The role of emotions in Traditional Chinese Medicine


It is only recently that West­ern medi­cine has star­ted to acknow­ledge the import­ance of emo­tions in our gen­er­al health. Numer­ous stud­ies have shown that neg­at­ive feel­ings such as anger, bit­ter­ness or even stress, con­stantly stim­u­late our sym­path­et­ic nervous sys­tem. Unfor­tu­nately, over a long peri­od this abnor­mal pat­tern, not only weak­ens our immune sys­tem but pro­duces deep changes in the body’s intern­al struc­ture lead­ing to ser­i­ous dis­ease in the future

This concept of syn­ergy between the body mind and the spir­it has been a fun­da­ment­al aspect of Ori­ent­al medi­cine since its ori­gin cen­tur­ies ago. This means that an imbal­ance in a spe­cif­ic emo­tion will neg­at­ively affect the organ it is related to. In the reverse, if an organ is in dis­har­mony over a long peri­od of time, a spe­cif­ic emo­tion­al dys­func­tion will res­ult.

In Tra­di­tion­al Chinese medi­cine, the state of mind of the patient is con­sidered a crit­ic­al factor in patho­logy. Obvi­ously, the expres­sion of emo­tions is a nor­mal human response, but when it is repressed, excess­ive or even pro­longed over a long peri­od of time, the body will be affected and ill­nesses or dis­orders will res­ult.

In this Ori­ent­al med­ic­al frame­work, it is acknow­ledged that five spe­cif­ic emo­tions have a deep effect on our health, each one being asso­ci­ated with one of our main organs. Anger is asso­ci­ated with the liv­er, joy with the heart, overthink­ing with the spleen, grief with the lung, and fear with the kid­neys. An inter­est­ing example is Joy, which is related to the heart. It is, of course, a very pos­it­ive emo­tion, but one can eas­ily ima­gine an excess of joy being det­ri­ment­al to our health.

Let’s ima­gine, what would hap­pen to our body if we sud­denly dis­covered that we had won the lot­tery. The extreme sud­den level of excite­ment would quickly res­ult in a jump in blood pres­sure, caus­ing, pal­pit­a­tions, insom­nia, and even in some extreme repor­ted cases a heart attack. We can also see how the search for extreme joy can eas­ily lead to a crav­ing for con­stant excite­ment, lead­ing the indi­vidu­al to seek more and more intense forms of stim­u­la­tions. Such as extreme sports, or drug addic­tions.

In the case of anger, which is related to the Liv­er, the expres­sion of sud­den anger has the effect of speed­ing up the cir­cu­la­tion of blood, which cre­ates heat affect­ing the blood stored in the liv­er. Also, the con­sequences of long-term anger or stress would impair the liver’s abil­ity to move the Qi (energy) around the body The stag­na­tion of this energy would affect the area where it is loc­al­ized res­ult­ing in symp­toms such as head­aches, neck ten­sion, indi­ges­tion or the case of women, irreg­u­lar or pain­ful peri­ods.

An excess of think­ing, or reflec­tion, as well as, the absorp­tion of new inform­a­tion and con­cepts is asso­ci­ated with the spleen. It is also con­nec­ted with the expres­sion of sym­pathy and empathy. In a case of dis­har­mony, we would see a per­son suf­fer­ing from self-pity, the patho­lo­gic­al vic­tim men­tal­ity who thinks the whole world is against them. Also, since it is respons­ible with the pro­cessing of ideas, an imbal­ance could res­ult in a per­son being excess­ively focused, and obsessed on one thought

On the oth­er extreme, we could see someone who is unable to focus on one top­ic and there­fore nev­er seems to com­plete any task under­taken

As a con­sequence,  the flow of Qi in the digest­ive sys­tem would be reduced, res­ult­ing in symp­toms of bloat­ing, tired­ness, or loose bowels.

The fourth emo­tion, which is grief is related to the Lungs.We are all famil­i­ar with the pos­ture of a sad per­son: the head is down; the eyes are look­ing at the ground, while the back is bent for­ward and the chest is depressed. This is the image of some­body who is car­ry­ing the weight of the world on his shoulders. One can eas­ily ima­gine how over a peri­od of time, such a stance would decrease the lung’s abil­ity to func­tion. There­fore long-term expres­sion of grief or sad­ness will weak­en the Lungs energy. This will, in turn, affect our breath­ing, and the voice will change, which can eas­ily be observed when people are sob­bing.

Our last emo­tion which is fear, has an emo­tion­al impact on the kid­neys, caus­ing its Qi to des­cend, this affects the urin­ary sys­tem caus­ing incon­tin­ence, but it affects the lower limbs espe­cially the knees. Some­body scared will often be described as hav­ing wobbly knees. Also due to a weak­ness in the kidney’s energy, the per­cep­tion of fear in the indi­vidu­al can become excess­ive lead­ing to irra­tion­al beha­vi­ors, such as pho­bi­as or ter­ror.

The com­plex­ity of the human brain is one of the won­ders of nature, but des­pite cen­tur­ies of stud­ies, our under­stand­ing of indi­vidu­al beha­vi­or still remains largely frag­men­ted. In that respect, Ori­ent­al medi­cine can provide a dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing of the way we think which can only be bene­fi­cial to all of us.


Olivi­er Lejus MHSc., BHSc is a registered acu­punc­tur­ist prac­ti­cing in Sydney.



About Olivier Lejus

I was born in France and I emigrated to Australia in 1980. I worked as a circus performer, puppeteer and actor before I began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine a the University of Technology of Sydney in 1997. I graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of of science degree in Traditional Chinese medicine. I am now specializing in Japanese style acupuncture for the treatment of female and male infertility, pain, and anxiety.

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