Whether it’s anger, fear, grief, or sadness, difficult emotions are uncomfortable and often painful. So much so that many of us have learned to avoid feeling them altogether. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they just go away.
According to Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), emotions that aren’t properly processed become stored in the body—clogging up the flow of vital energy, known as qi, through the body’s invisible network of meridians (channels).
Qi (pronounced “chi”) is believed to regulate balance throughout the body and mind. When qi is flowing smoothly through the meridians, the body is believed to be in balance and free of disease; however, any disruption in the flow of energy can lead to mental, emotional, and physical imbalances. Left unchecked the blocked qi is believed to be the source of many health conditions, which is why much of Chinese medicine is aimed at restoring and maintaining a healthy balance and flow of energy through the body.
The good news is that with a small understanding of the Chinese meridian system you can use acupressure to help release stagnant emotional energy and rebalance your inner qi. Self-care in the form of self-massage? Yes, please!
The Chinese Meridian System
There are twelve main meridians in TCM, each corresponding to a major organ, and eight secondary meridians. Together they form an interconnected network of energy channels running throughout the entire body. Over 400 acupuncture points have been mapped onto the meridian system. Acupuncture and acupressure are said to stimulate these points, releasing stagnant energy and restoring a healthy flow of qi through the network.
Named after their associated organ, the main meridians come in pairs of yin and yang—two opposite yet complementary (and interdependent) qualities of energy that make up all of life in TCM philosophy. Together, each pair of yin-yang meridians is associated with a particular function in the body as well as certain emotions.
Physical Health and Emotional Wellbeing
The mind, body, and emotions are intimately linked in Chinese medicine; each affecting the other as well as your overall health and wellbeing.
Excessive, repressed, or unprocessed emotions can create imbalances in their associated organs and meridians (leading to disease). Reversely, blocked or unbalanced qi in an organ or its meridian can cause an emotional imbalance. It can become a perpetual, vicious cycle, which is why Chinese medicine doctors look at the whole person, including diet, exercise, and lifestyle, to determine a highly individualized treatment plan.
That being said, it’s important to see a medical professional if you have any health concerns or physical ailments. However, you can begin to release stored emotional energy and help restore balance by working with some key acupressure points. Below are the meridian pairs, their associated emotional qualities and imbalances, and helpful acupressure points to explore for self-care.
[Discover more about Traditional Chinese Medicine: “Gain Confidence and Clarity with the Help of an Ancient System.”]
Lung (yin) and Large Intestine (yang): Sorrow
The lung and intestine meridians are associated with grief and sadness. Emotional imbalances commonly associated with the pair are low self-esteem, apathy, and despair. When qi is balanced they are associated with feelings of inspiration and beauty.
Large intestine 4 is a powerful point on the hand used to relieve pain, particularly headaches, as well as emotional heaviness. The next time you’re feeling blue try gently squeeze the area between the thumb and index finger for comfort.
Spleen (yin) and Stomach (yang): Worry
The spleen and stomach meridians are associated with worry. Excessive nervousness and obsessive thoughts are indicative of an imbalance. However, when balanced positive emotions, such as caring, openness, and kindness, are associated with these meridians.
Stomach 36 (located on the outer shin, four finger-widths below the kneecap) is widely used for boosting energy. Applying pressure to this point also helps ease stress and worry by bringing the excessive mental energy stuck in the head down toward the feet.
Kidney (yin) and Bladder (yang): Fear
The bladder and kidney meridians are associated with fear. Tension, mistrust, and insecurity are negative feelings associated with an imbalance. While peace, hope, and wisdom are some of the positive emotions associated with balanced energy.
Massaging bladder points 23 and 47 (known as the “Sea of Vitality”) across the low back on both sides of the spine can help relieve tension and back pain, as well as fearful emotions, creating an overall sense of relaxation.
Liver (yin) and Gallbladder (yang): Anger
The liver and gallbladder meridians are associated with feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment when out of balance; and feelings of happiness, contentment, and kindness when qi is balanced and flowing freely.
Liver 3 (located on the top of your foot between the first and second toes) is a master point used to treat headaches, regulate menstruation, and balance emotional energy. Applying pressure to the point can help ease anger and irritation.
Heart (yin) and Small intestine (yang): Joy
The heart and small intestine meridians are associated with joy. However, an imbalance can lead to feelings of sorrow, heartbreak, and loneliness.
Applying pressure to heart points 4-7 along the pinkie-side of the wrist can help calm anxiety. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, gently hold the underside of the opposite wrist with all four fingertips.
Pericardium (yin) and Triple Burner (yang): Love
The pericardium and triple burner meridians also have to do with matters of the heart, and are associated with feelings of kindheartedness, warmth, and joy. Meanwhile, imbalances in these meridians can generate feelings of gloominess, remorse, and despair.
Pericardium 6 (located three finger widths below the wrist on the inner forearm) is particularly useful for alleviating nausea and motion sickness. Applying gentle pressure to the point can also help ease a heavy heart when you need some comfort.
Exploring the above points will also give you insight to what emotions you’re holding. Don’t be alarmed if certain spots are more tender; and remember, this is self-care so press gently and set all judgment aside. At the end of the day, acupressure is just one more tool for your self-care kit so approach with compassion and curiosity; and enjoy a little self-massage.