||THE ORGAN-EMOTION LINK
Chinese medicine categorizes the major emotions as: anxiety, sorrow, fear, anger, joy, rumination, and empathy. Each of these, when excessive or fix (preoccupying the mind), harms an internal organ and disturbs the qi in specific ways.
Anxiety and sorrow both damage the lungs. The English word
comes from a German root angst, "narrow," referring to the narrowing of
bronchial passages. During times of anxiety, breath and qi are
unable to flow easily in and out of the lungs. It is well-known that
can contribute to the development or exacerbation of asthma and other
bronchial conditions. The lungs are also affected by grief as
demonstrated by the heaving
that occurs with crying. Grief depresses and weakens the lungs and,
anxiety, disturbs the easy and full movement of breath. According to
medicine, the lungs extract qi from the air, regulating the supply of
healing energy. When the lungs are weakened by grief, one's gen-eral
and vitality diminishes. However, this does not mean that we should
sorrow. It is not healthy to withhold one's tears in response to an
event. Both prolonged grief and unexpressed grief weaken lung qi.
|In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the word shen, "kidneys,"
both the kidneys and adrenals and, in some contexts, the reproductive
The shen are most affected by fear. Fear causes pain and disease in the
kidneys, adrenals, and lower back and creates favorable conditions for
disorders and incontinence. When one is afraid, the qi drops down
the sacrum and in toward the center, away from the surface of the body.
body contracts in self-protection. The circulation of blood and breath
down, resulting in conditions of excess and stagnation in the core and
in the periphery. A common sign of this is cold hands and feet. One is
"frozen with fear."
Chronic fear can lead to a host of debilitating conditions. Fear and stress; cause the adrenals to secrete large amounts of the stress hormones adrenaline and hydrocortisone, which signal the cells to break down stored fats and pro-teins into sugar (glucose). This makes energy available to fight or flee from a threat - a necessity during short-term threats to survival but devastating if prolonged. As the stores of energy are sapped, we become weak and fatigued, leading to "adrenal burnout." The body's reservoir of hormones is not infinitely deep. If we do not have time to rest and regenerate our supply, our ability to cope with stress is impaired.
The release of adrenal hormones puts many bodily processes on hold, in order to defend against the threat. This includes the shutting down of growth, repair, and reproduction by inhibiting or disabling essential chemi-cals and immune cells. If stress is constant, the body may forget how to re-turn to the healthy state, losing its ability to defend effectively against pathogens or to repair and heal damage.
In qigong theory, the kidneys and adrenals also control brain function, especially memory. Scientific research has confirmed that fear and stress can weaken memory and create learning disabilities. The stress hormone, hydro-cortisone, damages the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for memory and learning and rich with hydrocortisone receptors. The connec-tion between the adrenal hormones and memory has also been shown in ani-mal experiments. In the 1960s, German physiologists found that these hormones damage the brains of guinea pigs. On the other hand, when the adrenal glands were removed from middle-aged rats, the hippocampal cells were spared the damage that one would normally expect with aging. The implication of all of this for humans is that by avoiding stressful situations or by resolving or changing our reactions to them, we can restore balance to the shen, the kidneys-adrenals, and preserve the health of body and mind.
Anger weakens the liver and causes the qi to rise. In fact, the common Chinese word for anger is sheng qi "rising qi." Other expressions used to describe an angry person include huo qi da "fire qi great" or yang qi tao gao "yang qi too high." Rising qi leads to muscular tension and various liver- and fire--related ailments, such as headaches, eyestrain, hemorrhoids, and irregular menstruation. It is interesting that in English, the word "bilious" also implies a connection between the liver and anger. Weakness of liver qi also con-tributes to mood swings, as the liver cannot perform its function of spreading the qi and harmonizing its flow.
In the West we distinguish between "healthy anger" and "unhealthy anger." Whereas the Chinese simply say that anger is harmful, Western mind-body researchers have found that honest expression of even "negative" feelings is good for one's health. Unhealthy anger is repressed, chronic, cruel, or violent. This kind of anger does not end after it is discharged; inevitably a trail of other feelings follows it, including resentment, frustration, and guilt. In my opinion, it is only this kind of anger that harms the liver. Many scien-tists have found that the inability to express healthy anger and other emo-tions conventionally labeled as "negative" may suppress the immune system and create favorable conditions for the development of cancer. Even mice exhibit different immunologic states depending on their behavior. More ag-gressive mice tend to have smaller virus-induced tumors. It may be that a strong, fighting (and feisty) spirit goes hand in hand with more aggressive white blood cells. It is important to note, however, that a fighting spirit is different from obstinacy and stubbornness. The challenge for anyone facing serious disease is how to balance determination and willpower with acceptance of human frailty and imperfection.
