How Emotions Create Disease (When Unprocessed)
We know from Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, and we should understand from Science based Anatomy and Physiology, that, not only are the mind and body a “continuim”, but more accurately stated, Mind and Body are indivisible, and really the same thing. The brain, and the central nervous system that grows out of it, is physical body. What you do with the brain, which in the modern West we call “the Mind” is a sort of non-physical, or meta-physical expression of the material brain. And what we do with our brain, from playing poker to angsting about the Presidential candidates, to enjoying the sensuality of a warm cocoa to experiencing the inner peace meditation, affects and can change the brain. If video games and pornography change the brain, which we know to be true from science, its not even remotely surprising that something so positive as a meditation changes the brain.
Mind and Body Are Indivisible: Mind Over Matter is Matter Over Matter
The mind exists within the confines of human biology, another words nothing that is “mind” exists anywhere but in the experience of a being locked in biological organism. And, key point, within the organism, nothing Mental or Emotional or Cognitive occurs without the involvement of the Brain and Nervous System. And, what is so beautiful is that every thought we have, every memory, dream, recollection, plan, joy, fear, worry, anger, sight, sound, or sensation we experience triggers a complex set of nervous system reactions that in turn cause a cascade of hormonal reactions that we experience, NOT in our brains, but, where? In our physical bodies.
Emotions and the Fight or Flight Nervous System/Endocrine Response
Fear makes you want to run. It can cause sweating, urination, and bowel movements. Anger makes you want to fight, elevating your blood pressure and shunting information and blood to your now tense muscles, especially the jaw, neck, shoulders and arms. Pretty obvious. All of this occurs with the kind of complex neurotransmitter, hormonal, and biochemical changes that are so numerous and fast as to make the stars in the universe jealous.
And the consequence of these reactions for health, wellness, and the treatment of illness is enormous.
Ayurveda, Emotions, Dosha, and Disease
Ayurveda says, when doshas are elevated, they cause disease. And your individual dosha, Vatta-Pitta, for example, describes not a body type and not a mind type, but a bodymind type. Ayurveda does not differentiate between body and mind when describing dosha. Hot food, too much sun, and anger each elevate Pitta. Cold dry food, cold weather or working in a cold office, and fear elevate Vatta. Oily heavy food, humidity, rain, and dealing with danger by withdrawal elevate Kapha.
Habitual Negative Responses Make Us Sick
So habitually responding to things you don’t like or that stress you out with intensity, the need to control, irritability and anger causes predictable physical symptoms, because of what these emotional, psychological, personality type reactions do to your nervous system and hormones. The key word here is “habitual.” Sudden anger to defend yourself when there is real dangers is not what we are speaking about. We are speaking about unconscious, unnecessary, habitual responses that make you sick. Because these nervous system and endocrine responses, what is called “sympathetic nervous system drive,” tell the rest of the body that there is danger, when there actually is no danger, and in the process do things like inhibiting the transit of food in the gut, increasing hydrochloric acid levels in the stomach, change the acid base balance on the skin and in the vaginal mucosa, increasing the blood pressure and tightening the muscles and fascia.
The same is true of fear and also of withdrawal, associated with Vatta dosha and Kapha dosha.
Unprocessed Emotions in Chinese Medicine
Chinese Medicine, also, considers emotional and mental field disturbances as a major cause of disease. Chinese medicine expresses itself differently than Indian medicine. It describes in great detail the patterns of disease that occur due to excessive worry, fear, grief, anger, and nervous mania. Its critical to understand that there is nothing in Chinese Medicine that says emotions cause disease. Without emotions there is no life, we are supposed to feel feelings, but its the habitual default unwise or excessive responses to life, especially anger and fear, that will make you sick because they are excessive in the relentlessness.
