19 Jan 2021
Working Through Emotions with Acupuncture- Part I
19 Jan 2021
Frustration, anger, fear, looping thoughts, guilt, jealousy, anxiety, worry, undue stress, grief, depression, excessive stimulation, impatience…such is the story of everyone’s life. We are emotional beings. Despite of what we might think, emotions are what drives majority of our decisions and determines the nature of most of our interactions with other people. Some people may wear their emotions on their sleeves, others may hide them at all cost. Some may be quick to express what they’re feeling, others may hold it in for a long time.
In order keep emotions in balance, some people may be driven to relatively healthy habits such as running, weight lifting, or using a punching bag to name a few simple examples. Others, however, may choose less ideal “outlets” or “band-aids” to deal with or mask the unbearable (sometimes literal) pain of overwhelming feelings; these may range from relatively harmless ones like excessively loud music, constant over-stimulation (either by substances or external stimulus such as radio or podcasts), excessive money spending & shopping, to some pretty series addictions such as drugs (both, prescription & recreational), alcohol, or, at their worst, even abuse ―verbal or otherwise― of those closest to them. Whatever we choose to do to deal with and express our emotions, what drives us at the very core, is a hope and promise of a more harmonious internal feeling of balance; a feeling of inner calm.
But emotions do not occur on their own; there is a constant mutual exchange between our physical bodies and our minds. Emotions influence our physiology and our physiology influences our emotions. Ancient Chinese healers were quick to recognize the link between our health and emotions, and thus have included it into the very scaffolding of the foundations of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). And even though our western medicine may not be fully on board with this (…yet…), TCM draws a very strong & direct link between each of the major organ systems and each type/class of emotions1.
For example, lungs are associated with grief; kidneys are associated with fear; heart is associated with over-stimulation; urinary bladder with jealousy; liver and gallbladder with blocked emotional expression and frustration; excessive sweetness or mellowness is associated with the spleen & pancreas. This is to say that in this paradigm, an imbalance of one class of emotion may ‘spill into’ functional pathologies of the associated organ(s). In other words, emotional imbalance can make us sick!!!
Quite honestly though, we do not really need TCM or double-blind western medicine studies to convince us of this ever-present link between our bodies and emotions. We can all find an instance or two in the deep pockets of our emotional memories, where we were just so stressed out that we felt a “knot in the stomach”, a “lump in the throat”, or when we just felt so low that we couldn’t say or even think anything. Some may have even been unfortunate to have experienced prolonged grief and the “heaviness on the chest” that comes with it. Others may remember when holding a grudge against a colleague or trying to suppress some deep personal experiences literally culminated as a “weight on the shoulders”. Those suffering from IBS or colitis may also recognize that ‘episodes’ associated with their condition may often be triggered by periods of excessive stress, a fight with a friend or one’s spouse, or even just a prospect of having to deal with a difficult situation in imminent future.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, unprocessed & unexpressed feelings will make themselves known to us in one way or another, and usually at the expense of our long term health2. The plain truth is that if we are not ready to deal with a specific experience and the emotions that come with it, we will likely suppress and block them from our conscious mind. More often than not, however, such a ‘blockage’ will find its reflection in our physical bodies. Whether it be our posture, facial expression (or other non-verbal language we use while we talk), functional impairment of internal organs, or simple chronic muscle knots3 and various aches and pains that seemingly have no known origin, our bodies will adapt to ‘hold’ the unexpressed feelings while trying to ‘scream’ to us what is really going on on the inside.
Where does acupuncture come into this?
Well, the first, and in my opinion least appreciated & overlooked aspect, comes from its ability to gently bring suppressed feelings back to our conscious presence. Further, given the link we’ve just discussed between our physical bodies and our minds and acupuncture’s track record as a frequent instrument used to alleviate pain, free up ‘blockages’, and re-establish a more natural internal harmony, it is not that farfetched then that acupuncture can be a surprisingly useful tool for anybody trying to consciously and constructively deal with ongoing and difficult emotions dictated by their life’s circumstances.
In a series of upcoming blogs we will further animate this link between acupuncture ―as a form of bodywork― and its ability to facilitate emotional expression. This will be done from the perspective of both, (ancient) traditional acupuncture theory and contemporary bodywork. I will also explain my personal approach I use with clients interested in working through their emotional ‘backlog’.
If you are curious how an acupuncturist would assist you with stress and overwhelming emotions, book an appointment with me at Natural Choice Medical Clinic in Guelph.
Andre Inglot, RAc
1. Maciocia, G. (2006). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine – A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists & Herbalists, 2nd Ed. China: Elsevier (Churchill-Livingstone)
2. Mate, G. (2003). When the body says no: the cost of hidden stress. Toronto: A.A. Knopf Canada 3. Dychtwald, K. (1977). Bodymind. New York: Pantheon Books
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