Updated: Jul 4, 2022
By Cybil Kendrick, L.Ac.
Life is crazy and these past few years have not made it any easier. So how can we help ourselves to "ride the wave" of life as easily as possible? Many of you know that Asian medicine and acupuncture can be very effective for pain management but did you know it can also help with stress, anxiety, depression, memory and insomnia?
At the core of acupuncture theory and practice are the concepts of yin and yang, five elements and organ theory. Practitioners use these concepts and theories of how the energies of the body and organs are functioning and interacting to lead their diagnosis and treatment protocols. In the realm of emotions and mental health we look at the quality of Qi (energy that is a subset of yang) and blood (substance that is a subset of Yin) in the body and in the individual organs to assess a person's mental health. The 5 yin organs - the heart, liver, lungs, spleen and kidneys - influence the mind, emotions and spirit in different ways. Because they hold or store blood, Qi, essence, or body fluids the state of these energies within each organ will strongly affect a person's mental health.
The element of the heart is fire and the emotion is joy; it is said to house the mind or the Shen. The Shen relates to both mental activity and consciousness as well the entirety of emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a person. The health of the heart Qi and blood will reflect in mental acuity, long term memory, insomnia, and depression.
The element of the liver is wood and the emotion is anger; it is said to house the Ethereal soul (the Hun) which is likened to the spirit, the part of the soul that will carry on once we have passed. It influences our ability to plan our life and to have a sense of direction, the liver is often referred to as the general of the organs as it sets the plans. The emotion of anger is a healthy emotion but we can see imbalances in the liver energy when one has excessive anger, or on the flip side someone may be angry but instead of releasing it in a healthy way they stuff their emotions and pretend everything is fine.
The element of the lungs is metal and the emotion is grief. The Corporeal soul (the Po) is housed in the lungs and is the counter part to the Hun. Where the Hun is the spirit that can wander and continue on after life, the Po is the more physical part of us that feels, senses and moves. The Po is physically linked to our breath and is directly affected by sadness and grief as those emotions can restrict our breath and cause us to breathe shallowly in our upper chest and even neck. Breathing into your belly is a deeper breath that helps to calm the nervous system and can help move the restricted Qi of the lungs.
The element of the spleen is earth and the emotion is worry or rumination; it houses thought or Yi. This is our ability to think, concentrate, focus, study and memorize and as one of the major organs of digestion in Asian medicine, along with the stomach, its health is supported by the food we eat and liquids we drink. It is weakened by excessive mental work or concentration for extended periods of time. The spleen, heart and kidney all influence our thought and memory but in different ways. Where the spleen is about our ability to study, focus and memorize, the heart is about long term memory and the ability to think clearly when faced with problems in life. The kidney energy influences our short term memory and remembering every day tasks.
The element of the kidneys is water; the emotion is fear and it houses the will and will power or Zhi. A person with strong kidney energy will be able to set and focus on their goals in life and pursue them without distraction and a person whose kidney energy is weaker might lack will power and motivation and often get distracted from their goals.
As a practitioner of Asian medicine I use these concepts and others to help guide my treatments whether someone is coming to see me for an injury, internal imbalance or specifically for mental health support. If you resonated with any of these ideas this information is just the tip of the ice berg as this is just a short overview of how acupuncture approaches mental health. Each person will present differently and it is the skilled practitioner that will listen and make the right treatment plan for every individual.
Cybil Kendrick, L.Ac.,MSOM, C.SMA, RMT is a licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.) with her masters in Oriental medicine (MSOM) and is certified in Sports Medicine Acupuncture® (C.SMA) and massage therapy (RMT).