Browsing Tag

mental health

Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Men's Health, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women's Health

The Heart-Mind and Fire Element

June 26, 2015
The Fire Element

Happy Friday! I hope that everyone had a great week! A couple months ago, I talked about tips to stay heart healthy and how to prevent heart disease on a physical level (read the tips here). Today I want to focus on the heart on a mental level and as an emotional center. In Chinese medicine, the heart houses the mind and controls our consciousness, spirit, sleep, and memory. It is safe to say that our mental hearts and our minds are one and the same. When the heart-mind is harmonious and balanced we have mental clarity. We are able to solve problems easily where solutions come to mind (no pun intended) logically and quickly. When the heart-mind is imbalanced, we will see a whole host of problems ranging from depression, anxiety, and loss of memory to insomnia, palpitations and restless energy. To better understand this concept, we need to understand the fire element, the element associated with summer (read the basics of the summer season here).

The Fire Element

The fire element of the heart governs our ability to feel love and joy while dealing with all “matters of the heart” on an emotional level (read about the mind body connection and our emotions here). It also reflects our relationship with ourselves and others. The fire element is the spark that ignites our emotional hearts and inspires us to live our lives to the fullest. When our heart-mind is in balance, we are genuinely happy and we are able to feel and give love.

Imagine a bonfire at a summer party. When the fire is in balance, it is warm, glowing, radiant, and emitting the perfect amount of heat. People are naturally drawn to the warmth of the fire and congregate together. This resembles the positive qualities of the fire element, when we feel love, joy, connection, fun, and a sense of community and sharing.

What happens when the fire starts to die out? We see the remains of a fire, fading embers, and gray ashes. There is no longer a radiant flame. The people surrounding the fire become cold and leave. This is what happens when someone’s heart fire becomes deficient or depleted and they become lifeless, cold, isolated, depressed, and weak. This is especially apparent in the eyes, where they literally lose their sparkle. The sparkle in the eyes reflects our spirit or shen (one of the three treasures that I discussed about here).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what if this fire starts blazing out of control? People start dispersing to protect themselves as the flames spill uncontrollably out of the firepit. This reflects people who have excessive heart fire and a difficult time controlling their emotions or are excessive attention seekers. They may laugh inappropriately or uncontrollably and drive others away with their lack of boundaries.

Heart-Mind Disharmony

Let’s review the different spectrum of heart-mind disharmony.

For those with deficient heart fire (i.e. those who have lost their spirit), we may see:

  • palpitations
  • irregular and weak pulses
  • lethargy and general body weakness
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • apathy or hopelessness
  • poor circulation
  • weak spirit
  • aversion to cold
  • general body weakness
  • chest pain
  • hardening and thickening of the arteries
  • nervous disorders such as anxiety with irrational fears and phobias

This is generally caused by a deficiency in qi energy and yang of the heart. The organs most related to a weak qi energy are the lungs and spleen-pancreas, as well as liver qi stagnation, or inability of the liver to smoothly circulate energy throughout the body. (To review the functions of qi energy, read here.)

For those with an unstable spirit, or excessive heart fire, we may see:

  • initially, incessant mind wandering
  • aversion to heat
  • insomnia or restless sleep
  • memory loss
  • lack of boundaries
  • attempt to control self or others
  • excessive or inappropriate laughter
  • a scattered or confused mind
  • speech problems such as stuttering, excess verbiage, or confused speech
  • restless, scattered, or explosive energy
  • irregular or racing heartbeat
  • excessive dreaming
  • irrational behavior
  • or in extreme cases insanity or mental illness

This is generally caused by deficiency in yin of the kidney or deficiency in blood (review the properties of blood here).

Healing the Heart – Calming and Focusing the Mind

The heart truly depends on other organs of the body, namely the kidneys, lungs, spleen-pancreas, and/or liver for its nourishment and energy. Once these organs are restored to balance, heart fire balance will follow suit. Also, a general rule of thumb is to eat less mucus and phlegm producing foods as they can physically clog the heart and arteries.

