Mind-body connection

In the progression of integral medicine over the decades, the relationship between the mind (psyche) and the body (physiology) is being rediscovered as close-knit. Whether in the clinical or research setting, or in our daily lives, it has become more and more apparent that the mind could be easily affected by the body and vice versa.

For example, the effect of depression could be found beyond the emotional and mental health state, extending to the physical health, such as chronic pain, insomnia, diarrhea/constipation, inflammation, heart conditions and others[1]. On the other hand, long-term illnesses (such as diabetes and cancer) or acute physical trauma could bring a myriad of intense feelings and take a strong emotional toll on the person[2].

In Chinese medicine, the concept of Shen (神) is generally used to describe the mind/spirit, and Xing (形) for the physical body. “There are no physical symptoms that do not affect the Shen and no emotional disorders that do not produce physical manifestations.”[3] The good news is, such an inter-transformative relationship between the mind and body works not only in bad situations. One could nurture the other if either aspect is on the path of healing and growing.

To go in depth, we ask:

"How could the obstruction of Qi and Blood (vital substances) undermine the function of Shen?"

"What are the classical herbal formulas that help soothe Qi and Blood, thus benefiting our mind?"

The Concept of Qi-Blood Stagnation and Its Relation to Mental Health (Shen)

Qi and Blood in Chinese medicine are the life force played as the key to nourishment and circulation of our body.  Mind (Shen) disturbances such as suppression of emotions, fixation on “status quo", or irrational refusal to evolve in the face of challenge could be embodied as Qi and Blood stagnation[4].


Depression is traditionally seen as a primary source of pathology in Chinese medicine. Fifteenth-century physician Zhu Dan Xi pointed out that all diseases would evolve with depression, which could manifest through 6 forms (Qi, Blood, Dampness, Phlegm, Fire, and Food)[5]. Another critical concept in understanding depression in the Chinese medicine context is Liver Qi stagnation. The smooth flow of Liver Qi allows one’s emotional state to be balanced and stable. Common symptoms of Liver Qi stagnation are frustration, depression, hypochondrial and abdominal distension, sense of oppression in the chest, “lump” in the throat, and pre-menstrual syndromes[6].


The Heart in Chinese medicine is the turn-to organ for restoring balance when someone is experiencing anxiety. “The Heart is like the Monarch and it governs the Mind (Shen).” Our mind (Shen) is housed in the Heart, and it is critical to maintaining the healthy Qi and Blood condition of the Heart. There are five major functions of the Heart: mental-emotional activity, consciousness, memory, thinking and sleep. Heart blood deficiency and Heat in the Heart could undoubtedly lead to mental restlessness, agitation, insomnia and anxiety[7].


Commonly Used Herb Formula for Mental Health

Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan/San 加味逍遙散

  • Actions: Sooth and move the stagnated Liver Qi, Strengthen Spleen Qi and Nourish the Blood, Harmonize the Liver and Spleen
  • Indications: Anxiety, insomnia, depression, irritability, palpitation, pre-menstrual syndromes, hormonal imbalances, hypochondriac pain, tightness in the chest, etc.

Xiao Chai Hu Tang 小柴胡湯

  • Actions: Harmonizes and releases Shao Yang Stage disorders, Relieves the Liver, Harmonizes the Liver and Spleen
  • Indications: Irritability, depression, insomnia, pre-menstrual syndrome, chest distention, nervousness, sided headache, dysphoria, reduced appetite, anorexia, etc.

Gan Mai Da Zao Wan 甘麥大棗丸

  • Actions: Nourishes the Heart, Calms the Shen, Harmonizes the Middle Jiao, Relieves acute conditions, Relaxes tension, Tonifies Spleen Qi
  • Indications: Sadness, depression, insomnia, lack of mental focus, absent-mindedness, irritability, disorientation, overly sensitive or self-conscious, etc.

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Wan 血府逐瘀湯

  • Actions: Invigorates the Blood, Dispels Blood Stasis, Spreads Liver Qi, Unblocks the channels, Stops pain
  • Indications: Pain in the chest and/or hypochondrium, palpitation, chronic headache, chronic incessant hiccups, choking sensation when drinking, depression, dizziness, chronic tinnitus, chronic gum issues, daytime drowsiness, insomnia, forgetfulness, irritability, extreme mood swings, etc.

Tian Wang Bu Xin Wan 天王補心丹

  • Actions: Enriches the Yin, Nourishes the Blood, Tonifies the Heart and Kidneys, Calms the Shen, Clears Heat
  • Indications: Irritability, palpitation, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, inability to concentrate, nocturnal emission, forgetfulness, constipation and dry stools, mouth sores, etc.

Chai Hu Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang 柴胡加龍骨牡蠣湯

  • Actions: Harmonizes the Shao Yang, Unblocks the three Yang Stages, Sedates and calms the Spirit, Relieves the chest and subcardiac regions, Alleviates spasms, Adjusts the Central Nervous System
  • Indications: Chest fullness and distention, irritability, palpitation, insomnia, fear, agitation, anxiety, depression, delirious speech, constipation, fatigue, heaviness of the body, etc.

Ban Xia Hou Po Tang 半夏厚朴湯

  • Actions: Activates Qi, Descends Rebellious Qi, Eliminates Phlegm, Dissipates clumps, Relieves Stagnation
  • Indications: Feeling of obstruction in the throat, distention and pain in the sides or flanks, chest distention, depression, melancholy, hypochondriac pain, palpitation, fear, insomnia, irritability, asthma, edema, difficult swallowing, coughing with profuse phlegm, irregular menses, dysmenorrhea, premenstrual syndromes, etc.

Different formulas should be matched with a person’s constitution and energetic imbalances. And through individual diagnosis and pattern differentiation (辨證) the remedy can achieve the best outcome. Seeking professional Chinese Medicine counselling with a licensed practitioner such as a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner or naturopathic doctor before taking a formula is also recommended.

Other mental health resources

It is crucial to take care of one’s mental health and build emotional resilience. Fortunately, there has been an increased awareness in making mental health services more accessible in society. Such effort aligns with our goal to provide resources and knowledge for self-care to better reach out to those in need of more love and attention.

Here are some resources that may be of help for you and others:

Keep in mind that the inter-communication between our mind and body is constantly happening.

This means that if you feel happy, positive changes are already taking place in your body. Research has shown that a better mood can lower heart rate and blood pressure, and also improves our immunity and ability to deal with pain and aches[8]. In the meantime, there is no doubt that a healthier body (smooth flow of Qi and Blood in Chinese medicine) paves the way to a lighter emotional state and possibly a more loving and compassionate life.

Start building your mental health today by doing something physically positive such as meditation, eating a piece of chocolate, or looking into some of our fabulous herb formulae.



[1] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322395#what-is-depression

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

[3] Aspell, Robert. The Practice of Tui Na: Principles, Diagnostics and Working with the Sinew Channels. Singing Dragon, 2019(p.24).

[4] https://www.academia.edu/25243635/Chinese_Medicine_and_Psychoanalysis_An_Integral_Perspective_Part_I_Denial_and_the_Diaphragm

[5] https://classicalchinesemedicine.org/commonly-used-chinese-herb-formulas-for-the-treatment-of-mental-disorders/

[6] Maciocia, Giovanni. The foundations of Chinese medicine e-book: a comprehensive text. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2015.

[7] Maciocia, Giovanni. The foundations of Chinese medicine e-book: a comprehensive text. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2015.

[8] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_ways_happiness_is_good_for_your_health


November 02, 2021 — The Herb Depot


Diane Ricardo said:

I loved this!! It’s so helpful!! Thank you for everything!!

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