Understanding your emotions according to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine is an ancient system of healing that evolved by empirical measures…which basically means, observing people, their bodies, their environments and their emotions over long periods of time to find patterns of illness. Everything (and I mean EVERYthing) has an impact on our wellness, vitality and our ability to heal.

The key is to understand what your body is saying and then make the appropriate changes needed to bring balance back and restore health.

The great news is that all the little things we do have a huge impact on our health and vitality in the long run.

One of the biggest impacts on our health and well-being comes from our emotional states and the healthy expression of our emotions.

In Chinese Medicine, each emotion is associated with a specific system in the body. Each system has a related organ, a season, a taste, in addition to a time of day it is most active (do you wake up at the same time every night? There’s a message there!). Each system also has a related a sense organ (eyes, ears, nose, tongue), time of year, flavour and colour. The body is always talking!

When we’re out of balance, it’s going to show up in more than one way. When we learn to understand what the body is say, and what our emotions are related to, we can better make choices to help heal as opposed to sending us more off balance.

So, for example the Lung system shows up in our nose and our sense of smell, it shows up in our skin (rashes, colour, moister levels) as well as our immune system. The emotion associated with this system is grief or sadness but also inspiration and hope. It’s not uncommon for people to experience more lung system issues in the fall (allergies, more colds or flus) but also often people can experience breathing problems or skin eruptions with intense sadness.

The Heart system is the system most related to our mind and emotions such as anxiety or depression. Balance in this system is key in our ability to calm our mind and sleep well. When in balance we experience joy and love and anxiety and despair are more prominent when it is out of balance.

The digestive system (spleen/stomach/pancreas) aligns with excessive worry, pensiveness or overthinking when off balance, but gratitude and feelings of abundance are easier when in a balanced state. Our ability to digest well (feeling good after we eat and having healthy well-formed poop) is also part of this system.

The Kidney system is connected with our ears and hearing abilities. Our low back and knees health, our adrenal/stored energy reserves are all part of this system. The emotions associated with this system are fear or feeling overly timid but when healthy and abundant, one naturally has more courage and vigor. Making sure you get adequate rest and downtime, avoiding too many stimulants (coffee, sugar, stimulating environment or substances) is key to keeping this system balanced.

The Liver system oversees the circulation or flow of Qi (wise vital energy or life force) in the body and is said to be the governor of all emotions. Basically the general that makes sure everything is working smoothly.

This system gets out of balanced and taxed by stress, busyness and overwork. Frustration and anger are the byproducts of a blocked, stressed out system. A certain amount of anger is healthy and normal. Sometimes it’s the extra push we need to make a change or state a boundary. It’s just when we over express or under express anger that an imbalance or problem occur.

Signs this system are out of balance include things such as: headaches, pms, period cramps, circulation problems such as cold hands and feet, any pain or discomfort that gets worse with stress or heightened emotions.

Listed below are a few signs that your system is in or out of balance and some things you can do to help bring some clarity and balance back to your physical and emotional world.

These are some of the foundational principles of Chinese Medicine. Excerpts below are taken from the wonderful book ‘Rhythms of Change’ by Mary Saunders that we often recommend to people when they want to dive into Chinese Medicine a bit more..

Earth Phase: Spleen/Stomach/Pancreas system

Out of balance:

  • Weak digestion: nausea, poor appetite, loose stools, abdominal pain or bloating
  • Often tired, particularly after eating
  • Worried easily, obsessive thought, feelings of ‘not enough’
  • Overweight or overly thin
  • Has trouble with boundaries
  • Has trouble/gets sick in transition times (between seasons)
  • Feels worse in Damp humid climates


  • Strong healthy digestion and appetite
  • Feels good after eating
  • Healthy weight with good muscle tone
  • Able to set healthy boundaries and state needs
  • Satisfied with life and can nurture self and others
  • Practical, sympathetic and responsible


Life: This system loves touch and physical contact so lots of massages or caring hugs work wonders!, stretching, grounding rituals of helpful and being sure to balance mental work and physical exercise is key.

Foods: sweet vegetables and whole grains, warm cooked food, yellow and orange coloured vegetables (squash, carrots, sweet potato etc.)

Questions for reflection:

What do I need to feel nourished/supported/safe in this world?

What kind of nourishment do I need in this moment to satisfy my real need – Whole food, attention, silence, movement, touch, sleep, meditation, laughter?

