The Emotional Aspect of Disease

the emotion of angerDoctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine considered a person in entirety when diagnosing an illness or disease. They noted presenting symptoms but looked for the cause of the problem in the person’s lifestyle, dietary habits, exercise, disposition, etc. They studied the pattern of the person’s life so they could advise them how to prevent or minimize re-occurrence of the problem.

The causes of disease in TCM are listed as:

  • Internal: emotions
  • External: weather/climate
  • Others: constitution, fatigue/ overexertion, excessive sexual activity, diet, trauma, epidemics, parasites, poisons, wrong treatment

I’ve already spoken of climatic causes of disease called the six pernicious influences. The climatic conditions create disease when they are excessive or endured over a long period of time. The same is true of the emotional aspect. Emotions only create disease when they are very intense and prolonged over a long period of time or suppressed and unacknowledged.

In TCM the body-mind is seen as a “circle of interaction between the internal organs and their emotional aspects.”

—Giovanni Maciocia

Emotions can be the cause of disease or they can be a symptom of organ imbalance.
The Chinese list seven emotions but today I want to talk about the effects of prolonged anger. The emotion of anger can also include: resentment, repressed anger, frustration, rage, indignation and bitterness. Anger causes chi (energy) to rise and will create symptoms such as headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, redness on the face and neck, thirst, red tongue and bitter taste in the mouth. It can also cause vomiting of blood and diarrhea. Repressed anger can present as depression or sadness.

The emotion of anger often affects the stomach and spleen as well as the liver. This can happen when there is turmoil during mealtime. Releasing long-standing emotions is essential to health. There are many ways to do so: talk therapy, bodywork, exercise and reading self-help books are just a few.

the emotional aspect of diseaseDoctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine when diagnosing illness or disease would evaluate the person in totality. The emotional wellbeing was considered as important as the physical condition along with dietary habits, lifestyle, and disposition. The interaction of the body, mind, and spirit and the pattern of the person’s life provided clues to the source of the illness.

In TCM emotions are listed as the internal cause of disease but only when they are very intense and prolonged over a long period of time, repressed or unacknowledged. Emotions can be the cause of imbalance or they can be a symptom of organ imbalance.

Last week I discussed anger; today I would like to talk about the emotion of sadness. Prolonged sadness weakens both the heart and the lungs. The emotion of sadness initiates in the heart and affects the lungs which are in close proximity. The lungs control the qi (energy) with the intake of breath and sadness depletes the qi. People experiencing intense grief are unable to take a deep breath. Other symptoms of sadness are breathlessness, depression, pressure on the chest, tiredness, and crying. “In women, deficiency of lung qi often leads to blood deficiency and amenorrhea.

Intense sadness or grief can be helped by counseling, acupressure, acupuncture, and exercise. Moving through intense emotions is critical to our overall well being.

emotional headacheTraditional Chinese Medicine considered the body, mind, and emotions as an interactive whole when diagnosing disease. The Chinese identify seven emotions as the internal cause of disease. These emotions are: anger, joy, sadness, worry, pensiveness, shock and fear. Human emotions are generally a healthy part of life; emotions become toxic when they are extremely intense for a prolonged period of time, repressed or denied.

Today I want to discuss the emotions of worry and pensiveness. “Each of the emotions has a particular effect on qi (energy) and affects a certain organ:

  • Anger makes qi rise and affects the liver
  • Worry and pensiveness knot qi and affect the spleen ( worry also affects the lungs)” Giovanni Macioci

Excessive thinking, studying or mental activity is the definition of pensiveness. This emotion creates exhaustion, loss of appetite, loose stools and weakens the spleen. The spleen is responsible for transforming food and drink into energy (qi) and transporting it to the organs and muscles of the body. The food qi creates energy and blood. The spleen functions also to separate the usable food from unusable, to maintain fluid balance in the body and to support the immune system and healthy blood cells. The emotion associated with the spleen is worry.

In our fast-paced society, worry and pensiveness are extremely common. Demanding studies or occupations can deplete both the spleen and lung energy causing stagnation and formation of phlegm. Symptoms of worry are: anxiety, tight shoulders and neck and breathlessness.

To improve spleen function and counteract worry and pensiveness

  • Eat regular meals, mostly cooked food
  • Don’t overeat
  • Drink room temperature or warmer beverages
  • Don’t multitask, be mindful and calm
  • Take breaks during your day: walk outside, turn off your phone, meditate, do yoga, tai chi, exercise, have energy work.

