Recently we published a series of social media posts on emotions and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and we’re sharing it here on our website too for anyone who missed it.
TCM actually has some pretty interesting things to say about the emotions in the context of disease and health. The emotions are considered a cause of disease under certain conditions, such as a prolonged experience of one emotion or suppression of emotions. Dysfunction in the organ systems can also cause emotional symptoms; for example when the liver system is out of balance, excessive anger can result. Each of the emotions has correlations within a larger context, including a corresponding organ system and element. Below you’ll find more information about each of the emotions, including acupressure points for self-care.
People are hurting right now. We’ve heard it from you and we see it on the news and in our social media feeds. We’ve borne witness to police brutality and violence against Black individuals. A desperately needed national conversation on racism is starting to happen, and it’s painful. We’re mourning the loss of over 100,000 lives in this country and 400,000 globally from COVID-19. We’re physically isolated from one another and adjusting to new dynamics at work, school, and in our families. There are many reasons to feel overwhelmed emotionally, so we’re offering one perspective in the hope that you will find some comfort or insight in it. We hope it’s helpful. We’re here for you.
According to TCM 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, unprocessed grief impairs the lungs’ function and consumes the Qi, leading to exhaustion, lassitude and shortness of breath.
We’re going through a time of immense grief. We’ve lost 100,000 lives in this country to a pandemic. We’re witnessing violence against Black, Indigenous and People of Color and the effects of generations of institutionalized racism. But grief has something to offer us. It contracts by nature, encouraging us to look within and identify sources of sadness that we’ve been holding on to. And our lungs give us the power to feel and express our grief.
Lung 3, aka Heavenly Palace, is wonderful point for processing grief and supporting the lungs. It calms and uplifts the spirit, helping to restore a sense of self worth and receptivity. It’s located on the upper arm, on the lateral border of the biceps muscle, about 6 inches above the elbow crease. Often when you massage this point your lungs will reflexively inhale deeply. It’s a great point to help you work through 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 manifests physically with headaches, waking up between 1-3AM, and tension in the neck and shoulders.
Anger can injure the body when it’s 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.
Liver 2, aka Moving Between, spreads Liver Qi and clears Liver fire. This is a great point to use when you’re feeing hot-headed or fiery-tempered. It’s located on the dorsal surface of the foot, between the first and second toes. It quells excess fire so the Liver can do its job of directing change and movement, instead of blazing into excess and rage.
According to TCM 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’re 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.
Kidney 4, aka Great Bell, tonifies the Kidneys and strengthens the will to dispel fear. It’s located on the medial side of the ankle, on the edge of the Achilles tendon, level with the lower border of the ankle bone. In a time of fear and uncertainty, this point helps fortify the will to work through fear towards achieving our highest purpose.
According to TCM 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 isn’t great at multitasking, and unfortunately for our Spleens we’re living in a time of endless distraction. Many of us try to do multiple things at once because we worry we’ll forget something, but we’re further burdening our Spleen, leaving 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’ll have improved digestion and less worry as a result.
Spleen 4, aka Grandfather Grandson, strengthens the Spleen, resolves excess dampness and calms the spirit. It’s located on the medial side of the foot, just distal to the base of the first metatarsal bone. Massaging this point is a great way to give yourself a mental break and alleviate unnecessary worry and overthinking.
According to TCM 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.
Heart 7, aka Spirit Gate, calms the spirit and tonifies the Heart. It’s located at the wrist joint, below the pinky finger. When your Heart and your Shen need a little TLC, this is your point.
Acupuncture is a wonderful way to restore emotional balance during times of stress and upheaval. Click here to schedule online or call us in East Nashville at 615-457-1979 or in Bellevue at 615-645-9866. We’re here to help.