Chinese Medicine Emotions

First and foremost, the defining of mind and body in traditional Chinese medicine is less distinct than in western medicine. In short, emotions, mental states, and the environment are continually influencing health and well-being.TCM

To be specific, there are organ-emotion links or relationships between certain emotional energies and certain organs. Excessive emotions are disturbing to their respective organs by altering the flow of energy or qi in specific ways.

The major Chinese medicine emotions are as follows:

Anxiety & Sorrow

The word anxiety comes from the root word angst, which means “to narrow”. Your lungs are responsible for extracting energy or “qi” from the air and regulating the supply of internal healing energy.  Anxiety is immediately constricting to both your breath and energy flow. As a matter of fact, anxiety is well known for triggering and/or increasing asthma or other bronchial conditions.

Grief and/or sorrow generally have a depressing effect on the lungs, thus reducing overall health and vitality. Grief or grieving is similar to anxiety in constricting the easy flow of your breath. However, this doesn’t mean that supressing feelings of sorrow or grieving is better for you. Holding in or stuffing your feelings ultimately leads to a weakening of your lung energy.


The word “shen” equates to “kidneys” in Chinese medicine. Fear is known for creating pain and imbalances within the kidneys, urinary tract, adrenals, and low back. Feeling fearful or afraid causes a dropping down of your qi towards your sacrum and your core. This retracting of energy from the surface is self-protective, causing a slowing of blood circulation and respiration. Gradually this ends up creating conditions of excess and stagnation in your core, while experiencing depletion in your periphery. For instance, a common sign is having cold hands and feet due to an underlying fear.

Fear and stress trigger the “fight or flight response”, causing the adrenals to release huge amounts stress hormones into the system. Being on ‘high alert” for an emergency is necessary and normal for short-term threats to survival. Chronic triggering of this response due to trauma or PTSD has devastating effects on the body. It leads to a depleting of your energy stores and “adrenal burnout” with increasing levels of fatigue and weakness. The body ends up shutting down it’s nurturing and repairing capacity due to the false alarms being continually received.

In qigong theory, the kidneys and adrenals directly affect brain functioning, especially the memory. There is scientific research confirming that fear and stress can weaken memory and create learning disabilities. Animal studies indicate that cortisol has a damaging effect on the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Indeed, this implies that preserving the health of your mind and body comes by learning to reduce or change your reactions to the stresses of life.
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The common Chinese word for anger is “sheng qi” which means rising qi. Anger has a weakening effect on the liver and is associated with muscle tension, headaches, eyestrain, hemorrhoids, and irregular menstruation for women. Furthermore, liver qi weakness is a contributing factor to mood swings. To be specific, liver qi weakness ends up preventing the liver from properly spreading and harmonizing the flow of qi.

Distinguishing between “healthy anger” and “unhealthy anger” is highly beneficial. Research is finding a linkage between the inability to express healthy anger and suppressing the immune system. Furthermore, not expressing “negative” emotions may be creating favorable conditions for developing health issues and even cancer. Unhealthy anger harms your liver.

Is anger beneficial? The easiest way of determining the answer is by investigating the consequences.

  • Were you acting in your own best interests?
  • Were you compromising your physical health?
  • Are you regretting behaviors or emotions?

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The word “joy” In Chinese medicine has a meaning of excitability, talkativeness, lavishness, or general excess. It’s known for dispersing and scattering your qi. Joy can disrupt the pulse by making it uneven while increasing the susceptibility to heart problems. Excitability is directly opposing the Chinese ideal of the sage, having the ability in maintaining inner inner calm and composure in the face of anything.

Some practitioners go as far as attributing higher levels of heart disease in western culture to the preoccupation of seeking out excitement. Over stimulation is happening by social media, non-stop news, entertainment depicting violence and/or the infatuation with sex and romance.

In qigong philosophy, the heart benefits from peace and quiet, allowing it to keep an even pace pumping energy through your body. Disturbing the heart qi through excitement and excess ends up creating insomnia and confused thinking. In the extreme, there can even be hallucinations, hysteria, and psychosis.
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The spleen carries the qi of the earth. Rumination is excessive, persistent contemplation which becomes chronic worrying or preoccupation with anything associated with yourself. Rumination is damaging to the spleen, often manifesting as:

  • Gastric Disturbances
  • Elevated Blood Pressure
  • Weakened Immunity
  • Tendency toward Phlegm and Colds

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Excess empathy is also damaging to the spleen. Empathy is similar to compassion, which is defined as:

  • “the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”.(1)

Empathy means identifying with another who is suffering. Relating to another individual who is walking through experiences similar to your own can be very strong. Empathy is a positive attribute, creating trust in any relationship. It’s considered excessive and damaging when clear boundaries are absent, and preoccupation with other people’s business is creating distress within yourself.

Spending more time in nature is the simple solution for reducing both rumination and excess empathy.
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Healing & The Organ-Emotion Link

Excessive negative emotions are damaging to the major internal organs. Conversely, there are positive emotions that help heal the organs. The five virtues of Confucianism are the five positive emotions with transforming power, thus creating a “Noble Person”.

The Chinese word for “virtue” was originally written with the same character as the word “to plant”. This is suggesting that virtue is a power that can be cultivated. “Virtue” in English arises from the same Latin root as “virile,” suggesting the power or potential to create health.

Healing Organ Emotions


The lungs are healed by yi, often translated “righteousness,” in the sense of integrity or dignity. Yi means giving yourself and others the mental space to live and breathe.


The kidneys are healed by zhi or wisdom. Zhi implies clear perception and self understanding which is the opposite of irrational fears.


The liver is healed by ren or kindness. The Confucian virtue ren is a pictogram of two people walking together. It’s sometimes defined as the natural feelings that arise with companionship, specifically benevolence and “human-heartedness”.


The heart is healed by li meaning peace, calm, orderliness. Li means “orderliness” or setting limits on your behavior as a means of fostering social harmony.


The spleen is healed by xin. This is a rich concept meaning trust, faith, honesty, confidence, belief. Trust is openness and acceptance, a feeling that emerges when one finds a common ground with another.

Trust is the cure for the internal knot and stagnation of your qi caused by rumination, as well as your qi being tied to someone else with excess empathy.


  1. Oxford Dictionaries Online.

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Random Quote

The highest ideal of cure is the speedy, gentle, and enduring restoration of health by the most trustworthy and least harmful way.

— Samuel Hahnemann, Founder of Homeopathy