The 6 Excesses and 7 Affects of Traditional Chinese Medicine
What Are The Six Excesses?
Those seasonal terms used to describe what you’re experiencing aren’t just based on how the weather looks outside the window that day. The Six Excesses are used to help visualize the actions of the pathogens within the body by comparing them to qualities of the weather. Just as the weather changes, so can the function and balance of our bodies.
Ever feel like that cold of flu just hit you out of nowhere? Much like a gust of wind passing by, illnesses described as wind in TCM often arrive suddenly. Wind conditions often affect the throat, head, and upper respiratory system and result in headaches, congestion, and lack of energy.
Think back on the last time you had a cold. In many cases, it tends to move from the sinuses as congestion and then evolve into the chest to become those icky wet coughs. This is all thanks to the wind illness’ ability to shift and change. The wind is one of the most powerful of the six affects, but not because of its symptoms. Wind conditions weaken your immune system, making it easier for you to become afflicted by additional affects. According to TCM, wind illnesses can signify a problem along the Liver meridian, which is a zone associated with that organ.
The last time you forgot your gloves on a cold day, your fingers probably became a little numb, stiff, and clumsy. This is how the excess of cold impacts the body. Cold slows movement and contracts the muscles. Circulation issues like blood stagnation can also occur, creating an imbalance in your body’s qi, or flow of energy.
This Excess tends to cause shivering and shakes, cramps and muscle spasms, or cold fingers and toes. Typically you can expect to see these symptoms occur in the lungs, muscles, and skin. As far as the meridians go for a deeper root for the illness, cold can influence several including the Stomach, Kidneys, and Spleen.
Imagine you’re stranded in the desert. No water, food, or a camel to help you escape. It’s just you, the sun, and the burning hot sand. Over time you’re likely to get really thirsty, develop a feverish sweat, and possibly become dizzy and confused.
The Excess of heat is basically like being in this scenario, just without the sand and camels. The body can become extremely dehydrated, causing a dazed and dizzy experience. Other symptoms include fever, irritation, inflammation, dark urine, constipation, coughing yellow phlegm, and pink or red eyes and face.
In ancient China, heat is deeply connected with the idea that a force of evil is injuring your body. The evil troubles your mind and attacks your body as a result.
Dryness is closely linked to heat, as its symptoms work as a continuation and evolution of the dehydration experienced there. Much like the season of autumn, dryness brings about a physical drought. You might have an intense depletion of natural bodily fluids, causing constipation, dry coughs and skin, and extreme thirst.
The difference between heat and dryness is the way in which the dehydration occurs. Heat “evaporates” your fluids by consequence of the body temperature. On the other hand, dryness sucks away your fluids due to a general lack of supply. Dryness attacks through the mouth and nose. Similar to viruses, it enters through those doors to reach the Lungs.
We all know what it’s like to get caught in the rain without an umbrella. The excess of dampness is true to the nature of its name. It makes you feel heavier and slower-moving, just like when your clothes are wet.
Symptoms of dampness tend to hang around for some time, as the condition is typically in no rush to “dry out”. If you live in a place with high humidity, frequent rain storms, you’re more likely to get a dampness condition. You may feel sluggish, and your urine may cloud as well. You may also develop sticky phlegm.
Don’t get it twisted, this type of heat is very different from the one mentioned above. Summer heat isn’t strongly related to internal causes of dehydration. Instead, it’s linked purely with getting too much sun, resulting in sunstroke or extreme insolation. If you live in a place with long days hot sun exposure, you’re more at risk to fall under the summer heat excess.
Symptoms of summer heat include feeling short of breath, dizzy, and disoriented. Some people might also feel nauseous and sweat excessively. While this excess isn’t directly linked to many internal issues, it can be extremely dangerous if left untreated.
What Are The Seven Affects?
What is known as the Seven Affects in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is actually just seven emotions. These include; joy, anger, anxiety, pensiveness, grief, fear, and fright.
TCM practitioners believe that emotions are one of the most powerful causes of internal imbalance of ‘qi’, leading to illness or disease. Qi is the term used to describe a person’s innate life force, or energy and is said to be connected to all aspects of life. There is chi in our bodies as well as in nature, such as the air, food, and water.
Ancient TCM text shows that certain organs in our bodies produce their own qis. These essential qis are linked to specific organs and emotions. For example, the Heart is connected to the emotions of joy and anger. On a daily basis, most people’s emotions won’t cause any physical disruptions. However, it’s said that strong emotions that become too powerful and chaotic can spark issues with the internal organs.
