Can Acupuncture Heal Emotional Pain?

Jadelin, Acupunturist and Tui Na Massage Practitioner explores the connection between emotions and the body, how they are inextricably linked.

Often people ask me, “How can acupuncture heal you from emotional pain?” The answer is a complex one that would require a long discussion, which goes beyond the scope of this article. However, I will give you a concise explanation based on my research on the subject and on what I have learnt during my nine years of clinical practice as an acupuncturist.

Allopathic medicine has only recently accepted the role of psycho-emotional health in the occurrence of physical illness with a scientific field of study called Psycho Neuro Immunology. Chinese Medicine (CM), on the other hand, has a three thousand-year-long history of looking at emotions as causative or contributing factors of physical dysfunction.

CM includes the investigation of the emotional state of the patient as part of its standard diagnostic system, along with the examination of dietary and lifestyle factors. This is why, even in what can be accounted as a simple physical problem, such as muscular pain, the practitioner will also investigate the dietary habits and emotional state of the patient, on the basis that both factors could play a role in the onset and development of the patient presenting condition.

SH Health Poor DietFor example, anger and fear tense up the body, plus a diet that is low in nutrients can lead to poor muscle tone in the long term. Inversely, poor muscle tone can result from the malabsorption of nutrients, which might result from weak digestion, which can in turn be affected by the person's tendency to worry too much.

This last example illustrates one of the many ways emotions can affect the body, and it is expressed in the Chinese Medicine theory of the Five Elements Correspondences – that each yin-yang paired organs resonate with a specific emotion (and more correspondences, such as seasons, direction etc): Fear resonates with the Kidneys and Bladder. Pensiveness with the Spleen and Stomach. Anger with the Liver and Gall Bladder. Grief with the Lungs and Large Intestine. Joy/Mania with the Heart and Small Intestine. This means that imbalances in one of these emotional spheres, will compromise the function of its related paired organs, and vice versa: the dysfunction of one of those paired organs can intensify the emotion of resonance.








SH Health man in arms In CM emotions are the movement of Qi and Blood and affect the movement of Qi and Blood at the same time, consuming them, blocking them, scattering them, pooling them. Conversely, a pathological dynamic of Qi and Blood can generate emotional imbalances. For example, in the case of Blood Deficiency in the Heart, where insufficient Blood (the dwelling of the mind), can fail to anchor the Shen-Mind, giving symptoms of anxiety. Every system compenetrates in CM.  However, I tend to use the Five Elements Correspondence principle mostly at a diagnostical stage, in the sense that if a patient presents with urogenital issues, I may consider fear being the cause or contributing factor, and so I will look at the case as one with an emotional component and therefore chose a treatment plan that also addresses the emotion causing that specific body response.

When it comes to emotions there are different approaches to choose from in CM, depending on the practitioner's preferences, school of thought and personal and cultural beliefs. In my experience, the best way to treat emotional issues is through a meridian system called The Eight Extraordinary Vessels.

There are different meridian systems in Chinese Medicine grouped by the function and effect they have on the body.




  • The Twelve Primary Channels (which is not the main one)
  • The Luo-Collaterals
  • The Divergent Meridians
  • The Sinews Channels 
  • The Eight Extraordinary Vessels
SH Health Chinese Meridians

This last group of channels, The Eight Extraordinary Vessels, are my first choice to treat emotional issues because they are the primordial meridians from which all the other meridian systems stem from; the roots of the entire channel system of the body, and so are directly linked to the psyche. They are the first meridians to be formed in the foetus and carry the genetic information that has been passed down from one’s parents and ancestors. This meridian system records all the events and actions a person takes throughout life.  So, whatever got stuck at some point in the recent and distant past (traumas, suppressed memories, key events and actions that had negatively or positively shaped the life of a person) is all recorded in those meridians. Instructions, resources, tools we will need to take up our life journey for the pursuit of our own fulfilment are also all encoded in the Eight Extraordinary Vessels.

SH Health YingyangTo consider Chinese Medicine merely a medical practice is reductive. Its scope overpasses the mere resolution of physical or mental dysfunction. Chinese Medicine is a medical practice which is intended for spiritual development, its theory is founded on the principles of Daoism and has a strong esoteric tradition, which includes cosmology, divination, shamanism etc.

The practice of CM is technically inextricable from spirituality in the essence because it is based on the presumption that everything is two-sided, whatever visible thing carries a shadow, one can see this in the yin-yang principle, where the yin cannot be compromised without this affecting the yang since they are part of the same system. In the same fashion, you cannot fix the body without fixing its counterpart, the soul. Nothing exists without the shadow, the spirit, the essence. Therefore, healing is intended in Chinese Medicine as the action of mending a fracture between two worlds, the visible and invisible, so making a person one (wholistic) with their spirit once again, so that they can be true to themselves and advance with their own journey.

SH Health quit jobOften, in western society, we live a life that was not meant for us. We keep doing things that are detrimental to us, make choices that do not reflect our deepest needs but are induced by cultural and social dictates. We might dampen our inner voice by self-medicating at the weekend and starting all over again on Monday in a work environment that doesn’t fulfil us, going through an entire life not realizing until the end that we didn’t live it how it was intended. 

