In Chinese Medicine, all organs have a responsibility in the functioning of the body, not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally, and the Heart is considered the ruler of them all. The Heart’s physical job is regulating the Blood and vessels in order to nourish all of the other organs and bodily structures. It is because of this vital role that it has its own bodyguard; the Pericardium. The Pericardium is a membrane that surrounds the Heart and acts as a first level of defence against any external invasions.
Spiritually, the Heart is said to house the Shen (Spirit/Mind). The Shen aspect of the Heart is very important because it is responsible for sleep, thinking, memory, consciousness, and a person’s zest for life. A calm Shen allows people to think clearly and have good concentration, memory, and sleep. It is seen as the origin of the thought process, focus, and intelligence, so any thought can be seen as a manifestation of the Shen. When we experience insomnia, poor memory, and a lack of concentration, it is said that the Shen has lost its root in the Heart.
A normal heartbeat depends on the Heart Qi; if it is fortified then a normal rate and rhythm is maintained and the Blood circulates freely and continuously through the vessels nourishing the body. When this happens a person may experience a glowing complexion, and moderate, forceful pulse. If the Heart Qi is insufficient then the Blood flow becomes weak, the vessels can become obstructed, and an unsmooth flow of Blood will occur. If this is the case, a person may show a dull or dark-grey complexion, dark-bluish lips, and experience chest pain, palpitations, insomnia and dream-disturbed sleep, with a weak and irregular pulse.
The Heart, in Five Element Theory (one of the major systems of thought within TCM) is related to Fire, the emotion of Joy, and the colour red. Excess conditions of the Heart can lead to “Heart Fire Blazing” – symptoms being: palpitations, thirst, mouth ulcers, and dark or bloody urine. Another excess condition is called “Phlegm Fire Stirring Within” and this can manifest with symptoms affecting the mind or Shen, such as mental restlessness, dream disturbed sleep, and drastic mood swings.
In Chinese Medicine, the Yin (and Yang paired) organs are associated with emotions. As said, the Heart is related to joy, and the others we see in clinic are the Liver to anger, Kidney to fear, Spleen to worry, and Lung to grief. Often times, if we are feeling one of these emotions there can be an imbalance energetically in the associated organ or its meridian. Generally speaking the Heart’s emotion of joy is related to positive external information, but in pathological terms if we become over-joyous, injury to the Heart (Shen) can occur. If there is a hyper-function of the Heart, a person may laugh persistently and uncontrollably; if there is a hypo-function of the Heart, a person can become sad or depressed quite easily.
A few weeks ago one of my clients asked me if acupuncture could heal a broken heart. The question took me by surprise – no one has so earnestly asked a question like that before. Without hesitation I said, yes. It is because of the emotions that are related to the organs that I can say with certainty that acupuncture can help heal a broken heart. By correcting the Heart’s deficiencies, smoothing out the Heart’s Qi, and strengthening the Heart’s Yin, we will be able to assist in counteracting the sadness plaguing the Heart and Shen.
Laughter is the best medicine! Even though World of Psychology only places laughter at #6 on their top 10 list of “How to heal a broken heart”, it is because of its very close relation to joy that laughter is able to have a profound effect on sadness – which we now know is a deficiency of the Heart. So it makes sense that when we have that feeling of a heavy heart, we must seek out a good laugh to lighten the weight and make our heart feel like it is on the mend.
How can you keep your Heart healthy?
Because the Heart’s colour is red, foods that are red are believed to be most nourishing. Some (red, and non-red) foods that are beneficial to the Heart are: asparagus, bananas, beef, beets, blackberries, cherries, chili, chocolate (dark), cumin, dates, eggplant, egg yolks, longan fruit, radish, red apple, red beans, red dates, red lentils, rhubarb, saffron, strawberries, tea, tomatoes, watermelon, and winter squash.
This next list of foods is geared towards keeping a calm mind and nourishing the Shen by helping it stay centered in the Heart. This will then contribute to reducing nervousness, treating insomnia, and improving focus. These foods include: celery, cucumber, grains (whole wheat, brown rice, oats), lettuce, mushrooms, mulberries, and lemons. Some common seeds, spices and herbs are: jujube seeds (suan zao ren), dill, basil, chamomile, catnip, and skullcap.
The Heart is both complicated in function and logical in spirit, and should not be taken for granted. The best way to care for yourself is by living a joyful life and expressing emotions freely to keep your Heart energy full and your body healthy. Love and joy to you this month, and every month!
In China, good health and vitality is associated with balance, harmony, and the “three treasures” – Jing (essence), Qi (life force or energy), and Shen (spirit). The following recipe promotes these qualities.
Heart Healthy Tea
2 ¼ Cups Water
1 tsp Green Tea Leaves
2 Tbsp. Chrysanthemum Flowers (Ju Hua) – can be substituted for chamomile
1 Rounded Tbsp. Hawthorn Berries (Shan Zha)
Directions: Steep ingredients for 5-10 minutes in a small saucepan or teapot, until desired strength, then strain. Add honey, if desired.
Hawthorn Berries (fresh or dried) can be brewed as a heart-healthy single-ingredient tea. This tea is especially good for anyone concerned with high cholesterol, and for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Green tea helps to lower unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart diseases and stroke.
Caution: Large doses of hawthorn berries should be avoided during pregnancy.