“True emotions last for about 7 seconds, everything else is holding on.”  I was surprised the first time I heard this statement. From this perspective, I was holding onto a lot…even at the age of 19. Bugger.

This view isn’t something new.  In fact, Asian Medicine has held for thousands of years that inappropriate relations to our emotions is a source of internally generated disease. This is quite the different thought process from typical western ideas on emotions, especially when you consider that Americans run the spectrum from ‘being’ their emotions to lacking any noticeable emotions at all.

Let’s be clear, emotions are apart of our being.  We should feel joy, anger, fear, loss and worry. But should it be perpetual? Should you always be in a state of worry? Even worrying if you lack something to worry about?  Should you get angry at every little thing? Should you always be happy? Where is the line? Where is emotion appropriate in nature to what is happening and where does it lead to disharmony?  It can be a bit of knotted web to unwind because most of us have emotions that we are very attached to.

Emotions aren’t good or bad – they just are

Emotions are neither good nor bad.  It’s your relationship (or lack of relationship) that is important. For example – it is appropriate to get angry when your child launches a rock through the window or you are betrayed by lover or friend. What’s more important is what you do next.  Yes, you should get mad at the child, but the consequences should be appropriate to the actions, and that emotion should not be held on to or habituated (no emotional stagnation, please). When we lock into emotions and keep them rolling along we can end up with some very serious side effects.  Resetting our relationship to any emotion may not always be easy, but it’s very doable. For example, I have a number of clients currently dealing with popping awake at 2-3 in the morning.  Not surprising, it’s the Liver’s time of night, and frustrated or congested Livers may wake us up with mind chatter. Being woken up, might make us more frustrated, which in turn will feed into and create more Liver Qi stagnation.  Now you’ve created quite the loop, and the more frequently you practice this behavior, the easier it becomes to identify emotion and when you are in vice or virtue with it.  I recommend these clients be very cautious of their emotions and thoughts that appear when they wake up, try not to take it personally. Add to this a few herbal and lifestyle recommendations and we can break the routine and soothe the Liver. 

Asian medicine and the emotions

Asian medicine views 7 broad categories of emotions, each of which carries its own energetic behavior and influence over the body. Whenever these emotions are overly habituated, meaning you hang out with them too much, they will lead to internal disharmonies.  Likewise a lack of any emotion can be just a big a problem.

Understanding the emotions according to the 5 Elements of Asian Medicine

Each emotion corresponds to a whole organ system, season, sound and emotional state in vice and virtue.  In balance, the person will reap the benefits of the virtue of the element. Out of balance, the element’s vices will appear in the person’s behavioral patterns – and their physical body. Fire, when in balance,  gives the person its virtuous gift of allowing the person to have loving and meaningful relationships, we have volition and can ‘speak from the heart.’  In vice, the Fire element will have difficulty with relationships possibly being overly closed off and lacking joy, to being overly zealous and eager to fall into inappropriate relationships.  People with Fire imbalances may also laugh at inappropriate times or seem to lack any joy and happiness at all.  They run us hot or cold when out of balance.

The chart below shows each of the 5 Elements and a few of their corresponding emotion, sound, organs and behavioral states.

Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium,     Triple Warmer
Spleen & Stomach
Lungs & Colon
Kidney & Bladder
Liver & Gall Bladder
Virtue-The Element in Balance
Able to create appropriate relationships and give and receive love.
Stable and centered. Able to receive and give nourishment to others and self properly.
Also for appropriate grief  and ‘lets go’ to move forward in life in a meaningful way. Has sense of self worth and respect for self and others.
Has drive for life while correctly weighing risks.
Able to be set goals and plan. Asserts self appropriately yet can flex as needed for life changes.
Vice–The Element out of Balance
May bounce from warmth to frigidity. Allows people in too close or keeps meaningful relationships too far away.
Refuses emotional support or is overly needy. Smothering, yet not receptive to nurturing.
Overly obsessed with appearances. May be overly neat or utterly disorganized.
Frozen, unable to move forward in life out of fear or takes too many risks due to lack of fear.
Overly aggressive and dominant or overly obedient and timid.
Virtuous gift of the element
Relationship, Love & Happiness
Stability, Centering & Nurturing
Inspiration & Righteousness
Wisdom, Safety,
Vision, Aspiration,
Qi movement of the emotion
Slows the Qi
Knots the Qi, especially in the stomach.
Disperses or dissolves the Qi
Causes the Qi to sink
Causes the Qi to rise
Moto in vice
“No one loves me.” “The world is void of love.”
“I give and no one gives to me.” “I am never nourished or fulfilled.”
“I am never enough, I am always lacking.”
“There is no safety in this world.”
“I’m right, you’re wrong.” “Justice is never served.”
Possible physical manifestations
Palpitations, anxiety, nervousness, stuttering, speech disharmonies
Digestive disharmonies, eating disorders, weight gain, weight loss
Lack of energy, feeling of tightness in the chest, sighing, weeping, depressed immunity
Be wetting, lack of will power, lack of drive, sexual problems, infertility
Ringing in the ears, outburst of anger, tight diaphragm, irritability, PMS, frustration, menstrual disharmonies

