The Virtue of Grief: Life Lessons from a Powerful Human Emotion

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Every human emotion provides a unique message that helps us learn about ourselves and others. Emotional intelligence comes from managing our wide spectrum of emotions and harnessing their respective power. 

The problem is that most of us have been taught to value certain emotions more than others. Joy is considered a "good" emotion while anger and sadness are often considered "bad" emotions. Since "good" emotions are more acceptable, I believe many of us feel shame or self-doubt around fully expressing the "bad" emotions. This leads us to suppress these feelings, which can exacerbate the emotional upheaval internally and cause damage to the corresponding organ system with which the emotion is associated.

Grief is one of the most difficult emotions to process, but when properly transformed, it can provide powerful life lessons that can propel you to grow immensely on your path of self-cultivation.

Grief is the path to heal past wounds and arrive more fully into your authentic self.

Grief is the path to heal past wounds and arrive more fully into your authentic self.

The Emotions According to Chinese Medicine

Huang Di Nei Jing, a foremost classical Chinese medical text, defines seven emotions as major internal causes of disease. These emotions are joy, anger, fear, fright, anxiety, pensiveness and grief. We all experience all these emotions but when any one of them become excessive or are not properly transformed, they can damage their respective organ systems.

It's important to note that all emotions have the potential to negatively impact your health, including the ones we often deem as positive, such as joy. According to Chinese Medicine, over-joy can be likened to anxiety, which is an emotion with which many of us are familiar. Anxiety has the potential to aggravate the Heart and Pericardium system, or Fire element.

Other emotions can also cause damage when chronic or in excess. Worry, or pensiveness, leads to obsession and can damage the Spleen and Stomach system, or Earth element. Anger can turn to rage and damage the Liver and Gallbladder system, or Wood element. Sadness can turn to chronic grief and damage the Lungs and Large Intestine system, or Metal element.

Organ systems are particularly vulnerable during their respective seasons. The Liver and Gallbladder are for instance most vulnerable during the Wood season of Spring, while the Lungs and Large Intestine are most susceptible to harm during the Metal season of Autumn. Consequently, you're more likely to feel the imbalanced emotion of each element during its respective season. In other words, it's common to feel angry or irritable during springtime while sadness is a common emotion during the Fall season.

Sadness and grief are the emotions associated with an imbalance in the Lung and Large Intestine system, and thus the Metal element, which is most active during the Fall season.

When we learn to properly transform grief, not only can it help us develop a greater capacity emotionally, but it can also help us deepen our self-awareness and self-cultivation.

 

Grief and the Lungs

Grief is the unbalanced emotion related to the Metal element, which encompasses the Lungs and Large Intestine, as well as the skin.

Grief directly impacts the Lungs and overwhelms our ability to let go, which is the virtue of the Lungs in their balanced state.

Your lungs are part of the respiratory system, and they provide a connection between your external and internal worlds through the breath. Inhalation draws in fresh oxygen and Qi, or energy, while exhalation helps you let go of toxins. 

The Lungs' natural movement is to disperse and descend Qi.

The Lungs disperse, or spread, the body fluids as well as the Wei Qi, the defensive Qi that runs on the surface of the skin to protect you during the day and travels into the body to help you sleep at night. This ensures that Wei Qi is equally distributed under the skin and to the muscles to warm and moisten the skin, allowing for a normal amount of sweating, and to protect the body from external pathogens that can cause colds, flus and skin problems (see more about this in a previous article).

As the uppermost organ, the Lungs also descend Qi to communicate with the Kidneys, which are said to 'grasp' the Qi of the Lungs. This allows for deep breathing. The Lungs also direct body fluids downward to Kidneys and Bladder. Dysfunction in the communication between the Lungs and Kidneys can result in wheezing and asthma or accumulation of fluids either from the failure of the Lungs to descend the Qi or weakness in the Kidneys that prevent the grasping of the Lung Qi.

Dealing with grief weakens your Qi, which then demands that you slow down and turn inward to process the depths of your emotional state.

Dealing with grief weakens your Qi, which then demands that you slow down and turn inward to process the depths of your emotional state.

The Virtue of Grief

Grief weakens the Lung Qi and inhibits the natural ability of the Lungs to disperse Qi, thereby preventing the Lungs from letting go and extending your energy out into the world.

Grief also impairs the Lungs' ability to descend Qi into the Kidneys, which can further weaken the Kidneys. As a result, when faced with tragedy such as death or other loss, you may feel isolated and vulnerable.

Since grief directly impacts the Lungs, it's common to have Lung problems develop after a loss, including asthma, cough, and even pneumonia.

Dealing with grief can be draining and weakens your Qi, which then demands that you slow down and turn inward to process the depths of your emotional state.

