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Mind Body Medicine

The intimate connection between mental and physical health has long been recognized; mental health can affect illness and disease while illness may affect mental health. The mind-body medicine has provided evidence that psychological factors can play a major role in reducing the risk of most major diseases. There are four interacting information processing systems in humans: the mind (the functioning of the brain), the endocrine system, the nervous system and the immune system. These information processing systems become the part of the mind-body network—nervous, hormonal, digestive, and immune— and they communicate with one another via peptides and their receptors. The mind-body network is composed of neuropeptides, short chains of amino acids that extend “to every molecular corner of the body” and transmit messages across organs, cells, tissues, and DNA.  Over 100 molecules of neuropeptides have been identified that carry messages between the brain, the endocrine system and the immune system. Neuropeptides therefore act as a type of informational molecules that units and coordinates all the cells, tissues, glands, organs and systems of the body.  Their unique ability to modulate chemical and physical responses in the body has earned them the title ‘healing molecule’. Peptide rich areas are not only present in the brain, but also in the gut, that is why many of us experience emotions there as “gut reactions.” Since there is undoubtedly bidirectional communication between the brain and the body, thoughts and feelings may manifest as physical symptoms. Our mind and emotions play a critical role in our health. Mind-body therapies can help to improve psychological functioning and quality of life and may help to ease symptoms of diseases. Mind-body medicine focuses on treatments that promote health including relaxation, hypnosis, visual imagery, meditation, yoga and biofeedback.

Mind Body Medicine

Mind-Body Relationships in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Suwen (The Book of Plain Questions) says "The five yin-organs of the human body produce five kinds of essential qi, which bring forth joy, anger, grief, worry, and fear." TCM also believes that certain organs are related to emotional activities, i.e. the heart is related to joy, the liver to anger, the spleen to pensiveness, the lungs to anxiety and the kidneys to fear. 

The emotions are considered the major internal causes of disease in TCM. Emotional activity is seen as a normal, internal, physiological response to stimuli from the external environment. Within normal limits, emotions cause no disease or weakness in the body. However, when emotions become so powerful that they become uncontrollable and overwhelm or possess a person, then they can cause serious injury to the internal organs and open the door to disease. It is not the intensity as much as the prolonged duration or an extreme emotion, which causes damage. While Western physicians tend to stress the psychological aspects of psychosomatic ailments, the pathological damage to the internal organs is very real and is of primary concern of the TCM practitioner.

Excess emotional activity causes severe yin-yang energy imbalances, wild aberrations in the flow of blood, qi (vital energy) blockages in the meridians and impairment of vital organ functions. Once physical damage has begun, it is insufficient to eliminate the offending emotion to affect a cure; the prolonged emotional stress will require physical action as well. The emotions represent different human reactions to certain stimuli and do not cause disease under normal conditions.


The Pathogenic Features of the Seven Emotions:

  • Directly impairing organ qi (vital energy)

  • Affecting the functions of organ qi (vital energy)

  • Deteriorating effects of emotional instability


The seven emotions in TCM are:

  1. Joy 

  2. Anger  

  3. Anxiety  

  4. Pensiveness 

  5. Grief 

  6.  Fear  

  7. Fright

Seven Emotions in TCM

喜 Joy

In TCM joy refers to a state of agitation or overexcitement

"When one is excessively joyful, the spirit scatters and can no longer be stored," states the Lingshu (The Vital Axis). However, in TCM, joy refers to a states of agitation or overexcitement, rather than the more passive notion of deep contentment. The organ most affected is the heart. Over-stimulation can lead to problems of heart fire connected with such symptoms as feelings of agitation, insomnia and palpitations.

