Liver Qi, Pitta Dosha, and The Effect of Hot Weather on Anger and Aggression

Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda both describe how hot weather increases anger and aggression in humans. It describes in detail how and why hot weather increases levels of aggression by describing how heat increases stagnation of the Liver Qi (the Liver likes to be cool) and Pitta dosha (naturally increased by spicy hot foods, hot weather, and permitting oneself the indulgence of anger).

Heat in the Body-Mind: The Body Keeps the Score

This relationship between Liver Depression Qi Stagnation and Pitta elevation encompass both mind and body. Its a dynamic relationship in which heat and of frustration, anger and irritability can express themselves through thoughts, words, and actions, but also with physical symptoms.

The body keeps the score, always. When we trigger into the fight aspect of our nervous system habitually, this can manifest in rashes, eczema, psoraisis, acne, IBS-C, tension headaches, chronic shoulder, neck, and jaw pain, and of course short temper and anger issues.

And this makes sense, since all our metaphors for anger involve heat–hot temper, “boiliing over with rage”, “dont get so hot around the collar”, his eyes were “burning with fire.”

As In Nature, In the Body Heat Rises

These last two metaphors also portray the image that Chinese medicine refers to often. As in nature, heat in the body rises, and disturbs the neck, shoulders, head, and Shen, or consciousness. It also rises from the core to the surface, manifesting in rashes like hives and eczema.

Self Generated Heat Comes from BodyMind Type

And this can be self-generated heat, from personality type, lack of emotional intelligence and/or education in how to control anger. This kind of heat you can see anytime of year, and especially at times of great stressors. And some of us just run hot, even when balanced. You can see those folk out walking without a coat on in the San Diego winter. Or the patients that report fighting with their spouses about the thermostat. Because we do have different internal thermostats. “Everyone is special.”

External Heat Affect Wood (Liver) Types and Pitta Types Most

But it can also be a response to hot weather or the pressure of stress, which acts to increase tension in the body. Because we are alive, and because life is a warm process of transformation of food and air into energy, excessive amounts of stressors, create pathological heat, too.

Of course, we are not all the same. People who are Pitta dominant are more susceptible to the effects of Summer heat. And this is worse if they are unbalanced. This is why a Pitta type has to take measures to protect themselves from the heat, more that a watery Kapha type does.

The Neurscience of External Heat

And now the neuroscience is describing the same phenomenon in biological terms. Numerous studies are documenting what the ancients observed–hot weather sparks aggression, and, can even lead to political revolutions.

University of California researchers have found that

throughout history and across the world, higher temperatures, less rainfall and more drought were consistently linked to increased violence. The correlation held true for aggression between individuals, such as domestic abuse and assault, but was even more pronounced for conflict between groups

And here is the original study in Nature that describes the circannual effect of seasonal heat on aggression. It demonstrates the brain chemistry at play in this process, namely that

ambient environmental conditions modulate serotonin (5-HT) function, and that changes in 5-HT function lead to variations in human behavior.

Acupuncture-bodymindwellness.comFight or Flight Nervous System Response and Mind-Body Medicine

Now that we understand the correlation between fight-flight-freeze, and the autonomic nervous systems sympathetic and parasympathetic drives, we can explain in biological terms what Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda described eons ago.

Chinese Medicine: “Affect Damage”. Ayurveda: Dosha Irregulation

Unregulated emotions have very predictable effects on the body. By unregulated, we mean allowing your mind and nervous system to run wild. You see this in very emotionally reactive, very anxious, and very aggresive people. They allow their nervous system response, synonymous to their emotional reactivy, to make themselves, and people around them, sick.

This is not normal emotion. Its habitual negative emotions. You should be sad when your dog dies. But getting stuck in that sadness, in your wounds, with nowhere to go but down, is what Chinese medicine described. This applies to unprocessed or unregulated anger, but also overthinking, sadness/grief, fear, and even joy!

But here joy does not mean happiness. You cant have too much of that. Its fake joy. Smiling when you should be crying. Laughing when you are actually angry.  Covering up normal feelings with the idea they are not “positive.” Stiff upper lip in war time is great, but its seen as unhealthy to not allow yourself to acknowledge normal feelings.

