The human heart in western medicine is considered a pump. The heart pumps blood out through arteries to the tissues, muscles, organs in your body, delivering oxygen and nutrients. Waste gets back to your heart through the veins. The heart pumps it out again to your lungs in exchange for more oxygenated blood that is then delivered throughout the entire body. Your heart, roughly the size of a large fist, will do this continuously without any rest. The heart is basically the hardest worker in your body without being recognized until something severe happens to it. This is a big reason a heart attack is known as a silent killer. A heart attack strikes without any noticeable symptoms or pain.
The heart in Chinese medicine does a little more than just pumping the blood. The heart governs the blood, controls the blood vessels, and manifests in one’s complexion. These three responsibilities sound really similar to the western medicine view of the heart. The heart pumps the blood, so it make sense to say it is calling the shots by governing the blood and controlling the blood vessels.
As far as manifesting in the complexion, when your heart functions well, your tissues get oxygen-rich blood. Your complexion will show it too. Conversely, when you do not get good circulation, then you do not get the blood supply that your tissues need, making you look pale.
Another function of the heart according to Chinese medicine is to store the “shen” and to control our sweat response. Shen is a word that is used a lot in the Chinese language. It is translated to “spirit” or “mind.” (Wait shouldn’t that be the brain’s function!?!) Unfortunately, Chinese medicine never discovered the brain’s true role. In traditional Chinese medicine, was no life support machine that could keep a person alive if a person was brain dead. If your “shen” or spirit leaves your body, which is stored in the heart, then you are no longer alive. There are seven emotions that will show when the heart becomes overwhelmed, spilling over to our other organs. The seven emotions are: joy, angry, worry, sadness, fear, grief and apprehension.
The reason I emphasize the Shen concept is because insomnia is a big problem in our society. There is plenty of good medicine out there that claims to work well for insomnia. But, if you have insomnia, then you will know there is no good medicine for it. They either work well to the point that you develop dependency to it, or the medicine is a hit or miss.
When treating insomnia in Chinese medicine, the organ to target is usually the heart. The heart houses the spirit or mind. When the mind is not calm, the result is insomnia. Our mind plays tricks in our head and body. It makes us feel consumed by our “leaky” and distracted heart. Joy is overwhelmed by the other six emotions. We have all felt this phenomenon. If we are distracted, we are easily moody and consumed by an emotion that stinks up the room. If we have a confidence and vitality within ourselves, we can easily direct our emotional “demons and tendencies” with a blink of our eyes.
Our mouth provides great insight into our heart’s state. Our ability to articulate words or our lack of words displays our emotions and heart’s intention. It can hurt people or help people. When we have a down day, displaying a genuine smile can have a profound effect on our body’s mental state, so we can perform better. Once in a while, when I am treating a patient for a painful limb, the patient will have an outburst of laughter or uncontrollable crying during a simple stretch. This can be a heart imbalance. A speech or swallowing problem can be a manifestation of a heart imbalance. Our ability to taste the flavors of our food is a function of our heart.
There are many things that can help boost the heart. Herbs and acupuncture needles can help get your mind to a calm place and help treat your symptoms, especially insomnia. Sleep is an important since it is our body’s method to recover. There is no optimal fitness or wellness if there is a problem with our recovery system. Let’s boost our heart so the governor of our mind and body can do its job properly.
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