怒 Anger

Anger could lead to high blood pressure

Anger, as described by TCM, covers the full range of associated emotions including resentment, irritability, and frustration. An excess of rich blood makes one prone to anger. Anger will thus affect the liver, resulting in stagnation of liver qi (vital energy). This can lead to liver energy rising to the head, resulting in headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms. In the long run it can result in high blood pressure and can cause problems with the stomach and the spleen. It is commonly observed that ruddy, "full-blooded" people with flushed faces are more prone than others to sudden fits of rage at the slightest provocation.

憂 Anxiety

 Anxiety can block the qi and manifest in rapid, shallow breathing

When one feels anxiety, the qi (vital energy) is blocked and does not move." Anxiety injures the lungs, which control qi (vital energy) through breathing. Common symptoms of extreme anxiety are retention of breath, shallow, and irregular breathing. The shortage of breath experienced during periods of anxiety is common to everyone. Anxiety also injures the lungs' coupled organ, thelarge intestine. For example, over-anxious people are prone to ulcerative colitis.

思 Pensiveness

Too much intellectual stimulation can cause pensiveness

In TCM, pensiveness or concentration is considered to be the result of thinking too much or excessive mental and intellectual stimulation. Any activity that involves a lot of mental effort will run the risk of causing disharmony. The organ most directly at risk is the spleen. This can lead to a deficiency of spleen qi (vital energy), in turn causing worry and resulting in fatigue, lethargy, and inability to concentrate. 

悲 Grief

Grief that remains unresolved can create disharmony in the lungs

The lungs are more directly involved with this emotion. A normal and healthy expression of grief can be expressed as sobbing that originates in the depths of the lungs - deep breathes and the expulsion of air with the sob. However, grief that remains unresolved and becomes chronic can create disharmony in the lungs, weakening the lung qi (vital energy). This in turn can interfere with the lung's function of circulating qi (vital energy) around the body.

恐 Fear

Fear that cannot be directly addressed is likely to lead

to disharmony in the kidneys

Fear is a normal and adaptive human emotion. But when it becomes chronic and when the perceived cause of the fear cannot be directly addressed, then this is likely to lead to disharmony. The organs most at risk are the kidneys. In cases of extreme fright, the kidney's ability to hold qi (vital energy) may be impaired leading to involuntary urination. This can be a particular problem with children.

驚 Fright

Fright can affect the kidneys if left unchecked.

Fright is another emotion not specifically related to only one organ. It is distinguished from fear by its sudden, unexpected nature. Fright primarily affects the heart, especially in the initial stages, but if it persists for some time, it becomes conscious fear and moves to the kidneys.

Additional explanation:


Emotions in TCM have slightly different meanings than their Western interpretations. In TCM joy, for example, refers to a state of agitation or over-excitement, rather than elation. Related to the heart, this emotion is correlated with heart palpitations, repeated agitation, and insomnia. Anger in TCM is considered to represent resentment, frustration, and irritability. An excess of rich blood is believed to make one prone to anger, and can affect the liver, causing this organ's energy to rise to the head and result in headaches or dizziness. Pensiveness is thought to be an excess of mental stimulation that can affect the spleen (which rules over vital energy). This can result in fatigue, lethargy, and difficulty concentrating. Lungs are associated with the feeling of grief. Unresolved grief can lead to problems with general energy and one's qi (life force) because the lungs are thought to distribute this throughout the body. Like the other emotions, fear is considered a normal and at times, inevitabe e emotion. However, if it becomes chronic, or settles as a deep anxiety, the kidneys can be affected. The kidney's ability to hold qi may be impaired, and involuntary urination can also occur.


Traditional Chinese medicine is unique in its belief that cause and effect are not linear, but circular. This means that the cause of an ailment may be an emotion, but also that an ailment can lead to an emotion. By striving to balance the organ related to the person's emotional state, the emotion can be balanced as well, and visa versa. Acupuncture is one way to accomplish this re-alignment. Acupuncture is the practice of gently inserting needles into specific points on the body to benefit a person's qi, or life force. There are certain points used in acupuncture that accord with specific organs, and treating these points is how feelings and acupuncture can interplay.

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