Spirit Disturbances and Emotional Difficulties

This Articles purpose is to introduce the concept of Spirit or Emotional Disturbances and how it relates to health, the average person, and the Chinese medical practitioner.  This will hopefully give you a new perspective and insight into the understanding of emotions, mental states, and the “Spirit.”

Called “shen disturbance” in Chinese medicine, the closest translation being “spirit” disturbance is a very interesting, vast, and possibly limitless topic.  From the most basic standpoint, what we are talking about is any disturbance of a persons mind or emotional state.  A shen/spirit disturbance can be related to any disturbance of ones emotional or mental state ranging from mild to severe, such as relatively minor sadness, worry, anxiety, or frustration, or relatively major mania, depressive, or panic disorders.  As Chinese medicine is extremely holistic, we will discuss how these “imbalances” in a persons life are directly related to health and a persons “being,” and not an isolated or separate phenomena considered to be purely mental or “IN YOUR HEAD.”

For some physiology, Chinese medicine takes into account the entire person and their state, regardless for what the person is being treated.  Joint pain, headache, indigestion, fertility, or post traumatic stress disorder, the Chinese medical practitioner will take all things into account… physical, mental and emotional.  This is because the Chinese medical practitioner views the person as a an integrative whole, physical and non-physical, material and energetic.  (For those of you who have difficulty relating or understanding Qi/energy, if you think about it as all energy, including thermal, chemical, kinetic, potential, electrical… this makes the relation a little easier, as emotions are largely chemical and electrical responses in the brain from a western scientific point of view.)
For this reason, this medicine has an expanded concept of the spirit and emotions that extends beyond the central nervous system.  Actually, each organ, in Chinese medicine, has its own “spirit” associated with it and thus its own influence and management of the different emotional and mental states.  (This may seem far fetched if one has never been introduced to this concept before, but please keep the mind open as needed for new ideas.)  Yes, Chinese medicine does acknowledge the brain, but, rather its functions are simply expanded beyond that single mass of material.  The major organs that house the different “spirits” are the Heart, Liver, Lungs, Spleen and Kidneys.  To remain short (mind you this is an extensive subject), in general, the spirit of the heart is named “shen/spirit” and major emotion is Joy.  The spirit of the Liver, named “Hun” or etherial soul, manifests anger, frustration, and direction (nicknamed “The General” for similar attributes).  The spirit of the Lungs, named “Po” or corporeal soul, processes grief and loss and provides universal righteousness.  Spirit of the spleen named “Yi” or intellect, processes worry and pensiveness, as well as digestive intellect, or processing mental activity.  The Kidneys, “Zhi” or will, processes fear, fright and survival as well as providing the ability to stand upright, strongly (emotionally/physically).  Therefore, when a person experiences anything that moves the person from a state of peace, to a state other then peace, the dominant emotion and mental state will have an effect on its associated organ that controls and processes this dominant emotion.  Take the example of a young child that is obviously overexcited, maybe in a social situation playing with friends, maybe you add a bunch of sugar into the mix, maybe you add new surprises that the child is excited for, for example a trip that he/she has been awaiting.  This builds a picture of a child that cannot sit still, becomes quite loud and active, who seems to be experiencing such an influx of joy that he can hardly stand it.  According to Chinese medicine, he or she would experiencing a disturbance of the Heart/”Shen.”
This example demonstrates the acute emotional “attack” or disturbance that shifts the individual from a place of peace, to a place of imbalance (even though joy is a more “desirable” experience).  You can take this idea and translate it to all the other emotions.  Anger to the Liver, Worry/Pensiveness to the Spleen, Fear to the Kidneys, Grief to the Lungs.  Now, to a certain extent, these states occur somewhat naturally.  When they are over, the person will adjust and come back to a place of balance.  However, it is when these imbalanced states become extreme in events, or chronic, occurring over and over, that the body accumulates a certain karma, or physical and emotional response to the causative emotion.  It is possible that following these states, the body does not completely rebalance itself.  Rather, it stores these accumulated emotions or Qi/energy, in a way that the stressors or imbalances may or may not be perceived consciously, until one day a physical/mental/emotional event resurfaces the same issue to manifest in another way.  A common physical example is abdominal pains and diarrhea due to chronic anxiety/stress.  A common emotional example is phobia of any new situations, because an isolated situation or many situations in the past has been upsetting for any reason.  Therefore, an anticipation is putting non-realistic or non-reality borders on the future.  There are many examples that all lead to the same point, that emotional imbalances or “shen disturbances” are very much as important and an integral part of our health as the purely physical realm.
