Valentine's day is here, and we're inundated with images of hearts as a symbol for romantic love. February is also 'Heart Health Month,' focused on heart disease in a literal sense. It's also Black History Month, a good time to acknowledge the burden that experiencing racism and oppression have on health, notably cardiac health. Hearts have been on my mind so I dug into the Traditional Chinese Medicine view of the Heart energetically, as well as the physical organ.
The heart holds the office of lord and sovereign. The radiance of the spirits (shenming) stems from it. - Nei Jing Su Wen
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is the seat of consciousness, the Shen. Like an Emperor seated in a vast cinnabar throne room, our heart requires stillness and calm to make the highest level decisions that keep our spirits in tune with our deepest selves and our heavenly destinies. In the vision of the human as a well-ordered society, the Heart-Emperor is protected and aided by the other officials, the organs and conduits of the body that allow it to remain in contemplative meditation and connection with our true self. When we're balanced, we're able to respond appropriately to life events, to avoid over or underreacting, and to proceed in harmony with our true desires and natures.
Traditional Chinese medicine texts recognized all varieties of heart conditions and understood clearly blood circulation and the role of the physical heart. Acupuncture and herbal medicines can be very helpful in preventing and treating heart disease. From the kitchen pharmacy, there are many food herbs which can be taken daily as tonics for cardiovascular health, including maintaining healthy blood pressure and circulation. Here are a few faves:
Hawthorn Berry Tea: Hawthorn has been extensively studied as a cardiovascular health supplement, including all parts of the plant, berries, leaves and flowers. In TCM, the berries are used to aid in the digestion of fats, and from a Western perspective seem to lower serum lipid levels.
Chrysanthemum Blossoms: I often use the bitter, refreshing tea of these flowers to aid with allergies and eye irritation, but the same energetic action that sends energy down to calm eyes and headaches can act to lower blood pressure. Hawthorn berry and chrysanthemum blossom tea is a tasty cardiac combination.
Heart-friendly Foods: Despite what we were taught for many years, fat consumption by itself is not the guilty party in heart disease. Overconsumption of sweet, refined and processed foods increase inflammation in the body and our bodies reaction to it can result in stagnation and impaired circulation. Eating a whole foods, balanced diet with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits is a vital move for all of us. Foods with an especially beneficial effect on the heart and circulatory system? Try celery, onion, garlic, carrots, apples, pears and tangerines. Black fungus, shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and mung beans are other tasty recommendations.
The Emotions of the Heart
The Heart holds a powerful symbolic role in many cultures. Associated with the element of Fire in the 5 Element cosmology, spiritual and emotional dysfunction of the Heart can show up in a variety of ways.
Too Hot: An excess of Fire element affects our Heart energy with overexuberance. We can't stop talking, our minds race. Our sleep is disrupted, especially falling asleep. Anxiety and restlessness can make us feel overwhelmed and make it difficult to think clearly. In addition to proper treatment with a practitioner, cooling foods and herbs and calming activities such as meditation can help chill us out and give our Hearts room to breathe.
Too Cold: Deficiency in the Fire element often manifests in physical symptoms of coldness and poor circulation, but emotionally we can feel detached, listless and depressed, unable to access our feelings or communicate them. Together with treatment, warming herbs and foods and gently stimulating activities can help stoke our Heart fire.
Check out 5 Element Healing Anointing Oils for some gentle aromatherapy designed to support the 5 elements and our emotional well-being.
Wishing you a happy heart!
The Tao of Nutrition, Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease
The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine, Bob Flaws and Philippe Sionneau
Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine. Lonny S. Jarrett
The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Giovanni Maciocia
Chinese System of Food Cures, Henry Lu
Healing with the Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra
Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, Mary C. Tassell, Rosari Kingston, Deirdre Gilroy, Mary Lehane, and Ambrose Furey