When left unprocessed, or when allowed to develop to the extreme, such as the fear embedded in anxiety disorders and the  many anxiety-based digestive disorders such as the feeling of something stuck in the throat when there is nothing stuck in the throat, these emotions will create illness.

In Ayurveda, Pitta dosha will have trouble regulating aggression and anger, Vata dosha the same with fear, and Kapha dosha will have trouble with withdrawing when they should be engaged. How these play out is a function of your unique constitution, along with what you have experienced and learned along the way. Nature AND Nurture, not nature vs. nurture.

The Mind Does Not Exist Without A Body–The Nervous System Is Mind and Body

What is so fascinating is that what we find the further we look is that it’s not that the Body and Mind are connected, or even related, it’s that they are one and the same, integrated. The way we perceive reality is individual and unique.

The mechanism by which we perceive and process reality is via the sense organs which send messages to the brain, which in turn immediately sends messages to the body via the nervous system and the endocrine system, that is, by nerve impulses and hormones that then dictate the activity of the muscle, gut, the heart, the circulation, etc , etc, etc.

What seems to me so short sighted on the part of both Western and Eastern medical practitioners is the degree to which they ignore whole heartedly the role that emotions play here.

Nei Jiing: ⅓ of Diseases are from Affect Damage

In Chinese Medicine it states clearly that ⅓ of disease is due to what is translated as “Affect Damage” which describes the effects of the emotions Anger, Sadness, Worry, Fear, Anxiety, Joy on the internal organs of the body.

This refers not to the effects of normal healthy emotions, but to the effects of excessive emotions, such as emotions that would be hard for anyone to process, e.g. seeing someone killed, seeing something horrific, but also, and far more commonly, to the effects of REPRESSED EMOTIONS, emotions that are unprocessed, unexamined, denied, ignored.

Brain-Gut Connection

This is what we see over and over and over again clinically with disorders of the gut, explained now, through science, by the work on the Gut Brain connection.

But Chinese Medicine described it long ago by describing in great detail the effects of a naturally hyper intense bodymind type, or of stress, frustration and/or repressed anger, on the gut, called  Liver Depression Qi Stagnation, or the effects of the Gall Bladder on the Stomach.

The Mind Leads the Qi

These effects are effects of the Qi, and it says, too that the “Mind Leads the Qi.” Its very clear where Classical Chinese Medicine stands. The Mind creates reality. The Mind Leads the Qi. And here, mind, includes the sum gamut of all of our thoughts, memories, and feelings.

Chinese Medicine even describes the ways in which our body’s energy flows. Anger causes the Qi to rise. Simple. People who are enraged get red in the face.  Why?  Because the hot Qi of anger rises, just as in nature. Hot air balloon. The heat of fire goes up, at the campfire, at a Bunsen burner, and in our bodies.

That is also why the heat of hot food gives susceptible folk, and mark my words, susceptible folk, rashes. Hot food aggravates eczema. Fevers give rashes. Its because there is significant heat in the core of our body, in the core of our beings. Life is a warm process. Very little life at the poles. Nothing living that we know of in space. Space is freezing (and dry. Life as we know it needs water).

The Pros and Cons of the Pitta or Liver/Wood Type

So pathological heat in our body rises to the head and from the center to the surface, like the heat of a volcano. And what we call “Liver types” people who are good at organization, control, good at being generals, often with a wiry build, have a greater challenge in being relaxed. They are not and will never be slackers. They are driven. Hence the historic two martini lunch of the business executive. A lot of runners are like this. They need to burn off their tension. Slackers don’t become runners too often. They smoke pot and sit on the couch. Different challenges.

The Challenges and Assets of the Pitta Dosha in Ayurveda

What is interesting, too, is the degree to which Ayurveda describes the same exact processes just with different language. Ayurveda describes the Pitta dosha in much the same way as Chinese Medicine describes the Liver type. Pitta types are great organizers, with intense penetrating minds.

