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Oriental Medicine and the Emotions

by Patrick

istock_buddhas_palm_mtmist8072325smallBy Deirdre Courtney (M.A.)
Head of Acupuncture Department, CNM

The Chinese have known for thousands of years that our emotions impact the state of our health. There is a lot we can gain from understanding this oriental viewpoint. In Chinese medicine, emotions are seen as energy passing through the meridians, and when allowed to flow freely and unconstrained, we stay in balance. If we block emotions, our organs can be affected.  So whether we are angry with someone, grieving for a loss, or feeling overwhelmed, acknowledgement and expression of such feelings creates healthy organs and a positive energy flow.

In Chinese medicine, there are five major Yin organs: the liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidney. Each organ is associated with an emotion: the liver – anger; the heart – joy; the spleen – worry; the kidney – fear; the lungs – sorrow or grief.  Excess of any of these emotions can affect the related organ. Suppression of any of these emotions can also affect the organ. It is a circular process in that, if the organ is weak, it can increase the related emotion. Too much repressed emotion can stagnate the liver energy; too much worry can affect the spleen; stress, overwork or living in fear of something can affect the kidney; hurt or loss of a relationship can affect the heart; a bereavement can affect the lungs.

Often we may appear well, in terms of having no overt pathology, but we may be energetically or emotionally out of balance. Have a look at the different patterns below and see if you can relate to any of them. The good news is that we can take steps to change these patterns and feel strong emotionally.

Liver qi stagnation: if you find yourself sighing frequently, feeling irritable and frustrated or feeling prone to temper outbursts, it may be that energetically your liver energy has stagnated. One of the main causes for this is repressed emotion: holding in or onto too many feelings. Accompanying physical symptoms can include belching, burping, acid regurgitation or a sour taste in the mouth. If this picture sounds familiar and you want to move that stagnant liver qi, there are some easy steps to take. The liver needs movement, emotion needs expression, so get out and exercise, breathe deeply out in fresh air, express your feelings, try writing a journal or pounding a pillow.  Green is the healing colour for the liver, so walk in beautiful greenery and eat lots of green foods.

Spleen qi deficiency: Do you sometimes find yourself excessively ruminant, prone to worry or find you are getting deep frown lines or bags under your eyes?  If so, you may be prone to imbalance in the spleen organ. The spleen energy rules digestion and is negatively affected by worry. Too much worry injures the spleen, and a weakened spleen energy leaves us more prone to worry. Accompanying physical symptoms may include feeling really tired (especially after eating), loose bowel movements, and bloating or weight gain which is difficult to loose (especially around the middle).
If you think this applies to you, make this a summer to support your spleen. Decide to deal with worries differently; adopt new coping mechanisms; relegate your worries to one of three categories: alter what is worrying you, accept what is worrying you or avoid (only where possible) each worry. Build your resistance to worry by doing what makes your heart sing. Certain foods weaken spleen energy (wheat, dairy, coffee), so reduce these and eat smaller amounts more often, and try not to eat late at night.

Kidney yin deficiency. Do you often feel that you are running on empty, using your reserve tank rather than energy that is easily available to you? Do you often ignore the red light on your dashboard that tells you you are doing too much? Does this sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed and fearful? You might have other symptoms like flushed cheeks, sweating at night, feeling thirsty, lower back pain, lots of transverse lines on the forehead, or find your willpower diminished.
This all points to kidney yin deficiency. It is often a sign of overwork and indicates a need for more rest and relaxation to strengthen the kidney energy. Have regular early nights, reduce your workload, look at a good work/life balance chart (there are lots online). Connect with water and earth by swimming, and walking on the grass in your bare feet. Yoga and meditation all help to increase kidney energy. Foods that strengthen the kidney are black mushrooms, pulses and mineral rich foods such as seaweeds.

Heart yin deficiency: If you are feeling anxious or panicky, if you are prone to sleep disturbance or are having vivid dreams, if you are feeling disconnected from friendships or pastimes that you usually enjoy, you may have heart yin deficiency. If your face is flushing easily and you feel worse after alcohol or spicy food, if you are getting palpitations, then you may have heart yin deficiency. This imbalance is often seen with practitioners or carers who are constantly giving and using up their yin energy. It can also happen after a period of emotional stress or hurt. It is important to take time out to nourish this yin energy. Similar to kidney yin deficiency, you may need more rest, you may need to retreat a little in order to renew. Increase activities that calm and nourish you, be good to yourself and surround yourself with colours and landscapes that nurture. Use deep breathing, yoga, visualisation or meditation. Avoid too much fire in the diet by reducing spicy foods, alcohol and sugar. Increase cooling foods such as green vegetables and beetroot.

Our bodies often give us clues as to what we need to do to rebalance, make this a season where you listen to your body’s inner wisdom and enjoy a wonderful summer!

If you are interested in training in Complementary medicine, CNM are running open evenings over the coming weeks:
14th June, 28th June, 12th July Griffith College, Dublin.
16th June, 30th June, 21st July. Ambassador Hotel, Cork.

To find out more information or to book a place, call 012353094 or email

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