Turning inward allows you to consolidate your Kidney Qi, which supports the Lung Qi, governs Willpower and holds the Life Gate Fire known as the Ming Men that stokes all of the body's energy.

Turning inward and slowing down is thus essential for the Lungs to regain the strength necessary to help you let go and express yourself in the world once again.

It's therefore necessary to have a hibernation period to build back your energy and process your grief.

The best time to do this is during the slow, Yin seasons of Fall and Winter, which are the seasons of the Lungs and Kidneys, respectively.

Grief can be particularly challenging to process because it stirs up the regrets, insecurities and unresolved issues of your past.

Grief is the path to heal past wounds.

Left alone, the wounds of your past become more and more painful and inhibit you from living a fulfilled life.

These unhealed wounds can be likened to what author Michael Singer calls "inner thorns" in his book, The Untethered Soul. Singer explains that these "thorns" are sensitivities that lie in the human heart. When something touches these thorns, we feel pain deep inside.

Singer says that you have two choices to deal with these inner thorns. You can either compensate for being disturbed by avoiding feeling the thorn, or you can remove the thorn and not have the focus of your life revolve around it. To remove the thorn, he says that you must "look deep within yourself, to the core of your being, and decide that you don't want the weakest part of you running your life" (Singer 81).

When you avoid or compensate for your emotions, they become the inner thorns that manifest into your greatest blocks.

When you instead take time to process your grief, it'll guide you to insights that help you heal your inner thorns; your deepest wounds from the past.

Through this healing, you’ll cultivate a more grounded connection to yourself.

 

Conclusion

If you don't process grief, it ferments in your body-mind and later manifests as more severe, chronic emotions such as depression and even rage.

Like every emotion, the full expression of grief is the process by which it's brought to the surface to heal.

When you catch a cold, your body attempts to clear it through your orifices with symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Similarly, the body needs to process an overwhelming loss through the expression of emotions, including grief, which must be felt and experienced fully to transform and clear from the body.

Loss is a natural part of life, and we're all grieving something most of the time, whether it's the loss of a loved one, a career change, a move, a breakup, or the simple inner transformations that can occur daily.

Every change in your life, whether positive or negative, can stir up grief about what you're leaving behind. Every change therefore has the potential to offer new wisdom and insights through the virtue of grief. When you allow this grief to transport you to the depths of your heart, you can hear the lessons of your past, let go, and regain the strength and clarity to more fully experience your authentic self.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com


Breathe Deeply,  Fall Into a More Mindful Way of Life

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

leaves-1051937_1920.jpg

With the Fall Equinox on September 22nd, we arrive fully into the season of Metal, which according to the Five Elements of Chinese Medicine is associated with the Lungs and Large Intestine organs.

It's therefore imperative that we focus on our Lung health this season, and especially during the seasonal transition when Lung Qi is most vulnerable.

The Lungs govern the circulation of Qi throughout the body and support us to breathe deeply.

When Lung Qi is weak, symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, allergies and even asthma can manifest. Having strong Lung Qi also provides the force to stimulate Large Intestine peristalsis to maintain healthy bowel function.

Since the Lungs receive their fluids from the Spleen, which is responsible for the production of fluids, an imbalance in the Spleen system may result in either dryness or dampness of the Lungs.

The Fall season relates more to dryness as we often notice more dry skin during this time of year. When the Lungs are too dry, the skin will also lack moisture as the skin is an expression of the Lungs in Chinese Medicine.

Strong Lung Qi provides us with greater endurance and stamina and supports us to take more full, conscious breaths.

Conscious breathing allows us to be more present and helps us cultivate a sense of mindfulness - breath by breath and moment to moment.

One essential way to strengthen your Lungs is through regular exercise. This doesn't have to be running marathons or climbing steep mountains, but a simple daily walk is a great way to keep your Lungs strong and vital.

The Metal energy is also strengthened by the Earth energy which is related to Spleen Qi in Chinese Medicine. Earth energy is weakened by too much sitting, so when you sit too much both the Spleen and Lung Qi are compromised and the ability to create energy in your body will decline. Over time, your stamina and endurance will suffer and fatigue will become more prevalent in your life.

So go out and take a walk, hike or ride your bike not only to boost your Lung Qi and help you breathe more deeply, but also to enjoy all the lovely colors that manifest in nature during this time of year.

And with the mindfulness that you'll cultivate by taking deeper breaths, you'll find an even deeper state of presence to enjoy all the changes of this beautiful new season.

Are You Leaking Qi? How to Preserve Your Essence to Slow Down the Aging Process

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Leaking Qi, or energy, describes the body’s inability to consolidate and hold in any type of fluid substance in the body. Leaking Qi is common because it relates to many different types of conditions.

