by Gene Chuah
“The organs weep the tears the eyes refuse to shed” — Sir William Osler, 18th-century physician.
We now explore the topic of mental and emotional disharmonies in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
We often hear about the mind-body connection in new medicine; sometimes also the mind-body-soul connection. In holistic healing, we do not treat the body and mind as separate — in fact one affects the other, and this is something that the Chinese have known for more than 2000 years. The key principle here is that there is no difference between mental and physical illness!
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we recognize the 7 Emotions and how they cause disease in the body. In TCM, it’s “all about the energy” (Qi), and there is functional (good) energy that flows in the body (and in the aura, according to other systems like Pranic Healing). However, this Qi can get stuck, become stagnant, and manifest as negative or polluted energy, which can cause disease.
Each Organ is also correlated with a particular Emotion, and likewise, can accumulate the stagnated energy of this Emotion if it is in excess, or due to dysfunction. This makes sense if we think of the Organs as energy centers, which are attuned to a specific frequency or wavelength of energy. (In traditional Indian medicine, this is a similar idea to the Chakras (energy centers), each of which governs a particular related set of emotions or abilities; ascending vertically from the primal to the refined.)
Breaking it all down :
(2) Qi flows through the body.
(3) Qi is energy.
(4) Each Organ is attuned to, and acts as a storehouse for, a specific Emotion.
(5) Excess / blocked / stagnated energy in an Organ manifests as disease.
Therefore, we can deduce that the following are true :
(B) Addressing the Emotion will help correct the associated Organ imbalance.
(B) Emotion –> Organ
… and in fact, this is recognized in TCM to be true (see Day 2)! For instance, someone who faces a lot of frustration will experience a lot of Anger, and if they don’t know how to channel this Emotion (a type of energy), it will cause Liver Qi Stagnation, which in turn disrupts the normal functioning of the Liver (causing other problems down the chain). The converse is also true: someone who develops Liver Qi Stagnation, due to other factors not related to Anger, will start to experience Anger more quickly because this energy is not able to flow through their Liver, and it gets stagnated in excess (think traffic jam).
Here are the Organs and their corresponding Emotions :
|Spleen||Worry & Pensiveness|
|Kidneys||Fear & Shock|
In treating mental / emotional disorders, Traditional Chinese Medicine actually has more options over conventional medicine, in the sense that :
(2) treatment is possible for “incurable” conditions.
Let’s take a closer look.
(1) Diagnosis is not locked-down and rigid
In conventional psychiatry, a patient is diagnosed for mental illness by looking at his or her symptoms / behaviors, and then figuring out which “label” can be attached to the patient. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the guidebook used by psychiatrists to label their patients. But does it mean that the “cure” is clear, since we know their diagnosis? How is each diagnosis treated? Could it be that these labels are what psychatrists use when they don’t know what’s really wrong with a patient? What about the in-betweens, the patients who don’t fall neatly into any one category?
Let’s just take a look at some of these classifications: schizophrenia, anxiety, ADHD, dementia, depression, dissociation, mania, bipolar disorder, psychosis, personality disorders. Each one is just a name label with a set of symptoms! Each one is assumed to have no real “cure”, and treatments are mostly drug-based, focused on suppressing symptoms and disease management (that happens to be where the money is too).
Due to the rigidity of diagnoses in conventional medicine today, our treatment options are limited. Why? Simply because you can have a set of symptoms, give it one name, but from patient to patient, it could be different a root cause! There is an excellent article by Mike Adams (with cached snapshot here) that explains this perfectly. He says, “there is a curious tendency in conventional medicine to name a set of symptoms a disease”. My personal opinion is that these disease names have a “paralyzing” effect on the reader’s mind and are intented to obscure the true cause of the disease. “What, she has Shingblington’s Non-Necromicrotizing Sharkinoma? Oh dear, I guess the doctors know best then what pills she needs.” Disease names like these make people instantly shut off their brains and effectively relinquish control of their own health since it is beyond them and no longer intuitive.
In TCM, however, things are not so cut-and-dry, and there is the recognition that each patient is unique, that there are many factors that all work together to cause a set of symptoms or dysfunctional behaviors. By looking at the whole picture in an open-ended but thorough manner, the practitioner is able to piece all the clues together and find the Organ(s) affected, as well as the root cause(s) of the disharmony. Again, there is no separation between physical and emotional / mental issues; so insomnia, anxiety and hysterical mania are really on the same scale and could have the same root cause (Heart dysfunction and/or stress), pointing the way for a treatment approach. This freedom from locked definitions is a good thing, because at the end of the day, we are treating the patient as a unique individual with unique circumstances, and not merely pinning a one-size-fits-all label on them.
(2) Treatment is possible for “incurable” conditions
In TCM, there is no such thing as idiopathic disease. Because the symptoms form a pattern and point to the root cause(s), we can treat it!
With mental / emotional illness, you can either treat the Organ or address the Emotion, or even better, do both. One helps the other, leapfrogging the patient out of the pit. Let’s go back to the example of Mr. Angry. He has a demanding job and a demanding life. We don’t know which started first, his Liver imbalance or his anger issues, but we know that he has both. Let’s see how either approach helps :
(B) Addressing the Emotion : everyone faces problems, that is the nature of existence on this planet; nobody is exempt, but how we deal with problems is the key. Anger does not come from external circumstances; it arises as a response from within. A good TCM practitioner is also a lifestyle counselor, and will help the patient find solutions to the root causes of emotional issues. Anger is usually a result of frustrated goals (blocked energy), and there are ways of dealing with things. At a much higher level we could even say that many of our problems are a result of our Ego asserting itself (Dr. Wayne Dyer) and a big reason for our unhappiness and stress these days is because of our disconnection with God / The Divine / our Higher Self, and our need to “force” things as a result of our feeling inadequate as a result of this separation. Of course this is a big topic, but the point is that Emotions can be addressed directly. Back to our example, by not giving in to Anger, the patient’s Liver is no longer overwhelmed and is able to recover and “process” normally, giving the patient clarity and peace. In TCM, we say that “there is no such thing as a bad emotion, only a stuck emotion”.
As a recap, here are the points we covered in class (some overlap with what we talked about above):
(2) Emotions originate from the Organs (stored in, created by).
(3) Between Organs and Emotions, cause and effect are interchangeable.
(4) Emotions can cause disease when they are (a) extreme in intensity, and (b) prolonged in duration.
Now on to the next topic we covered in class :
Lifestyle Factors That Affect Health (Way of Life)
(b) physical overwork
(c) physical exercise (excessive)
(d) insufficient sleep
(e) over-resting, too much sleep
2. Diet (nutrition, detoxification)
(b) malnutrition (it happens even in North America due to soil depletion in conventional agriculture, and overprocessing of foods)
(c) imbalanced eating habits (eating at wrong times)
(d) toxins in diet (hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, additives, GMOs, etc.)
3. Weak constitution
4. Sex (frequency, esp. for men)
5. Excessive childbearing (depletes Kidneys, Jing)
6. Trauma / injury / accidents
7. Exposure to poisons (environmental), parasites (mold, fungus, yeast, bacteria, viruses)
In regards to frequency of sexual activity for men (ejaculation), in TCM we have a table listing the recommended maximum frequency depending on age. It is best not to exceed these limits, in order not to prematurely exhaust your Jing (as discussed in Day 4) :
|Age||Good health||Average health|
|20||2x / day||1x / day|
|30||1x / day||every 2nd day|
|40||every 3 days||every 4 days|
|50||every 5 days||every 10 days|
|60||every 10 days||every 20 days|
|70||every 30 days||not recommended|