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Excerpt from "The Book of Oriental Medicine: A Complete Self-Treatment Guide"

The Emotions We Feel

by Clive Witham

One of the most important aspects of the five elements when it comes to our health is our emotions – what we feel can actually make us ill.

Each element and associated organ can be strongly affected by a particular emotion. This is normally short term in healthy people, but if the emotion remains unexpressed for any length of time, it can result in a whole range of health conditions.

It is common for people to complain of a condition that began soon after a strong emotional issue. A skin condition soon after the death of a loved one. Intestinal problems after a much-loved only daughter left home for university. A stiff neck and shoulder after a particularly stressful, frustrating week at work. The connection between these events and the resultant health problems is not always acknowledged or, if it is, can often be dismissed as coincidence since it cannot easily be explained in conventional terms.

For many people, it seems easier to treat the eczema with steroid cream than it is to see it as a representation of grief. That the grief has destroyed the balance in the Metal element and its two organs, the Lungs and the Large Intestine. That the imbalance in the Lungs has spilled out into the skin because, in Oriental medicine, the Lungs have the function of controlling the skin. That one of the key parts of eczema treatment would be to strengthen Metal, so that the grief can then be worked through and the skin can improve.

Likewise, a few pills may take away a mother’s anxiety and worry for a while, but the root of her anxiety problem is a weak Earth element, and strengthening her Stomach and Spleen through diet and treatment is far preferable to the damage that might be caused to the stomach lining by medication.

A stiff neck and shoulder can also be medicated or injected for temporary relief. However, unless there is an acknowledgement that frustration at work is caus- ing qi in the neck and shoulder channels to slow down and become blocked, due to an imbalanced Liver, and then the appropriate Oriental medical treatment is given, the problem may never really go away.

For many people emotions come and go, and there are no long-standing emotional issues; for others, though, especially when one of the elements is weaker than the rest in a person, the emotion is harder to let go of.

The longer an emotion remains unresolved in the body, the greater the potential for internal disruption and ill health. The problem is that by this time any connection between the health condition and the emotion that caused it can all too easily be forgotten.

What follows is a short summary of key emotions and how they can affect the body:

Anger: frustration, irritability, and resentment

These emotions affect the Wood element and cause the qi in the Liver to both rise up and then stagnate.

When we get angry we often “erupt,” “burst,” “blow a fuse,” “go through the roof,” or “see red.” These common words and phrases describe the dramatic rising of qi that can quite literally bring heat up to the face and head.

Angry emotions can suddenly stop the smooth flow of qi from circulating throughout the body but,

all things being well, normal functioning is resumed soon afterwards. It is rather like taking the Under- ground in London or the Subway in New York: sometimes the train has to temporarily stop between stations. Of course, this only ever seems to happen when your very life depends on rushing across the city to make an appointment on time. The windows show only the dirty, black walls of the tunnel, and your eyes dart from window to door to window to insurance advert to window to the nearest passenger in a desperate attempt to will the train along.

A short while later, just after you have given up on telepathically moving the train, it creaks off again. The journey continues with a slight but all-important delay.

When you finally step onto the platform, en route to your destination, the frustration dies down and emotions return to normal. That is until you squeeze on to the escalators and try to elbow your way through chattering tourists who do not know their left from their right. Doing this once in a while is going to cause stress and frustration but only on a temporary basis. Doing this day in, day out, every week, means that the potential is there for problems.

What sometimes happens is that the emotion of anger or frustration does not totally disappear. It can linger, especially if it is repressed and part of long-running emotional issues, and can easily “fester” inside. This is because if qi stagnates in the body, it literally gets stuck. More qi will build up behind it, and the pressure will eventually cause physical pain or discomfort or emotional stagnation.

Common related conditions include: mood swings, depression, timidity, over-controlling, inflexibility, and also very physical symptoms, such as intestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), internal growths, and uterine fibroids.

Worry: anxiety, over-thinking, and fretfulness

When we are particularly worried or anxious, a tightening feeling can be felt in the stomach, which is often described as being “tied in knots.”

In Oriental medicine, worry-type emotions are said to tangle up or bind Spleen qi. The Spleen is paired with the Stomach within the Earth element, so the physiological feelings in the stomach when we are worried reflect the sudden changes in qi in the Stomach or Spleen.

These organs are responsible for digestion and extracting qi and nutrients from the food we eat. Weakness in the Stomach and Spleen can make some- one more susceptible to worrying, then a vicious circle can develop whereby continued worrying weakens the Stomach and Spleen.

