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The view of the internal Organs as physical- mental-emotional spheres of
influence is one of the most important aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine
(TCM). Central to this is the concept of Qi as a matter- energy that gives rise
to physical or mental and emotional phenomena at the same time. Thus, in
Chinese Medicine, body, mind and emotions are an integrated whole with no
beginning or end, in which the Internal Organs are the major sphere of
For example, the “Kidneys” correspond to the actual kidney organ on an
anatomical level, to the energies associated with the Kidneys on an energetic
level, to the brain and thinking on a mental level, and to fear on an emotional
level. All these levels simultaneously interact with each other.
This is one of the differences between TCM Chinese and Western Medicine. While
Western Medicine also recognizes the interaction between body and emotions, it
does so in a completely different way than TCM. In Western Medicine, the brain
is at the top of the body-mind pyramid. The emotions affect the limbic system
within the brain, nerve impulses travel down the hypothalamus, through to the
sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve centres, finally reaching the internal
organs. Thus a nerve im pulse, triggered off by an emotional upset, is
transmitted to the relevant organ.
The view of Chinese Medicine is entirely dif ferent. The body-mind is not a
pyramid, but a circle of interaction between the Internal Organs and their
Whereas Western Medicine tends to consider the influence of emotions on the
organs as having a secondary or excitatory role rather than being a primary cau
factor of disease, Chines Medicine sees the emotions as an in tegral and
inseparable part of the sphere of action of the Internal Organs.
TCM emotion interaction
The interaction of body and mind in Chinese Medicine is also expressed in the
three “Treasures” Essence-Qi-Mind. Essence is the material basis of Qi and Mind
forming the foundation for a happy and balanced mental and emotional life.
It is important to put the role of the emotions in perspective. First of all,
emotions are a natural part of human existence and no human being ever escapes
being sad, angry or worried sometimes. The emotions only become causes of
disease when they are particularly intense and, most of all, when they are
prolonged over a long period of time, especially when they are not expressed or
acknowledged. Everyone is angry sometimes, but if someone harbours anger
towards another person for years, this emotion becomes a cause of disease.
Secondly, Chinese Medicine is only concerned with the emotions when these are
either the cause of disease, or when they themselves are the presenting
symptoms. In other words, Chinese Medicine neither ignores the emotions as
causes of disease, nor places too much emphasis on them to the exclusion of
Since the body and mind form an integrated and inseparable unit, the emotions
can not only cause a disharmony, but they can also be caused by it. For
example, a state of fear and anxiety over a long period of time may cause the
Kidneys to become deficient; on the other hand, if the Kidneys become deficient
through, say, having too many children too close together, this may cause a
state of fear and anxiety.
It is important, in practice, to be able to distinguish these two cases, as we
should be able to advise and guide the patient. Patients are often reassured to
know that their emotional state has a physical basis, or vice versa, that their
disturbing physical symp toms are, caused by their emotions. If we can make
this distinction, then we can treat the disharmony properly and advise the
Seven emotions are usually considered in TCM, but this need not be inter preted
too restrictively. The seven emotions are broad headings under which many other
emotions can be included. This will be clarified and expanded on when
discussing the emotions individually.
The seven emotions are:
Each of the emotions has a particular effect on Qi and affects a certain organ:
Anger makes Qi rise and affects the Liver
Joy slows Qi down and affects the Heart
Worry and Pensiveness knot Qi and affect the Spleen (Worry also affects the
Sadness dissolves Qi and affects the Lungs
Fear makes Qi descend and affects the Kidneys
Shock scatters Qi and affects the Kidneys and Heart
Most of the emotions can, over a long period give rise to fire.There is a
saying in TCM: “The five emotions can turn into Fire”. This is because most of
the emotions can cause stagnation of Qi and when Qi is com pressed in this way
over a period of time it creates Fire, just as the temperature of a gas
increases when its pressure is increased.
For this reason, when someone has suffered from emotional problems for a long
time, there often are signs of Heat, which may be in the Liver, Heart, Lungs or
Kidneys (Empty-Heat). This often shows on the tongue which becomes red or dark
red and dry, and possibly has a red and swollen tip.
Finally, it should be mentioned here that in cases of severe and long-standing
emotional pro blems, acupuncture or Chinese herbs alone may not be enough, and
the patient may need the help and support of a skilled psychotherapist or
The Fundation of Chinese Medicine – A compresinve Text for Acupuncturist and
Herbalists, by Givanni Maciocia, ISBN 0-443-03980-1