Happiness, Health, and the Performing Arts

By Dr. Jingduan Yang

The history of performing arts is as old as humankind itself. To many, the arts are as essential to life as eating or sleeping.

People often speak about how much happier and healthier they have become since beginning to sing, dance, paint, or play an instrument.

Interestingly enough, Chinese medicine may be able to explain why this is so. The Chinese have long held the belief that performing arts can actually be healing and nurturing to the body and human life.

Five Organ Systems

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) looks at the human body beyond the (cellular) structural level. It is capable of visualizing and mapping the human body on an energetic level. So, TCM practitioners can see a connection between the body’s organs and how we think, feel, and react to things.

A 24-hour Organ Qi Cycle:  clickable version here      from   www.lightcenterlove.com

A 24-hour Organ Qi Cycle: clickable version here

from www.lightcenterlove.com

Chinese medicine views the body as an energetic network centered on the five major internal organs: the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys.

Each organ is physically and mentally connected. For example, we know from modern medicine that the liver metabolizes and detoxifies food and medications. However, according to Chinese medicine, it is also in charge of our vision and mood and is responsible for planning, decision-making, and judgment.

We know that the kidneys produce urine and cleanse body fluids, and according to Chinese medicine, they are also in charge of the function of the brain, hearing, bone health, fertility, sexual function, bowel and bladder control, willpower, and motivation.

The spleen is a major organ in charge of digestive and metabolic processes. In TCM, the spleen is also in charge of our ability to analyze, reason, and process information.

Visualized at the energetic level, the human body is an open system that has constant interaction with energy from the environment. Therefore, everything we look at, hear, and feel will have an effect on an organ’s health, as well as how we think and function in life.

Sound Affects Health

Maidens play the flute for Minister Han Xizai in this 10th century painting, ‘Night Revels of Han Xizai.’ (Image from    Shen Yun Performing Arts )

Maidens play the flute for Minister Han Xizai in this 10th century painting, ‘Night Revels of Han Xizai.’ (Image from Shen Yun Performing Arts)

Interestingly, sound is also said to affect health. And Chinese medicine has identified five major sounds that has a different impact on the organs and their functions. These five sounds are called “gong,” “jiao,” “shang,” “zheng,” and “yu.”

When the five sounds are composed in a smooth, balanced fashion, they positively affect the five organs. As a result, smooth, harmonious music helps to balance the energy of the body and mind.

And it makes sense that the healing power of music has long been recognized throughout history because people can feel its effects. Listen to tension-filled, rock songs and you become tense. Listen to soothing, classical music and you become peaceful.

Today, many hospitals and health and wellness centers are using music as therapy. Elderly patients with depression gain self-esteem and improved mood after undergoing music therapy, as Stanford University scientists found.

Research shows that listening to good music lowers blood pressure, stabilizes heart rate, relieves depression, reduces pre-treatment anxiety, enhances concentration and creativity, lessens the need for sedatives and painkillers (during and after surgery), reduces nausea after chemotherapy, and also improves stability of people with Parkinson’s disease.

No wonder that in Chinese the character for music is the central part of the character for medicine. Interestingly, this character also is one of the translations for "to enjoy" or “happiness,” only it’s pronounced “le” as in “kuai le,” happy instead of “yue” as in “yin yue,” music.

Pronounced "kuai le," "yue," and "yao."

Pronounced "kuai le," "yue," and "yao."

Is it mere coincidence that music, medicine (healing), and happiness are so closely related in the Chinese language? We think not. Maybe just sitting back and taking joy in good music is in itself an act of healing. In fact, legend has it that the Chinese character for medicine was based on a historic event involving music.

Thousands of years ago, the Yellow Emperor, or Huangdi, had to do battle with a powerful war deity named Chi You, so he had massive drums made out of the skin of a mystical creature. It is said that the drumbeats of these special instruments were so powerful that they literally knocked the enemies unconscious. The Yellow Emperor, being a merciful man, then created a string instrument to heal their defeated souls and he brought them back to life.

Since that primitive time, music has in one way or another been associated with healing. Later on, people figured out that herbs had medicinal properties as well, and so the characters for music and herbs were combined.

The Importance of Color

Color, transmitted as light, is energy. It speaks to our body, mind, and soul. Color therapy, also called chromo therapy, has been used for healing since ancient times. Clinical evidence suggests that color therapy can alter emotions and even blood pressure.

There are five primary colors recognized in Chinese medicine: green, red, yellow, white, and black. Each color corresponds to a specific organ system:

  • Green for the liver
  • Red for the heart
  • Yellow for the spleen
  • White for the lungs
  • Black for the kidneys


Sound and color also affect the emotions. The energy of our organs has a tangible link to our emotions. Each organ system pertains to a particular emotion:

  • The liver to anger
  • The heart to joy
  • The spleen to worry
  • The lungs to sadness
  • The kidneys to fear

Normal human emotions are healthy. However, when emotion becomes excessive and out of one’s control, it will have a negative impact on our mind, body, and soul by disturbing the energy of our organ systems.

On the other hand, when the energies of our organ systems are disturbed by other factors, we tend to manifest these mood problems as well. Therefore, anything that helps people maintain an even keel emotionally has a healing effect.

So, if you find yourself feeling particularly anxious or angry, it may be that your system is off kilter.

If all else fails, you might want to take some time out from your busy schedule to sing or dance or go to a performance that has soothing and beautiful music and colors. At least you’ll enjoy yourself, and as we know, feeling calm and content has everything to do with being healthy.