The Heart in Chinese Medicine
By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
One of the things that made me fall in love with Chinese medicine was its beautifully poetic way of explaining the world, our universe, the human body and the nature of disease. Ancient wisdom taken from Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism all had their influence in the way this incredible medicine was developed, and so did the profound way in which they saw the world, human beings and existence.
The way Chinese medicine explains the human being is complex and yet seems completely logical. The ideas and theories were developed at a time when people lived in complete harmony with the world around them. Life revolved around nature and the ebb and flow of the seasons. People practiced preventative medicine, always striving for balance, and thus, health.
In Chinese medicine, every organ has its functions or “responsibilities” . These are not all physical, they are psychological and spiritual as well. The heart has special importance in TCM as it is seen to be the “ruler” of all the other organs, and when the body is healthy and balanced, it is a kind and benevolent leader.
The Heart Houses the Shen
The Shen in Chinese medicine is a difficult concept to explain. The best comparison is to say that the shen is equivalent to the spirit or soul, but it also encompasses the mind. Shen describes our mental activity or consciousness, and is seen to be at the centre of all of our mental and physical activities. It is the source of thought processes, mental focus, planning, intelligence, any thought, idea and the will to carry it out can be seen as a manifestation of shen.
The 7 emotions – anger, worry, sadness, fear, joy, grief, apprehension and the way they are involountarily manifested in the body as laughing, sobbing, moaning, sighing, gestures, body movements and facial expressions are also considered a reflection of Shen.
Each yin organ (each yin organ having a yang organ partner) is considered to have its own soul or spirit, and the Shen is seen to have a controlling and regulating effect on them all.
Hun refers to the self-awareness and self-control mechanism associated with the liver.
Po refers to the body’s basic reactive instincts associated with the lung.
Yi refers to the ability of thinking and remembering associated with the spleen.
Zhi refers to the function of memory associated with the kidney.
Shen refers to the function of processing all incoming sensory and intuitive information and supervising the body/mind reaction to it associated with the heart.
One of the most important ways in which we can determine the state of the shen is through a person’s vitality, and can be seen especially in the eyes. The saying “the eyes are the window to the soul” is especially relevant. If one has dull, lusterless eyes, we can assume that there is a problem with the shen.
this image from tobybluewolf.com
Opens to the Tongue
The tongue is the root of the heart, therefore, problems with speech are a good indication that there is an imbalance in the heart. Symptoms like talking incessantly, speaking very quickly or laughing inappropriately indicate a heart imbalance. More serious heart disharmonies can lead to things like stuttering and aphasia (the inability to speak). In many ancient spiritual traditions around the world, speech is regarded as a powerful force and one is often urged to speak the truth of their heart which demonstrates the connection of the heart to expression via the words we speak.
The sense of taste is also a reflection of the heart’s energy, so if the heart is healthy, we will be able to taste all the flavours and enjoy our food.
Pathology of the heart is clearly reflected on the tongue, especially the tip. A tongue with a red tip indicates a heart imbalance, usually heat. Heat in the heart can manifest as symptoms such as sleep problems, palpitations, red complexion and bitter taste in the mouth. Excessive heat in the heart can be caused by excessive grief or worry, chronic stress or emotional trauma.
What Can I Do To Keep My Heart Healthy?
There are many things we can do to keep our hearts healthy. From what we eat, exercising, expressing ourselves honestly and openly and living in accordance with our true natures all feed and nourish the heart.
The colour associated with the heart is red, therefore, red foods are seen to nourish the heart. Most are considered warm in nature and are used to nourish blood, improve circulation and build yang or fire energy in the body. They are recommended especially for people suffering with cold symptoms, or a deficiency of yang or fire energy in the body. These symptoms include cold limbs, pale face, anemia, muscle weakness and palpitations.
this beautiful image from gaiahealthblog.com
Foods Beneficial to the Heart
Tea – Green tea is colder in nature than black tea
Exercises for the Heart
The heart meridian starts in the axilla, or armpit, and runs along the inside of the arm, terminating at the corner of the nail bed on the baby finger. For this reason, exercises stretching and strengthening the arms are the most beneficial to the heart.
There are many ways to protect the heart. For example, going to bed later in the evening and getting up earlier in the morning; wearing lighter clothing and changing more often; eating less warm food and more sour, sweet and spicy food to make up for excess sweating; and keeping in a good mood. Here are some exercises for keeping the heart healthy:
Sit up straight. Place the both arms between the thighs and let them hang naturally. Breathe evenly. Then slowly make fists, exhale when clenching and inhale when loosening. Repeat six times.
This exercise regulates the qi and stimulates blood flow through the arms. Exerting strength following the breath is beneficial to the normal functioning of the meridians through which the qi circulates. When making fists, the movements of the fingers can massage the lao gong points (the 8th point on the Pericardium meridian) at the center of the palms, which is good for heart maintenance.
Reaching for the Sky
Sit up straight. Use the left hand to wrap around the right wrist.
Breathe evenly. Raise both hands above the head as if lifting something heavy. Exhale when the hands are up and inhale when they are down. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Then put the right hand around the left wrist and do the same. Also repeat 10 to 15 times.
This exercise promotes the normal functioning of the meridians, regulates qi and blood flow, and stretches the muscles and joints of the arms.
Sit up straight. Clasp the two hands. Bend the right knee, put the knee between the two palms. Exert strength against the knee, then relax. Change to the left knee and do the same. Repeat six times each. This exercise can treat ailments in the chest area. It also stretches and strengthens the muscles and joints of the limbs.
Tranquil Breathing & Teeth Clenching
Sit up straight. Place both hands on the knees naturally. Close the eyes slightly. Breathe evenly. Close mouth slightly. Sit still for a while. When the saliva accumulates, swallow it in three gulps. Then clamp the teeth 10 to 15 times. This exercise can tranquilize the nerves, strengthen the teeth and invigorate the function of the spleen.
Note – Do exercises in a quiet place with cool, fresh air. Early morning or in the evening is best. Elderly people, people suffering from weakness and those with heart troubles should do more in the summer.
this lovely image from indianparentingsociety.com
The Heart and Your Emotions
The emotion of the heart is joy. When we experience this wonderful emotion honestly, we are feeding our hearts. When there is a lack of joy in our lives, the heart is the most affected. When heart energy is depleted, we can suffer from insomnia and dream disturbed sleep, an inability to think clearly, forgetfulness, concentration problems and poor memory. In extreme cases we see manic behaviour or even coma. Living a joyful life and expressing emotions freely is an excellent way to keep your heart energy full, and your body healthy.
In Chinese medicine theory the heart is at the centre of perception itself. Therefore, self awareness, the ability to connect with others to have meaningful relationships and living a fulfilling, happy life is the essence of a happy, healthy heart. The path to joy is living with wisdom and purpose, seeking truth in all things and having meaningful connections to ourselves, others and the planet.
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If you suspect you are having problems with your heart and would like an expert opinion, Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP, AP offers skype consultations. More information and pricing at the Blue Buddha Acupuncture Sarasota website.
Loving Your Heart in Chinese Medicine :: Chinese Medicine Living