To calm and focus the mind, a simple diet is best. Avoid foods that scatter the mind or overheat the body such as spicy and rich foods, refined sugar, alcohol, coffee, or late night eating and eating large heavy evening meals. The following foods help decrease nervousness, treat insomnia, and improve mental clarity:

  • Minerals, such as calcium and magnesium help to build the yin of the heart, hence calming the mind. Green veggies are generally rich in magnesium since magnesium is usually at the center of every chlorophyll molecule. Magnesium also facilitates calcium to function properly in heart and nerve tissues. (Review the many healing properties of calcium and magnesium here.)
  • Grains like whole wheat, brown rice, and oats can gently but significantly calm the mind.
  • Mushrooms all have very cerebral effects. I have talked about how Reishi mushroom can calm the mind, improve memory, sharpen concentration and focus, increase willpower, and build wisdom.
  • Silicon containing foods such as barley, cucumber, celery, lettuce, and celery/lettuce juice improve calcium metabolism and enhance nerve and heart tissue.
  • Fruits such as mulberries and lemons calm the mind (mulberries being the stronger of the two).
  • Jujube seeds are widely used as a Chinese herbal remedy to calm the spirit.
  • Spices such as dill and basil can be eaten with food or added to teas to calm the mind.
  • Bitter flavored foods also affect and heal the heart. They can cleanse the physical heart and deposits in the arteries while also cooling an overheated heart.

I hope you have a better understanding now of our heart-mind as an emotional unit. Be happy and have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Contact Dr. Elain
Back to Top
Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Mind-Body Connection and Our Emotions

May 13, 2015
The Mind Body Connection and our Emotions

While Western medicine usually sees emotions as a secondary factor or an effect resulting from physical disease, Chinese Medicine views the emotions as an integral part of our internal organ’s interactions and oftentimes as the primary cause of disease. Emotions are not “good” or “bad”, but reflections of how we interact with life experiences as well as ourselves. It is important for us to express different emotions at appropriate times. For example, when a loved one passes away, one should feel grief and sadness. In fact, it is abnormal not to, and detrimental to our physical health if we ignore or suppress these emotions as they will manifest physically in our bodies. Our emotions also become the cause of disease if they are extreme and especially if they are prolonged over time. The inseparable connection between the mind and body shows that emotions are not only the cause of disease, but that they can also be caused by disease. For example, having prolonged fear and anxiety, the emotions associated with the Kidneys, can cause Kidney weakness. On the same token, weak or deficient Kidneys, which can happen after having too many children in a short period of time, may cause fear and anxiety.

Suppressing appropriate emotions or having prolonged emotions will cause emotional blockages in our meridians and may ultimately lead to physical disease. Each emotion is connected to a different organ system in our bodies. It is important to find out the underlying emotional component and treat the appropriate organ system and its corresponding meridian (I will discuss meridians and acupuncture points in more detail later). These emotions are then processed and released, so that we do not become “stuck” with the emotions, resulting in physical problems. This is the intricate connection between the mind and body. There are seven major emotions in Chinese medicine. Let’s take a look at each of these emotions.

Anger

Anger is the one emotion that will include several other related emotional states. It is probably the emotion that most of us deal with on a day to day basis from stress (road rage anyone?). It can also be expressed as:

  • resentment
  • repressed anger
  • irritability or annoyance
  • frustration, (internalized anger)
  • rage
  • indignation (anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment)
  • animosity
  • bitterness
  • impatience
  • violence or belligerence
  • arrogance
  • stubborness
  • aggression
  • impulsive or explosive personality

These emotional states will mainly affect the Liver and if they persist can cause Liver Qi or blood stagnation (review Qi and Blood pathology here and here). Anger can also cause Qi (energy) to rise in our body causing signs and symptoms to show up in our head and neck such as headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, a red face, red tongue, or thirst. Headaches are one of the most common symptoms caused by anger. Who hasn’t gotten a headache after being really angry?