Every knife cuts two ways. The very quality of being good at organization, when left unchallenged by wisdom, becomes hyper-organized, ergo, tense. Migraine headaches are a disorder of elevated Pitta. Its even treated by therapeutic bleeding in Chinese medicine. Because Pitta is fire and it lives in the blood. We can clear heat from the blood in Acupuncture by removing small amounts of blood from specified points, especially in the hot weather of Spring.

Tension Headaches, Migraines, and Pitta Elevation

So the problems of elevated Pitta are problems of tension and heat. People with tension headaches and migraine headaches are tense. And they are tense for a reason. Do you just get tense for no reason? I have never in my life met a patient with migraines who is relaxed.

That is a big piece of the migraine puzzle. Learning how to relax. And, its noteworthy that they often get pissed off when you tell them this! LOL.  In fact, I stopped trying to discuss this with my patients years ago, their Qi has become more relaxed thru acupuncture and herbs.

And what is worse is that the M.D.s and Acupuncturists so rarely discuss this with them. People get caught up in all kinds of biological science mumbo jumbo that hyper-focuses on which tissues are dysfunctional, with all kinds of fun names like “cervical headache” or cervical migraine that totally miss the point of “how did you develop your cervical migraine?”

They don’t discuss it, but give them tons of drugs, but never suggest that they seek manual therapies, or counseling for anger issues, or for gods sake even just a relaxing tea. One chiropractor I know, himself a highly elevated Pitta type, and unbearably arrogant, dismisses ALL herbal medicines as potions. Its so smug and arrogant. The point he makes is that the work you do directly with your nervous system cuts deeper to the core. I agree 100%. Its why i teach Mindfulness Meditation. But…

Human beings have medicated with herbal materials for thousand of years, and until recently 90% of western medicine were plant based, and many still are, around 60%. Yes, we are always best served getting to the causes, not just the results. But along the way, herbal medicines, like “mother’s little helper” in the Rolling Stones song about drugs, can give us some breathing room to tackle the big issue of how we move in this world.

Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine Treat the Roots and the Branches.

That is why I love Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, because they give you the opportunity, if you grab it, to get to the reason why you are sick in the first place. If you get to the root, you get better so fast. But it takes courage and hard work.

A Case of Severe Gut and “Rib Side Pain” Due to Liver Depression Qi Stagnation

I had a patient, recently, who came in with severe pain in her stomach, under her ribs, she was certain she had some horrible disease, except she had been to the emergency room and a follow up with a gastroenterologist and they could find nothing wrong.

She had ultrasound, blood tests, barium x-ray, colonoscopy. Zero wrong by western medical standards. Lots of money spent, wisely, because you do always want to rule out something ominous, like cancer. I did have a patient diagnosed by his MD with mere gastritis, who turned out to have stomach cancer. Why I always refer to an MD to rule out serious, treatable, diseases.

Now she comes to me, convinced they are missing something. Understandable fear. She comes in with a family member who finishes half her sentences for her, and what I immediately notice, and wonder why the western MDs would not have, is that she is very very angry and very very frightened.

And on physical exam, palpation of her abdomen and pulse, show she has a very typical, but extreme version of Liver Depression Qi Stagnation, namely pain, severe pain, below her ribs that is worse with pressure, and a sore painful throat.

The Treatment Proceeds from the Question–Why?

What I care about is Why. Why does she have Liver Depression that is causing such severe Qi stasis that she develops such horrible pain that is disabling and causes a non-infectious sore throat, and also great fatigue? I can’t not notice that the family member with her is overbearing, and yes, it’s a parent, and finishes her sentences. They even argue about her symptoms. Yet they are also very close, and tender. Complicated. Knots.

In taking the history, I always ask, and i learned this from one of my best teachers, Alex Tiberi, “What was going on in your life when this problem began?” Well in this case, there had been a miscarriage, in the context of a badly ended relationship. Also, change of city and a new job. THAT IS ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU SICK, especially if you are a sensitive type, as she obviously was.

Just having the experience of being listened to, validated, and having someone like me make the connection between the gut and the mind, the gut and emotional state, was very relaxing to this patient, and by the end of her acupuncture treatment, which was directed at relaxing her Liver Qi and stregnthening he Digestive Qi,  she described being profoundly relaxed for the first time in years.