In other words, we have settled for a lifestyle where we are not present to ourselves. However, no matter how far one lives away from oneself, there is always going to be an inner presence that doesn’t always agree with the choices one makes. That presence knows what it wants and bears a clear vision of where it wants to go. That presence has goals and demands that you live with authenticity, as it would take whatever action necessary to fulfil its mission.

SH Health fed upCall that presence the soul, the subconscious, the shadow, the higher self, or the Shen-Mind according to Chinese Medicine literature, the concept is the same: the only way such presence can tell your ego when you’ve taken the wrong turn for the pursuit of your mutual wellbeing, is by means of physical pain. For example, one may get eye problems from failing to see when they shouldn’t have moved in with their new partner, but possibly break up from a hindering relationship.

I have had some clients who were suffering from urogenital problems, because they lived in fear and dodged any key challenges or opportunities for change that came their way. One might need to take a break from work, or family, or cut some ties.

Some refuse the idea that the spirit even exists, and they’re suffering from chronic headaches due to the soul's attempt to get them to stop thinking and listen. They silence that voice with painkillers and just carry on with all that illusory work of the mind. This type of behaviour is what we call Resistance to Change.

SH Health Pulled in 2By resisting those life changes which your soul demands from you, you are going against yourself, thus creating a tension which will then result in a pathology. Bear in mind that this is not a form of punishment by the hand of the soul because one refuses to listen to it. It’s more the consequence of a fracture caused by two forces pulling in opposite directions. Or one can also see it as a form of communication.

Only some cultures have a negative connotation of the presence of emotional and physical pain, which inevitably elicits suffering. Suffering is a personal add-in to the experience of pain as taught in Buddhism.  Some traditions consider emotional and physical pain the visit of spirits and gods, coming to show you your way in case you got lost. The psychologist James Hillman, for instance, refers to pain as The Call of the Soul, a call that wants one to live life with meaning and a sense of purpose. 

SH Health activistLet’s take an example, “Mark” presents with one-sided pain on his hip and shoulder, and has a history of chronic muscular pain, especially in one calf. Upon touch his muscles are hypertonic, and it emerges that he is an activist, and argumentative type, and thinks that everything in the world is messed up and needs to be changed.  All these signs point to an impediment on the Yang Qiao channel, the vessel that deals with a person's stance in time. It’s important to clarify at this stage that physical and psychological pain, is a direct expression of where a person is refusing to live in the present moment, which is the sanctuary or realm of the soul.  Some dodge the present moment by looking constantly at the past and, so becoming inclined to frustration and depression. Some just live in expectations for the future and might wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety or even panic attacks. Others are so inwardly oriented that they can’t connect nor see life that is happening around them in the here and now, which is often a sign of depression. The strategies we devise to turn away from the soul are countless.

For patients like Mark, suffering from Yang Qiao Meridian imbalance, their escape route from the present moment is through the denial of the present itself. By stating that everything happening now is wrong and absolutely needs to be changed, they kill their own present and are always on the move not to feel what is really happening in the here and now. They might be changing things around the house all the time, being critical with other people’s positions, as if they are trying to convince everyone to participate, changing their collective present to ensure the total eradication of the present moment as it is.



SH Health Acu needlesI would look at this case as being both emotional and physical. I would select points along Yang Qiao Meridian (the pathway that covers the hip and shoulder) that help them find a stance in time and direct their vision inward. So that session after session, they might be able to see things for what they are and take them in with less criticism and more acceptance. The muscle tone, especially the calf’s muscle, will eventually loosen, because they are not ready to jump into action to fix things up anymore. The shift from a one-sided vision to one that is more aligned with the fluid-like reality of nature, will also reflect in a structural realignment of the hip and shoulder.

In addition, acupuncture can awaken in them the interest to explore themselves even more in depth through other forms of therapy or spiritual practices. They can even find the courage to sit down and have that big talk they never had with their parents about events in the past that had harmed their sense of integrity. They can make peace with the enemies they had made along the way. This is an example of how Chinese Medicine can treat a physical and emotional condition, by initiating the client into spiritual development. It also shows how the emotional and physical aspects of a person are an integrative part of the same system (like yin and yang) and so inseparable. It’s just a trick of the rational mind that of perceiving them and addressing them separately. Consequently, we also observe how these two spheres of life – medicine and spirituality, are in truth interrelated, having a common goal.

SH Health bright pathIn conclusion, to answer the question How can acupuncture heal you from emotional pain? The answer is that acupuncture doesn’t really heal you. Acupuncture helps you. It helps to clear those obstacles in your meridian systems that keep you away from reaching deep into the wisdom and healing power of your soul. It clears the way for you to walk it unrestrained. The deeper you go, the more connected you are with the source of your existence.

A place which you can even call the present moment. That is where one can find out that they have been perfectly fine all along, that they have never been broken, but have just been away.  This is not to say that with acupuncture the success in treating emotional and physical complaints is certain.

SH Health Qi gongThis depends on many factors: the quality and intensity of the patient's resistance to change, how long it has been there, how deeply rooted it is and how willing they are to let go of old beliefs and go through a transformative journey. Will the patient’s family and social environment support him during the change? The variables are many, but acupuncture, as a product of a medical system that is motivated by spiritual development, can offer an often-overlooked tool to solve those blockages that hinder a person's life’s fulfilment.








Jadelin Gangbo is an Acupunturist and Tui Na Massage Practitioner who practices at Shine, Newington Green on Mondays 3:15 - 8pm.