By Shoshanna Katzman, MS, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. & CH
According to Five Element Theory, joy is the positive emotion of the heart, whereas sadness or lack of joy is negative. Experiencing joy in daily life is nourishing to the heart as well as a state of being that is highly desirable on many levels. Such joy is exemplified by a forward-arched chest, spring in one’s step, and ease with laughter combined with kind, loving interaction with self and others. Its attainment is derived through establishing balanced energy within the heart organ system, the cornerstone of Chinese medicine treatments directed toward heart health and emotional balance.
Chinese medicine teaches that the heart stores the Shen, also known as spirit. Shen health leads to clear consciousness, intention, volition, thought, and reflection. When heart energy is sufficient and balanced, shen nourishes blood adequately to manifest feelings and expression of joy together with clear insight and awareness. Moreover, a bright and plentiful heart shen leads to harmonious behavior, interacting with self and others in a respectful, thoughtful, and helpful manner in the appropriate time and space. This leads to a joyous feeling of wholesome compassion toward oneself and others, manifesting in a genuine sharing with another in a relationship. It is a form of heart energy.
When heart energy is in a state of disharmony the opposite is true. Oftentimes this manifests as a state of “excess heart fire,” where the body becomes accelerated and expanded. Exhibiting a fast pulse, eating too quickly, or inappropriate joyfulness are each indicative of such imbalance. It is also accompanied by a lack of boundaries with others and unexpressed desires and feelings. The body overcompensates for this excessive heart condition through overwork, which can characteristically lead to burnout, high blood pressure, and unfortunately eventual heart attack or stroke. These negative results can be thwarted through paying special attention to establishing an energetic balance of the heart organ system, for which Chinese medicine offers great support. The heart is traditionally said to be “the house of the mind,” whereby a strong heart leads to an abundance of joy and calm mind and spirit – an exquisite equilibrium between the heart and mind.
Chinese treatments for nourishing the blood and shen of the heart
Chinese medicine treatments have a profound effect on the mind, in part, because an increased flow of qi naturally creates an increase in blood flow to the head, resulting in a calm mind and sharp memory. Research has found that acupuncture treatment influences neurotransmitter production in the brain. A study that compared acupuncture to antidepressants found that the use of acupuncture as a supplement to prescription medication showed significantly better improvement than taking antidepressants alone. The opening flow of energy and blood throughout the du mai or governing vessel is helpful in this regard. As one of the eight extraordinary meridians, du mai runs up the spine to the head and penetrates the brain. It is thus well known for influencing the mind and considered by the later Taoists to be “the seat of the spirit.” Interestingly, the anterior pathway of the governing vessel connects with the heart meridian – creating a twofold opportunity for treatment directed toward the creation of optimum wellness of the mind and spirit.
It is of utmost importance for the heart and mind to work together as one. Chinese medicine is a method of guiding people to find everlasting peace and mental clarity – one well worth the experience.
Acupuncture is highly effective for nourishing the blood and shen of the heart, thereby increasing mental clarity and concentration. It accomplishes this through treatment of many of the 365 main points located along twelve main meridians of the body. It also treats acupuncture points located along the eight extraordinary meridians, such as the du mai just mentioned. Treatment is also often directed to balancing of the energetics of the pericardium, which is the protective casing around the heart. This is said to be a safer approach rather than treating the heart directly when in an imbalanced state. A German research study found that acupuncture has the ability to improve exercise tolerance in patients with chronic heart failure. Ten acupuncture treatments to promote general strength and treat the nervous system and inflammation were found to influence skeletal muscle strength, increase walking endurance, and shorten recovery time post-exercise with less reported general exhaustion.
Cupping therapy is another modality that can be provided by an acupuncturist to support the health of the vital organs to support heart health. This technique involves the external application of glass cups creating suction, which leads to opening the free flow of qi and blood. An appropriate cupping treatment to balance the heart would be done bilaterally on either side of the bladder meridian running along the side of the spine on your back. Treatment as such works with the energetics of the body’s vital organs to strengthen their function. In this case, cupping over acupuncture points on the bladder meridian associated with the lungs, heart, liver, spleen, and kidneys are the best choice. This releases stagnant or stuck qi and thus opens qi flow to each of these yin organ systems. Establishment of balance and flow between these major organs has an enormous effect on the health of the heart and nourishment of its shen spirit.
