by Kaitlan Downes, MSAOM
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a holistic approach when treating matters of the Heart, just like with many other health and psychological issues.
As one of our most important organs for both our vitality and mental health, the Heart is worth a little extra attention especially this time of year. Here's how Traditional Chinese Medicine views the Heart system, and how Chinese herbal formulas can help our holistic Heart beat a little smoother.
How Does Chinese Medicine View the Heart?
When it comes to the Heart in Chinese medicine, we consider not only the organ itself, but also the entire circulatory system, acupuncture channel, paired organs, and associated emotions.
The Heart is the “Emperor” of the body and, although mighty and revered, is also vulnerable and requires thoughtful protection. The Heart manages not only proper blood-pumping functions, but healthy sleep patterns, appropriate emotional responses, sweating, urination, and even fertility.
The health of our Hearts – and minds – can be seen through our eyes. The eyes are considered the window to the shen (or spirit/soul) and hold our truest selves. The Heart’s emotion is joy, and you can imagine how your eyes might shine when feeling joyful. Fire is the element attributed to the Heart and when in balance, allows us to be eager and excited to enjoy all that life has to offer.
The Heart system encompasses much of the body’s physiological and psychological processes. For this reason, imbalances can cause a variety of issues. Here is a deeper look at four different ways we might be affected, and how Chinese medicine saves the day.
1) Healthy Circulation
Life is better when you go with the flow, right? Well our bodies are happiest when our blood is flowing smoothly too! Healthy blood flow is essential for not only health, but general wellbeing and emotional stability.
Problems with circulation, however, can come up in many ways. This could present as pain or weakness in a particular area, fatigue, digestive issues, headaches, dizziness, menstrual pain, or in more defined conditions like cancer, infertility, varicose veins, fibromyalgia, or arthritis. Each of these issues will have their own particular manifestations person-to-person, but poor circulation is likely contributing to the problem.
The Heart is the grandmaster of circulation in Chinese medicine – just as in biomedicine. When we consider the Heart system, we consider the heart itself, but also all the of the blood vessels and capillaries along the way. Chinese medicine can help ensure healthy flow through all of these areas, from head to toe.
A great overall circulating herbal formula is Dan Shen Pian This is the perfect choice for anyone who needs a little help getting blood moving throughout the body.
If you have known heart issues, herbal formulas that include shan zha are particularly helpful. This herb helps to dissolve and prevent blood clots and improve the flow of blood through the vessels. Try Shan Zha Jiang Zhi Pian.
2) Restful Sleep
Would you have ever thought your Heart was involved in managing your sleep habits? It might sounds strange, but in Chinese medicine the Heart has a strong connection with this ever-important aspect of our health.
At night, our bodies begin to slow and cool, entering the more yin part of the day. As we lay in bed ready for sleep, a healthy Heart will easily be able to “house” the spirit and let us fall to sleep peacefully. We will sleep deeply through the night, without waking or tossing and turning. We might dream, but nothing too scary, vivid, or disturbing. We will wake feeling rested, content, and ready for the day.
Unfortunately, this is a uncommon scenario for most people. Many of us suffer through restless nights, tossing and turning, waking in the middle of the night, sweating, having dream-disturbed sleep, or failing to fall asleep at all. While there are many potential reasons for insomnia and sleep disturbances, much has to do with the state of the Heart.
We need a well-nourished Heart to have healthy sleep. Good quality blood, healthy qi and blood flow, and regulated emotions are essential for a healthy Heart. Each of the organs in Chinese medicine are responsible for managing a different emotion. The Heart’s emotion is joy (and on the flip side, mania), but it also processes all of the emotions. This means we need to take care to process and release pent up emotions to relax the Heart and allow a restful sleep. A great general tonic for the Heart to improve sleep is Emperor's Teapills.
For those who find they worry their way into restless, sleepless nights, An Shen Bu Xin Wan might be in order. This is especially great if you also feel worn down in other ways; you’re easy to fatigue, have weak back or knees, or feel generally burned out.
If you are a light sleeper, tired, and often suffer from indigestion, you might benefit better from Gui Pi Wan. This chinese herbal formula is great for nourishing the Heart, but does so by restoring the beautiful harmony between the digestive system and our nervous system.
Depression affects many of us, and can a tricky condition to navigate. Each person has their own personal struggle, and the path to wellness can take time to pave. While there is no one right answer for everyone who suffers from depression, there are some changes we can make to help light the way.
With its holistic approach to emotional balance, Chinese medicine can help improve and prevent depression. The power lies in its ability to regulate hormones, release tensions, and even out underlying imbalances or disharmonies. This helps to treat the root issue and put us on the best path to happiness. Small, natural changes can make huge differences in how we respond to our inner and outer world.
Chinese medicine often considers the Heart system when treating depression. Sometimes the Heart is undernourished or over-taxed, which can lead to feelings of emptiness and sorrow. Over time, feeling empty can grow into to hopelessness, resignation, regret, and even fear. In the West, we place a lot of the responsibility of our emotions on our But in Chinese medicine, we consider the entire mind-body-spirit when working through emotional issues: they are all interconnected.
To revive the Heart, we must nourish and relax; supplement and comfort. Calmex Tablets are great for an easy as-needed natural way to release tension and improve depression.
You may also consider Free and Easy Wanderer Teapills to help tackle deep-seated frustration and depression.
Revive and nourish the Heart with Emperor’s Teapills: a fully and happy Heart leads to happier days all around.
Like depression, anxiety is strongly correlated with issues in the Heart system. Whereas undernourishment can cause emptiness, fatigue, and sorrow in the case of depression, when this emptiness occurs in the presence of heat it can lead to more of an anxious state rather than one of depression. In other situations, lack of nourishment is not the issue at all. Perhaps too much energy, heat, a blockage, or rushing occurs in the Heart system and creates restlessness, fear, worry, and generalized anxiety.
Anxiety is a complicated problem, and taking a holistic approach is the best way to find a lasting solution. Anxiety can be short-lived or due to a situational problem. If this best describes your situation, consider Gan Mai Da Zao Wan. This simple and gentle formula can be taken nightly to help settle the mind during times of increased stress.
For anxiety that has developed from an underlying lack of nourishment, Suan Zao Ren Wan may be a good place to start. You might fall into this category if you feel undernourished in other areas of your health as well. For instance, you may have dry and brittle hair, nails, and skin, find yourself tired and lethargic, have pale and light periods, experience dizziness or headaches, hot flashes or night sweats, recently delivered a baby, or are pre or post menopausal.
Anxiety caused by excess heat agitating the Heart will need different herbs. Try Plum Flower’s Heavenly Heart Pills. The goal is to cool and calm the Heart and simultaneously re-establish healthy blood flow and relax the body and mind. If you are someone who feels restless, “hot and bothered,” nauseous, or you experience severe tightness in the chest, insomnia, or respond with bursts of anger when anxiety strikes, these formulas might be helpful for you.
Wholesome Heart Medicine
Have you been protecting your body’s Emperor? Our Heart is an extremely important organ, both in biomedicine and Chinese medicine. It deserves protecting and loving care. It can be easy to push our Heart troubles under the rug; we let stress build up, miss sleep, or ignore our emotions for a more convenient time that never really comes. When life gets busy we may let our exercise and meditation regimes slide or take to indulgences to help relieve stress.
If any of these situations are familiar to you, take this Valentine’s Day to show some love to your number one sweetheart. Enjoy your herbal formulas, but also make time to relax, exercise, and meditate or journal. Laugh and find joy in something special. Relish in the beauty of love! Happy Valentine’s Day!