 But wait – there’s more!

Another tradition of Asian medicine, the Eight Principles, recognizes all the Five Element emotions and places specific significance on two other emotions.

  • Shock – Scatters the Qi and affects both the Heart and Kidneys.  Shock can be caused by injury or accident, someone surprising you or suddenly learning that a family member has unexpectedly has been injured or died. Those suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have shock. Shock must always be cleared first before other patterns in the client can be addressed. Yes, we may work on the acute cold or flu, but deeper internal patterns will show little forward movement if shock isn’t cleared first. 
  • Pensiveness – Is a mix of worry with a dash of anxiety.  It affects the Spleen, Lungs and Heart.

What about depression?

Asian medicine does not recognize depression as a distinctive emotion, rather it is the combination of several different disharmonies that can create depression.  We have to look at the individual’s unique patterns to identify what patterns need to be addressed.  Depression can arise from either excess or deficiency patterns. One client’s pattern may be a combination of lack of drive or will power and fear (Water), while another’s may stem from the inability to create and maintain meaningful relationships (Fire).  Still another might arise from a lack of sense of self worth (Metal) that they couple with inappropriate self nourishment (Earth).  Each pattern may be viewed as depression in western terms, but each is very different in Asian medicine and would therefore be addressed as such.

Being in any state of emotion for an extended period of time will disrupt the proper flow of Qi, affecting both its related organ and eventually depleting the immunity and the Heart and Lung Qi.

Find out more about the 5 Elements and Seasons.

What can you do if you have out of control emotions? 

Meditate – It gets very real when you take the time to step out of being and into non-being. Emotions and thoughts shift to being the weather or content in our existence rather than our existence. Start with a half and hour a day. Yes, you have the time in your schedule if you look for it. Anything under half an hour may ‘feel’ good, but you aren’t getting into the true depth.

Seek counseling or guidance – We may come to times when need a bit of guidance.  Ideally, counselors or advisers should seek to help you address our ‘issues’ and then move forward.  Be cautious of practitioners or behaviors that keep you falling into the past to ‘rehash’ or have you constantly working on the same issue.  Different practitioners have different skills and different clients have different needs.  Our goal is to help match the pattern to the practitioner that they can best benefit from.

Gratitude – Expressing true gratitude demands that we step out of habituated emotions.

Breathe – Seems simple enough, yet it is quite common for clients may hold their breath or have irregular breathing.  Ten thoughtful deep breaths can go a long way.

Practice the virtue – Emotions are a form of Qi or energy – you can choose how to use the energy.  Work on practicing the element’s virtues. If you tend to get angry or frustrated easily, try redirecting to the Wood element’s virtue – ah…what possibilities arise? What new way can I look at this problem?   Lack joy and happiness?  Consider what it is that gives you joy…truly…and it’s probably not shopping.  Watch the movie Happy which has some great insights.  These may seem like oversimplifications, yet they are tools that will start to shift your Li (intention) and your Qi will follow. 

Look at your habits – Are you getting enough sleep? Are you exercising appropriately for your state of health? Have you eaten? I know, I sound like your mother, but irregularity in life habits is a major contributor to mood swings. Take a step back and look at the very basics – maybe you do need to add naps to your life.

Get in for Amma – By identifying the basis of the disharmony treatment can be focused to move out of excessive emotional states.  In some cases, we may recommend seeing a practitioner such as a counselor or therapist as an adjunct in addressing your specific patterns. 

Again, emotions aren’t ‘bad’ or ‘good’ – it is what you do with them that counts.

Be well,