Butterflies in your belly, a broken heart, your gut instinct… Most everyone can relate to these “emotions” but very few of us actually stop to think about why a certain part of our body will respond when we are faced with fear, anger and sadness. As I work every day with clients who come to me for dysfunctions through the belly I find more and more that the root cause of many of our overall health, digestive and fertility issues, and the associated referring body pain, stems from negative emotional patterns that have caused a redirection of positive functioning (whew). But, how and why does something you can’t see, taste or smell become ingested into the system causing a dysfunction in you organ health?
We all now know that stress management is one of the key players in maintaining health and vitality; fortunately allopathic and integrative communities fully agree on this point. But, why? Stress is a broad term for the emotions life dishes to us that we tend to stuff down to be –now bear with me here- emotionally digested. And, just like the food we eat, the organs are responsible for the orchestra that breaks down, absorbs and releases the ingestion of these negative emotions. Our organs are composed of delicate tissues and cells that respond to energy as their life source. They are fascinating in their capacity to protect us from harmful substances but over time, excess emotional strain, or negative energy, will cause a withering of their spirit just like it will yours.
For centuries (and beyond), the Chinese have healed disease based on the emotional functioning of each unique organ. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) organ health correlates to an emotion and will express that emotion with vitality, or with disease, depending on the emotional health of the individual. Acupuncture, bodywork, balancing foods and herbs are used to directly target the energy meridian of each organ to nourish, unblock and redirect energy.
The belly shows the most obvious correlation between an unhappy organ and our health. For instance an “angry” liver will not filter properly causing hormone imbalances and digestive issues. This brings me back to the “stress in relation to disease” component that the whole medical community is now looking at. We must address the entire picture, look at every factor and treat the whole person to see where the true emotional indigestion and dysfunction is taking place. Once identified there are some simple ways to bring the positive flow back to your body so true healing can begin.
Here is a little 101 on your optimal organ health
Let’s have a little heart to heart: The heart contains our fire for life. It expresses compassion, love and joy for the world around us. An imbalance in, or sudden tragedy that affects the positive aspects of the heart will cause “heart ache” and if not nurtured will create the opposite emotions of cruelty, impatience, anxious thoughts, thoughtlessness and bitterness. Longer term hardening of the heart will actually lead to, well, hardening of the heart- diseases like atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and heart attacks.
- ~Happy Heart: The best ways to repair a broken heart are to begin practices of love, calmness and kindness in your everyday life. The philosophy of “it’s better to give than receive” is a heart life line. Herbs and herbal foods that support calming the nerves and nourishing the heart muscle are: Oat straw, chamomile, catnip, valerian, reishi mushroom, light green juices.
Just breathe. The lungs are the heart’s partner in circulating nutrients and oxygen to the body. When balanced the lungs express the emotions of courage, forgiveness, solidity and purity. Think of the energy you feel on an autumn day when you take the first deep breathe of crisp clean air- that is lung energy. (Autumn is the time of the lung according to TCM) Now, think of when you have deep sadness, grief and a sense of loss; your lungs feel heavy and taking a “breath of life” is strained. Chronically grief stricken people will sometimes take on a slumped posture as if shutting down the desire to “puff out the chest” in strength and courage. Without enough fresh full breath in our lungs they will collect excess mucus and congestion leading to asthma, colds, allergies and chronic bronchial problems.
- ~Happy Lungs: So, it seems a bit obvious that taking time to restore full and open breathing techniques daily will greatly help these emotional and physical conditions. Addressing deep grief and resentments will also open your lung energy. Herbs and herbal foods that nourish the lungs: All seaweeds and algaes, cayenne, radishes, garlic, nettle, marshmallow root, sage, ginger and licorice (not the candy).
Calling Poison Control: The liver filters, purifies, produces and stores. With so many passageways the liver is highly susceptible to clogging and being one of the most direct links to poor health and disease. Liver harmony reflects a calm, centered and focused energy, shiny hair, clear eyes, skin and a balance of monthly hormonal rhythms. When the liver becomes clogged and inflamed it mimics those emotions of hot anger, stagnant energy and emotional outbursts. These symptoms are felt and seen in skin problems, hot-bad breath, hormonal fluctuations, night sweats, yellowish and cloudy eyes, poor digestion and the list continues. The majority of us have some clogging of our liver due to the amount of environmental and emotional stress we consume daily.
- ~Happy Liver: Stress management and a clean, balanced diet are key to taming an angry liver. Adding a cup of simple hot lemon water to your morning ritual is a great way to give the liver a quick cleanse. Fresh fruits and vegetables in balance with proper protein and amino acids is the best way to keep the liver healthy. There are some amazing liver cleansing herbs that are very effective but should be not be relied upon as a daily supplement long term and I recommend working with someone who can help guide you.