I would like to discuss the emotional impact of extreme shock and fear on the human bodymind. Fear depletes kidney energy and blocks the upper level of the triple warmer (which is located above the diaphragm and includes the lungs and heart). When this happens the energy descends to the lower body.

In children fear may cause bedwetting. In adults, fear and chronic anxiety create depletion of kidney energy and rising of heat in the heart and face, night sweats, palpitations, dry mouth, and throat.

Shock halts the energy flow and also affects the kidneys and heart. The symptoms of shock are breathlessness, palpitations, insomnia, night sweats, tinnitus or dizziness and dry mouth.

When these extreme emotions are present over an extended period of time they can affect the physical organs. Balancing the body’s energy with a licensed acupressurist or acupuncturist can manage fear along with proper diet, rest, exercise and talk therapy.

In Summation

Traditional Chinese Medicine regarded the human body as a totality of body, mind, and spirit. TCM considered emotions, diet, and patterns of a person’s lifestyle when diagnosing physical illness. Extreme emotions held over long periods of time were considered to be the internal causes of disease.

The Chinese list 7 emotions which, when extreme, can create disease. I have discussed all of these except joy. It seems strange that joy would be listed as a cause of disease, but the state of happiness and contentment we know as joy was not what the Chinese meant.

In Chinese Medicine, the emotion of joy is controlled by the heart. Therefore a state of excessive excitement (euphoria) over a long period of time can injure the heart. People who live life in the “fast lane”, living and playing hard can over time create heart conditions.

Emotions are a healthy part of our lives which make us more human. The emotions are meant to be felt fully and then released. When we get stuck in an emotion for an extended period it upsets our equilibrium. Health is created when we are in balance body, mind and spirit

Living In Harmony with the Season of Winter

“The wise nourish life by flowing with the four seasons and adapting to cold or heat by harmonizing joy and anger in a tranquil dwelling, by balancing yin and yang ….. So it is that dissolute evil cannot reach the man of wisdom, and he will be witness to a long life.”

–Huangdi Neijing Suwen

yin yangThis quote is taken from Traditional Chinese Medicine Classics. In the season of winter the associations are:

Element: water
Nature: yin (slow moving, inward energy)
Organs: kidney, urinary bladder, adrenal glands, ears, hair
Taste: salty
Emotion: fear and depression

Kidney energy is important for maintenance of vitality and to prevent premature aging. It also governs energy reserves which allow adaptation to life’s constant changes.

In our present-day world, multitasking and constant stress are common occurrences. These conditions break down kidney energy creating exhaustion and a predisposition to hypertension. A major life challenge for all of us is adapting to change and maintaining body-mind balance.

Things you can do to maintain balance are:

  • Manage your to-do list
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Find ways to relax on a daily basis,( i.e. deep breathing, yoga, meditation)
  • Eat warming foods (cooked) and local fruits and vegetables

The Metal Element and Grief

Autumn is when the metal element is most active.  The metal element is represented by the Lung and Large Intestine Meridians.  It is the perfect time of year to tonify lung energy which helps to protect the body from colds and illness.  The lungs also carry the emotion of grief.

Everyone experiences grief or loss in a lifetime.   Whether it is the death of a loved one, end of a relationship or loss of a pet; grief is a difficult emotion which is part of life.  If we allow ourselves to feel and express the pain, we can begin to let it go.  We don’t let go of the love and memories just the painful emotion.

When our grief is repressed, expressed without control or felt intensely over a long period of time it is harmful to lung energy.  In TCM the lung energy is associated with openness to new ideas, clear thinking, communication and our ability to relax and enjoy life.  When we are out of balance or are experiencing excessive grief it is difficult to cope with a loss.  We can also experience alienation which overtime can lead to depression.

Some healthy ways to deal with grief are:

  • Acknowledge your feelings without judgement.  Be kind to yourself.
  • Deep breathing exercises help to release grief. Practices such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and chi gong all utilize breathing exercises.
  • Walk in nature
  • Foods that nourish lung energy include: garlic, onion, cabbage, radish, walnuts, almonds, banana, sweet potato, and cinnamon.

www.chinesemedicineliving.com

Damp Condition Revisited

I’ve spoken about the six pernicious influences or causes of disease in Chinese Medicine before, but now that we’re in the season of autumn it is a good time to revisit it.  These six climatic conditions are considered causes of disease within the body.  They are: cold, wind, dampness, heat, dryness and summer heat.  Many times these conditions occur together such as damp and cold or wind and cold.

