In our busy lives, we rarely take the time to sit still, connect with our emotions, and lean into what we are really feeling. Most of us have a hard time slowing down, both physically and mentally.
However, both yoga and Traditional Chinese Medicine teach us that we can’t ignore our emotions. These ancient healing systems understand that our bodies, minds, and emotions are inextricably connected. When one thing is out of balance, it affects everything else.
You may have heard of yin yoga before. A slow and contemplative form of yoga, it draws on the theory of yin/yang energy from Traditional Chinese Medicine, combining it with the physical poses, or asanas, from yoga.
I’ve been teaching yoga for 17 years now. But it is only more recently that I’ve developed a personal yin yoga practice. It is something I felt drawn to last year during the height of the pandemic.
Inspired by Phoebe Greenacre, creator of the Self Care Space, I began to dive deeper into this form of yoga. At the same time, I also started to practice sitting with my feelings. Instead of trying to brush away a low mood, I worked on accepting and acknowledging my emotions as they came up.
Yin yoga helps us to create space to lean into those emotions and connect with our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. But I don’t often hear people talking about the emotional side of yoga as a practice.
So, when I saw a post from yin yoga expert, Annie Au, on Instagram about the seven emotions according to Traditional Chinese Medicine and how we can bring them into balance, I wanted to chat with her further, tap into her wisdom, and share some tips with all of you.
Annie draws on her Chinese heritage, as well as her expertise as a yin yoga teacher. She offers unique insight into how yin yoga integrates with other elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine to support our emotional and physical wellness.
You can catch up with our full conversation over on the Face Yoga Expert Podcast (episode 100!). In this post, I’m summarising what Annie shared about how Traditional Chinese Medicine views the seven key emotions. I’ll also go through some practical, easy, everyday techniques she suggested to bring them into balance.
The Seven Emotions According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the mind and body are always seen as connected. If we are experiencing illness in the physical body, it is an indicator that our emotions and mental health are also out of balance.
It is essential to note that no emotion is seen as positive or negative. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is the balance that is important. Problems occur when our emotions are out of balance, either in excess or in deficit.
Throughout the day, we move through many different emotions. But sometimes we can get stuck in one emotion over the others – grief perhaps, or anxiety. Over time, this can cause physical symptoms and illness.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are seven main emotions that we all experience. These are:
Traditional Chinese Medicine has a long history. Over that time, practitioners observed that each emotion is associated with a particular organ. Imbalances in these organs typically result in patients expressing the emotion linked to it.
Joy: We usually think of joy as a positive emotion. But it can be negative too in excess. Someone who is always overexcited and overly positive isn’t able to react appropriately to their surroundings or to social situations. Joy is associated with the heart.
Anxiety and Contemplation: These two emotions are tied to the spleen. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the spleen isn’t only responsible for digesting food. It is also involved in digesting our thoughts and turning knowledge into wisdom.
If the spleen is out of balance, we can get too stuck in our thoughts – contemplation. Or we can’t prevent worries about the future racing through our heads – anxiety.
Anger: Our livers are associated with anger, including irritation and frustration. People with an overworked liver, such as those who drink too much alcohol, often have a more aggressive personality because their liver is in excess.
Grief: Our lungs are the organ tied to grief. If you think about how we express grief physically with tears and crying, you see that it has a strong association with the breath and the lungs.
Fear and fright: These emotions are linked to our kidneys and urinary system. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are where we store our essence, which dictates our longevity. So, if we are always fearful, it can eventually affect how long we live.
How Does Yin Yoga Help to Balance the Emotions?
Yin yoga involves holding poses (usually seated poses) for three to five minutes. We settle into the poses and hold them passively, which gives this form of yoga its yin energy. In contrast, something like a vinyasa flow is very dynamic and has yang energy.
The physical benefit of yin yoga is that holding the poses for longer targets the fascia – the deep connective tissue around our organs, muscles, joints, and bones. When we practice yin yoga regularly, it stretches the fascia and gives us greater flexibility and range of movement. It also helps us to relax and release any tension we are holding in our bodies.
Emotionally, yin yoga brings us to stillness. This creates space for us to connect more deeply with our emotional landscape and discover what we need to shift and grow.
It can be a real challenge. Most of us aren’t used to slowing down and staying still. This is where a skilled yin yoga teacher comes in. By using guided meditations, affirmations, mantras, and storytelling, yin yoga teachers help us to ease into our awareness of our emotional selves.
Daily Practices to Restore Emotional Balance
Like me, Annie Au believes in achievable, daily practices that keep our emotions in harmony. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a preventative focus and encourages us to adopt healthy habits to keep ourselves balanced and well.
These six tips can be done every day, and most of them take very little time. So, if you don’t have an hour free each day to practice yoga, don’t worry. No matter how busy you are, you should be able to integrate at least one of these into your daily routine.
Something I talk about regularly in face yoga is the importance of focusing on the breath. Most of us don’t use our full lung capacity, which means we aren’t getting enough oxygen.
Take two minutes each day to focus on breathing deeply. Take a deep inhale for a count of three, then exhale for a count of three. Continue for five to ten rounds.
2. Take a Break
If you are working, especially in front of a computer, take a break every 20 minutes. Stand up, stretch, look out of the window. It gives your brain a rest. Since your brain is directly connected to your nervous system, this helps to balance your emotions.
3. Cold Shower
This one is more difficult for those of us who live in cold countries (Annie lives in Sri Lanka but I am still trying this one in the colder UK!). But exposing our bodies to cold water first thing in the morning triggers the vagus nerve, the main connector for the parasympathetic nervous system. This controls our rest and relaxation response, while the sympathetic nervous system controls our fight or flight response.
When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it sends a message to our brains to relax. Cold water also helps sharpen your mind, meaning you might be able to cut back on caffeine.
4. Time Alone
Taking time alone each day, perhaps with your journal, helps you reconnect with yourself and check in with your emotional wellbeing. It’s especially vital for introverts, but even extroverts can benefit from time alone.
5. Balancing Yin and Yang Workouts
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there’s the concept of yin and yang energy, which should be kept in balance. Yin activities like yin yoga feed the cooling, passive energy, while yang workouts like running, sweaty workouts, and vinyasa yoga feed the active, hot energy.
If you have a desk job and spend a lot of your time sedentary, you already get a lot of yin energy. So, you’ll want to incorporate some hot and sweaty yang workouts to balance it out, and perhaps just do yin yoga once a week. On the other hand, if you are always on the go and in your yang energy, you’ll need to do yin yoga more regularly.
6. Myofascial Ball Rolling
Lots of people use foam rollers or spiky massage balls already to increase their range of movement. But what you might not know is that there are nerve endings embedded in the fascia. So, when you do ball rolling, you’ll also stimulate these nerve endings and increase the body/mind connection.
This means you can be more sensitive to how you are feeling. Ball rolling also helps to release any unconscious tension you are holding in your body, leading directly to a corresponding emotional release.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and yin yoga complement each other beautifully to harmonise our emotions and help us maintain balance.
I also love to draw on the holistic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine to inform my face yoga practice. Acupressure and gua sha are two techniques that I often incorporate into my face yoga sequences.
Recently I’ve teamed up with the market leaders in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hayo’u, to create a unique facial gua sha teacher training course. If you would like to learn more about facial gua sha and Traditional Chinese Medicine, including the meridians, working with Qi, and the role of the organs, this is the course for you.
You can find out more via the teacher training section of my website.