Photographer Brian Sassmann, Model Kirstin Gebert.

Butterflies in your belly, a broken heart, your gut instinct… Most everyone can relate to these “emotions” but very few of us actually stop to think about why a certain part of our body will respond when we are faced with fear, anger or sadness. In my work as a holistic health coach, everyday I find more and more that the root cause of many of our overall health, digestive and fertility issues, and the associated body pain, stems from negative emotional patterns that have caused a redirection of positive functioning. But, how and why does something you can’t see, taste or smell become ingested into the system causing these dysfunctions?

We all now know that stress management is one of the key players in maintaining health and vitality; fortunately allopathic and integrative communities fully agree on this point, but why? Stress is a broad term for the emotions life dishes to us that we tend to force down to be -- now bear with me here -- emotionally digested. And, just like the food we eat, the organs are responsible for the orchestra that breaks down, absorbs and releases the ingestion of these negative emotions. Our organs are composed of delicate tissues and cells that respond to energy as their life source. They are fascinating in their capacity to protect us from harmful substances but over time, excess emotional strain, or negative energy, will cause a withering of their spirit just like it will yours.

For centuries (and beyond), the Chinese have healed disease based on the emotional functioning of each unique organ. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) each organ correlates to an emotion and will express that emotion with vitality, or with disease, depending on the emotional health of the individual. Acupuncture, bodywork, balancing foods and herbs are used to directly target the energy meridian of each organ to nourish, unblock and redirect energy.

The belly shows the most obvious correlation between an unhappy organ and our health. For instance an “angry” liver will not filter properly causing hormone imbalances and digestive issues. This brings me back to the “stress in relation to disease” component that the whole medical community is now looking at. We must address the entire picture, look at every factor and treat the whole person to see where the true emotional indigestion and dysfunction is taking place. Once identified there are some simple ways to bring the positive flow back to your body so true healing can begin. Here is a little 101 on the emotional digestion of some of your major organs and how to keep them happy…

Let’s have a little heart to heart

The heart contains our fire for life. It expresses compassion, love and joy for the world around us. An imbalance in, or sudden tragedy that affects the positive aspects of the heart will cause “heartache” and if not nurtured will create cruelty, impatience, anxious thoughts, thoughtlessness and bitterness. Longer term hardening of the heart will actually lead to, well, hardening of the heart -- diseases like atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and heart attacks.

Happy Heart: The best ways to repair a broken heart are to begin practices of love, calmness and kindness in your everyday life. The philosophy of “it’s better to give than receive” is a heart lifeline. Herbs and foods that support calm nerves and nourished heart muscles are: oat straw, chamomile, catnip, valerian, reishi mushroom, green juices.

Just breathe

The lungs are the heart’s partner in circulating nutrients and oxygen to the body. When balanced, the lungs express the emotions of courage, forgiveness, solidity and purity. Think of the energy you feel on an autumn day when you take the first deep breathe of crisp clean air- that is lung energy. (Autumn is the time of the lung according to TCM) Now, think of when you have deep sadness, grief and a sense of loss; your lungs feel heavy and taking a “breath of life” is strained. Chronically grief stricken people will sometimes take on a slumped posture as if shutting down the desire to “puff out the chest” in strength and courage. Without enough fresh, full breath in our lungs they will collect excess mucus and congestion leading to asthma, colds, allergies and chronic bronchial problems.

Happy Lungs: Taking time to restore full and open breathing techniques daily will greatly help these emotional and physical conditions. Addressing deep grief and resentments will also open your lung energy. Herbs and foods that nourish the lungs: All seaweeds and algae, cayenne, radishes, garlic, nettle, marshmallow, sage, elecampane, ginger and licorice.

Calling Poison Control

The liver filters, purifies, produces and stores. With so many passageways the liver is highly susceptible to clogging and being one of the most direct links to poor health and disease. Liver harmony reflects a calm, centered and focused energy, shiny hair, clear eyes, skin and a balance of monthly hormonal rhythms. When the liver becomes clogged and inflamed it mimics those emotions of hot anger, stagnant energy and emotional outbursts. These symptoms are felt and seen in skin problems, hot-bad breath, hormonal fluctuations, night sweats, yellowish and cloudy eyes, poor digestion and the list continues. The majority of us have some clogging of our liver due to the amount of environmental and emotional stress we consume daily.

Happy Liver: Stress management and a clean, light diet are key to taming an angry liver. Adding a cup of simple hot lemon water to your morning ritual is a great way to give the liver a quick cleanse. Raw, fresh fruits, vegetables and their juices are the best way to balance the liver with food. There are some amazing liver cleansing herbs that are very effective but should be not be relied upon as a daily supplement long term: Dandelion, Milk Thistle, Yellow Dock, Burdock, Oregon Grape.