Lao Zi suggests a distinction between healthy and unhealthy emotion in his classic Dao De Jing; "The highest virtue is not virtuous, and is thus virtu-ous "; that is, true virtue is not self-consciously or compulsively virtuous. Compulsive do-gooders are really afraid of or denying their own aggression and hostility. They try always to do what is "best," preferring to be placating, submissive, or self-sacrificing rather than expressing or fighting for what they genuinely feel, lest they "make waves." "The sage is not a do-gooder," says Lao Zi. The sage is true to his or her nature, neither compulsively following nor rebelling against rules of conduct. The sage is capable of expressing emo-tions, including anger, as necessary and appropriate to the situation. He or she practices self-acceptance and is thus more accepting and understanding of others. The first step in self-acceptance is giving oneself permission to feel what one is feeling; then inner resistance and friction is lessened and much of one's anger is already gone.
That joy is considered a negative emotion is troubling
most Western students of qigong until they realize that in Chinese
literature the term joy (1e) means excitability, a tendency toward
talkativeness, lavishness, and general excess. In some texts, another
for joy is used, pronounced xi. Etymologically, this character means
joy derived from eating. According to Chinese medicine scholars Kiiko
and Stephen Birch, "In a medical context, xi accurately refers more to
the notion of problems caused by overeating. . . ."" Thus, "joy"
scatters the qi. It can create an uneven pulse and make one prone to
Empathy is an important and difficult issue for many healers. Too much empathy makes it difficult to treat the patient objectively and may result in "picking up" the patient's physical and/or mental disease. A qigong student knows he is overempathizing when it becomes difficult to feel relaxed, centered, and rooted. To overempathize is to feel disempowered and out of touch with the earth, the element that corresponds to the spleen. Such empathy weakens the spleen, and conversely a weak spleen can create boundary issues.
The spleen carries the qi of the earth. Qigong masters say that the spleen needs grounding, time spent in nature. There is a wonderful cure for both of the spleen's emotional pathogens - pensiveness and empathy. "Lose your mind and come to your senses." Spend more time in nature, seeing nature as a positive model of health and balance. The earth supports all kinds of life impartially, without attachment. Let the mind become quiet and the senses open to the environment. Such a cure may seem too simple, nontechnical, perhaps even naive. The important point is that it works! I remember my old friend, Zenmaster Alan Watts, once remarking, "We believe that we haven't thought enough about the difficulties of life. Perhaps the problem is that we have thought entirely too much!"
In summary, each of the major internal organs can be damaged by emo-tional excess. There are also positive emotions that can help heal the organs. These positive emotions are identical to the five virtues that, according to Confucianism, can make one a "Noble Person." The Chinese word for virtue (de) was originally written with the same character as the word "to plant," suggesting that virtue is a power that can be cultivated. Similarly, the English "virtue" comes from the same Latin root as "virile," suggesting a power or potential that creates health.
The lungs are heated by yi, often translated "righteousness," in the sense of integrity and dignity. When I studied Chinese philosophy, my professor was fond of a particular example of lack of yi - the way people push and shove on crowded subways during rush hour. Yi means giving yourself and others a kind of psychological elbow room, room to live and breathe. The kidneys are healed by zhi, wisdom. Zhi implies clear perception and self -understanding, a sure antidote for irrational fears. The anger of the liver is mended with kindness (ren). The Confucian virtue ren is a pictogram of two people walking together. It is sometimes defined as the natural feelings.
THE ORGAN-EMOTION LINK
Element Metal Water Wood Fire Earth
that arise with companionship: benevolence and
In the Analects, Confucius says, "Ren consists in loving others"
XII, 22). The excitability of the heart is balanced by peace, calm,
all implied by the Chinese word fi. Li is usually translated "ritual."
However, Confucian texts make it clear that li is not only ritual, but
the state of
mind required to perform ritual properly and evoked by the performance.
con-notes "orderliness," setting limits on one's behavior as a means of
social harmony. Finally, the spleen is healed by the cultivation of
This is a rich concept that can mean trust, faith, honesty, confidence,
Trust is openness and acceptance, a feeling that emerges when one finds
common ground with another. Trust is a cure for the knotted qi that
from both pensiveness (an internal knot and stagnation) and empathy
qi tied to another).
HEALING THE EMOTIONS
Sit in qigong posture for a few minutes, with the eyes
closed. Make sure you are relaxed and breathing naturally. Bring your
to the lungs. Use your inner senses to feel the lungs in your body. As
inhale, draw in, integrity and dignity into the lungs. As you exhale,
the breath carry away all worries, anxiety, and grief Repeat this
times. Inhale integrity, ex-hale anxiety and grief ...
Locate the liver with your awareness. As you inhale, draw in
filling the liver completely. As you exhale, release and let go of
You can also use Inner Nourishing Qigong for emotional heating. As we breathe, think of a heating phrase, for instance, "My emotions are balanced and calm." Inhale, gently expanding the lower abdomen, thinking, "My emotions are . .." Exhale, letting the abdomen relax, thinking, "ba" and calm." Repeat for about five minutes.