Liver system out of balance:

  • Rigid, inflexible and stiff in body or mind/attitudes
  • Quick to anger, easily frustrated, negative or depressed
  • Timid and afraid to assert oneself or overly pushy and domineering
  • Shoulder or neck tension, occipital or temporal headaches, hormonal imbalances and PMS
  • Indecision or makes impulsive decision making
  • Things worse with stress, in the spring time
  • Doesn’t like windy environments

Liver balanced:

  • Flexible – body and tendons, mental attitude
  • Sense of inner purpose and vision for future
  • Adapts to change and moves forward in life
  • Stable hormones, mood and energy
  • Carefully assesses situations and calmly makes plans and decisions
  • In flow of life with minimal stress and tension

Nourishing Liver/Wood

Life: movement and physical exercise is paramount for this system to be balanced. Balance drive and work with adequate rest, creating a healthy vision and direction for life also essential

Food: greens, pungent foods (onion family, mints, dill etc.), raw or sprouted fresh foods, smaller meals avoiding heavy greasy foods and late night eating

Questions for reflection:

Do I have a strong vision for the future? Am I rigid in my plan or am I open to what comes and take action? Where could I loosen my grip? Where do I need more drive and focus for moving forward?

If you really relate to this system, read more about the stuck pattern here

Heart system out of balance:

  • Insomnia with trouble falling asleep
  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety or despair
  • A confused mind
  • Overheated easily, restless or cold and withdrawn
  • Poor circulation, very red or very pale face
  • Things worse in hot weather or in the summer

Heart in balance

  • Good circulation (warm hands and feet), healthy rosy complexion
  • Warm personality and able to sustain intimacy
  • Balances activity with restful sleep
  • Focused mind with clear thoughts and easily able to express self
  • Joyful, enthusiasm, play
  • Disciplined with good sense of humour

Nourishing Heart/Fire:

Life: Connection with oneself and others, staying open and avoiding closing off or becoming isolated, cultivating joy and connection to something greater (through nature, ritual, music etc.), using your voice and fully expressing

Foods: bitter tasting foods (bitter grains rye, amaranth, dandelion, rapini), mushrooms, if lacking vibrancy use pungent spices if over heated and anxious use cooling foods (cucumber, mint, chamomile etc.). Avoid stimulants like coffee or alcohol particularly before bed.

Reflection Questions:

Where do I find deep meaning and connection in my life? Where do I feel warmth, enthusiasm and love in my life? What brings me joy? What is connecting, meditative and calming for me?

Lung system out of balance

  • Frequently sick with coughs, colds or sore throats and takes a long time to heal and recover
  • Shortness of breath
  • Allergies or skin rashes
  • Dry skin or nose
  • Melancholy or excessive grief
  • Trouble keeping commitments, disorganized
  • Symptoms worsen in the fall or in dry weather

Lung in balance

  • Healthy balanced attachment –knowing when to hold on and when to let go
  • Skin glossy and bright fresh complexion
  • Physically active with strong voice and lungs
  • Good immune system, rarely ill and recovers quickly
  • Allows self to grieve completely before letting go
  • Strong inner values and highly principled living
  • Able to reflect inwardly
  • Inspired by beauty in all forms

Nourishing Lungs/Metal:

Life: Breathe!, lots of fresh air, exercise, working on boundaries (in self and respecting others), voice work or self expression

Foods: adequate protein, pungent foods (hot peppers, white pepper etc), radish, mushroom, sprouted vegetables and seeds, lower fat foods

Reflection Questions:

Where do I find inspiration in life? Where do I feel I add value to life/others? Is there something I need to grieve? Can I let go?

Kidney system out of Balance

  • Depletes self through over work, exercise, sex or stimulants
  • Low back, knee pain or weakness or bone/tooth problems
  • Decline in hearing, ear infections or hair loss
  • Premature aging, poor development in children, infertility
  • Excessively fearful or insecure
  • Lacks stamina, endurance or motivation
  • Symptoms worse in the winter or in cold weather

Kidney in balance

  • Able to manage energy and resources well and has deep reserves of energy
  • Has good endurance and concentration
  • Doesn’t fear solitude or going inward
  • Is courageous, calm and serene
  • Has healthy will and motivation to reach goals

Nourishing Kidney/Water:

Life: Balance between activity and rest (non-doing), adventure followed by stillness and reflection, strengthen lower back and core, curiosity, limit drama and fear based media and stimulation

Foods: varied diet, naturally salty foods (seaweeds, miso etc.), slower cooked foods, bean and legumes, healthy fats and butter, walnuts, almonds

Reflection Questions:

Do I over extend myself or push through? How do I recharge and rest? Am I curious? How do I express my creativity and purpose in life?

References: Mary Saunders – Rhythms of Change

Organs (yin/yang)Liver/GallbladderHeart/Small IntestineSpleen/StomachLung/Large IntestineKidney/Bladder
SeasonSpringSummerLate Summer/year round always activeFallWinter
ControlsFlow of Qi, detoxification circulation,Circulation,Assimilation Digestion


Respiration, EliminationReproduction, vitality and longevity, ,
TissueConnective tissue/tendonsBlood vesselsMuscles and fasciaSkin and hairBones and teeth
Emotional SpectrumAnger & frustration –Compassion kindness & forgivenessAnxiety/Mania, depression –Love/JoyWorry or pensiveness – satisfaction and gratitudeGrief/sadness- Courage, inspiration, hopeInsecurity Fear – calmness, equanimity & wisdom


Time of day11pm-3am11am=3pm7am-11am3am-7am3pm-7pm