How Emotions and Organs are Connected in Traditional Chinese Medicine
AND HOW TO USE FOODS AND TEAS TO SUPPORT A HEALTHY BALANCE
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a connection between your emotions and your overall wellness. A balanced emotional state in the person will allow for good circulation of Qi (our life force) through our body and in turn creates a healthy person overall.
One guiding principle in Traditional Chinese Medicine is the yin yang theory. In the natural world, there exists a balance between 2 opposing and co-existing forces and yet, they also exist in each other. Our bodies, minds, and souls are designed the same way in that to be healthy, we need to be in harmony between these 2 bipolar states. Yin is receptive and passive, calm and slow, embodying cold and damp qualities (when we are sleeping). Yang is its exact opposite in aggressive and active, embodying heat, dryness, and movement (when we are awake).
One of our mission at The Chinese Soup Lady is to bring these principles into the foods and drinks we consume in order to support harmony.
How to use this guide:
- This is a broad view of how emotions are connected to organs and what they mean from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective.
- Do see a Chinese Medicine practitioner or doctor as this information is not a designed as a diagnosis, but as supplemental information.
- You can follow this post for how to get started with Chinese soups, including a host of posts on Traditional Chinese Medicine concepts
How can Traditional Chinese Medicine concepts help me?
In the end, TCM is about finding balance in the person as a whole. While I know primarily it addresses more the physical construct of the body, it also does support the mental portion in some ways such as calming the spirit and calming the mind.
Paying attention to so many of the little things (that may seem obscure and external) are actually more important than you realize. TCM is built on a holistic (and more natural) approach that is more general than specific. For example, looking at yourself as a whole system that is interconnected in all its parts (like your family doctor) rather than having a heart doctor (cardiologist) only look at the heart. This is because TCM will not look at the heart in isolation and say, oh the heart has a problem! There usually are challenges and connections with other organs, blood and Qi flow, imbalance of yin or yang in various states.
Introducing how emotions are connected to the body through a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective
Did you know that our emotions are directly connected to the performance of specific organs in our body? There is a link!
I found this interesting part in a book I’m reading called “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer (came highly recommended to me and I also highly recommend it!), and he says:
“Fear is caused by blockages in the flow of your energy. When your energy is blocked, it can’t come up and feed your heart. Therefore, your heart becomes weak.”
He means it in a more spiritual sense, but you can feel it. When there are excess or negative emotions, there are parts of us that we actually FEEL! For example, when I’m really sad, I feel a tightness in my chest and my breathing is shortened.
There are also scientific and published articles around the connection between emotions and body, like this one “Understanding Mind-Body Interaction from the Perspective of East Asian Medicine” which makes for an interesting read!
Over worrying, overthinking, and excess thinking (over use of intellect) can impact the spleen
- Thinking is good and normal, this is how we are wired to make decisions. Worrying is also good and normal because it is what keeps us safe and stable. When you overthink or over worry, that’s when this type of activities overtake other activities and imbalances how and where our energy (Qi) flow. While the spleen is the organ of thinking (and meditation), it’s very closely connected to the function of the heart to house the mind. This is also connected to the digestive systems, including stomach and intestines.
- Excess worry or thinking impacts the spleen. The spleen from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective is an important organ because it is the source of Qi and blood. The spleen shows up through the mouth and has outward manifestations through the lips. Saliva is also the fluid of the spleen. The spleen helps transform food and water into essence and move it all around the body.
- Overthinking and over worry and impact to the spleen shows up as: weak or stagnant Qi which can be seen as stomachaches, stomach ulcers, imbalanced water within the body (too much saliva), excess moisture in the body, indigestion, or weight challenges, changes in taste of food (tasteless or bitter tasting all the time), pale lips.
- To help with overthinking or over worry, there are a few strategies you can try which can include meditation, yoga, breath work (or breathing exercises), finding joyful activities, seeking counselling or coaching or help.
Joy and happiness impacts the heart
- The physiological function of the heart is related to joy and happiness. The heart is in charge of all the body’s mental activities, and controls both the spirit and the mind, excessive joy or other emotional states (such as excess grief, which takes away from joy) can take away the heart’s ability to healthily monitor and manage our Spirit (shen) and Mind.