Repressed anger and resentment, usually towards a family member, can also develop into depression. In this case, someone can appear subdued, depressed, and pale. The way to determine whether the depression is due to anger or sadness is to look at the tongue color. Depression due to anger will manifest a red or dark-red tongue and wiry pulse.

Anger can also affect the Stomach and Spleen (digestive system). The interaction between our Liver and Spleen/Stomach (digestive system) will become clear when we discuss The Five Element Theory. The take home lesson of this is not to get angry while you are eating, which can easily cause digestive problems.

Nutritional Guidelines to Treat and Heal the Liver

– When liver qi stagnates, the best thing to do is eat less (unless you are malnourished). It is also important to eliminate foods that further damage the liver, such as foods high in saturated fats (meat, cream, cheese, and eggs).
– Foods that get rid of liver qi stagnation are moderately pungent foods, herbs, and spices (review the Five Flavors here) : watercress, all members of the onion family (chives, garlic, leeks, scallions), mustard greens, turmeric, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, marjoram, fennel, dill, ginger, horseradish, rosemary, mint, and lemon.

Joy

Joy is only a cause of disease when we experience excessive excitement or continuous mental stimulation (no matter how pleasurable), which will affect the Heart and cause Heart Yin deficiency. For example, a migraine attack can be triggered by sudden excitement from good news. Have you ever been so happy and excited about something that caused a headache or your heart to flutter and skip a beat?

Nutritional Guidelines to Treat and Heal the Heart

In order to enrich the body’s yin, the Heart will usually rely on Kidney Yin for replenishment. Foods that strengthen Kidney Yin will also strengthen Heart Yin. These foods include parsley, wheat berry (sourdough bread), and sweet rice. Herbs that strengthen Kidney Yin include: rose hips, oyster shell (in supplement form), clam shell, schisandra fruit, raspberry and blackberry leaves.

Sadness

Sadness or grief directly weakens Lung Qi but also affects the Heart. Prolonged sadness and grief can lead to symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, depression, or crying. This is most common after the death of a close family member. In cases of severe grief, this can lead to more devastating diseases. A poignant example is when Christopher Reeve’s wife, Dana Reeve was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 44, despite never smoking, less than a year after his death. Sadly, she also passed within 7 months of her diagnosis.

Foods that support Lung Qi

– Foods and herbs that strengthen lung qi include rice, sweet rice, oats, carrot, mustard greens, sweet potatos, yams, potatoes, ginger, garlic, molasses, barley malt, and herring.
– Cooling and mucus forming foods should be restricted (citrus fruits, milk and dairy products, spinach, chard, and seaweed).

Worry and Pensiveness

Anyone out there who thinks or studies too much? If so, your Spleen and Stomach, or digestive system will directly be affected causing symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, and loose stools. This is most commonly seen in those in school, graduate studies requiring excessive mental work, or those with demanding intellectual occupations. Spleen weakness and deficiency will cause accumulation of mucus and phlegm in our bodies and is further aggravated by a person who doesn’t eat on time, eats too fast, or discusses work while eating. Sound familiar?

Chronic worry will not only injure the digestive system, but also the Lungs. The most common causes of worry are financial, employment, and family problems. Weak Lung Qi will lead to anxiety, shortness of breath, and stiffness in the shoulders and neck. Instead of worrying about your problems, do something about it, since worrying will only make you sick and do nothing to resolve the situation.

Foods that strengthen Digestion/Spleen and Stomach Qi (previously discussed here)

– Foods that help Spleen Qi deficiency are sweet and/or pungent.
– This includes complex carbohydrates: rice (in the form of congee), oats, spelt, sweet rice
– Carbohydrate-rich vegetables: winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, trurnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, yam, and pumpkin
– Pungent veggies and spices: onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg
– Severe deficiency will require small amounts of animal products in congee: mackerel, tuna, halibut, anchovy, beef, chicken, turkey, or lamb.

