One of my favorite things about acupuncture and Chinese medicine is how treatment can help us make connections between what we are feeling, what we are thinking, and the symptoms we feel in our bodies. For many of the people I know and work with, it makes intuitive sense that what we are feeling emotionally (happiness, sadness, anger, grief, worry) can have an effect on our physiology (body).
In Chinese medicine, this connection between felt emotion and felt physical symptoms has always been known, and always been central to treatment. Emotion is essentially qi – the energetic life force that is central to all of your body’s physiological processes and is found everywhere, in all of nature. When emotion causes physical symptoms, it is because it is stuck and out of balance. In most cases, a healthy emotional reaction will be felt in real time ie as it is happening, and then be accepted, embraced and released. Happiness, sadness, anger, grief and worry will all flow smoothly through a person’s body, mind and spirit and expressed appropriately. For whatever reason however, if the emotion is not felt in real time, is not accepted, processed and released, it can become stuck and cause disease.
In Chinese medicine, we refer to the seven emotions that can cause disease:
Joy (over-excitement, agitation)
Worry (pensiveness, over-thinking)
Each emotion is related to an organ:
Joy – Heart
Anger – Liver
Anxiety & Grief – Lung
Worry – Spleen
Fear & Fright – Kidney
Now, before you begin to diagnose yourself (you have heart palpitations so you have a problem with joy!), let me step back here for a moment and acknowledge something: the human beings I know are complicated, and don’t always easily fit into the picture portrayed by the ancient Chinese. While yes, it is true that a state of agitation and over-excitement CAN injure the Heart and cause symptoms such as palpitations, that’s not always the full picture. It takes time on behalf of the patient and practitioner to weed through the tangle of human experience and make these connections as they are true for you. Once these connections are made on behalf of the patient, some major healing can take place.
Take for example a client of mine who’s healing journey is noteworthy in the connections she has made between felt emotion and physical symptoms.
My client had a fairly scary diagnosis of a chronic medical condition a little over a year and half ago. She took her healing very seriously, made some big life changes, and actually reversed her diagnosis within a year’s time. Along with her diagnosis being reversed, she also experienced a decrease in symptoms. She was finally, and happily living her best life.
A few weeks ago, however, she had an experience that triggered an intense anger reaction inside her. As she struggled with her feelings of anger and rage she literally watched some of her symptoms return.
She, luckily, made the connection between the anger she was feeling and her symptoms.
As she worked to release her anger and come to acceptance with the triggering situation, she watched her symptoms decrease. When she got caught up in her feelings of anger, she watched them return.
Back and forth, back and forth, until she fully accepted the conditions of her anger and moved on.
As one of her health care providers, I was thrilled that she had made this connection! It’s not every day that people are able to so clearly see the connection between how they work with their emotions and their physical wellbeing. In her case, when her anger got stuck, it caused her symptoms. And ultimately it was HER working with HER anger that brought her back to health.
Our healing work, when working through feelings and trying to make the connection between the emotion and physical symptoms, is to ultimately take notice of HOW we are working with our emotions; to recognize that we have a choice. My client had a choice – she could have allowed her anger to completely take over, and if she had, she would have probably found herself feeling more ill than ever before. But instead, she took an empowered road and worked with herself.
So, how does one work with emotion, intense reactions, and begin to make these connections?
Stay tuned for part 2!