What symptoms can emotions cause in the view of ancient Chinese medicine?

emotions and healthIn my previous article, How the Emotions impact the body’s basic energy, Huang Di has some insightful information to share even as he has some questions about his understanding of the emotions and the basic health of the body. QiBo, however, shows his prowess as the Master by revealing some fascinating details about the full impact of emotions on the body – even discussing particular symptoms. I’ll list the text first in Chinese and then in translation to English, using Maoshing Ni’s translation as a guide. I’ll follow that with discussion about what QiBo has to say.

岐 伯 曰

怒 則 氣 逆/ 甚 則 嘔 血/ 及 飧 泄/ 故 氣 上 矣。

喜 則 氣 和 志 達/ 營 衛 通 利/ 故 氣 緩 矣 。

悲 則 心 系 急/ 肺 布 葉 舉 而 上 焦 不 通/ 營 衛 不 散/ 熱 氣 在 中/ 故 氣 消 矣 。

恐 則 精 卻/ 卻 則 上 焦 閉 /閉 則 氣 還/ 還 則 下 焦 脹 /故 氣 不 行 矣 。

思 則 心 有 所 存/ 神 有 所 歸/ 正 氣 留 而 不 行/ 故 氣結 矣 。


QiBo said:

“Anger creates counterflow Qi. If this goes far, it can create vomiting of blood + food leakage. So, Qi goes up.”

“Joy causes the qi to be gentle and the will (Zhi, of the Kidneys) to work intelligently, allowing the ying and the wei (nourishing and protective) to flow freely. So, the Qi is leisurely.”

“Grief causes the Heart system to be irritated, then the lung (and diaphragm?) pushes upward and creates obstruction in the upper jiao. Thus, the Ying and Wei cannot flow freely causing heat to build up in the center. So, the Qi perishes.”

“Fear/terror causes the jing essence to retreat, the retreat causes the upper jiao to close, this closure causes the Qi to return (down), the Qi returning (down) causes the lower jiao to expand. So the Qi doesn’t do its work.”

“Worry makes accumulation in the Heart , this causes the Shen to be reserved (and not move around?), this causes the Zheng Qi (upright, righteous Qi) to be reserved and not do its job. So, the Qi becomes stagnant.”

Notes: There were some abberations in various Chinese language versions, which may have resulted in translation errors on my part. For the Chinese characters I use the Wu translation of the Neijing, which has side by side Chinese and English though the English is of dubious value. I cross check the Chinese characters with the online Neijing available at the China Page.

Maoshing Ni’s translation diverts significantly from the original, omitting interesting details that reveal a lot about the pathomechanism. I think this adds more credence to the claim that his Neijing, while accessible and probably fine for general reading, isn’t so great for serious students of Chinese medicine. In particular, the entire progression from retreat of jing finally to lower abdominal distention is omitted.

Also, the Worry section was very difficult for me to translate due to the following phrase 有 所 which means “somewhat” in modern usage – I do not have the guidance of any of my professors at the moment to help me understand what that may have meant in ancient times. Your thoughts would be appreciated – share what you know in the comments!

Summary and thoughts

You can see a clear pattern in QiBo’s responses – he states his understanding of the situation and then references the simple explanation that Huang Di offered. The information that QiBo offers is dense – it will surely take me longer than this short blog post to expound on it. Here are my initial thoughts… please contribute yours in the comments!

Anger = The symptoms provoked by anger are all related to counterflow Qi. One assumes this could be as mild as belching and acid reflux, but as serious as vomiting blood and “food leakage,” which QiBo explicitly names. I’m not quite sure what food leakage would be – my first thought is diarrhea, but I’m not sure that fits in with the label “counterflow Qi.” I guess it could refer to acid reflux! This is the most straightforward passage. The Liver is, in some ways, a counterflow organ – it’s physiological purpose is to move things “against the grain” – just as plants grow against gravity. When anger upsets the flow, it goes overboard in classic Yang fashion.

Joy = I found the mention of Zhi to be very interesting. Zhi is the shen/spirit of the Kidney. It is often related to our ability to set a course in accordance with our principles and move towards it despite obstacles. It is the internal strength we need to complete difficult tasks. Interestingly, the Kidney and water are also generally associated with the virtue of Wisdom. So, while we need to be strong in our convictions to carry out the important things in our lives – we must guide ourselves with wisdom. QiBo seems to acknowledge this, noting that joy allows the Zhi to work intelligently.

Also, we know that the Kidney and Heart work closely together. The Heart is always associated with Joy, though it is not mentioned here. There is an assertion here that the Qi (perhaps of the Heart, given Joy) and the Zhi (shen of the Kidneys) working together is important for the Ying and the Wei to work properly. I’ll have to consider this further… any thoughts?

Grief = Interesting that the Heart system is mentioned in this passage before the lung. I’m not totally clear on the definition of Xin Xi “heart system” it may be that the Heart and Lung together comprise the Heart system – a nod to the integral relationship of these two organ systems. Either way, the Lung presses upward and obstructs the normal flow of movement, perhaps causing shortness of breath, but definitely causing a build-up of heat in the Center, this would cause what I discussed in the last article — perishing of Qi as heat consumes the fluids of the Lung, distributor of the Qi. “The center” perhaps refers to the Spleen, another vital Qi organ and the organ responsible for giving the Qi of food to the Lung. However, I may be misinterpreting and this simply may refer to the interior – so heat is building up in the interior, of the chest or of the lung. Regardless the outcome is the same, perishing of the Qi with attendant dryness and fatigue.

Fear= I think it’s saying that the Qi is supposed to move upwards from the Lower Jiao, but fear obstructs the upward motion, causing distention in the lower jiao. This would cause bloating and discomfort in the lower abdomen. Interesting that it talks about Jing, this is not adequately explained in any translation I have found. Jing is, of course, stored by the Kidneys – but I’m not aware of any situations in which it is said to move anywhere. I wondered whether this is a different Jing, but the character is correct in both of my editions.

Worry= This passage is pretty remarkable, even if I am translating some portions incorrectly. It links together the functions of the Spleen and the Heart, as well as mentioning the Zheng – or upright – Qi. Zheng Qi is usually understood to be the total Qi for defense against pathogenic factors. Essentially, I think that this passage is telling us that worrying causes the Heart’s movement to be restricted, which causes the Shen’s movement to be restricted, which causes the Zheng Qi’s movement to be restricted. Because Zheng Qi must be able to move freely in order to effectively defend against pathogens – it cannot do its job when restricted. This kind of stagnation must certainly leave us susceptible to illness. Many of us can probably attest to the negative impact on our immunity that worrying and stress has had.

That’s all I have for today, but really hope that some of you will discuss this passage in the comments.


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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