Feeling Hot Can Fuel Rage--Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, and Science

In English we refer to someone with a bad temper as a hot head, hot headed, hot tempered. When I was a boy and I would get impatient Mom would say, "keep your shirt on!" which was another way of saying don't get so hot around the collar that you need to take your shirt off.

There are many more examples of this in the English and other languages from Homer to Shakespeare to Arthur Miller, but the key point is one that both Chinese Medicine and Ayuveda have always made--anger and its associated feelings--irritability, frustration, rage, are all associated with physical sensations/manifestations  of heat--and these symptoms can range from the obvious, like the flushed face and red eyes of the rage-aholic or angry alcoholic, to more indirect ones, like the tossing and turning of the insomniac frustrated with their day or their relationships. 

In Chinese medicine pathological heat is either due to infectious pathogens, like viral illnesses, or to internal causes, namely the heat that builds up due to frustration and anger, exactly the kind of heat that we see with what is now called stress. Chinese medicine describes the mechanism by which this heat builds very elegantly as the result of " Liver Depression Qi Stagnation," and also as the  flaring of Ministerial Fire. Ayuveda describes in terms of dosha, as Pitta elevation.

But stress is a misnomer. What we call stress is actually the bodymind response to stressors. And each bodymind type responds differently in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine. Pitta types, dominated by fire, have a tendency to respond to things they don't like, such as the red light in traffic, or the server who brought the wrong food, or any case where they did not get their way, with intensity, aggression, tension, that is to say the fire of intensity. Especially a Pitta with unresolved emotional issues will react thusly, which is why what in Buddhism is called Mental Culture is so important; being taught as a child how to react wisely to the things you have aversion to. It really does help to have wise parents and the good fortune of a happy, loving, safe childhood. Those of us who did not have that need to learn how to adjust accordingly.

What is interesting as that excessive heat in the bodymind, whether due to an infectious agent such as a virus, whether due to emotive states such as anger, or simply whether just due to one's natural bodymind type, Pitta in Ayurveda, or whether due to allowing one's Pitta to elevate, regardless of type, all produce  similar symptoms--

  • Visible Redness, such as in inflammation or infection, as in skin disorders like eczema
  • Restlessness, such as in insomnia or fever
  • Irritability, as in fever, frustration, or anger
  • Elevated Temp, as in fever or menopause
  • Subjective sense of heat, as in eczema, menopause, or feeling very frustrated
  • Palpable heat, as in rheummotoid arthritis, sports injury, fever, sunburn, skin disease

Now comes this article in the Scientific American demonstrating that feeling hot can fuel rage and that elevated climatic temps (think about how road rage increases in summer in southern California) has been historically associated with increased violence, both between individuals and between groups.

I love it when Science confirms Chinese Medicine and Ayuveda's theories.

copyright Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac. San Diego, CA Jan 2014, All Rights Reserved, Use With Permission Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego http://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com