Chi and the Emotions

In Chinese medicine, the health of our physical body is completely intertwined with our emotional well-being. All emotions are seen to be valid and appropriate; it is only when they are out of proportion to the circumstances that they may become an issue. In Chinese medicine, different emotional imbalances can affect the flow of chi in the body in different ways. Chi is supposed to flow in a specific direction along a regular circuit of pathways called channels or meridians. Imbalanced emotions can affect this flow, causing it to do things like slow down or go in the wrong direction.


Anger makes the chi rise.

This is why anger tends to cause symptoms in the upper reaches of the body, like headaches, dizziness, or redness in the face. It can even make us raise our voices or can raise our blood pressure or internal temperature as we become enraged. On the other hand, if anger is repressed over a long period of time it can cause our chi to stagnate, making us feel stuck, depressed, and emotionally flat. This stagnation manifests physically as muscular strain and tension, especially in the neck and shoulders, and can even make us rigid in our ideas and philosophies. In Chinese medicine, anger is defined broadly and includes many related emotional states such as resentment, irritability, frustration, rage, hatred, animosity, and bitterness.

Chi and the Emotions

Joy slows the flow of chi.

Joy here is meant more like the constant state of elation and excitement that some people live in, thrill-seekers who are into things like extreme sports or excessive partying. This emotion slows down chi, especially of the heart, causing symptoms like palpitations. It makes us overly excitable and restless, and can even cause insomnia. In Chinese medicine, sudden joy, like winning the lottery, can overload the system so much that its effect is like shock, and may even cause extreme conditions like heart attacks.

Sadness depletes the chi.

In Chinese medicine sadness especially affects the lungs. Because the lungs are responsible for extracting chi from the air, when they are depleted by excess sadness we wind up with breathlessness, tiredness, discomfort in the chest, and crying. When sadness depletes our chi too much it can cause it to stagnate, just like how water stagnates in a dry creek bed, leading to depression and low energy.

Worry knots the chi.

This is seen especially in people who are always tense and worry a lot even about very minor incidents in life, or who obsess about trivial everyday activities. These sorts of people are constantly thinking and brooding about stuff and are always frantic and pressed for time. Worry has a direct effect on the digestive organs, leading to symptoms like abdominal bloating, an indicator that the chi is stuck in the abdomen. Worry can also cause constraint in the diaphragm, constricting the lungs, causing shallow breathing and frequent sighing as our bodies attempt to open up and unblock the chi.

Fear makes chi descend.

Because the energetic direction of this emotion is down it can cause physical symptoms like diarrhea and urinary incontinence. In extreme cases of fear, the effect can be so pronounced that people may soil themselves in an instant. In children, a common manifestation of this emotional imbalance is nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting).
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