The Role of the Heart (Xin)

…  in Traditional Chinese Medicine

The role of the heart, known in traditional Chinese physiology as the ruler of the other organs, has exceptional importance. Its function in traditional Chinese medicine parallels its Western anatomic function of pumping blood throughout the body to maintain life, but in the Eastern tradition it is also intimately involved with mental and emotional processes.
Considered the residence of the mind and spirit, the heart is the organ most often involved in psychological imbalances. Properly nourished and balanced, the heart maintains our innate wisdom, contentment, and emotional balance.

The Traditional Functions of the Heart

The heart controls the blood and blood vessels. When the heart is healthy, it pumps blood normally through the vessels to all parts of the body, nourishing the organs and maintaining vitality. A deficiency in this function can appear as pale complexion, cold hands and feet, palpitations, insomnia, and emotional disturbances.
The heart manifests on the face. When the heart is strong and possesses sufficient blood, the complexion is rosy, and the individual looks robust and healthy. When the heart blood is deficient, the person may look pale and unhealthy.
The heart houses the shen (spirit) and mind. This function encompasses the full range of human consciousness, including emotional health, mental function, memory, and spirituality. When the yin of the heart is deficient, a person can experience symptoms such as palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness.
When the heart blood is deficient, poor memory, depression, and a tendency to be “spaced out” or “in the clouds” can result.
TCM holds that “the heart controls speech.” Be sure to speak sweetly to your loved ones!

Nourishing your Heart

Nourishing your heart- connecting with Joy and love from a Chinese Medicine perspective
by Dr. Gabrielle Steinberg

February- the month when we celebrate our love for others and when the body’s energies start to stir for the impending spring.  In Chinese medicine,  the Heart is the organ system that houses the Shen, which is the mind, memory, consciousness, and spirit.  Maintaning a healthy heart both physically and emotionally helps to give you a life with joy, love and vitality.
The element associated with the Heart is Fire, and as such it is a warm and active organ.  Its activity is responsible for moving Blood throughout your body, but it is also the activity of your mind and the warmth of your body which animate you as a human being.  The color related to the Heart is red.
The emotion associated with the Heart is joy, which can be a double-edged sword, in that too much joy can become mania.  As the home of your Shen, your Heart is your connection to your spirituality, and to love.
Do you follow your heart or your head? When our heart element is in balance we possess the ability to follow our heart, integrate feelings, express our thoughts and experience the joy of being alive.

Nourishing your Heart
The key to nourishing your Heart is in connection.  Connecting with your sense of purpose through self-exploration, connecting with others in social situations, and connecting to the world around us are all nourishing to your Heart.

Nutritionally, foods that bring joy feed your Heart.  Meals that have been prepared with love, foods you love to eat, and gathering with friends and family for a meal are all Heart nourishing.  The taste associated with your Heart is bitter, the taste of that which has been burned.  Bitter foods such as dark chocolate and bitter greens are stimulating to your Heart.  Red foods and beverages derived from red foods are also good for your Heart, so stock up on tomatoes, red peppers, beets, apples, a little red meat and red wine.   Many foods that are good for the heart are also good for love making.

Other foods which nourish the heart include:

Lychees, watermelon, dandelion greens, peanuts, cherries, red lentils, nasturtium leaves, radish, rhubarb, Longan fruit, oily fish, and red dates
Steam or simmer the abundant supply of vegetables as quickly as possible to guarantee as little depletion as possible of natural vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Eat smaller, lighter meals. Use less salt, but add spices such as ginger, cinamon and cayenne to stimulate circulation.
The next time you are full of joy or feel something with all your heart, remember that in Chinese medicine, your Heart is actually the keeper of all your feelings.

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