It is also possible for these pernicious influences to develop from chronic internal imbalance.

One of the most persistent conditions which takes some time to resolve is dampness.  When internal dampness occurs it creates stagnation and a feeling of heaviness. It can occur from spending a lot of time in a rainy environment or from sleeping on the ground.  It can also occur internally from eating large quantities of cold foods and drinks, sweets and greasy foods.

Some symptoms of dampness include: edema, phlegm, and discharges.  It can also cause feelings of dizziness and heaviness, water retention, coughing or vomiting phlegm and skin rashes.  A damp condition will also make weight loss difficult. There are many different types of dampness, such as cold damp or damp heat.  Each condition has its own set of symptoms and treatment including herbs to drain the dampness, dietary changes and possibly moxibustion.  Dampness is a difficult condition which needs to be treated by a licensed acupuncturist in order to improve.

–Bill Schoenbart & Ellen Shefi—health.howstuffworks.com

Chinese Medicine and the Season of Autumn

In autumn the expanded energy of summer slowly begins to contract. The earth’s energy is pulled back from the leaves of trees and plants to go deeper into the trunk and roots to survive the winter. Within Chinese Medicine, humans are regarded as microcosms of the natural universe; subject to the same cycles that occur in nature. The cold signals us to prepare for winter ahead by bringing out warmer clothing. It is a time of gathering in, stocking up, mingled with a sense of loss as the light begins to fade and the air chills. It is a time to eliminate what is unnecessary and become aware of what is essential.

Autumn is associated with the element of metal which is represented by the organs of Lung and Large Intestine. The Lung pulls in and refines the Qi, (energy) sending it downward to nourish our roots. The lung rules the skin, the outer layer of the human body, protecting against external invasion and safeguards internal resources. Since autumn is a dry season, we need to protect ourselves from cold air evaporation of moisture from our skin.

Large Intestine is associated with letting go; not just on a physical level but also of thoughts and emotions that no longer serve us. The metal element nourishes our capacity to be analytic, critical, methodical, efficient and disciplined.

The emotion associated with the metal element is grief or sadness. We are leaving the warm abundance of summer and preparing for a quieter, reflective time of year. Keeping our energy balanced helps us to release the past and create space for things to come.

Nurturing foods for this time of year include:

  • white rice
  • white beans
  • pears
  • radishes
  • sea vegetables
  • potatoes
  • cabbage
  • turnips
  • parsnips

The flavors of metal element are spicy or pungent.

Dr. Frank Lipman

Chinese Medicine Tips for Autumn

The Lung and Large Intestine are the two energy pathways most active in fall; both organs eliminate waste. The Large Intestine eliminates digestive waste and the Lungs eliminate respiratory waste. The Lungs also control the skin and sweating. Sweating helps to cleanse the skin and detoxify the body but excess sweating can deplete our bodies. It is important to stay hydrated especially when exercising.

Foods that support the Lungs and Large Intestine are: pear, radishes, daikon radish, cauliflower and cabbage. Immune support for the Lung energy includes reishi mushrooms and astragalus.

If you develop a fall cold or flu with fever you can bring on a sweat at the early stages of infection to help detoxify the body. Spending time in a sauna or hot bath and eating spicy food will help.

Living in Harmony with Nature during Autumn : Traditional Chinese Medicine

As the days begin to get longer, leaves begin to change color and earth energies begin to slow and cool; we turn our attention to more serious pursuits. The season of fall is associated with the Metal element which governs order, organization, communication, the mind, setting limits and protecting boundaries. It is a time to finish projects and clear out that which no longer serves us. We begin to organize our lives for the colder weather ahead.

The internal organs associated with autumn are Lung and Large Intestine. The emotions related to these organs are sadness, grief and letting go.

This is a good time to begin a practice of meditation, yoga or any exercise that helps you to control your breath. Control of the breath can promote, physical vigor, mental clarity and emotional tranquility.

Some tips for the change of season:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Dress for the change in weather- too many people get sick holding on to summer attire too long
  • Protect your lungs- moderate amounts of pungent foods : garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger and mustard are beneficial.

Chinese Medicine and Indian Summer


Late summer or Indian Summer is associated with the earth element in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is a time for slowing down the activity of summer and observing the abundance we’ve created in our lives. We reflect in order to move forward again with awareness. Earth is the balance point it is a time to temporarily stop our doing and just be. Earth is stability. “The process of procuring, absorbing and converting the food into our body, is what the earth element represents.”

