It's been a while since I've added anything to my "Decoding the Mysterious Language of TCM" series, so today I give you Part VIII on the heart.
The Heart's Functions from a TCM Perspective
- Governs blood and controls the vessels: Just as in western medicine, TCM assigns the function of distributing blood throughout the body to the heart. The blood vessels, too are governed by the heart and the health of the heart will determine the health of the blood vessels. The heart is responsible for the downward motion of Qi and blood and thus plays a role in menstruation.
- Manifests in the complexion: a rosy, lustrous complexion indicates a strong healthy healthy heart. A complexion that is pale, dull, bright-white or purplish indicate problems in the heart.
- Opens into the tongue: The tongue is thought of as an 'off-shoot' of the heart and so taste and speech are influenced by the heart. A disharmony in the heart can lead to excessive talking or laughing, a bitter taste in the mouth, tongue ulcers or loss of taste.
- Houses the Mind: I've talked a little about the Mind (or Shen ) in other posts and I find this a particularly interesting concept of TCM. To quote Maciocia in The Foundations of Chinese Medicine , "...in a narrow sense, Shen indicates the complex of mental faculties, which are said to 'reside' in the heart. ... in a broad sense, Shen is used to indicate the whole sphere of mental and spiritual aspects of a human being. ...If the heart is strong and blood abundant, there will be a normal mental activity, a balanced emotional life, a clear consciousness, a good memory, keen thinking and good sleep. ...On an emotional level, the state of the heart determines a person's capacity to form meaningful relationships. A healthy heart and mind will positively influence our ability to relate to other people and conversely, emotional problems due to difficult relationships can weaken the heart and mind." (p. 109/110)
- The heart's emotion is joy: While the heart is influenced by all emotions, it's most strongly associated with joy. Healthy contentment is beneficial to the mental state. "In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded" (Abdu'l-Baha in Paris Talks, p. 35). On the flip side, TCM states that joy in excess can injure the heart. Think of it as prolonged excessive excitement and over-stimulation that eventually overload the system and weaken the heart.
Because the heart is so strongly associated with the mind and the emotions, imbalances in this organ can lead to many psycho-emotional problems. Treatments for depression, anxiety, manic-depressive disorder and other mental illness will focus heavily on balancing the heart. Other problems such as insomnia, heart palpitations, poor memory, and mental restlessness can come from heart imbalances and will respond favorably to acupuncture.