The Seven Emotions

            The seven emotions described in Chinese medicine are of great concern because they can disrupt a person’s qi dynamic and potentially disturb the shen. This disruption can be detrimental to an individual as he progresses through the various phases in life. If emotions are not processed in a healthy manner, they can often lead to mood disorders or other mental-emotional illnesses.

            In classical times, Daoism and Confucianism contemplated this aspect of the human experience because it greatly affected the development of an individual - as they continually were striving for self-realization. Chapter one of the Neijing reads:

            “There were the sages. They lived in harmony with heaven and earth and they followed the patterns of the eight winds. They accommodated their cravings and their desires within the world and the common and their heart knew no anger… Externally, they did not tax their physical appearance with any affairs; internally, they did not suffer from any pondering. They made every effort to achieve peaceful relaxation and they considered self-realization as success… There were the exemplary men. They took heaven as law and the earth as rule; their appearance resembled sun and moon… They distinguished among the four seasons… they acted in complete union with the Way.”[1]

            In this section we see that the sages were not disturbed by their emotions and their hearts remained clear. They managed their cravings and desires, keeping their Hearts free of disturbing emotions. They followed the ways of the Dao and did not dwell in the mind, but lived from the heart.

            There are many manifestations of emotions. There are those that are sourced from lowly aspects of the ego, some from the suffering of the human Heart, as well as some that are derived from aspects of our highest nature.[2] In Chinese cosmology, these are derived from the realms of Earth, Humanity, and Heaven. When a person is solely concerned with the self and one’s own needs, the associated emotions primarily arise from the lower ego-body. These earthly emotions can pull a person downward, weighing heavily upon the Heart and obscuring its numinous light from guiding an individual through life. These are yin emotions which prevent an individual from expressing his highest nature, or tian xing 天性.[3]

            Tian Xing can also be translated as true nature, heavenly nature, higher self, or even celestial character. It is that aspect of our spirit that is in constant resonance with the subtle realms of heaven. This is not to be confused with any religious connotation, but better understood within the context of classical Chinese cosmology. A person’s heavenly nature is forever a part of his spirit, even in times of emotional upheaval or misdirection. When a person is mentally or emotionally “lost” and “off-center,” there remains a part of them that is still in line with the natural course of nature and the greater universe. In the teachings of Wang Feng Yi, the tian xing is the highest manifestation of self, as expressed through the sovereign Heart. Thus, when the heart remains clear of yin emotions, a person is able to remain connected to his true nature and remain centered within his universe.

            We will see further on that these references to the realm of the Heart are also reflected in many of the classical pathologies of the Qi Jing Ba Mai. Emotions can overwhelm the qi dynamic of an individual, potentially leading to chronic imbalances of the spirit as well as having systemic affects on the physical body and tissues. The influences of the emotions are primary contributing factors to the emotional distress experienced by people today. This can present in the clinics as chronic pain or perhaps even heartache.

            Ancient people recognized that humans and other animals hold an extraordinary quality of life within them, different from the inanimate world. They possessed a certain vitality, animation, and brilliant expression of consciousness. This spirit, Shen, exists because of the united life forces of yin and yang in the universe. The spirit, mind, and body are fully integrated and exist as a reflection of the universe. When treating the body, we are also treating the spirit. When treating the emotional body, we are affecting the physical realm as well. There is an emotional component to all physical stimuli, just as there is a physical response to psychological stimuli.[4] Therefore, in practice, it is necessary to consider both the physical and structural components of the Eight Extras as well as the underlying psychology and emotions of a patient to fully address the root conditions being presented before us.

            Shen (神) is an expression of the five spirits, associated with the five zang organs. These are the Zhi 志, Hun 魂, Shen 神, Yi 意, and Po 魄, related to the Kidney, Liver, Heart, Spleen, and Lung, respectively. These spirits are also greatly influenced by the emotions. The ancient Chinese recognized seven basic emotions, each of which is associated with a specific 5-element phase, organ, and associated spirit. These are fear, fright, anger, joy, overthinking, grief, and anguish.

            The seven emotions are natural movements of qi within the body. They can make the qi rise, knot, sink, dissolve, scatter, or stagnate. When emotions become excessive, they can harm the spirits and harm the zang organs. Excessive emotions also affect the flow of the meridians. Chronic conditions of emotional distress will ultimately affect the Shen as well as the pathways of the Eight Extras. Chapter 4 will go into greater detail about the dynamics of the seven emotions. Chapter 3 will clarify the psychological connections of the Eight Extras and this next chapter will examine the underlying structure, gesture, and function of the Qi Jing Ba Mai within the body along with the common associated pathologies.


[1] Unschuld, p.44

[2] Wang Feng Yi Retreat, 2012

[3] ibid.

[4] Kendall, p.111