In order to describe the different types of leakages, I will begin by describing the three divisions of the body according to Classical Chinese Medicine. These divisions are called burners, heaters, or energy centers and are associated in Chinese Medicine with the Triple Heater organ system. 

 

The Triple Heater System

The Triple Heater, also referred to as the Triple Burner, is called in Chinese Medicine San Jiao, meaning three warmers.

According to Chinese Medicine, the Triple Heater system is an organ but it has no form. This is a system that essentially coordinates the organ functions of the body held within these three energetic centers and is responsible for maintaining overall metabolism within the body.

Imbalances in the Triple Heater system can lead to leakage of Qi that can then cause damage to the fluids and essence of the body. 

The three energetic centers controlled by the Triple Heater are the lower abdomen (called the lower heater or Lower Jiao), the middle abdomen (called the middle heater or Middle Jiao) and the chest (called the upper heater or Upper Jiao). 

The Lower Jiao located in the pelvic basin contains the genitourinary system responsible for reproduction and elimination. The Middle Jiao contains the organs of digestion, including the Spleen, Stomach, Pancreas and Small Intestine, and controls digestion and absorption of nutrients. The Upper Jiao contains the Heart, which controls circulation, and the Lungs, which control respiration.

It is through the action of these systems that fluid dynamics are maintained in the body. Depending on the type of leakage one may be experiencing, we can determine what heater, or Jiao, is out of balance and needs support.

Excess Sweating as a Form of Leaking Qi

Sweating easily or excessively is often associated with a weakness in the Upper and Middle Jiao. Sweating too easily is often due to the Qi of the Lungs being too weak to control the skin function to properly contain fluids. A weakness of the Lungs is often concurrent with a weakness of the Spleen since the Spleen supports the health of the Lungs. For example, if the Spleen is weak and overly damp due to a diet high in carbohydrates, sugar and dairy, then the Lung function will suffer and a person may tend to sweat too easily with or without exertion.

Sweating due to hot flashes is a different situation and is related to weakness in the Kidneys and Lower Jiao. Excessive sweating that occurs with hot flashes is usually a hormonal imbalance related to hyperactive adrenal glands and dryness of the sexual organs due to a depletion of Yin fluids. Lack of Yin fluids, coupled with hyperactivity of the adrenals that are trying to produce more Yin as the ovaries decline, generates a deficiency heat which induces sweating. Correction of this type of sweating is different than the Lung Qi weakness issue as it requires nourishment of Kidney Yin to relax the adrenals.

Both of these situations involving excess sweating and the leakage of Qi. If left uncorrected, leakage of Qi will damage one’s Constitutional Essence and accelerate aging.

 

Dietary Tips to Strengthen the Lungs and Reduce Excessive Sweating

From a dietary standpoint, for a weakness of Lung Qi causing excessive sweating, the use of compact fruits eaten on a daily basis are helpful to strengthen the Lung energy.

Compact fruits, including apples, pears, Asian pears, persimmons and quince tonify Lung Qi in Chinese Medicine.

Stewed pears and apples are especially nourishing to the Lungs but be aware that too much can lead to phlegm in the Lungs. For example, if a person has a lot of sinus congestion, eating these foods can exacerbate this condition.

Japanese persimmons are more useful to help stop sweating than Chinese persimmons. Japanese persimmons are higher in tannins which gives them a strong astringency affect on the body to deal with profuse sweating and prevent leakage of Qi.

Citrus fruits are also effective for tonifying Lung Qi.

Citrus is hydrating and high in vitamin C to boost the immune system. More sour citrus fruits are better astringents to stop sweating that causes leaking Qi.

Though lemon and lime are highly concentrated in citric acid, once ingested, they become alkalizing to your body and help balance an acidic terrain so they have a cooling affect on the body.

Too much citrus, however, will induce the opposite effect and induce heat. For example, drinking a lot of orange juice is not a healthy habit as it creates a lot of damp heat in the body in the form of excessive mucous which can then lead to sinus and ear infections over time. Consumption of orange juice during acute infection can cause chronic infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

Overall, since citrus, including oranges, produce a lot of fluid, they are especially good for dryness, but excess consumption can induce phlegm very easily when a person has a lot of dampness.

Infusing or steeping citrus peels in water is an especially effective way to support astringency without inducing the dampness that easily develops from drinking the juice.

Citrus peels are also used to produce essential oils. In Chinese Medicine, citrus oils help regulate Qi to reduce epigastric distention and bloating. These oils can simply be rubbed on the belly for immediate benefit.

