Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the body in terms of energy and balance. Energy (qi) runs in channels throughout the body and these channels are named after organ that you have heard of before. However, from a TCM perspective, the organs function very differently than Western medicine. In fact, the TCM organs have nothing to do with Western medical function at all. Therefore, when a person comes in for acupuncture and is told there is an imbalance within the “liver”, the acupuncturist is referencing the liver energy, never the actual liver itself.
The heart channel is one of my most favorite channels from an emotional standpoint. Classically, the heart is known to govern the blood in the body and store the “shen”. Shen is similar to conciousness. During the day, the shen goes out and interacts with the world and when we sleep at night, it is because the shen is “sleeping” in the heart. Thus whenever a person is having difficulty falling asleep or is prone to excessive dreaming, the acupuncturist will identify a pathology of the heart.
The heart is also said to govern all emotions. There are 5 main organs from a TCM perspective and each organ corresponds with a unique emotion, however it is the heart itself that processes all emotions of the other organs. Whenever we are in a state of chaos or feel completely overwhelmed (with stress, grief, fear, etc.), it is our heart qi that suffers the most. This is when people really begin to feel scattered and are unable to figure out what’s wrong or the source of the problem. The role of the acupuncturist, in this case, is to strengthen the qi of the heart and calm the shen. This way, the heart (and shen) are able to process and sort out these emotions. This is similar to the idea of taking vitamins or supplements when the body is deficient in certain nutrients.
What else can we do to support our own heart qi? The best thing is to acknowledge and experience emotions in a healthy manner. Especially from a TCM perspective, it is normal that we experience a range of emotions throughout the day. However, it becomes pathological when we hold on to one specific emotion for too long. Then it begins to “fester” and really weigh down the qi of the heart. I see many patients who try to hide their feelings and keep everything inside–trying to be strong. However, there is no growth or benefit that comes from this philosophy.
There are sayings like “speak from the heart” or “listen to your heart”. Never have these ideas been so accurate as when put into a TCM perspective!