Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Heart in Chinese Medicine

February is a beautiful month. We are still in Winter but the light has begun to return and we are moving towards Spring. The seeds that were planted last year are beginning to take root and in the same way, symbolically, our intentions for the New Year are beginning to grow and take form. February is the also the month in which we celebrate Valentine's Day. With today being Valentine's Day I decided it would be fun to introduce the Heart as it is viewed in Chinese medicine. In Chinese medicine all the organs in our body have associated channels and meridians. They connect everything and integrate us as whole beings. One way to think of it is like highways connecting different cities together. Everything in Chinese medicine is about connections, relationships, and patterns. In this scheme of things everything is described metaphorically or symbolically to help us understand different aspects of ourselves and how we relate to ourselves and the world around us.

One way of describing the channels and organs in our bodies is by designating them as government officials. The Heart, then, is the Emperor, or Supreme Controller. The job of the Emperor is to keep things ordered, to keep everything organized, in control, and most importantly to delegate what needs to be done to the appropriate people and places. They must find the balance between creating solid boundaries and rules without being overbearing and also allowing for creative freedom. The Emperor must know that he or she cannot do everything on their own and that by knowing what they can do and what someone else can do better there will be health, vitality, and harmony. They must be humble while at the same time recognizing their position and source of power. The Emperor stays in the palace - a safe and sacred space. The essential parts of the Self need to be kept safe and so other officials bring and take information from the Emperor to the rest of the kingdom.

If all that talk about emperors and kingdoms doesn't sit well with your Democratic mind we can look at the Heart from another perspective - the Chinese five elements, or phases/cycles of nature. The Heart is associated with Fire, along with the Small Intestine, Pericardium, and Triple Heater. Fire is about love and relationship. It is about the ways in which we make connections and order our perceptions of reality. The emotion associated with it is joy and its sound is laughter. Fire is about an innate love for being alive. It is like being in a meadow full of wildflowers on a sunny summer day with your arms thrown open, your head thrown back to the sky, and immense joy bubbling out of you as laughter. It is like pressing your head to a loved ones' chest and hearing the beat of their heart. It is the satisfaction of leading a project and seeing it succeed with all the pieces moving together as an integrated whole.

The above are all healthy manifestations of Fire. On the flip side our fire can become imbalanced, either excessively or deficiently. Someone who has lost their love for life and finds no joy in anything or is unable to accept love and affection is someone who is lacking Fire. Those with excessive Fire may be scatterbrained, over-controlling, unable to focus, feverish, overworked, inappropriate, experience palpitations or insomnia, or unable to be comfortable in solitude.

More specifically in regards to the Heart, it's aspect of Fire is the one associated with delegation, with finding joy in seeing one's life working out well. It is about living authentically as oneself and being able to navigate different social situations and relationships with different personalities. The Heart is also the spiritual source of Fire, meaning it finds something more in mundane things. It is the one who sees a Universal connection in a beautiful sunset. The Heart is the essential part of who we are and the authentic expression of who we are in the world around us. The Heart is like the Sun. It is the Fire that burns with no external support. It doesn't need oxygen or wood. It is completely self-sufficient unto itself.

Take notice of the qualities of the Heart and the Fire element over the next few weeks. See where they show up in your life. Where it's easy to connect with them and where you don't feel much resonance. Where are you being authentic in your life? Where can you be more authentic? When could your Heart be more open? When is too open and needs to be protected? Notice how as the season is changing more light and warmth is coming back to the days and how that ignites more fire within us. Next week look for a practical application of the Heart. We'll either look at a case study, research, or application of acupuncture points in treating conditions related to the Heart.

~Joshuah Ciafardone, L.Ac