The earth element provides us grounding and a center.

When we have a center, we are able to see what we need and what we are lacking. When we can acknowledge our own needs, we are able to be sensitive to the needs of others. Earth element is central to all the elements. It is the transition time at the end of each season when we reflect before we begin anew.

The emotions associated with this element are sympathy, empathy and worry.

If we are in balance we can be empathic to our own needs and those of others. When we lose our balance, we become consumed with worry and often obsessive compulsive thinking. The other end of imbalance is aloofness, inability for empathy and the inability to connect.

Some symptoms of earth imbalance are:

  • Excessive mucous in nose, throat and mouth
  • Craving sweets
  • Heavy feelings in body with achy arms, legs and head
  • Metabolic problems, including hypoglycemia and diabetes
  • Bloating and indigestion
  • Lethargy
  • Chronic worry

Indian Summer in Traditional Chinese Medicine is a time for slowing down and gathering in the abundance we’ve created in our lives so we can move forward with awareness. This time is associated with the earth element which brings balance and grounding into our lives.

When we are in balance we can clearly see our own needs and also be sensitive to the needs of others. The emotions of earth element are sympathy, empathy and worry. When our earth element is balanced we feel empathy for another. When earth is imbalanced we take on the pain of another, are preoccupied with worry and obsessive compulsive thinking. The alternative side of this earth imbalance is the inability to feel empathy, aloofness and incapacity to connect with others.

To support earth element:

  • Find time to reflect on your life and meet your own needs.
  • Get out in nature and connect to mother earth.
  • Nourish yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The Body Organ Clock of Chinese Medicine

I like to revisit this information every so often in case someone missed it. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is believed that the chi or vital energy circulates through each body organ in two hour intervals every 24 hours. There are specific times for each organ meridian. These specific times of chi circulation are when the meridian has its point of highest energy. In TCM this cycle helped inform people of the optimum time to eat, sleep, rest exercise, etc. It also made them aware of their connection to each body organ.

Today most people are concerned with waking up the same time each night and not being able to get back to sleep. The time from 11pm -1 am is when the Gall Bladder Meridian is most active. This is a time that the body should be at rest so that it can wake up feeling energized for the next day. If you are consistently waking at this hour your Gall Bladder Meridian needs balancing. Gall Bladder energy is associated with decision making and everyday stress.

1-3am is when the Liver Meridian is most active and the body should be asleep.” During this time, toxins are released from the body and fresh new blood is made.” If waking at this time you may have restrictions in the Liver Meridian, too much yang energy or issues with anger, frustration and rage.

3-5am the Lung Meridian is most active and the body should be asleep. “The body should be kept warm at this time to help the lungs replenish the body with oxygen.” The emotions associated with the lungs are sadness and grief. If awake at this time, deep breathing is recommended.

During winter when Kidney and Bladder Meridians are most active, the 24 hour circulation for these meridians is even more powerful.

3-5pm is when the Bladder Meridian has the highest energy. At this time metabolic wastes move into the kidney’s filtration system and drinking a lot of water will aid the detoxification process. “This is the perfect time to study or complete brain challenging work.”

5-7pm is when the Kidney energy is strongest. The Kidneys filter the blood and maintain proper chemical balance. “This is the perfect time to have dinner and to activate your circulation either by walking, having a massage or stretching.” The emotion associated with Kidney Meridian is fear.

Pericardium Meridian – The Final Energy Pathway of Summer

The Pericardium Meridianis known as the heart’s protector. Though not considered an organ in western medicine, in reality it is the protective sack which surrounds the heart. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is considered an organ meridian which pairs with The Triple Warmer. The Pericardium Meridian functions to protect the heart both from physical damage and emotional excess generated by other organ meridians. These emotions include: fear from the kidneys, sadness from the lungs and anger from the liver.

In TCM “extreme outbursts of the Seven Emotions are regarded as powerful disruptors of internal energy balance and major causes of disease.” This meridian also regulates blood flow in the major blood vessels surrounding the heart. Emotionally it joins the physical and emotional aspects of sexual activity; the loving feelings of the heart with the raw sexual energy of the kidneys.

Associations are:

  • Color – purple red
  • Peak hours-7pm-9pm
  • Mental qualities- love, sex
  • Physical branches- blood, tongue, throat sweat, facial complexion