The second piece in Chinese medicine’s explanation of how emotions cause disease is excessive quality of unprocessed emotion. In this case we are talking about ignoring feelings, repressing feelings, and all the variations on the theme of being “stuck in feelings.” When you deny that you are angry, fearful, or sad, flying in the face of the obvious symptoms, “if you are not angry, why are you clenching your jaw, neck and shoulders and frowning, too?” or lieing to yourself that being abused by your father wasnt so bad because other folk had it worse, therefore you should not be angry (even though you are and you have the symptoms to prove it….the body speaking for you….these are the kinds of cases Chinese medicine is speaking of when it describes emotions causing disease.
Another facet of emotions causing disease is the unfortunate experience of emotions that, while appropriate to what happened, are by their nature very large, such as the fear, sadness, guilt and everything else experienced by survivors of abuse, trauma, and the tragedies of war and violence. Here again, its the not facing and processing minor and major trauma that causes illness. Even the US Marines have trauma processing groups and grief counseling for the soldiers experienced horrific things in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What the Chinese Understood: Unprocessed Grief Damages Our Lungs
Chinese medicine describes which internal organs and disease patterns are produced with which emotions, and it does this by describing the specific effects of emotions on the organ systems. For example, excessive grief damages the Lung Qi. The Chinese, very smart people, observed, over very long periods, how people react to grief. First thing is when you are sad you sigh. Sighing is expressed through the breath, via the lungs. We let all the air out of our lungs, and it feels good. But what happens when stoic people, or those raised to not believe they have the right to sadness, repress their natural sighing? Their voices often have a flat tone devoid of emotion. Their breathing is often shallow.
When unprocessed grief causes depression, we dont even feel like getting up and our voice grows soft. Again, voice, the ability to make sound, is a function of the Lungs, because its the expiration of air through the vocal chords that creates sound. When you are sad you may not even feel like talking. But when you let yourself cry when sad, again you are moving Qi out of the Lungs, with that forceful jerking of the air in the lungs that occurs with crying. And Chinese medicine describes tears as the fluid of the lungs, because of their association with emotion, but also because of the Ear Nose Throat connection, we also cry when we have respiratory allergies.
So sighing, and crying, even sobbing, for example, are very healthy responses to experiences that cause sadness and grief. The inability to process grief will always create imbalance and disease in either the Lungs or the skin, the tissue most closely associated with the lungs, or in the organ paired with the Lungs; the Large Intestine.
In the case of grief and the lungs, I have seen many cases of asthma that began after experiences of profound grief where the person was either too young or too stoic to allow themselves to experience in way that moved it through. And I have also seen patients get off of all their asthma meds with acupuncture, chinese herbs, dietary changes, and emotional field work. Same thing with eczema and psoriasis, and even acne.
Fear is also a big big part of lung issues, but I will discuss that in a future article. The key point is that just as anger makes us hot (hot tempered), fear makes us cold (frozen in fear…). And all asthma has an element of cold trapped in the lungs. To be continued elsewhere.
All of which leads to this very interesting article that documents the benefits of Mindfulness meditation on our mindbody. Whereas in the USA we tend to think of “the mind” as something mental, intellectual, and cognitive, but not emotional, (that would be heart), in Asia the word Mind includes thought, sensation, emotional, memories, dreams, future plans, cognition.
The number one way you can learn to subvert your negative unconsicous and/or habitual nervous system responses to the challenges of life is with mindfulness meditation. Here’s how, as presented in todays New York Times article, How Meditation Changes the Brain The benefit of Mindfulness is that it gives you the distance and clear headedness to begin to observe your habitual reactions, whether of greed, sloth, anger, fear, worry AND their associated sensations in the physical body, KEY POINT. If you want to learn how to practice I recommend Calming the Anxious Mind, by Dr. Jeffrey Brantley, M.D. He has lots of You Tube stuff, too.
from the article:
A study published in Biological Psychiatry brings scientific thoroughness to mindfulness meditation and for the first time shows that, unlike a placebo, it can change the brains of ordinary people and potentially improve their health.
Thanks, and Good Luck!
copyright eyton shalom, www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com san diego, ca feb 2016 all rights reserved use with permission