In Western medicine, the Heart is simply seen as an organ that pumps blood throughout our body and becomes prone to heart attacks as we age. The health of our heart is in the back of our minds whenever we exercise, check our cholesterol, and regulate our blood pressure to benefit our health.
In Chinese medicine, the Heart goes beyond the circulation of blood throughout the body. Its other function includes being the place where spirit or Shen is housed. This Shen refers to our heart spirit, consciousness, memory, and mind. In Western medicine, consciousness, memory, and mind are usually associated with the brain while the heart is an organ associated with spirituality and feeling. In the West, the heart is actually referred to as an organ of feeling. Symbols such as the Valentine’s heart and terms such as being “heartbroken” or “knowing things in your heart, or someone “tugging on our heartstrings” all infer to an emotional organ instead of a muscle that merely pumps blood. The heart is primarily seen as an organ that pumps blood. Of course, the pumping blood is the heart’s primary function in Western medicine, but in Chinese medicine, its role in housing our Shen takes precedence over its function of pumping blood in the body.
Your face can actually mirror the health of your heart. It’ believed that the Shen or spirit of a person can be seen through the person’s eyes. The tongue is the sensory organ that’s affiliated with the heart and its ability to form words is a way of projecting Shen.
Fire is the element related to the Chinese heart, which makes it such an active and warm organ. And as mentioned before, it is responsible for the flow of blood throughout the body. The heart also animates you as a human being by being the warmth of your body and the activity of your mind.
According to Chinese medicine, the organ systems are connected to a certain emotion. The heart organ system is connected to the emotion of joy. In Chinese medicine, too much joy is not good because it can lead to mania.
As the place that houses Shen, your heart is also connected to the universe, your spirituality, and your relationship to the divine.
As the residence of consciousness, your heart also has some connection to emotional problems particularly, insomnia and anxiety. Your heart is involved in one way or another when you become out of touch with reality and become mentally ill. Your heart can be connected to physical pathologies such as gum problems, chest pain, vivid dreams, insomnia, and palpitations. Heart problems may also indicate the fire element and too much heat in your body that manifest as a red face, craving for cold drinks and foods, dark urine, thirst, and a hot feeling.
Connection or reaching out is a way to nourish the heart. This means that reaching to the divine through meditation or prayer, reaching out or connecting with others in social occasions, and having a sense of purpose through self-exploration and journaling can all bring the nourishment to your heart. You connect with creation by spending time in nature or celebrating the seasons. You honor your Shen and your Heart by searching for ways to be joyous.
With regards to nutrition, feed your heart with foods that bring you joy. Gathering with family and friends for a meal, foods that you love to eat, and meals that have been prepared with love all lead to the nourishment of your heart. Bitter is the taste associated with the heart; basically, bitter is a taste that has been burned by elemental fire. Stimulate your heart with bitter greens, dark chocolate, and other bitter foods. You heart is also associated with the color red, which means red beverages and foods can be extremely nourishing to your Chinese heart. Therefore, stock up on red wine, red peppers, red tomatoes but eat very little red meat.
In Chinese medicine, your heart is the storehouse of all your feelings. Always remember that the next time you feel something with all your heart or you are filled with joy.
Amy-SuiQun Lui is a licensed acupuncturist in Cleveland, OH, and the founder and clinical director of Asian Health Center.