Joy is a good thing, right? You might think of children opening holiday gifts, seeing your favorite band perform, or going on a dream vacation. While all these experiences do spark feelings of joy, TCM practitioners caution against excessive joy.
Traditional Chinese medicine sees joy as the state of mania, over-excitement, or agitation rather than a sense of deep happiness. It’s believed that too much joy can cause the spirit to scatter and once your spirit is released, it can’t be contained again.
This affect links directly to the Heart. Too much stimulation from this emotion can disrupt balance in the Heart and cause symptoms like insomnia, mood swings, and agitation.
In the Western world, anger is commonly looked upon as an emotion that needs to be tamed. But from the Eastern perspective, being quick to get angry can cause more serious issues than just being the hothead of your friend group. TCM links anger with the emotional spectrum that includes irritability, resentment, frustration, and violence.
Anger is said to primarily affect the Liver and Gallbladder, the only yang organs associated with the Seven Affects. The elevated blood pressure levels trigger the anger affect and can create ungrounded rising qi in the Liver. From there, the energy from your liver can harass the Heart and move to the head and cause further problems. People suffering from the anger affect might experience dizziness, headaches, dangerously elevated blood pressure levels, and possible imbalance in the Stomach and Spleen.
Most of us have experienced an anxious moment at least once in our lives. Your heart might beat faster, hands sweat, your breath is shallow and irregular and thoughts race. Anxiety is equally tough on the body from the perspective of TCM. It blocks our vital qi energy, and it keeps it from flowing through the body smoothly.
The Heart is most impacted by this affect. If you’re suffering from the anxiety affect, it’s likely that you’ll experience palpitations and insomnia. Anxiety can also injure the Lungs, causing irregular breathing and a tendency toward respiratory illness.
In the Western world, the world pensive usually brings to mind a professor or philosopher quietly pondering big questions of the world. In the practice of TCM however, pensive more closely aligns with overthinking. When the brain is overstimulated and thoughts are running wild without processing, it can create extreme stress and disharmony. This affect can occur with activities such as studying too much, over-analyzing situations or relationships, and attempting to multi-task. If you live too much in your head and neglect your body, you can damage your Spleen as well,
Someone afflicted with the pensiveness affect might experience fatigue, trouble concentrating, worry, and lethargy. The Spleen is the organ linked to this affect and it’s believed that a deficiency in qi to this organ is what sparks that sense of worry.
Grief is a natural part of life as people and experiences we care about enter and leave our worlds over time. In Eastern medicine, grief is noted to actually be a healthy part of processing loss- up to a certain point. The emotional release of crying and deep breathing actually can help shift negative qi out of the body.
However, if the feelings of grief don’t resolve themselves, it can become a chronic affect that can create extreme disharmony. In TCM, grief is seen as being attached to the Lungs. Their ability to act naturally and circulated the qi around the body will become impaired when the grief affect comes into play. This can result in issues for the entire body.
Whether it’s jumping at the zombies in that horror film, screaming on the rollercoaster ride, or a more serious situation, fear is a natural emotion. TCM practitioners consider it one of the most important of the seven affects. Fear helps us recognize when a situation can be harmful and helps us adapt to our surroundings to keep us safe. However, if fear becomes a consistent or long-term experience then it can create intense disruptions in a person’s internal balance and wellbeing.
The Kidneys are most likely to suffer from this affect. When fear reaches the extremes, the functioning of the Kidneys become weak. Someone experiencing this affect may involuntarily urinate, become paranoid, antisocial, and have high blood pressure.
You might assume that this affect is the same thing as fear, but think again! While both fright and fear stem from feelings of terror and danger, fright appears much more suddenly than fear and attaches to actual, present dangers. Fear is more chronic and may not be attached to present threats. Fright also doesn’t attach itself to a particular organ. It can actually spread to the entire body if time allows it to persist.
Fright starts with the Heart. During the first stages, it can cause agitation and stress in the heart, destabilizing its energy. The Gallbladder is also connected to fright and can present as lack of courage. If fright continues for a good while, then it’ll move towards disrupting the Kidneys. This is because fright is the only one from the seven affects that can evolve into another. Extensive and long-lasting fright eventually transforms into fear, resulting in those symptoms and organ issues.