Citrus essential oils contain a chemical called limonene, which has a plethora of potent health benefits. Limonene (also called d-limonene) makes up over 90% of orange oil and is found in citrus peels. It helps aid digestion for problems such as acid reflux. Limonene also helps support elimination by reducing sluggish bowel movements especially when Candida is involved. It's also been shown to help reduce cholesterol and improve Gallbladder function to improve bile flow and support fat digestion. In addition, limonene has been found to be helpful for weight loss as it suppresses appetite and regulates blood sugar. 

 

Leaking Qi and the Middle Jiao

Leakage of Qi as it relates to the Middle Jiao, or middle burner, involves how the Spleen is managing blood. In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen’s Qi is responsible for containing the blood in the vessels. A person who bruises or hemorrhages easily likely has a weakness of the Spleen Qi. 

Hemorrhaging can be associated with many conditions so a proper diagnosis is required to establish an accurate treatment protocol. With that said, hemorrhaging can occur in many ways. Hemorrhaging can include mid cycle breakthrough bleeding during menses, excessive menstrual bleeding with long periods, frequent nosebleeds, and can be as serious as gastric or intestinal bleeding or stroke involving bleeding in the brain. 

The saying “Spleen Qi manages the blood” means that the Spleen keeps blood from leaking out of the vessels. Thus, varicosities are associated with weakness of Spleen Qi as well and if there is also edema in the legs due to venous insufficiency, the Kidney Qi may also need support.

Here are a few Western and Eastern herbs commonly used for the purpose of reducing leg edema and varicose veins: 

  • Butcher’s Broom is an evergreen shrub known to contain phytochemicals that are both anti-inflammatory and astringent to tighten up blood vessels and strengthen capillaries as well as reduce edema. Butcher’s Broom is also a folk remedy for hemorrhoids, another form of leakage of Qi due to a lack of vascular integrity,

  • Chestnuts are good for strengthening the vascular system as well and Horse Chestnut seed extract has been known to be especially effective as a vascular anti-inflammatory and to strengthen weak veins and capillaries causing edema due to vascular insufficiency.

  • *Gotu Kola is an Asian herb that has been successfully used to reduce edema and poor circulation leading to varicosities. Studies have also found Gotu Kola to be regenerative to the brain by supporting neuron growth.

  • Gingko Biloba is another super herbal supplement to improve circulation in the brain and strengthen vascular integrity for the treatment of varicose veins which is a common type of leakage of Qi.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, these herbs strengthen the vascular system and therefore also strengthen Spleen Qi. Herbs that reduce edema in the legs also strengthen Kidney Qi.

A simple dietary tip in Chinese Medicine for weakness of the Kidneys is to eat both toasted and raw sesame seeds as well as pumpkin seeds. And if a person is not urinating completely and this leads to edema, eat the sesame seeds with cucumber. This needs to be eaten at every meal of the day so it’s a big part of one’s diet.

 

Leaking Qi and the Lower Jiao

Incontinence is a common form of leakage of Qi that relates to the Lower Jiao, or lower heater. Getting up during the night to urinate is also a form of leaking Qi related to the Lower Jiao, and is due to deficiency of Kidney Qi.

Acupuncture is highly effective to improve incontinence.

Some of the most useful herbs in Chinese pharmacopeia that treat incontinence are commonly used in cooking. Many of these Chinese herbs are seeds, including lotus seed (Lian Zi), Astragali seed (Sha Yuan Zi), Euryales seed (Qian Shi) and Cherokee Rose Hip fruit (Jin Ying Zi).

From a dietary standpoint, seeds are important to strengthen the Kidneys. The primary seeds that target the Lower Jiao and the Kidneys are pumpkins seeds and sesame seeds. Small amounts should be eaten 3-5 times per day.

In general, foods that are high in zinc strengthen the Kidney system. Zinc is essential for the health of the prostate, which is part of the Kidney genitourinary system in Chinese Medicine. Foods highest in zinc are oysters, lamb, pork and grass fed beef. Toasted wheat germ, pumpkin and squash seeds are also potent food sources of zinc.

 

Conclusion

Leaking Qi is common and while challenging to one's health, it can usually be resolved with proper treatment and dietary modifications. Preventing the leakage of Qi is essential not only to have healthy levels of energy, but also to maintain one's constitutional Essence in order to slow down the aging process to achieve optimal health and longevity.


*I’ve used Gotu Kola with my 91 year old father who has moderate level dementia, swollen ankles and poor kidney function. After a few months of taking Gotu Kola twice daily, his mind is clearly working better, his ankle edema has reduced and his recent blood test showed his kidney function has improved. He is much more mentally alert and present than before he started Gotu Kola.


Please note: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and not intended for diagnosis or treatment. Please contact a licensed health provider for lifestyle, dietary and herbal recommendations specific to your condition.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, PhD, L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.