Listen to your gut

The digestive track (not to be confused with the stomach that sits on top) is made of your small and large intestines, is a brilliant organ, literally. It is our second brain, producing 90% of our serotonin, and housing 70% of our immune system. Believe it or not, if you cut off your head (don’t try this) the intestines would continue to function on their own. When your body is under stress, the gut is one of the first systems to shut down its processes in preparation to fight. Its main role is to absorb nutrients and eliminate the garbage. Gut function is a true sign of total health.

Dysfunction of the gut hosts an ever-growing list of diseases and discomfort that I won’t get into here, as it needs its own platform. Emotionally when this system is in order you are grounded, stable and have a deep energy and vitality. The gut is highly susceptible to stress due to its permeable nature and many hormone functions. If the guts are “holding on too tight” then a person with gut imbalance will also hold on too tight and appear constantly anxious, highly agitated, overprotective and possibly over talkative.

Happy Gut: Ways to calm and heal the gut are numerous and depend on each person. However, homemade bone broths are very soothing and nourishing to all. Herbs such as marshmallow, slippery elm, licorice and aloe vera juice are very calming and supportive of digestion. I think everyone should take a high quality probiotic and digestive enzyme and drink plenty of clean water. My motto: “heal the gut, heal your hormones, health and happiness”.

Go with the flow

The kidneys are our internal waterway system managing electrolytes and maintaining a balance of yin/yang, water/fire. The health of our kidneys may very well determine the health of every other function of our being, as they house our chi energy (aka vitality for life). Water is graceful yet powerful and without water energy, everything will cease to grow. A healthy kidney person is calm with a great presence and strength. Dysfunction of the kidneys is physically expressed mostly through extreme fatigue, foggy thinking, hormonal imbalances, kidney stones and bladder issues. Chronic fear and paranoia will manifest in kidney dysfunction, which is why a sudden fright or trauma can cause loss of bladder control.

Happy Kidney: To nourish the kidneys, reduce stress (this is a fluid theme), stay hydrated with lemon water, remove excess salt, stay away from caffeine, consume pure cranberry, grapefruit, sea vegetables and algae. Supportive herbs are dandelion, nettle, uva ursi, oat straw, and marshmallow.

Churn and Burn

The stomach, along with the pancreas, produces a harmony of enzymes and acids that are in charge of preparing what we ingest for transport and absorption through the rest of the body. It can hold up to 1.5 quarts of food where it will keep it for 4-6 hours before emptying into the small intestine. Considering what the average person ingests emotionally and physically the stomach has to be a powerhouse of activity to churn through all of it. An emotionally healthy stomach will be expressed in the sense of being centered, grounded, open-minded and sociable. Dysfunction in the stomach will manifest in a feeling of being bloated physically and in personality, being disconnected from your sense of self and grasping for control. It really is the first line of defense for what we ingest so if you are ingesting chaotic foods and emotions then you are in for trouble.

Happy Tummy: The stomach is highly acidic, and needs to be in order to break down our food. Stress can deplete our acid levels so supplementing with a high quality digestive enzyme containing HCL (Hydrochloric acid) will greatly increase digestive function. Simple herbs and foods like peppermint, licorice, fennel and ginger will soothe digestion and bloating.

Creative Juices Flowin’ 

Our sex organs, mainly the uterus and prostate, may be different in some function, shape and size but they have one major thing in common -- they want to create. Our creative force is greatly diminished when there is sexual and reproductive dysfunction. Painful menses, painful intercourse and fertility challenges limit a woman’s ability to feel open, sensual and creative. Erectile dysfunction (ED) and painful urination will limit a man’s sense of, well, being manly (define as you wish). Low libido is the first obvious sign of dysfunction expressed by both sexes, and the body’s way of saying that stressors have disrupted proper hormone function. With fertility challenges on the rise for all ages we must take a more honest look at the lifestyle piece of the puzzle. Although popular belief is that PMS and ED are just “a part of life”, a healthy system will not express itself in pain and swelling ...or lack thereof.

Happy...: Dance and move those hips. Eat seeds – pumpkin seeds for men and sunflower, sesame and flax for women. There are so many herbs for balancing hormones for both men and women who need special care and guidance. However, these herbs are great for all in “revving the engine” and keeping things fluid: Ginseng (Siberian for men, Panax for women), nettle, uva ursi, damiana, wild yam, ginger, and licorice.

The Orchestra

Since the entire system relies on each component, nourishing the whole body with whole unprocessed and mostly organic foods is vital. Avoiding or limiting, caffeine, sugars, alcohol, wheat, dairy and processed foods can almost immediately bring relief. Abdominal massage techniques such as Maya Abdominal, Chi Nei Tsang and visceral manipulation can unblock pathways to allow nourishing blood, chi and oxygen reach each organ to unblock emotional and physical dysfunction, increase vitality and maintain proper positioning.