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Chinese medicine and emotions

The Organs and the Emotions in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine views the body as two halves of a whole. Mental and physical health are completely dependent on each other and emotional imbalances can easily manifest physically.

The appropriate expression of emotions is both natural and healthy. For example, if somebody screws you over, you’re going to get angry. If someone you care about dies, of course, you feel grief.

On the other hand, having a breakdown because you ran out of milk is probably not a normal reaction. It’s all about balance…

In Chinese medicine, each organ is associated with the energy of a particular emotion.

I want to make this very clear- this is not to say that there is something physically wrong with the respective organ. Many acupuncturists oversimplify and don’t make that clear to their patients and it is a true disservice. There are multiple energetic connections and it gets complex. For now, just focus on the big picture.


Often times I ask patients questions that seem totally unrelated to the reason for their visit. This is usually why. It is impossible to treat they physical without treating the emotional aspect as well.

The Heart – Joy

The Heart is associated with joy. It is governed by the fire element and gives that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re around somebody you love (no surprises there!). 

Being responsible for happiness and love, the Heart plays a crucial role in your ability to socialize. When your Heart is healthy, you are open to forming relationships and enjoying life.

If your Heart is out of balance, you can feel unable to experience joy. You might want to lock yourself away rather than hanging out with friends. You might be reluctant to start new relationships for fear of getting hurt.

On the flip side, excessive joy can be equally damaging. Going out partying every night and never taking time out to recharge puts a massive strain on the Heart.

Over time this might lead to problems such as mental restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, palpitations, dizziness and high blood pressure.

The Spleen – Worry

Along with the Stomach, the Spleen is responsible for digestion. In the same way that these organs digest food; by churning it up, breaking it down and extracting all the goodness to be used by the body, they also digest thoughts and ideas.

When your Spleen is healthy, it is easy to think clearly, to rationalize your thoughts.


But when it gets out of balance, it can get stuck, churning ideas or worries round and round, unable to find a solution.

Physical symptoms might include fatigue, heavy, painful limbs or digestive issues.

The Lungs – Grief

Grief, the emotion of the Lungs is about endings. And beginnings. Together with their partner, the Large Intestine, the Lungs excrete waste products and make space for the fresh and new.

We need to let go of what is no longer needed to create space for new opportunities.

We need to breathe out to breathe in.

On an emotional level, a Lung imbalance can cause feelings of resentment and regret. An inability to move on from the past.

On a physical level it can cause breathing problems, cough, skin conditions, tiredness or sweating.

The Kidneys – Fear

The Kidneys are associated with fear. When faced with a potentially threatening situation, our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode. Our heart rate and breathing speeds up and our blood vessels expand ready for action.

This response is due to the release of adrenaline by the adrenal glands, which of course are located right on top of the kidneys.

In balance, fear becomes wisdom. Knowing when to be cautious and when to take calculated risks is a great advantage. But out of balance, fear can become overwhelming and lead to phobias and paranoia.

Lack of fear is also a sign of imbalance. Risk takers and adrenaline junkies may need to work on the health of their Kidneys.

Physically, low back or knee pain, lack of energy or libido, sexual dysfunction, incontinence and tinnitus could all point to Kidney issues.

The Liver – Anger

Anger doesn’t necessarily need to be a negative emotion. It can bring about change and progress.

The Liver is associated with the season spring, a time of birth and growth. The Liver connects with the eyes and is responsible for vision on both a physical and mental level.

Having the ability to be assertive without aggression, to plan for the future and to make confident decisions are all signs of a healthy Liver.

If your Liver is out of balance, you might feel hopeless and frustrated. You might be unhappy with your life but unable to figure out how to change it. You might find yourself losing your temper over insignificant things.

Or maybe you find it hard to get angry at all, letting other people walk all over you. Obviously neither of these situations is ideal!


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