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The Health of Emotions

In Chinese medicine, disease is understood as the result of a disruption of Qi, the dynamic energy underlying all body and mental functions, as well as their interconnection. The production, circulation, distribution and function of Qi is disturbed by "internal" as well as "external" causes, while always taking into account the patient's unique constitution and general condition. "Internal" causes of disease refer to the Seven Emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, thought, sorrow, fear and fright. Each of these emotions, when in excess, injure the Qi of different organs:
    Excessive Joy injures the Qi of the Heart
    Excessive Anger injures the Qi of the Liver
    Excessive Anxiety/Thought injures the Qi of the Spleen
    Excessive Sorrow injures the Qi of the Lungs
    Excessive Fear/Fright injures the Qi of the Kidney

All emotions are part of human nature and must not be repressed or judged as good or bad. It is perfectly physiological to be anxious when addressing a crowd of five hundred. Or feel anger when becoming aware of deception. Being afraid of a big crocodile surfacing next to us while taking a relaxed swim, is also very appropriate. But persisting in an emotion such as anger, or even joy, can eventually lead to illness.

I am often asked by my patients; "But doctor, how do I harness my emotions?" As always the answer is simple. The goal is to allow oneself to feel the emotion and then move on, so as to maintain a balance of all seven emotions. There are very specific ways of transforming one emotion into another, but the theory and training behind such methods are beyond the scope of this newsletter, and would require a formal workshop experience. Yet there are a number of general suggestions to adjust the seven emotions, which originated in the ancient Chinese medical literature. They are known as the "5 behaviors" and the "10 enjoyments".

The "5 Behaviors" are: sitting quietly, reading, appreciating flowers, grass and trees, chatting with friends and teaching. The "10 enjoyments" are: practicing calligraphy, sitting quietly, chatting with friends, drinking small amounts of liquor, watering flowers and planting bamboo or trees, burning incense and drinking tea, climbing city walls or mountains and playing chess. These are simple activities of daily living that we tend to neglect in favor of what we perceive as more important or more exciting projects. But it is precisely the simplicity of these actions which has a calming effect on our emotions.

According to the legendary Chinese hero Peng Zu, the secret to his long life was simple, "do not desire women or song. Do not dwell on victory or failure. Do not worry about setbacks. Do not care about gains and losses. And do not seek glory. So doing will free one of a troubled mind." It is important to maintain control over one's emotions, and thereby achieve control over one's life. Calmness is dependent on one's mind, rather than on the environment. Even in the midst of chaos in today's complex world, a calm mind will enable us to effectively deal with the most difficult people and situations, while keeping the Qi in perfect balance.


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