Listen to your gut: Made of your small and large intestines It is a brilliant organ- literally- as it is our second brain producing 90% of our serotonin, housing 70% of our immune system and, if you cut off your head (don’t try this) it would continue to function on its own. When your body is under stress the gut is one of the first systems to shut down its processes in preparation to fight. Its main role is to absorb nutrients and eliminate the garbage. Gut function is a true sign of total health. Dysfunction of the gut hosts an ever growing list of disease and discomfort that I won’t get into here as it deserves its own platform. Emotionally when this system is in order you are grounded, stable and have a deep energy and vitality. The gut is highly susceptible to stress due to its permeable nature and many hormone functions. If the guts are “holding on too tight” then a person with gut imbalance will also hold on too tight and appear constantly anxious, highly agitated, overprotective and possibly over talkative.
- ~Happy Gut: Ways to calm and heal the gut are vast and depend on each person. However, homemade bone broths are very soothing and nourishing to all. Herbs such as marshmallow, slippery elm, licorice and aloe vera juice are very calming and supportive of digestion. As you begin to heal, probiotics, HCL (acid) and digestive enzymes can be very beneficial to get you to a stable point. My motto “heal the gut, heal your hormones, health and happiness”.
Go with the flow: The kidneys are our internal waterway system managing electrolytes and maintaining a balance of yin/yang-water/fire. The health of our kidneys may very well determine the health of every other function of our being as they house our chi energy (aka vitality for life). Water is graceful yet powerful and without water energy everything will cease to grow. A healthy kidney person is calm with a great presence and strength. Dysfunction of the kidneys is physically expressed mostly through extreme fatigue, foggy thinking, hormonal imbalances, kidney stones and bladder issues. Chronic fear and paranoia will manifest in kidney dysfunction which is why a sudden fright or trauma can cause loss of bladder control.
- ~Happy Kidney: To nourish the kidneys reduce stress (this is a theme), stay hydrated with lemon water, maintain adequate sodium levels, no caffeine, pure cranberry, grapefruit, sea vegetables and algaes.
Churn and Burn: The stomach along with the pancreas produces a harmony of enzymes and acids that are in charge of preparing what we ingest for transport and absorption through the rest of the body. It can hold up to 1.5 quarts of food where it will keep it for 4-6 hours before emptying into the small intestine. Considering what the average person ingests emotionally and physically the stomach has to be a powerhouse of activity to churn through all of it. An emotionally healthy stomach will be expressed in a sense of being centered, grounded, open-minded and sociable. Dysfunction in the stomach will manifest in a feeling of being bloated physically and in personality, being disconnected from your sense of self and grasping for control. It really is the first line of defense for what we ingest so if you are ingesting chaotic foods and emotions then that is what you will become.
- ~Happy Tummy: The stomach is highly acidic and needs to be to break down our food. Stress can deplete our acid levels so supplementing with a high quality digestive enzyme containing HCL (Hydrochloric acid) will greatly increase digestive function. Simple herbs and foods like good old peppermint, licorice, fennel and ginger will sooth digestion and bloating.
Creative Juices Flowin: Our sex organs, mainly the uterus and prostate, may well be different in some function, shape and size but they have one major thing in common- they want to create. Our creative force is greatly diminished when there is sexual and reproductive dysfunction. Painful menses, painful intercourse and fertility challenges limit a woman’s sense of being able to feel open, sensual and creative. Where erectile dysfunction (ED) and painful urination will limit a man’s sense of, well, being manly (define as you wish). Low libido is the first obvious sign of dysfunction expressed by both sexes and the body’s way of saying that stressors have disrupted proper hormone function. With fertility challenges on the rise for all ages we must take a more honest look at the lifestyle piece of the puzzle. Although popular belief is that PMS and ED are just “a part of life”, a healthy system will not express itself in pain and swelling- or lack thereof.
- ~Happy…: Dance and move those hips. Seed cycling! Pumpkin seeds for men and sunflower/sesame and flax/pumpkin for women. There are so many herbs for helping to harmonize hormones for both men and women but require the guidance of a practitioner. However, these herbs/foods are great for all in “revving the engine” and keeping things fluid: Ginseng (Siberian for men, Panax for women), nettle, damiana, maca, red raspberry, ginger, licorice and connection ;).
The Orchestra: Since the entire system relies on each component, nourishing the whole body with whole unprocessed and mostly organic foods is vital. Avoiding or limiting, caffeine, sugars, alcohol, wheat, dairy and processed foods can almost immediately bring relief. Abdominal massage techniques such as Maya Abdominal Massage, Chi Nei Tsang and Visceral Manipulation can unblock pathways to allow nourishing blood, chi and oxygen reach each organ to unblock emotional and physical dysfunction, increase vitality and maintain proper positioning.
Suggested Literature and References:
- Understanding the Messages of Your Body: How to Interpret Physical and Emotional Signals to Achieve Optimal Health
- Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition (3rd Edition)
- Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family
All of the herbs (herbal foods) I mention I have personally used and I consider more food based than for supplemental use. See disclaimers.