over all the other emotions. 

Joy nourishes the Heart, and healthy expressions of joy reflect a healthy emotional state. When there’s an imbalance of joy in our lives, it can be expressed as too much (agitation and mania), or too little (depression). Because the Shen needs rest, sleep disorders are one of the most common symptoms of imbalance in the Heart system. It’s not always easy to find joy in life. The other emotions of grief, fear, worry and anger must all filter through our Heart, and when we experience any of them in excess, it often leaves little room for joy. Remember that our spiritual being, our Shen, needs rest in order to thrive. Sleep. Take a break from the news. Meditate. Get acupuncture. Rest helps your Heart filter and process your emotions, leaving more room for joy. 

As always, I am here to help. Acupuncture is incredible for bringing emotions back into balance. If you are feeling like your emotions are getting the best of you, connect with me and let's get to work.

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