Fear

As I discussed above, fear and anxiety are the emotions associated with the Kidneys. An easy way to remember is when someone is scared, they pee in their pants. Good analogy? Fear drains Kidney Qi and makes it descend. It also drains our Essence (read more about Essence here). Fear in children causes descending Qi and nocturnal enuresis, usually from insecurity. In adults, fear and chronic anxiety will deplete the Kidney’s Yin, or cooling power, and cause heat in the face, night sweats, palpitations, dry mouth and throat.

Foods that Nourish Kidney Yin and Essence/Jing (previously discussed here)

In general, foods that nourish the Kidney will also nourish Jing. However, choosing the appropriate foods and herbs to strengthen our Kidneys largely depend on each individual’s constitution and condition.

Cooling Jing Foods – for those who tend to have heat signs and symptoms, yin deficiency, or excess

– chlorella, spirulina, black beans, seaweed, wheat grass, blue-green microalgae, almonds, and bone marrow soup

Warming Jing Foods – for those who tend to have cold signs or deficiency symptoms

– royal jelly, bee pollen, milk, clarified butter, placenta, dear antler, walnuts, animal products (chicken, liver, beef or lamb kidney) and warming seafood (especially mussels; also trout, salmon, anchovy)

Shock

Mental shock affects the Heart and Kidney. It will suddenly deplete Heart Qi leading to palpitations and insomnia. It also affects the Kidneys since our bodies must use Essence to replenish the sudden exhaustion of energy. This can cause night sweats, dry mouth, dizziness, and tinnitus.

What you need to know:

  • Chinese Medicine views the emotions as an integral part of our internal organ’s interactions. This is the mind body connection.
  • If emotions are suppressed or prolonged, physical disease may manifest in the associated organ. Weak organs can also cause the emotions to appear.
  • The seven major emotions are anger (liver), joy (heart), sadness (lungs), pensiveness and worry (stomach and spleen), fear (kidneys) and shock (heart and kidneys).

Which emotion do you think you are most affected by?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Contact Dr. Elain
Back to Top
Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Men's Health, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women's Health

The Four Vital Substances Part 2 – Essence (Jing)

May 1, 2015
Walnuts nourish Essence and Jing

May is Mental Health Awareness month and couldn’t come at a better time since the Vital Substance I am talking about today is closely associated with our mental vitality. Earlier this week, I introduced the concept of Qi (energy) as one of the four Vital Substances in our bodies (read about it here). The next Vital Substance, Essence, also known as “Jing” in Chinese Medicine, is essential to life and one of the foundations of mental health.

Essence

Essence in Chinese is “Jing” (精). The Chinese character defines it as “something derived (or extracted) from a process of refinement of a larger crude substance.” For example, the essence of a perfume is extracted from raw materials such as flowers, grass, spices, fruit, or wood. Hence, Essence is a concentrated and precious substance. It is associated with our genetic potential and the aging process. The quantity of Essence we have dictates our lifespan and vitality.

1) Prenatal Essence or Original Jing – At conception, the combination of the mother and father’s refined Essence forms Prenatal Essence. This blended Essence develops an energy that is the basis of new human life.  Before birth, the fetus relies on the mother to protect and nourish its Prenatal Essence. After birth, Prenatal Essence becomes active and helps in transformation of food to energy.  A small amount of Prenatal Essence is constantly released which is used by our bodies to maintain function. Prenatal Essence determines our constitutional make-up, how long we live, and our individual vitality. This largely depends on the age and health of the parents at conception, and especially the age and health of the mother. This is also what makes each of us unique. Original Jing is fixed in quantity and quality, meaning once it’s used up, it cannot be replenished and we die.

2) Postnatal Essence or Postnatal Jing – Formed after birth, this Essence is extracted and refined by the Stomach and Spleen (the digestive system) from food and fluids. When Postnatal Essence is maintained at sufficient levels, our Prenatal Essence is used more slowly, which in turn slows the aging process. This is why people take Jing tonic herbs, to maintain Postnatal Jing levels.

