Mind-body connection and illness in Chinese medicine

Are your injuries visible, or are they inside of you? Can you mask and hide them so that no one ever knows what you are going through? Where do those emotions live in your body, would they be visible on a lab test or a culture? What imaging do we take to be able to see your internal landscape? How does your mental state affect your body?

The National Institute of Mental Health states:

  • Clinical depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15 to 44.
  • Depression affects 6.7% of the adult population, approximately 14.8 million people.
  • Anxiety affects 18.1% of adults in the U.S., or 40 million people.
  • About 1 in 4 Americans will suffer a serious mental disorder in their lifetime.

How does it make you feel to read those statistics? Uplifted and renewed? I’m sure. Basic philosophy in Chinese medicine (CM) looks the beginning of an issue examining the root cause of the symptoms, the whole picture. CM isn’t interested in diagnosing patients with various diseases, because, it is simply not beneficial. Disease is defined as a particular abnormal, pathological condition that affects part of all of an organism. If you’re living life, you experience disease. We can extend that, to certain extents we are all diseased and all seeking to become more aligned in optimal health.

In Chinese medicine there is virtually no differentiation made between mind and body.

We talk about things from the perspective of wholeness, without exceptions. When it is appropriate, we address the whole picture in the form of its different pieces. Sometimes, we can address one piece and rectify the whole, WHICH is how connected symptoms and pathology are. This is the way we examine life, restorative mechanisms (chief complaints, symptoms, disease) and our patients!

CM is always striving to look at the entire patient, then, move in to take a closer look at presenting symptoms. We say, “Where are those patterns held in the body, how do they relate to the operation of the whole?” After that, it’s zooming out again, back to where we started, fully appreciating the entire human being. In CM we treat the whole and the sum of each part.

How can I relate this to my own life, you say?

Well, here is an example of an action in which we are doing exactly what CM philosophy does in a completely mundane task. For a moment, consider the camera zoom feature on a smart phone (or any other camera device). When you scroll through the photos you see the whole picture. If you like, you can zoom in, check things out, really zoom in and see exactly what the photo looks like. You can even get to see the teeny tiny granulated pixels that make up the photo. Once you have checked those out you can then move back out to see the whole thing again.

Here, we see that there is not one portion of the photo that is more important to maintaining the integrity of the photograph. Both the whole photo and each pixel are equally important. Little things matter; the subtle is important.

A person’s feelings, your feelings, are important. The emotional landscape that you reside in, matters! It affects your entire life, and, it is especially valuable in a clinical setting. No matter what anyone tells you, the understanding of your feelings is the first step to the management, and ultimate goal of the cure to what anxiety and depression.

We are the photo not just the pixel, and yet, we are each pixel but not just the photo. This basic philosophy informs the way Chinese medicine examines mental and emotional imbalances. Now we can look at the theory behind the philosophy.

Chinese medicine proposes a more complete understanding of a person’s physical, mental and emotional state. It allows us to be what we are! Our mind, body and spirit are inseparable.

I have a feeling you know this already.Let’s work with a few examples to verify:

  • Have you ever been so (emotionally) upset you couldn’t move (your body) and get out of bed?
  • What are you like (emotionally) when you (your body) feels incredibly hungry?
  • What happens to your (body) food intake during a time in which you are sad (emotionally)?

Here we can see the strong correlation and relationship between the mind, body and spirit. CM delivers a format and language to dive into our own patterns of behavior. The medicine then simultaneously motivates us, encouraging us to work through those patterns.

shutterstock_102272188On a practical level this means, “there is a point for everything!” Acupuncture can literally address any myriad of experiences that life has thrown you.

Now, this can be a hard concept to examine depending on how removed each of us are from our own emotions, or our own bodies. But, I have good news. Chinese medicine meets us wherever we are. No one is interested in trying to have a conversation that doesn’t make sense, right?

The beauty of this medicine is that it can address the place that you inhabit on the whole of the entire spectrum.


1 National Institute of Mental Health. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. 2008. Available fromhttp://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

Post by Melinda Wheeler, intern at Watershed Wellness and student at NCNM


Written by Amanda Barp

Regardless of whether I’m giving a relaxation massage or a more therapeutic focused massage, I emphasize a non-judgmental, safe environment for all of my clients. I enjoy sharing the knowledge of the body that I have learned in my training and hope that you will find your body and the way it works as fascinating as I do.