Grief, in all its forms, can be overwhelming. Acupuncture can help you process this difficult emotion, as Tiffany Black explains
Grief is an emotion we give little airtime to in our culture, possibly because we feel we can solve most situations. This can also be because we want to avoid the emotion of grief, which forces us to accept that there are some things in this world that simply cannot be fixed (Samuel, 2017).
Yet the Chinese Medics thousands of years ago observed that when grief is not expressed freely it often gives rise to an oppressive effect on the spirit, which may also affect a person’s physical health as well.
Acupuncture may not seem the most obvious therapy to use to treat grief and loss in all its forms but, as I will show, it can do much to support those who are struggling to process their emotions.
What do we mean by grief?
Grief is the emotional reaction to loss. We tend to associate grief with death, but it also arises when life does not match up to how we would like it to be, which in this age of social media is becoming increasingly common.
Feelings of loss arise from many different circumstances. These range from being made redundant, children leaving home, miscarriage, a fall from grace, through to the death of a pet, the end of a relationship, coming to the realisation that your dreams might never be fulfilled or grieving the life you once had.
Chinese Medicine and grief
I have always felt the ancient Chinese had a greater understanding of grief than we do today. In the Su Wen (the Basic Questions), written more than 2,000 years, ago it states that ‘when grief is present the Qi disappears’. Qi (pronounced chi) can be translated as energy or life force, so this fits with the feelings of emptiness that those grieving often report.
In Chinese Medicine, grief is associated with the Lungs and the Large Intestine, what we refer to as the Metal organs. Ideally, the Lung takes in the heavenly Qi – the clean, oxygen-rich air, which provides our bodies and mind with energy and inspiration – and exhales the poisonous carbon dioxide. Its partner organ the Large Intestine helps us let go of what no longer serves us – physically and emotionally – by excreting waste products.
These organs when in harmony give people the capacity to confront loss, let what they once possessed go, express the pain, let go and eventually move forward and reconnect with the beauty of life again (Hicks, Hicks and Mole, 2004). When we are balanced, this process happens smoothly. When we are imbalanced grief is less fluent, we get stuck in the emotion and feel unable to let go and move on.
How acupuncture can help
When someone is crippled by grief, it can manifest in physical and/or emotional symptoms.
Patients who are stuck in grief often report feeling tight in the chest and throat, like they can’t take a deep breath or swallow. This is because the free flow of qi through the Lungs has become constricted. This may also manifest in asthma and shortness of breath.
Or they feel numb, depressed and stuck, unable to let the grief flow and take any pleasure in life.
Digestive problems are also a sign that the Large Intestine is unable to carry out its function of letting go.
Or we can see pain in the channels that correspond to these organs such as in the arm or leg.
As an acupuncturist, I see my role not as to push patients through grief and get them back to their normal selves – because as anyone who has experienced a significant loss will tell you there is no returning to the before. Instead, it is about through acupuncture treatment encouraging the flow of energy, which so easily stagnates when we are confronted with intense emotions.
Space to process grief
As the author or Grief Works, Julia Samuel, writes:
‘Our society approves if the bereaved person is brave and is getting on with things and disapproves if they are withdrawn and fail to cope.’ (Samuel, 2017)
With this in mind, I see my treatment room as a place where patients can divulge all aspects of their grief if they wish to. But if they can’t bear to do this, then the needles alone will help to move stagnation and relieve symptoms.
My aim is not to take the person’s grief away, but to help them process it in the manner and pace that is right for them while also helping to relieve their emotional and/or physical discomfort.
- Samuel, J. (2017) Grief Works, Penguin Life
- Hicks, A., Hicks, J. and Mole, P. (2004) Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture, Elsevier