3) The Essence (Jing) – This Essence, used for the entire body, is stored in our Kidneys and derived from both Prenatal and Postnatal Essence. It is also a hereditary energy that determines our constitutional make-up, but can be replenished through interaction with Postnatal Essence. It is the root of our vitality and a very concentrated energy. Strong Jing energy will lead to a long and healthful life, whereas loss of Jing will cause physical and mental deterioration, leading to a shortened life.

The difference between Essence and Qi:

– Essence comes from our parents, while Qi is formed after birth
– Essence is fluid-like, Qi is energy-like
– Essence is stored in the kidneys, Qi is everywhere
– Essence is difficult to replenish, while Qi can be restored daily
– Essence changes slowly and gradually, whereas Qi moves quickly

So is Essence more yin or yang relative to Qi?? If you’ve been following, the answer is easy. =)

Essence Functions

  • determines growth and development – Essence controls growth of bones, teeth, hair, brain development, sexual maturation, reproductive function and fertility, which are all part of the Kidney’s function in Chinese medicine. Deficiency results in stunted growth, poor bone growth, infertility, frequent miscarriages, mental retardation in children, loose teeth, and premature graying hair.
  • forms the foundation for Kidney Qi (Kidney energy) – Deficiency of Kidney Qi results in poor sexual function, impotence, weak knees, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and deafness.
  • produces Marrow – This Marrow is not the same as the bone marrow recognized in Western Medicine but a broader term. Marrow not only produces bone marrow but also constitutes the brain and spinal cord, nourishing these areas. This means that Kidney Essence plays a crucial role in brain function and mental health. Weak Kidney Essence may lead to lack of concentration, poor memory, dizziness, and more serious mental problems if severely depleted.
  • determines constitutional strength and our resistance to exterior or external pathogenic factors. Our Defensive Qi draws from Kidney Essence. Weak Kidney Essence results in frequent colds, influenza, susceptibility to exterior pathogenic factors, chronic rhinitis, and allergies.

Factors that Deplete Essence (Jing)

  • chronic and acute stress, chronic pain and illness
  • excessive behavior such as overwork, excessive emotions (especially fear, anxiety and shock, emotions which weaken the Kidney), substance abuse, sexual excess (especially in men and old age)
  • excessive menstrual patterns (heavy periods) and too many pregnancies (more than one’s constitution can adequately support, which is different for everyone)

Foods that Nourish Jing

In general, foods that nourish the Kidney will also nourish Jing. However, choosing the appropriate foods and herbs to use as Jing tonics largely depend on each individual’s constitution and condition.

Cooling Jing Foods – for those who tend to have heat signs and symptoms, yin deficiency, or excess

– chlorella, spirulina, black beans, seaweed, wheat grass, blue-green microalgae, almonds, and bone marrow soup

Warming Jing Foods – for those who tend to have cold signs or deficiency symptoms

– royal jelly, bee pollen, milk, clarified butter, placenta, dear antler, walnuts, animal products (chicken, liver, beef or lamb kidney) and warming seafood (especially mussels; also trout, salmon, anchovy)

For children with severe Jing deficiency, there will be stunted growth, learning disabilities, mental retardation, skeletal weakness and deformities, and failure of the fontanel (skull bones) to close. Deer antler is specifically used for these conditions as well as tortoise shell in failure of fontanel closure.

Note: Did you notice that walnuts and salmon are included in this list? They are both high in Omega-3 fatty acids making them good for the brain which also means it strengthens Essence. See how everything is coming together?

The Three Treasures

A final note on Essence and mental health. Essence and Qi form the foundation of the Mind also known as Shen (神), which is the most immaterial substance in our bodies. Together they form the “Three Treasures” which are the three fundamental physical and psychic substances of human beings. The Chinese word “Jing Shen” 精神 collectively means spirit. The strength of our spirit and mental health ultimately depend on the strength of our Essence (Jing). Coming soon, I will discuss some major Jing tonics that help strengthen and stabilize our mind and spirits keeping us mentally sharp and strong!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Contact Dr. Elain
Back to Top