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Matters of the Heart

It is February, the month where big red love hearts will be seen everywhere so it’s a good time to explore the role of the Heart in the context of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.

Many years ago the 12 main meridians used in acupuncture were given names corresponding to anatomical organs, Hearth, Liver, Spleen, Gallbladder etc. Though these conceptual Organs have anatomical names that we are familiar with, they hold a wider role in the maintenance of health and wellness than their Western anatomical counterparts. The Heart is a prime example to discuss to show the depth and breadth of the Chinese Organ terminology. What is striking is how the Heart of these ancient theories has so much in common with the way we view the role of the heart from a traditional, emotional aspect.

We all know that the heart is a big, muscular pump, the organ responsible for pumping blood around the body. There is no physiological, anatomical relationship between the organ of the heart and our emotions – that is what the scientists tell us, that is ‘fact’. Yet that is not how we speak of the heart when you consider well known phrases such as ‘I feel it in my heart’, ‘don’t take things to heart’ or ‘warm hearted’; we love with our hearts, when deeply saddened we have a broken heart. Chinese Medicine theories take into account our instinctive tendency to associate the Heart with emotions.

According to the ancient theories, one of the key roles for the Heart is to house the Shen, which is a term that encompasses spirit and soul, but also incorporates consciousness, thoughts and emotions. There are 7 emotions that influence health and wellbeing, joy, worry, sadness, grief, fear, anxiety and anger. Joy has a particular affinity to the Heart and has a strong influence on the health of the Heart; the sounds of laughter and singing are also strongly connected to the Heart. With this in mind, take any opportunity that comes along to laugh or sing – you need to experience the joy of life to nourish the Heart and connect you to the world around you. It is no surprise that so many of people fall in love with someone who makes them laugh as the happy laughter is such a good tonic for the Heart.

When we choose the right path through life we talk of ‘following our heart’; when someone is faced with a difficult decision we may tell them to ‘listen to your heart’. Both of these phrases makes perfect sense in the realms of Chinese Medicine, the Heart holds the position of Emperor and Sovereign of the 12 Organs, from the Heart we rule and govern everything else. If the Heart energy is healthy, balanced and free-flowing then the Heart will be able to lead you through life. If the Heart speaks, we should listen.

Another aspect of the Heart in Chinese Medicine theories is that it is associated with the Element of Fire which is very Yang, very warm, interconnected, communicative and open. The term ‘open-hearted’ encapsulates the nature of healthy Heart energy. A healthy, balanced Heart helps us to feel appropriate emotions and to be able to express ourselves to others and feel at peace; a Heart out of balance can mean we feel out of touch with others, it can make is difficult to express our emotions and can lead to symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety or depression. It seems quite logical that there is a strong relationship between the Heart energy and the tongue as it is the means through which we communicate with the world; incessant talking, difficulty talking or an inability to make yourself understood can all indicate a potential imbalance of the energy of the Heart.

From a diagnostic perspective there is a strong link between the Heart and the eyes. The radiance of the Shen shines through the eyes, reflected in the well known phrase ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’. If someone is well in themselves they will have a spark in their eyes; dull, lustreless eyes may suggests their Heart qi needs support.

The ancient theories weave a cohesive, holistic picture of health in which our physical health and emotional health are all part of one big melting pot. Through balancing the energy in the meridians, acupuncture can help to gently rebalance emotional health and physical health. Acupuncturists use a wide range of indicators to determine where there may be a blockage or imbalance in the system, taking into account physical signs and symptoms and emotional signs and symptoms. If you are talking to your acupuncturist, be as open as you can be about how you really feel; this extra information can provide invaluable clues about how best to approach treatment. And if you feel disconnected from joy, it is definitely time to treat yourself to some acupuncture!

Alexandra O’Connor LicAc MBAcC

Holicity Acupuncture, Maldon & Burnham www.holicity.co.uk