I FEEL; THEREFORE I AM
We can see that qigong approaches the emotions from a very
p than traditional psychotherapy. Qigong considers the way emotions
posture, breathing, and visceral health. Rather than viewing
problems in terms of past influences on present behavior, qigong
exclusively on present energy blockages. Frequently, psychological
seem to just evaporate as physical tension dissolves. Although memory
stored in unhealthy tissue, one need not always analyze these memories
achieve psychological health. Many qigong students note, in retrospect,
emotional difficulties they had at the beginning of mining are simply
a few years later.
"Acupuncture therapy, while unblocking an energetic zone, simulta-neously frees up the psyche trapped in that zone, and if attention is not paid to the underlying psychological issues in the patient's life experience, a new energetic zone will soon become disturbed. This results in constantly shifting or wandering symptoms, a kind of ener-getic hysteria due to the practitioner's inability or unwillingness to focus on the soul as well as the body."
Several years ago I was discussing qigong teaching
with a well--known Chinese qigong master, visiting from Guangzhou
I brought up one of my favorite questions. "How do you help a student
has serious emotional difficulties? Let's say a student who cries every
she begins Standing Meditation." The master replied, "I would tell her
Song, 'Relax.'" "But what if this only made matters worse? What if
the shoulders also relaxes the tension that controls her emotions and
back the tears?" Again, the master said, "She needs to relax." No
how I ap-proached this subject, the answer was the same, like a broken
I have heard the same answer from more than 99 percent of the Chinese
in-structors; I have questioned.
The five element classification could be applied to almost everything, sometimes in bizarre ways. If an individual was suffering from uncontrollable anger, the Chinese doctor might recommend a healthy dose of anxiety and worry, since metal (associated with lungs-anxiety) chops and destroys wood (associated with liver-anger). Or if a patient was thinking too much and had a tendency toward obsessive behavior, then anger could be the cure. Again, the rationalization is that in the cycle of the five elements, wood (anger) penetrates and destroys earth (rumination). This system of therapy, called "checking one emotion with another," is still practiced in China.
Somatization is reflected in present-day Chinese medical terminology." Grief is suan, "soreness in the joints." Insomnia and irritability are WU yun, "head dizziness." Depression is men, a Chinese character that pictures the heart napped in a doorway, suggesting a feeling of being closed in or suffo-cated. The catchall phrase for most psychological problems is neurasthenia, shen fing shuai ruo, literally "weakness of the nerves."" This can include anxi-ety, depression, and hysteria. David Eisenberg, M.D., notes that between one-third and one-half of all patients he saw at Beijing's Dong Zhi Men Clinic complained of "suffering from neurasthenia. Thus most problems a Westerner would consider psychological are defined as physical, requiring exclusively physical interventions.
There are historical and philosophical reasons why emotional individu-als may not receive adequate attention in Chinese society. They are difficult to predict and control and care little for convention; thus they are perceived as threats to government stability." In Confucianism, the state religion through much of China's history, emotional expression was disdained in fa-vor of decorum, orderliness, and the performance of one's social obligations. Social roles took precedence over personal experience and fulfillment.
In present-day P.R.C., as in the past, emotional difficulties are first ad-dressed within the family. If no resolution is found, the problem is brought to the attention of the local political leader, who oversees both political and so-cial aspects of his community. As a last resort, the truly disturbed individual might be referred to a physician. If the physician practices Western medi-cine, the course of treatment is generally medication and/or electroconvul-sive shock therapy. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine will use acupuncture, herbs, massage, and qigong. Still, the personal thoughts and feelings of the individual, so valued in the West, have not been discussed or considered.
Arthur Kleinman, M.D., notes that during research conducted in 1980 at the Hunan Medical College Department of Psychiatry, most depressive pa-tients "did not improve their perceived disability, and few experienced sub-stantial improvement in family, school, or work problems." In a follow-up study of chronic pain patients, conducted in 1983, Kleinman found that none of the patients had experienced a cure due to medical treatment and none of the psychiatric diagnoses had predicted a positive treatment outcome."
Fortunately, there are indications of improvement and broader treat-ment options. Bogged down by an immense population and complex bureaucracy, changes are occurring at a tortoise's pace. Individual and group talk therapy have made some inroads.' Standard diagnostic labels of Western psychiatry are being adopted in research and, gradually, in clinical practice.
Perhaps both China and the West can begin to
the best of both worlds. We can combine the energy medicine technology
qigong with the insights and methodology of psychotherapy to create a
and truly effec-tive system of mind-body healing.
from The Way of Qigong : The Art and Science of Chinese
Note: The Yogic concept of Prana and the East Asian
of Chi or Qi are identical.