Common related conditions include: ulcers, nausea, digestive problems, constipation, diarrhea, frontal headaches, and a tendency towards repetitive thinking, a lack of clarity, and obsessiveness.

Grief: sadness, loss, regret, and separation

The sudden experience of grief and loss can cause temporary breathlessness and a struggle to “catch your breath.” This is often felt because the emotion of grief goes straight to the Lungs, where it disperses and stagnates qi. Grief does not have to be due to events like the death of a loved one but can be felt in less obvious situations, such as when something changes in your life. It can also come from looking back on how things used to be.

If the emotion is expressed and worked through, grief can be strengthening for the Lungs and your general health, but when it is repressed it can lead to health problems.

The paired organ of the Lungs within the Metal element is the Large Intestine, hence there are often intestinal symptoms connected with this emotion. Common related conditions include: lung congestion, asthma, recurrent lung infections or colds, skin conditions, and intestinal problems such as IBS and colitis. There may also be a tendency to be detached, critical, arrogant, and stubborn.

Shock: fright and distress

Shock can seem to almost freeze time. When shocked we cannot speak, cannot think, and cannot move. It is only when the emotion sinks in that time appears to start up again and the body responds.

This physiological response is because shock quite literally scatters qi. Stamp your feet near a flock of feeding pigeons and they fly off in all directions to temporary safety. When they think you are no longer a threat, they will fly back and continue their pecking at the scattered breadcrumbs on the ground. The same thing happens to qi after a shock. It shoots off in all directions, and normal functioning is resumed only when it returns to its natural ordered state some time later.

Sometimes this ordered state is not the same as it was before, and an imbalance can develop. This could result in a general feeling that things have never been the same since. Shock can take many forms, from a difficult birth or an accident to a marriage breakup, and the Heart is the main organ affected. Qi and blood are drained from the Heart to compensate for the sudden loss of qi and blood around the body. This can lead to a weakening of yin in the Heart and a weakness in the circulation of blood and qi around the body.

Common related conditions include: chronic pain, sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia.

Fear: panic, anxiety, and apprehension

Fear is part of the Water element. It is also part of an essential natural response to dangerous situations. We perceive a danger, recognize it, and respond to it, usually by reducing the threat in some way. When we feel fear, Kidney qi is sent rapidly downwards. For this reason, it can sometimes feel as if our insides have sunk and there is an urgent need to visit the toilet.

Weakness in Kidney qi can often feed or be the cause of some fears and anxieties. Any strong imbalance can lead to a state of general fear and anxiety, where the actual threat is undefined.

Common related conditions include: on a mental level, symptoms such as panic attacks, paranoia, suspicion, phobias, and a sense of anxiety about life; on a physical level, symptoms like backache and urinary problems.

Joy: mania, overexcitement, and vulnerability

Joy is placed firmly in the Fire element and is very much about love, laughter, and enjoyment. When we feel these, the organ most affected is the Heart.

The qi of the Heart slackens with these emotions, and we can then experience the normal range of happy feelings, often to the benefit of Heart qi and the release of stagnation in the body. This can affect not only our own happiness but those around us. According to a heart study in the USA,1 feelings of joy increase the likelihood of partners, siblings, and neighbors being happy by up to a third. The study also found that the relationship between people’s happiness can extend much farther – up to three degrees of separation in fact (to the friend of one’s friends’ friend) and that people who are surrounded by many happy people are themselves likely to become happy.

When, however, an imbalance in the Heart develops, people can find it very difficult to deal with feelings of joy and happiness. Sometimes their reactions are inappropriate – too much at the wrong time or in the wrong place, or even a total absence of happiness. An insatiable desire for joy, pursued relentlessly through work or play, can put much stress on the Heart and sometimes be the cause of this imbalance.

The Heart and the mind are part of the same continuum in Oriental medicine, hence an excess in the Heart can rise up and disturb the mind. For this reason, many of the symptoms connected to imbalances in the Heart and the effects of joy come under familiar psychological names.

Common related conditions include: palpitations, insomnia, manic behavior, heart problems, and a tendency to be defensive, overly sensitive, and paranoid and uncommunicative.

Clive Witham is a licensed acupuncturist and runs an acupuncture clinic in a Spanish enclave in North Africa where he promotes Oriental ideas of healing and self-treatment. He has trained in the UK, China, Thailand and Japan, and is also a Member of the British Acupuncture Council.

Excerpt from: The Book of Oriental Medicine: A Complete Self-Treatment Guide
Author: Clive Witham
Excerpt Title: The Emotions We Feel
Price: $22.95
ISBN: 9781844096046
www.findhornpress.com or www.amazon.com

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