Amongst all the self-help books clamouring to make you happier and banish negativity, Chinese wisdom is a lone voice of dissent. Because if you listen, it will tell you that it’s not natural, healthy, or even desirable to always be happy. It’s not only ok to be sad, or angry – it’s actually healthy. Chinese wisdom gently advises that all emotions are healthy for us and simply part of the tapestry of life. It’s too much emotion – of any kind – that is bad for our health.
The Chinese way considers wild emotion to be addictive, distracting and bad for our health. Huge value is placed on peace, quiet joy, mindfulness and contentment.
What is vitally important is to express those emotions, whatever they are. Think about the last time you had a really good cry. Like a wailing, snot-pouring, ugly, blotchy face bawl. Didn’t you feel better afterwards? That’s because you dealt with the upset. When people say, ‘come on, get it all out’ – that comes from the Chinese philosophy that emotion is better out than in.
Repressing how you feel, keeping it all in, is seen as hugely damaging in Chinese Medicine. Unexpressed emotions get stuck in your body and stop the proper balance and flow of energy and blood. And stagnation in Chinese Medicine is what leads to illness. There’s a tonne of Western research out there to back up the view that suppressed emotional negativity results in physical disease.
In Chinese wisdom, every organ has its role to play. We’re talking not only what they are responsible for physically – but also emotionally. So yes, the job of the heart is to pump blood around the body, but it’s also in charge of joy and anxiety. In fact, the heart has a special importance to the Chinese, because it’s seen as the ruler of the organs. Oh, and it houses our ‘Shen’, or spirit.
The organ/emotion connections in Chinese medicine
Heart – joy/love/anxiety/hate
Spleen/pancreas – worry/ focus
Lungs – grief/courage
Liver – anger/generosity
Kidney – fear/kindness
If you think about it, the notion that our emotions are connected with our organs is not new to us. Across the world, the heart is equated with love. We talk about being ‘green with envy’, being ‘worried sick’, ‘frozen with fear’ or ‘choked up with grief’.
What does research suggest?
Western researchers have discovered that there is a strong link between negative emotional states, brain circuitry, inflammation, and an increased risk of heart disease. Scientists have found that how well someone responds to negative emotions is linked to his or her risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
The relatively new scientific field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) studies the connection between our brains and our nervous, immune and endocrine systems. PNI appears to be proving in Western terms what the Chinese have believed for thousands of years. Namely that our mental state directly influences diseases and healing and that stress and anxiety can make us physically ill.
According to Chinese medicine, emotional pain is created by the organs and manifests as Qi (life energy) and blood. This approach enables us to try and resolve emotional pain via the physical body. Chinese wisdom sees intense physical exercise as spending precious Qi that is very difficult to replace. Strenuous, sweat-inducing exercise does not create true health.
Eastern masters have known intuitively for thousands of years that systems like Qigong, yoga, and meditation actually create health from the inside out. These forms of movement are slow, peaceful and resonate with the water-like frequency of the body. This kind of exercise is a great tool for releasing deeply held emotions.
This approach has been backed up by studies exploring how the Chinese disciplines of tai chi and qi gong affect the body on a chemical level. For example, tai chi appeared to reduce inflammation and can help prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.
Researchers at UCLA conducted a five-year randomised clinical trial. The team analysed blood samples from 90 participants between 30 and 85 years old, before and after they started the tai chi routine. Dr Irwin reported on the findings: “We saw that tai chi reversed cellular inflammation, by producing a down-regulation of the genes that lead to inflammation”. Adding: “Tai chi is a movement meditation, and we have found that similar anti-inflammatory effects occur when people practice other forms of meditation.”
Many PNI studies have focused on how stress, hostility and depression impact the immune system. Many conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and premature ageing are related to stress and negative emotions.
Managing your emotions is easier than you think. You don’t need to be a Taoist sage to achieve balance. The simple solution is first to know that all emotions are natural and learn to live through them rather than suppressing your feelings. Then take simple daily measures, as in the Hayo’u Method, to process your emotions naturally.