In Chinese medicine, there are three main causes of illness: internal, external, and other.
Internal relates to the emotions, organs, liquids, and food ingested. External refers to the environment: wind, summer heat, dampness, dryness, cold, and fire. Others relate to injuries from accidents or physical trauma.
In these posts about the seven emotions, we see how they can be an internal source of illness.
It is normal to experience all of these emotions in different degrees, but there are a few ways that they can be potentially harmful to us. An injury to the body that could trigger an emotion in an excessive amount, or the related emotion to the Yin organ (zang) taking root, to the point of harming that zang. A pattern of continual, intense, sudden outbursts of any of the emotions could also be harmful.
Depending on the balance of our Blood (nourishment), Qi (energy), and Shen (spirit), this will determine how those experiences are processed.
Grief / Sadness
The last two zang in this series, Lung and Kidney, each have two of the seven emotions associated with them. In this post, we will cover Lung: grief/sadness.
It is possible to think of grief and sadness as describing the same state within us, but there are subtle, distinct differences. Grief is the loss of someone or something that can never be regained. Sadness would be seen in conditions such as loneliness, the feeling of not fitting in, or the lack of being valued. The impact on the Lung area is very much the same for grief and sadness, and because the Heart is the centre of all emotions, there will be symptoms related to the Heart. Breathing can weaken a feeling of tightness or heaviness in the chest.
As we experience grief and sadness, our whole system is involved. The digestion changes; you might eat less or crave easy-to-digest sweet foods like carbs (Spleen), have difficulty sleeping/insomnia (Heart), reduced stamina (Liver), anxiety or fatigue (Kidney).
Our internal world doesn't work in isolation; it is also profoundly connected with the external world.
If we are out of balance frequently or for a long time, it can weaken the Lung Qi, affecting the chances of building our protective Qi (Wei Qi) against external pathogens. This could leave us vulnerable to things like colds, coughs, or allergies. The Wei Qi is said to move around the external part of our bodies, beneath the skin, controlling the opening and closing of our pores. If the Wei Qi is weak, the pores can be easily blocked and unable to fully close, leaving the body exposed to external pathogenic factors.
In the classics, the Lungs are often referred to as the 'tender organs'. This is because they can be easily affected by environmental irritants such as smoke, cold, altitude, heat, or particles.
So it would not be unusual if someone caught a cold, broke out in a rash, or developed a cough during a period of grieving or extreme sadness.
Po - Corporeal Soul
Each of the five elements has a Shen, and when that Shen is balanced, it has a virtuous nature.
The Lungs Shen is named Po, which translates as corporeal soul, mortal soul, or physical soul. This Shen dies when the body dies. It is the Po that helps us appreciate the beauty of impermanence.
When the Po is balanced, we are able to transition through grief and sadness with reverence.
I would like to say that there is no set length of time for the grieving process; it is different for everyone. This is just an example of the virtuous aspect of Po.
Healthy Lungs are able to inhale air that may have low-level irritants with very few problems without feeling congested. Similar to the action of the Lungs, a healthy Po helps us take in new information without feeling overwhelmed.
If the Lungs were unhealthy, they would struggle to take in that same air. There will be a sense of scarcity - not enough air. Again, similar to the Lungs, if the Po is unbalanced, there will be a feeling of not being satisfied; even achieving self-set goals will not be enough.
The Yang energy of summer, the consumption of cooler foods, and those long days and late nights are behind us. Autumn is the season of gathering, slowing down, drawing in, and preparing for winter. We consume more warming food and drinks and start to go to bed earlier as we aim to be in rhythm with nature. As we move from the extreme Yang of the summer season, we are now gradually moving into the extreme Yin of the winter season. It is nice to notice, acknowledge, and experience all transitions. The movement of the seasons is a shorter version of our individual life span. Birth, development, maturation, decline, and death, we must remember that in nature, this is not a linear movement but a circular motion. Death in nature provides sustenance for other life to begin or continue.
At the beginning of a session, I sometimes guide the client through a simple breathing exercise. This gentle exercise helps to engage the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS); it also brings awareness to the mind and body because a slight disconnect can happen in our daily lives. Each breath represents a short completion in time that connects us with the here and now. You can then appreciate those transient moments in your life and respond in a healthy way, like being able to let go of what doesn't benefit you. This could be material possessions, relationships, or stuck emotions.
Are you performing in a higher gear for longer than you should? This can deplete your energy, disrupting your flow of Qi and making you feel stressed and fatigued. If you are able to be in accord with the season and introduce a balance of nutrition, calming activities such as meditation, and therapeutic practises like Shiatsu, this will help to maintain your wellbeing, plus it will help you to avoid BURNOUT.
Balance is needed throughout our lives as we develop in any particular field to remain strong physically and psychologically. For example, in sports, as you push for your personal best (PB), good nutrition and rest are required, along with tough workouts. This needs to be balanced to make sure you lessen the chance of injury and remain healthy beyond your PB, avoiding a system that is overstressed. The same approach is needed when managing your day-to-day life, so you can feel that you are tapping into your potential with ease.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the Lung meridian connects with parts of the digestive system. As the lungs take in 'natural air Qi' which combines with nutritive Qi (food) in the stomach, the process of producing and transporting blood is carried out. The Lung meridian in the classical diagram begins in the stomach and descends to the Large Intestine which is the Yang pairing of the Lung. So strengthening the Lung Qi with breathing exercises and supporting the digestive system with a balanced diet can be very helpful for our whole body. In the previous post about the seven emotions, Worry, and the associated organ, the Spleen, I provided some suggestions on supporting the digestive system.
Stretching with some breath work and physical exercise like Qi Gong.
Pungent foods are said to support the lungs. Things like onions, garlic, turmeric, dried ginger, chillies, mustard leaves, lamb, cinnamon, wine, and wasabi, not in excess. Pungent foods help stimulate blood circulation and reduce or clear stagnation.
Dried spices/food and slow-cooked meals are more warming.
It is beneficial to have a balance of the five flavours: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty.
Meditation: If you are just starting out with meditation, there is an idea that 7 minutes is a good length to start with. Then you keep adding 7 minutes as you progress.
As you go through the seven emotions, you will see that we are a combination of all of them in different degrees. There is a constant interplay physically and emotionally between Yin and Yang, Qi and Blood, as we respond to our social environment and tussle with internal dialogues.