- Excess shows up as an imbalance in the heart (and mind as they are connected) and has symptoms like difficulty sleeping, heart palpitations, confusion, dreams or disturbed sleep.
- The color and condition of the tongue is also an indicator of the state of the heart as this is the outward manifestation of the heart. You can check for color, sense of taste (or changes in that), tongue rigidity and cracks (if any), and feeling of the tongue (does it feel rough?).
- To help, rest and sleep aid in filtering your heart and balancing these emotions in the body. This also includes meditation, disconnecting, reflecting, or acupuncture.
- One great ingredient to use is Korean ginseng. It’s warming, supports Qi deficiency, targets the heart, lungs, and spleen, and supports weak or lost appetite (can also be used for excess worry above since that impacts the appetite). You can make this with a Double-boiled Korean ginseng in Chicken Soup.
Sadness of grief impacts the lungs or large intestines
- The lungs are the most delicate organ of the body as it’s most susceptible to pathogens and do not fare well in excess cold (yin) or heat (yang). The lungs connect and open to the nose and associated with the skin and show up in body hair.
- Excess sadness and grief as associated with the lungs and consume Qi in the body. Prolonged duration of sadness or grief can damage the lungs, as the Qi is not flowing sufficient or appropriately throughout the body as needed for normal functionality.
- This shows up in symptoms such as shortness or tightness of breath, the tightness of the chest is a one (and damaging if it’s tight over prolonged periods), random or spontaneous sweating (as the lungs ability to perform show up through the skin), and cold or cough (with phelgm from the lungs).
- To help with this it is important to either address the cause of sadness and grief or find ways to heal from it to bring oneself back into balance. Seek support, therapy, coaching or counselling, find space and time to reflect and meditate and heal, focus your energy on things that bring you joy, or exercise are all ways to reduce sadness and grief.
Fear is connected to the kidney
- Fear is a normal part of our lives. We have fear so that we can stay safe, physiologically and physically and even psychologically. However, too much fear to the point it overwhelms is when it can cause damage to the kidneys (which houses the finite essence called Jing). It is about regulating and managing the fear.
- Excess shows up insomnia, irritability, dizziness, confusion, mental disorders,
- You can’t completely eliminate fears, especially physical ones that pop up on you no matter how much risk you’ve managed, but we can control how we respond, how we plan, and how we manage ourselves around and with fears.
Anger is connected to the liver
- The liver is the organ that is associated with growth and expansion, physically and emotionally. If the liver’s mission is interrupted (interruption to movement and growth), anger usually results. This means the liver-fire is strong and the yin and yang is imbalanced.
- Excess such as anger, frustration, resentment, shows up as dizziness, instable menstruation, insomnia, headaches, poor sleep, or tension in the neck and shoulders
- A healthy amount of anger is necessary, as when to speak up, enforcing our boundaries, but it is the excess and prolonged excess of this that is damaging. It is about managing and balancing the appropriate amount and at the right times.
- Useful herbal teas or soups to support calming the liver-fire are more cooling or yin based teas and drinks. This can include a Cooling Flower Tea, or a Cooling Chrysanthemum Roselle Tea, or a Wintermelon and Baby Corn Tea
Being aware is key…
Remember that Traditional Chinese Medicine is about balance. Having an awareness of our emotional state is as equally important as our physical state, they are linked. That’s the key! While we could be very well balanced physically, we need to pay attention to our emotional states because they actually have impact that manifest inside first and then translate outwards (shows up in the skin, eyes, tongue, face, limbs).
See the mind and body as connected and whole rather than separate. See the organs as connected and shared, rather than as individual organs. Think of yourself as one unit, one system.
You are whole.
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For further reading, I’ve found some more scientific and published articles. Here are some to read up on:
- Shen, 2007, “Yin Deficiency”, Science Direct [online], “https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/yin-deficiency“
- Ting-Ting Jiang,Ji-Cheng L, 2020, “Review on the systems biology research of Yin-deficiency-heat syndrome in traditional Chinese medicine”, American Association for Anatomy [online], “https://anatomypubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.24354″
- Hicks, A., (2013). Principles of Chinese Medicine: What it is and how it works. 2nd Edition. Singing Dragon. USA
- Lee, Y., et al, 2017, “Understanding Mind-Body Interaction from the Perspective of East Asian Medicine”, National Library of Medicine [online], “https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5585554/“