When we think about health and wellness we usually think about the things we need to do to keep our physical body healthy, such as exercising or eating well. Our physical body is intimately connected to our emotional and spiritual body and it’s impossible to separate the three. There are times in our life that our emotions can overwhelm us. If we experience a flood of emotions and it’s too much for our body to handle, we can develop physical signs and symptoms of illness.

In essence, we can literally make ourselves, “sick to our stomach.” Also, if there is an emotion that we are suppressing, it will eventually manifest in physical form as a reminder that this emotion needs to be healed. Therefore, treating our physical body for any ailment (such as a sick stomach) requires that we also consider treating the connected emotions and spirit of ourselves too.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, herbs, and other healing modalities are used to restore harmony to the body. There are a number of acupuncture points and herbs that focus on balancing our emotions and calming our spirit. TCM’s view of how our physical, emotional, and spiritual body is connected can be described using the Five Elements of nature: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each element relates to a certain organ system within our body and is responsible for a number of physiological functions.

The Five Elements

Wood is related to the Liver system. The Liver system stores blood in the body. It is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (energy) and Blood throughout the body. It regulates the secretion of bile and connects with the tendons, nails, lips, and eyes.

Fire is related to the Heart system. The Heart system regulates the heart, blood vessels, and circulation. It also regulates the pulse and influences our vitality and spirit. The heart system is intimately connected with our mind and our dreams.

Earth is related to the Spleen and Stomach. The Spleen and Stomach are in charge of digestion, the formation of Qi and Blood, the integrity of the blood vessels, and the nourishment of our muscles.

Metal is related to the Lung system. The Lung system controls respiration. It creates energy (Qi) from the air (oxygen) and distributes it throughout the entire body. It regulates the skin and controls sweat. The Lung system also protects our body from viruses and bacteria and controls our immune system.

Water is related to the Kidneys. The Kidney system is responsible for reproduction, growth, development, and maturation. The Kidney system also governs the bones, teeth, hair, and ears.

The Connection Between Our Emotions and Our Physical Signs & Symptoms

When the Wood (Liver) system is out of balance, one will feel anger, frustration, irritability, or depression. Physically, it will manifest as abdominal distention, nausea, bitter taste in the mouth, sighing, breast tenderness, blurred vision, floaters in the eyes, headaches or migraines, light-headedness, and/or dizziness.

When the Fire (Heart) system is out of balance, it will cause excessive, false joy (over-excitement, rather than elation) or lack of joy. Emotionally, one will feel mental restlessness, insomnia, confusion, anxiety, a tendency to be easily startled, a lack of enthusiasm, or despair. Physically, one might experience signs of insomnia, heart palpitations, an irregular heartbeat, vivid dreams, and/or poor memory and concentration.

When the Earth (Spleen/Stomach) system is out of balance, there will be a tendency towards anxiety, worry, and pensiveness. Physically, it will cause fatigue, poor digestion, loss of appetite, abdominal distention, loose stools or diarrhea, weak muscles, a tendency to bruise easily, heavy menstrual periods, and other bleeding disorders.

When the Metal (Lung) system is out of balance, one will experience sadness or grief. One will usually develop shortness of breath, oppression in the chest, fatigue, cough, propensity to catch colds, sore throat, loss of voice, sinus and bronchial issues, asthma, dry skin, and/or a pale complexion.

When the Water (Kidney) system is out of balance, one will experience fear and can lose his/her willpower and become isolated. Physical signs that develop include frequent urination, incontinence, night sweats, poor short-term memory, low back pain, sore or weak knees, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, hair loss or premature grey hair, osteoporosis, and low libido.

By being able to pinpoint the element that caused the imbalance and identify the pattern of disharmony it created, we are able to treat the root cause of the disease, address both physical and emotional complaints, and restore harmony to the entire body.

The Importance of Spirituality

Spiritual wellness means discovering a sense of meaningfulness in our lives and coming to know that we have a purpose and that we are here to fulfill it. Regular prayer and meditation are important factors in sustaining a healthy life. A wide variety of spiritual practices have been shown to help lower overall stress levels, which is one of the major risk factors for disease. Spiritual practices also provide a powerful way to maintain a positive outlook and help us successfully weather the trials of life.

How Exactly Do Prayer and Meditation Assist in Our Healing?

  • The relaxation response – prayer and meditation can elicit something called “the relaxation response.” This response can lower our blood pressure, regulate our heartbeat and smooth our respiration.
  • Secondary control – prayer releases control to something greater than ourselves, which can reduce the stress of needing to be in charge.
  • The placebo response – prayer can enhance our hopes and expectations, and that in turn can positively impact our health.
  • Healing presence – prayer can bring us a sense of God’s presence and make us feel aligned in the universe.
  • Positive feelings – prayer and meditation can bring forth feelings of peace, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and hope… all of which are associated with healing and wellness.
  • Mind-body-spirit connection – prayer can uplift us emotionally and release endorphins in our blood. Endorphins inhibit the transmission of pain signals and can elicit a sense of euphoria.

According to the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University, “A large volume of research shows that people who are religious and/or spiritual have better mental health and adapt more quickly to health problems compared to those who are less religious and/or spiritual. The benefits to mental health and well-being have physiological consequences that impact physical health, affect the risk of disease, and influence a positive response to treatment.”