It could be said that one of the most profound distinctions between Chinese Medicine and Western Orthodox medicine is the perception of how and why disease begins in the body.
Now, Western medicine does not entirely discount any mind-body connection, albeit a minor and fleeting recognition. Chinese Medicine, however, puts great emphasis on emotion, what they call ‘qing,’ in relationship to disease.
In a Western paradigm of medicine, how emotions effect the body is seen somewhat in a pyramid like structure. The brain, at the top of the body with resulting emotion affecting the limbic system, then nerve impulses travel down to the hypothalamus, through the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve centers, finally reaching the internal organs.
In summary, emotional upset = nerve impulse= organ disruption.
In Chinese Medicine, however, the primary root of any and all disease can be traced back to an internal imbalance of the organs initially caused by emotional strain. Of course, this emotional imbalance would usually have to be a chronic and pervasive to actually begin to influence the state of an organ.
In Chinese theory, the relationship between every organ and its associated emotion is mutual- the state of an organ will affect the emotions, and emotions will affect the state of the organ. This reciprocal relationship is a key component in understanding Chinese Medicine and the philosophies in which it stands.
*It should be noted that Chinese Medicine does not deny external factors of disease and illness…..yet it could be said that if external factors (climate, microbes, virus’etc) result in illness, then perhaps constitutionally one had a pre-existing vulnerability or weakness in a specific area.
Although this article is to hone in on how grief and sadness affect the digestive system, below are the other organ/emotion relationships:
Under normal circumstances, emotions do not cause disease. So when does an emotion penetrate deeply enough to show up physically?
Well, of course there are many factors involved; the intensity of the emotion, the duration of the emotion, the vulnerability of a certain organ, and the state of health of one’s body in general. It is said that the emotions have great potential to affect one’s health once they take over- when we no longer possess them, but they possess us. Chinese medicine describes the intensity created by emotions as ‘ci ji’, ji relating to water, a ‘surge’ that carries us away like a wave.
The view of the internal organs, each its own physical-mental-emotional fortress, is one of the most intriguing and delicious aspects of Oriental Medicine. This entire concept is built around the framework that Qi does equate to matter; meaning energy does in fact compute to emotional, mental and physical phenomena, simultaneously.
This relationship dynamic stands outside of time- there is no beginning and no end to this influence.
So how exactly does Chinese Medicine find the correlation between an emotion specific to an organ?
This is a good question, and not entirely easy to answer. For a moment I’ll put my Functional Medicine hat on.
In modern times, I believe this could be explained by resonates/ frequencies. Everything in the universe vibrates at a certain frequency. Energy medicine, otherwise known as frequency medicine, has established oceans of information in this area and has developed astounding medical devices operating by out-putting exact frequencies to target specific organs, microbes, emotions etc.
Bio-engineering machines like the Asyra can not only detect grief and other emotions in the body, but can even detect location. Just as an opera singer hits a note that shatters glass because the note was vibrating at the same frequency hence it implodes, it is not incomprehensible to think that each of the organs vibrate at a certain frequency, as does each emotion.
So how does grief and sadness specifically affect my bowels?
In what’s called “Zang-Fu” theory in Chinese Medicine, the Lungs and the Large Intestine (LI) are Yin and Yang counter-parts, interiorly and externally coupled, both ruled by the Metal element.
Let’s just say, they’re married; the Lungs the feminine energy and the LI the male energy. As any husband and wife do, they greatly influence one another. Now, if everything is flowing nicely between them, then you have a happy and harmonious marriage.
However, should an imbalance occur in either of them, then the other is deeply affected. As far as the Meridian system goes, a branch of the Lung Meridian links directly to the LI Meridian at the tip of each index finger. Also quite significant, the Lung Meridian descends down to the Large Intestine itself. With acupuncture, one can directly affect the LI organ by accessing the Lung Meridian, and vice versa.
So because grief, sadness and crying directly affect the Lungs (energetically), they indirectly affect the Large Intestine in a big way.
Greif constrains the lungs, which affects breathing, resulting in the dissolving of Lung Qi (energy).
How often do we find ourselves breathing shallowly when we are sad and worried?
Lungs, in Chinese Medicine, are described as “delicate, and tender.” In oriental philosophy, every organ has a spiritual nature. The Lungs house what’s called the Corporeal Soul, or ‘Po.’ The Po is Yin in nature, formed at conception, and is connected to physical sensations, feelings, and somatic expression. At death it dies with the body and returns to earth, unlike our Ethereal soul. The Corporeal Soul is said to bestow the “entering and exiting of Essence.”
The descending function of the lungs affects peristalsis (bowel movements) directly.
The Large Intestine re-absorbs body fluids, which in turn actually keeps the lungs moistened. The Lung energetically pushes the body’s waste material down-ward into the LI.
For example, many asthma patients often experience chronic constipation, and it is not uncommon for them to develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Herbs that help increase, regulate, moisten and disperse lung qi will promote bowel movements. There are excellent Chinese Herbal formulas designed specifically for such a case (Xuan Bai Chen Qi Tang). It works incredibly well.
In summary, Lung qi is the “pushing power” behind the LI’s action of transporting and discarding waste material. When we find ourselves grief stricken, perhaps from a death of a loved one, a break-up, an argument or even loss of a job, our lungs take the blow- which in turn hits our digestive system.
The more chronic the grief, the more affected the organs become. For those dealing with IBS, Crohn’s or Colitis, it would seem imperative to work through long-standing grief and sadness, as surely one could not afford this emotional addition.
It is easy to understand how weeping, crying, and grieving could deplete lung qi, eventually causing stagnation and heart in the lungs and large intestine, only to exacerbate symptoms. The potential for the illness to take root in the first place was vulnerability in this area, accompanied by emotions.
If and when the ascending and descending process is interrupted (perhaps by long term grief and shallow breathing) then the qi of the lungs becomes deficient, which can easily turn into heat accumulation (energetically). Once this heat and/or dryness accumulate in the Lungs, it can lead to intestinal coagulation, giving rise to digestive symptom.
In turn, should one find heat accumulation in the intestines due to stress, infection, diarrhea, constipation, diet etc., the lungs will be equally as affected, perhaps resulting in symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, wheezing etc.
As a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, I can say that these ancient associations between emotions and organs have been witnessed clinically for thousands of years. There are indeed some pieces of Oriental theory that will stand the test of time.
All Chinese Herbs are given association to specific organs as well, hence treating emotions indirectly.
For example- Oriental practitioners have witnessed profound results be treating jaundice with herbs directed towards the Liver, or treat intestinal inflammation and bleeding with herbs specific to the intestines. Herbs work energetically and physiologically, hence can influence the emotional state of an individual from a root level.
When you cool down the liver, you cool down anger. When you increase and disperse the energy of the lungs, grief lessens.When you balance the Yin and Yang of the Kidney’s, fear dissipates.
Our emotions are intrinsically tied into our physical well-being. Everyday, in every way. It's all about balance. Cheers, to the resolution of greif. Time to let it go. Your digestive system will thank you.