So, how can Chinese medicine, Acupuncture, Herbs, or Body work help??  I feel that one of the easiest ways to explain this is to describe treatment.  As an acupuncturist and herbalist I would use both modalities in a similar way.  If a person comes to me, and has been effected gravely by long term grief over a relationship breakup, a death of a loved one, or a life change that is in need of a letting go of something, someone, or somewhere, then as a practitioner, one of the primary treatment protocols I would apply would be to use acupuncture and/or herbal medicines to treat the physical and spiritual aspect of the lungs, as the lungs are the primary organ that will process grief.  Yet another example.  If a person comes to me suffering from difficultly controlling his/her temper with bouts of explosive anger, OR much frustration that is internalized, rather then being expressed, it is held in to cause silent suffering in any way, then in this case I will primarily focus on treating the liver though “sedation,” “regulation,” or “pacification” of the physical and spiritual Liver.  Now, treatment is always multifaceted and complex depending on the individual.  In many situations, there are multiple emotions and multiple systems in play, but this gives you an understanding of some very basic Causes and Treatments of disease or “imbalances.”  Also, this is the basic understanding and treatment of emotional causes of disease that range from mild, “every day” experiences, to extreme debilitating mental illnesses.
If this is a little difficult to grasp for some, you can think of the studies that have been done using MRI imaging on the brain during acupuncture treatments.  During the treatment of different acupuncture points, the brain has been shown to be illuminated in different regions corresponding to different points treated.  This shows an obvious physical connection between needling an external acupuncture point, and the increased chemical and electrical activity in the central nervous system, demonstrating integration and importance of the physical and mental realms.
Before I conclude, I think it is appropriate to end with some optimistic and helpful Healthy Living Advise.  So just to reiterate, emotions are natural.  It is a part of being human and we all experience different levels of joy, happiness, anger, sadness, grief, fear, fright and worry.  It is when these states accumulate over time or are so strong that it affects or accumulates in the body and mind.  Acupuncture and Herbal medicine are great ways used to correct the persons imbalances or used in preventative medicine.  However, in addition to treatments, there are things people can do on an every day basis to remain healthy that I will list out.
1) Diet: a “balanced” diet is important to keep a persons being balanced.  if someone suffers from anxiety, then smoking, coffee, caffein, and sugar will increase anxiety, even if there is an addiction.  For depression eat acrid foods such as citrus and spices to spread the energy and lift the spirit, and stay away from heavy foods and dairy that will weigh a person down.
2) Breath Properly:  As in meditation, focus on deep, relaxed breath courses the energy, especially cleansing and soothing the lungs for cases of anxiety, grief, and almost any other excess emotion.  For more in depth discussion on breathing see the article “BREATH” on this same site.
3) Balance Life:  Keep life balanced.  Do not over work. Make sure you balance rest with exercise and leisure fun.  If you start to feel tight, stressed, or lacking joy, change what your doing, at least for a day or two.  Rest, or catch a movie and get to bed early.  Yin and Yang, Yielding and Action should be in harmony.
4) Stay Happy and Healthy:  Happiness in a sense is a choice.  Some of the most impoverished regions are the happiest because the only thing they have is the connection with themselves and the people around them.  This puts an emphasis on spiritual connection and personal connections and keeps their spirits high.  And when your spirits are high you are healthy.
5) Learn to Let Go:  Many times people get stuck on emotions or events.  Things that bother them that they cannot change.  When you stay at peace and keep a rational mind, it is easier to let go of certain situations and states of mind.  Make appropriate choices, take appropriate actions, then let go of the rest as it does not resolve anything when you hold emotions.
For more in-depth treatment or preventative treatment of any emotional difficulties or “Shen disturbances” seek a practicing holistic professional.
As always, I wish new understanding of the importance of Mind/Body/Spirit Oneness to you all in the direction of the healthiest life one can live.  In closing, live a happy, healthy life, full of experience and emotion, however, do not let the emotions move you from yourself, your state of peace.


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