So what is this Emperor and why is it important?


T he Emperor of the body is the heart (Shen). It comes from an analogy between a strong, orderly government and a strong, healthy body.

The Shen is not just the physical heart, but it also houses consciousness and reasoning (mind). It contains the conscious, subconscious and unconscious minds. The Shen oversees the connections between activities such  as body memory, will power, learning, giftedness, interaction with others, spiritual matters, emotions and the physical workings of the body. Note that the mind is seated in the Shen rather than in the brain.

The Shen (mind) can become disturbed, obstructed or weakened by many causes. These causes may include stagnation, heat, drugs, diet, loss of sleep, loss of blood, constraint of emotion, or excess emotions such as excessive joy, worry, grief, fear, shock or anger, as well as past and current events.

  • A disturbed Shen manifests as anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, restlessness and worry.
  • An obstructed Shen has varied degrees of manifestations; from confused thinking, to irrational thinking, to schizophrenia and psychosis.
  • In a weakened Shen, the patient becomes physically and mentally tired, depressed, and lacks motivation.

There are numerous combinations of the above. For example, a weakened Shen may cause depression and tiredness, but if the weakness is due to yin deficiency with heat, then the Shen becomes disturbed – creating insomnia and anxiety.

Diagnoses of Shen disorders consist of understanding the imbalances of blood and qi, yin and yang, hot and cold, excess and deficiency, and phlegm obstruction. Psyche-somatic symptoms pinpoint the particular aspect of the Shen that is affected. For instance, digestion problems are associated with the “spleen qi” which is the aspect of obsessive thinking and worry.

Chinese medicine considers mental health is not separate from the balanced functioning of the physical body.

Treatment in Chinese medicine is varied. Acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas, physical exercises, diet are mostly used. Chinese herbal formulas have been used successfully for hundreds of years to calm the mind, nourish the mind, clear stagnation, clear heat and phlegm, and to lift the mood. Herbal formulas come in granules, powders, pills, capsules, herbal extract drops and a tea made from raw herbs. They are easy to take, have little or no side effects and can be taken with western medications. Recent research shows that certain formulas do ameliorate the unpleasant side effects of schizophrenic medications. (click here for research paper)

Psychiatry was never really practised in China, as self actualisation and individualism was discouraged by Confucianism. Knowing one’s place in the family and community, often done by subjugating one’s own desires, was considered the righteous way to live. This lead to a range of illnesses that arose from rebellious qi and frustration. But that is another story…..

In my experience, Chinese medicine works particularly well in combination with the work of a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist, because it relieves many of the distressing physical symptoms such as insomnia, pain, panic, and irritability.

In addition, Chinese medicine and acupuncture settles the Shen, mind and emotions ensuring a return to wise governance of the body by its Emperor.

How is your Emperor? Sleeping soundly, calm and full of vigor? Dr Estelle Abbas is available for Chinese medicine appointments at Beachbox Physiotherapy 03 9036 7700.

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