Psychological Acupuncture: Working with the Emotions, Digestion and Circulation
I spent last weekend in a meditation retreat. During the weekend, I was surprised to experience a great deal of aggression, fear and anxiety during my mediation sitting. I asked one of the teachers for advice in working with emotions.
I have always been heartened by the Buddhist view of loving kindness. It is easy for us to judge our emotions and thoughts, especially during meditation. From judgement, comes rejection and resistance. From resistance comes stagnation. From stagnation comes rebelliousness, pain and suffering.
I am frequently reminded that thoughts and emotions are not “bad.” They are not to be judged and used a weapons against ourselves.
They are also not to be repressed or “acted out.” This was the very teaching I received about working with my emotions: sit with them. Let go of the storyline, feel the energy of the emotion; neither repress nor act it out. I was encouraged to let myself experience the emotion: allowing it to pass away, as all things do.
For many, it’s our emotions (fueled by our minds) which are causing our physical suffering. Chinese Medicine acknowledges the mind’s impact on the body. Emotions are always considered healthy, until they become stuck. Anything that becomes stuck within the body causes problems.
Emotional physiology within Chinese Medicine is closely related to the body’s circulatory system. Within the Chinese Medical system, the emotions reside within the blood. We all know what happens when the circulatory system becomes blocked. This is the leading cause of death amongst Americans. To Chinese Medicine, blockage within the circulatory system is often due to improperly managed emotions.
The mind and emotions have an interesting and confusing relationship. It is often difficult to discern what is thought, and what is emotion: they seem so intertwined.
When exploring the emotions, Chinese Medicine distinguishes them by qualities, related to the mind. Within the Chinese Medical model, there are two types of unconscious emotional qualities, and one type that is conscious. They each possess a different energetic quality.
The first unconscious emotional type can be described as “mood.” A mood has a definite emotional flavor to it: sadness, anger, fear; however, this type of feeling lacks a storyline. An example of mood is “seasonal affect disorder:” one feels sad, yet without a conscious explanation as to why.
Moods relate to the superficial “Wei energy” within the body. “Wei energy” circulates within the muscles (external and internal), skin and sense organs. To treat a mood, stagnation within these areas must be cleared. The same energetic stagnation causing allergies affecting the eyes or gut can also be causing moods. Treatment for both is similar: clear the muscles, skin and senses. As moods lack a storyline, there is little or no cognitive processing necessary to resolve them. They just need to be freed, expressed and released.
The second unconscious emotional type is “repression.” Repressed emotions can frequently mask themselves, showing up as behavior or psycho-somatic physical symptoms. In my case, I would frequently break out in itchy red skin patches on my toes. For years, I thought I had a stubborn case of athlete’s foot. However, I have now come to realize these breakouts are coming from anger that is being repressed. How did I come to realize this? The area where the breakouts occur happens to be on the acupuncture point “Valiant Ravine:” the point along the Gallbladder channel which discharges heat from the body.
Anything being held in the body (including emotions) will create heat. Heat will show itself as redness, burning or pain.
Another clue suggesting repressed anger came from the achy finger and toe joints I’ve been experiencing for many months. As an acupuncturist, I know this symptom to be a sign of something stuck within the deeper aspect of the Gallbladder channel. The Gallbladder relates to anger within Chinese Medicine. Pathogens (including emotions) that are repressed or put into a state of “latency” will often cause symptoms within the muscles, skin or joints.
Repressed emotions can be tricky. As in my case, the anger is not showing itself as emotion. Pain and skin redness are being shown instead. However, to successfully treat the joint aches, as well as the skin irritation, the repressed anger must be addressed and cleared, as this is the root of the physical symptoms.
The third type of emotion is the conscious level of “suppression.” With suppression, the emotion is felt, often with a storyline and understanding as to what is causing it. However the feeling lingers because it is not being fully released or expressed.
Healthy processing of emotions relies upon the strength and openness of the chest. The Lungs and the Heart are responsible for releasing all emotions. The ideal method of dealing with emotions, is letting them go as soon as they appear. The Lungs allow us to “diffuse” and release emotions, often via sweat: like a duck shaking water off its wings. The Heart connects to the tongue, providing the outlet of speech as a way to expel emotions from the chest. This is why exercise and therapy can be so effective in “getting things off our chest.”
When the Lungs and Heart are weak and the chest is blocked, the energy of the digestive organs must come to the rescue. The Intestines and Stomach provide the chest with its energy, trying to open and move the suppressed emotions out. The role of the digestive system is to process food and drink. However, it also processes thought and emotion. This is the body-mind-spirit holism that is central to Chinese Medical thought.
Suppressed emotions often require processing supported by the digestive system. Cognitive talk-therapy can be very useful with this type of emotional state. The energy of separating the “pure from impure,” which occurs with food in the digestive process, supports the Heart to express and “let go” via dialoguing.
When the digestive organs fail to support the release of emotions stuck in the chest, the emotional stagnation will be absorbed by the Bladder and Gallbladder channels: into the lower back and joints where they will incubate in a state of repressed latency. The heat created from the stuck energy will eventually leak into the abdomen, compromising immune and circulatory function.
I present this pathological process not to scare or dishearten, but to educate about the importance of dealing with our emotions. We can stop this process and reverse its harmful, degenerative effects. Acupuncture is a powerful way to begin addressing our emotional stagnations: to clear our circulatory systems, build back our immunity and digestion, and rediscover freedom and lightness through opening our chests.