Here is a link to a post on my old blog about the effects of hot weather on anger and the relationship between the feelings of frustration, anger, irritability, even rage, and the sensations of heat in the body itself. There is a link in the other article to an article in Scientific American about how hot weather sparks aggression, and, even historically, revolution.
What is so interesting is that now that we know how the essential biological mechanism of the fight or flight response drives the sympathetic nervous systems, we can explain in biological terms what Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda has described long before the advent of microscope based bio-medicine; namely that the emotions have very predictable effects on the body, and that, 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, the emotions will create illness.
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. In Chinese Medicine it states clearly that almost 1/2 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. 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. 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 whey 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).
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.
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. 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! 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, who is himself of highly elevated Pitta, and unbearably arrogant, dismisses ALL herbal medicines as potions. Its so smug and arrogant. 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%! So our sick fellow humans are not well served by any medicine that does not get to the root of the problem.
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. I once had a patient, for example, 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.
Now she comes to me, convinced they are missing something. 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 the physical exam, palpation of her abdomen and pulse, show she has a very typical, but extreme version of Liver Depression Qi Stagnation, or what can also be called Ministerial Fire flaring, namely pain, severe pain, below her ribs that is worse with pressure, and a sore painful throat.
Now, here is where I differ from most of my own colleagues. What I care about is Why. Why does she have Liver Depression that is causing such sever 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 she described being profoundly relaxed for the first time in years.
I gave her the herbal formula anyone should have given 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.
The key to her improvement was not the herbal formula, though it is very important, because it relaxes the tense Qi that tightens all the fascia of the gut as the result of anger and frustration. It is a drug. It also strengthens the digestive process. In Ayurvedic terms this is a formula that pacifies Pitta, and to an extend Kapha and Vatta. In Chinese Medicine we describe 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 are indivisible.
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 lowers the nervous system and deactivates it, taking it out of the stress response of fight/flight/freeze to the relaxation response in which all systems begin to work well, the heart beat is calmer, the blood pressure lower, etc etc.
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 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.
I have had an interesting experience through mindfulness meditation. I was always very depressed by the sight of people in wheelchairs who were parapalegic. Whereas my friend Rachael was drawn to them in a very helpful way. I really admired this about her, did not quite understand it, but attributed it to her natural sweetness, which she had plenty of. Kapha in Ayurveda, which cuts two ways. Kapha’s have lots of sweetness, but can also be unassertive and when elevated may deal with conflict by withdrawal. If they are Kapha Pitta, though, they have the potential for strong judgment and anger that rather than express outward, they deal with through withdrawal, until, one fine day, they explode like a volcano. Its rare, but when they do, seek cover.
At one point in my life I was forced to addressed this issue of mine, because I started getting parapalegic patients. I realized that under the depression was fear. When I sat with the feeling of sadness that was overwhelming, but which wasn’t true empathy, because empathy makes you strong and capable of helping someone. Empathy was what my ex-wife had in this case. My sadness though really had no empathy in it at all, it was a cover for what i really felt, which was fear. Being around, even seeing or thinking of parapalegia, made me anxious, nervous, uncomfortable. In essence I had a fear of becoming crippled which for my personal history had to do with fear of being helpless which arose out of certain issues of abandonment from childhood.
It all sounds rather complicated, but really this was one single 45 minute meditation, focusing the awareness on the in and out breath, creating a comfortable safe environment for emotive states to arise, and once they arose, being present with them, RATHER THAN DENYING THEM. Every time you deal with an emotion by rationalizing it away, all you have done is sent it underground. “I am really sad, but why should I be, so many others have it worse.” would be a good example. Once I was present with that sadness, sat with it, rather than avoid it which was doing by being nervous and anxious, then the deeper fear arose, a profoundly deep fear that was in the pit of my stomach, all through my nerves, and very uncomfortable. Don’t get up. Stay with, grounded by the mindfulness of the in and out breath. And what happens? What happened? By the end of that meditation that fear had softened its grip. It became weaker, less penetrating. And the next time I saw someone paralyzed from the waist down, it still created some of those feelings, but in a much weaker way, so that I was actually much much more capable of being present emotionally with my paralyzed patient who was seeing me for an unrelated issue. And each time I see him, I meditate afterwards and am present with that profound fear of helplessness and abandonment. In a way this is accepting and open; softly, gently, and without judgment. Its not bad that I have that fear, it just is. As a result the fear gets weaker and weaker. It become less relevant. The old fear that this current experience attached to, lived off of, was built upon, triggered, itself has weakened.
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. 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. 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.
I am especially happy to work with people who want to learn how their nervous system is specifically affecting them and how they can change this process for the better. All the best,
Copyright Eyton J. Shalom, San Diego, Ca February 2014
All rights reserved use with permission.