Expression of one’s feelings on a regular basis is essential for heart health, just as is its steady rhythmic beating. Allow feelings to naturally emerge internally first, take the time to listen and process them, and when appropriate share them in a purposeful caring manner with another. Allowing feelings to flow freely in this manner contributes to the free flow of blood throughout the heart, leading to a balanced and healthy heart.
This is especially true for the emotion of anger, which can have a deleterious effect on the energetics of the liver. Liver health is crucial for optimal heart health according to the five elements because the liver is responsible for the nourishment of the heart. Repressed anger can also be the root cause of depression, which has a negative impact on the ability of the liver organ system to perform its function of creating a free flow of qi and blood throughout the body.
Working toward verbalizing anger as it arises helps reduce the chance of it building up within the system. Engaging in regular exercises such as qigong and tai chi are also excellent ways for an individual to channel their anger while increasing qi and blood flow and calming of heart energy. Acupuncture is also effective in this regard. In fact, a randomized, controlled, double-blind study done at the University of Arizona has confirmed that acupuncture is a promising treatment for major depression in women. Acupuncture was received two times per week for one month and one time per week for another month for a total of twelve sessions. Results showed that 70% of the women treated with acupuncture for their depression experienced at least a 50% reduction of symptoms, results comparable to the success rate of psychotherapy and medication.
The Five Element Theory also teaches that the kidneys are responsible for controlling the energetics of the heart. Deficiency of the kidneys thus impedes its ability to control the heart properly, leading to an energetic imbalance of the heart such as excessive heart fire. This kidney/heart connection is similarly seen in Western medicine when an individual has a heart attack as a result of a kidney problem.
Benefits Chinese herbal medicine
Chinese herbal medicine can be used to strengthen the energetics of the kidneys, thus the heart. A safe and effective herbal formula is known as “wu zi wan,” which serves to nourish the vital essence of the kidney, thereby strengthening the ability of the kidneys to control the heart energy sufficiently. In addition, wu zi wan is a rejuvenating adrenal tonic that supports energy and stamina. It is also traditionally used to improve sexual energy, virility, and fertility. Moreover, it promotes memory, restores luster to skin, reduces weakness or soreness in low back or knees, decreases dizziness and forgetfulness, improves eyesight, promotes healing, reduces fatigue, and increases mental concentration – thus addressing many symptoms associated with the aging process. Taken as a tea, pill, concentrate, or as a food paste, wu zi wan should not be taken at early stages of acute illness such as cold or flu or during an acute infection. And as with all herbal formulas, it’s best to consult a practitioner licensed in Chinese herbal medicine to make sure of appropriateness for one’s constitution.
This article provides numerous ways to claim one’s power of joy through heart health, duly supported by the energetics of the liver and kidney. There is a much careful consideration and work to be done in this regard to maintain health now and for a lifetime. The path is easy when choices are made with consideration for how one’s lifestyle impacts the overall quality of health and longevity. The heart as the holder of the shen has a great impact on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual components of life. It is an energy that works best when honored, cherished, and kept healthy through free-flowing qi and blood. The best outcome is the level of everlasting joy derived from this noble deed of health and wellness – enjoy the process and relish in the “power of joy” attained and sustained throughout a lifetime with the help of Chinese medicine.
Enhance your Health with Qigong
Learn a series of gentle movements from the ancient Chinese art of self-healing and fitness, to maintain health and nurture your spirit.
Qigong is a form of energy medicine movement that activates the body both physically and energetically. During Qigong training, you learn to cultivate your Qi (vital energy) and increase energetic awareness. This results in an increased sensitivity to electrical, magnetic and other energies not just emanating from yourself, but from others.
Through the practice of Qigong, one begins to strengthen and train the development of inner awareness. When this occurs, a person can begin to access information within themselves in an enhanced manner increasing inner wisdom.
Shoshanna is the author of Qigong for Staying Young: A Simple 20-Minute Workout to Cultivate Your Vital Energy. Visit Shoshanna’s Qigong Online Store at https://qigongforlonglife.com/
Visit Shoshanna and Red Bank Acupuncture & Wellness Center at https://healing4u.com