Updated: Feb 14
Ancient Chinese sages and healers knew very well the power of emotions. Emotions meant an expression of energy (Qi) to them. This realization goes back thousands of years, when, in the desire for a deeper understanding of a man and his body, they turned to parables in nature, where they found parallels between emotions and natural phenomena. Human emotions were compared to the wind. The tree, which has roots deep in the ground and branches exposed to the wind, was a man in their eyes. Wind and storms are natural in nature, just as emotions are natural in man. It is characteristic of a tree that it bends together with the wind and surrenders to its violence without resistance. However, when the wind settles, the tree returns to its silence and stability. And it is also important for a person to be able to restore balance within himself after an emotional storm and return to emotional stability. In the ancient foundational text of Chinese medicine and Taoist mentality, Huang Di Nei Jing writes, "The heavens possess wind and rain, man possesses enthusiasm and anger."
More than 2,500 years ago, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognized emotional imbalance as the main internal cause of illness, which is slowly being rediscovered and recognized in Western medical science. TCM classifies all emotions into seven basic sets: joy, anger, sadness, worry, excessive thinking, anxiety, and fear. Each of the emotion is in relationship with a certain organ, and thus it will affect it in case of excessive reaction. Anger will affect the Liver, joy the Heart, sadness and grief will injure the Lungs, worry and pensiveness are affecting the Spleen, and fear and fright will affect the Kidneys. In additon, each emotion can affect more than one organ.
It is important to note that in general, emotions are the body’s normal response to external stimuli and as such do not cause disease. They become the cause of the disease only when internal weakness is present, when they last too long, they are too intense and unexpressed. The biggest effect they have on the body is that they disrupt the circulation of energy (Qi) and redirect it. Fluidity and the correct direction of Qi movement are key to health and vitality. Emotions represent the expression of Qi on the physical or external level. Thus, for example, anger causes Qi to rise and on a physical level, this can manifest itself as a headache in the shadows, high blood pressure, dizziness, tinnitus, blurred vision, or insomnia.
Since one of the functions of Liver is maintaining the free flow of Qi, and as mentioned earlier, the flow of Qi is being distracted in emotional stress, Liver is always impacted. As a result, it's Qi is 'damaged', what in TCM is called stagnation of Liver Qi. There is a close connection between the stagnation of Liver Qi and emotional stress. Liver Qi stagnation is the most common consequence of stress on the Liver, and so one of the most common patterns in clinical practice in general.
It occurs especially when we can’t do what we want, or every time we are forced to do something we don’t want or don’t like, which is inevitable in everyday life. It is therefore a consequence of our daily life. Modern society, with all the demands, stressors and expectations we impose on ourselves, and with compromises and compliance with the rules necessary for coexistence with other people, inevitably creates different degrees of stagnation of Liver Qi, which will depend on how capable we are accepting the circumstances in our lives or how frustrated we are.
This refers to the idea that, in an ideal situation, our Liver Qi should be as flexible and adaptable as a ‘young tree’. It is normal for each of us to have a certain degree of stagnation of Liver Qi, but what matters is how high that rate is and how it is expressed. So it’s not that we shouldn’t be emotional, but that we should be able to calm our emotions afterwards as much as possible. The biggest cause of emotional imbalance is therefore life itself. For the optimal health of the body, we need to find a way to accept and appropriately express our emotions, and balance them. Sometimes, it requires a shift of our perception.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
- Lao Tzu
Or we might take an advice from the tree:
"Stand tall and be proud. Go out on a limb. Reach for the sky. Adapt to change. Branch out. Stay grounded. Remember your roots. Drink plenty of water. Get rid of dead wood. Be confident. Never stop growing. Bend before you break. Turn over a new leaf. Enjoy the view."
(Based on my thesis "Liver Qi stagnation as the cause of Irregular Menstruation")