This is the time of year when people are flooded by messages of love. Valentine's Day can either be a day full of love and joy, or a day full of woe and disdain. I'm choosing this post to discuss the Heart, especially the emotional aspect, how it is viewed by Chinese Medicine and how it can affect our health.
Like with the Western understanding of anatomy and physiology, one of the Heart's main jobs is to pump blood through the body, creating warmth and circulation, from the core of our body out to the extremities. However, unlike the Western understanding of anatomy and physiology, Chinese theory sees the Heart as having additional properties. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart houses the Spirit which in Chinese is the same word as the Mind--Shen. In TCM the Mind and the Spirit are seen as the same and what happens in the Mind/Brain/Spirit, happens in the Heart. The Spirit is what makes us who we are, what animates us, the light within us. This Sprirt, or Shen, is seen through the eyes--that sparkle (or lack of sparkle) indicates the quality of a person's Spirit.
This is why positive or negative thoughts will affect the Heart; whether you are thinking positively or negatively about yourself or someone else, it will have an effect on the Heart. Although Joy (or lack of Joy) is the emotion usually associated with the Heart, all emotions, even those that are associated with the other internal organs (Joy/Heart, Anger/Liver, Fear/Kidneys, Worry/Spleen, Sadness/Lungs)are felt by the Heart. Since the Heart feels all of the emotions and the Heart pumps blood through the body, the energy and effects of those thoughts and emotions are carried throughout the body and affect our health. How many times have you felt worry in your stomach (paired with the Spleen), or anger or frustration resulting in a tight neck and upper back (Gallbladder channel, which is paired with the Liver)?
It is common to speak about the Body/Mind/Spirit connection--this is the ultimate expression of that.
When the Heart is in balance we feel appropriate amounts of Joy. If there is excess Joy, or "too much" Joy, that translates to symptoms of mania. If there is insufficient Joy, or lack of Joy, you see one of the many manifestations of depression (each organ has a type of depression associated with it --a post for another day).
The Heart is the Fire element. When there is too much Heart heat (either Fire or Yang) a person often feels ungrounded, agitated or anxious. You can also feel Heart palpitations, racing or spontaneous sweating with panic attacks. These can also be due to insufficient Heart Qi or Blood. This agitation can disturb the Spirit which can then interrupt sleep, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep, sometimes causing restless sleep. Insomnia is the result of a disturbed Spirit "wandering around" at night rather than settling in for the night.
If you are feeling anxious, manic, agitated, joyless or are having trouble sleeping, chances are your Heart energy is out of balance and you could use some acupuncture. Seeing your local acupuncturist for an accurate diagnosis is best, but in the mean time, see if you can fill your heart with love, kindness and compassion, from yourself, to yourself. Kindness toward yourself is a very powerful way to nourish your Heart and feel Joy.