I gave her the herbal formula anyone might have given in this case, Xiao Chai Hu Tang, and when she came back the next week her gut pain was down from a 12 to a 2.

What Her Chinese Herbs Did

In addition to the healing experience of understanding Why her nervous system reaction to unusual emotional stressors could cause Gut issues, the Herbs played a role in healing. This is the same with hot weather. There are things you can do in terms of lifestyle, first and foremost, and also in terms of diet and medicines.

In this case, Xiao Chai Hu Tang is a Chinese herbal formula that relaxes the Qi stagnation that has tightened all the fascia of the gut as the result of grief, pressure, fear,  anger and frustration. It is a drug.

In Chinese Medicine we describe this as a harmonizing formula that harmonizes the relationship between the Liver/Gallbladder and the Stomach/Pancreas. Its interesting that you can use this formula for gut problems that are the result of somatisation of emotional states, and also for actual Liver problems such as hepatitis, and also for people who have trouble recuperating from colds and flu. Mind and Body.

Treat Affect Damage via Mind; The Mind Leads the Qi

The key to her improvement was the mental ease she developed as a result of beginning to understand the causes of her illness, that it is not a mystery. The acupuncture was important because it drops the nervous system and deactivates it, taking it out of the stress response.

What Acupuncture Does

The non-specific affects of Acupuncture is to trigger the relaxation response. When our Qi starts circulating well, when we are relaxed, all systems begin to work well, the heart beat is calmer, the blood pressure lower, the movement thru the gut improves.

Ultimately, as more information came out over the period of building trust with this patient that she really needed further assistance in dealing with past emotional issues regarding self and family relations. In other words what empowered the recent events to a tipping point, was their resonating with and dredging up of unexamined and unresolved past material, past family conflicts, that had left her with an incredible amount of pent up rage.

In fact, after one of her early sessions she left in a very calm state, but when presented with an obtuse and narcississtic family member who is a bit of a bully, too, she screamed at this person for the first time in her life. Screaming is not always helpful, but this was the first time she stood up for herself with this person, it seems. Ultimately I referred her to a therapist i know who does EMDR and Somatic therapy.

Mindfulness Meditation Is Retraining Your Nervous System Response

Ultimately in addition to therapy with a really good therapist who can help someone untie the knots that bind you to the past and unresolved mental issues (the Mind leads the Qi) what I recommend to anyone is a Mindfulness Meditation practice because it gives you the tool kit to deal with all of your emotions that you cannot normally control.

And its because you learn to experience them softly, gently, without judgement, in a field of “choiceless awareness” and loving kindness, so that rather than build and fester, they pass through you, and you also develop empathy. Now, rather than get pissed off when someone mindlessly cuts you off on the road, you might actually think, “God, i hope that person is ok”, or you might just not be triggered at all.

Clinical Value of Mindfulness Meditation

I have found, clinically, that with a whole gamut of diseases, from tension related pain conditions like headache and back pain, to fight or flight sympathetic nervous system drive related gut issues like gastritis and IBS, to bladder issues like interstitional cystitis and neurogenic bladder, that getting to the root of the problems involves learning how your nervous system works and is not working.

In other words, problems of Mind are best cured through the Mind, not with drugs, or even herbs and acupuncture, certainly not by diet.

Diet can worsen the symptoms in the body that arise from the mind, and a curative diet is very helpful Someone with an impaired oversensitive gut due to heat from intensity must avoid so many foods that someone without the problem can enjoy.

But if they don’t get to deal with the fundamental problem of the intensity which drives the nervous system to illness, they won’t be cured all the way. You cant heal with food what is created with mind or the nervous system. But food can be an important piece. Each positive step inspires more positive steps.

The acupuncture is great because, like a drug, it gives you an experience of relaxation you might not ever have had before, as in yoga or tai qi, and it does reset the nervous system and unblock the accumulated Qi stagnation. The herbs are also very helpful in digestive disorders because they actually help create new healthy tissue,  improve absorption, and relax the tense overactive gut. But the root, the core?

Some sort of improved stress management system needs to be implemented. And I know no one better than one that deals with the mind at the level of mind, so that the creative mechanism that causes the disease is turned off at the source.








Pin It on Pinterest