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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
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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Tips to Stay Healthy During Summer

June 22, 2015
Bright Summer Day

Happy summer everyone! I apologize for the lack of blog posts lately. Work has been super busy, which hasn’t allowed me any time to blog, but I promise I have a lot of practical and useful information coming your way! Summer is finally here and I wanted to share some tips on how to stay healthy during the summer season.

Summer Basics

Summer, like spring, is also a yang season and represents tremendous abundance, energy, and growth. It is a time for activity, movement, expansion and creativity. Nature also reflects this activity where plants continue to grow from the spring season and flowers are blooming more than ever. It is a light and bright season. To keep in harmony with the summer season, it is still important to wake early, but it is also a season where you can go to bed later. The days are longer, giving us more time to get things done. It is really a time to work, play, travel, and be happy!

With regards to the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water), summer is represented by the fire element. Do you remember which element pairs with Spring? (Read here to review Spring basics.) The fire element governs the heart and small intestine. It also controls our ability to feel love and joy. When the heart is in harmony and our emotions are in balance, this joy should translate to an overall enthusiasm for life. However, an excess of the fire element and an excess of joy can cause restlessness and hyperexcitability, while a deficiency in fire may cause decreased joy and even apathy or depression. In Chinese medicine, the heart not only regulates blood circulation but controls our consciousness, spirit, sleep, memory, and houses the mind. Hence, it is also very much related to the nervous system and brain. We will talk more about how to tell if your fire element and heart is in balance.

The following are basic concepts to remember about the Summer Season:

  • Five elements: Fire
  • Organs: Heart/Mind and Small Intestine
  • Sense Organ: Tongue/Speech
  • Tissue: Blood vessels
  • Emotion: Joy
  • Voice Sound: Laughing
  • Fluid Emitted: Sweat
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Wisdom and Concentration
  • Enviromental Influence: Heat*
  • Development: Growth
  • Color: Red
  • Taste: Bitter
  • Direction: South

*Note: We have discussed the external pathogenic factor of wind associated with Spring here, but we have not talked about Summer heat yet. Summer heat in the body is caused by extreme heat during this season that can later manifest into heat signs and symptoms in the body.

Summer Foods and Preparation

Foods to cook during summer should be brightly colored fruits and veggies. Cooking should be light and short while regularly adding a small amount of spicy and pungent flavors to the food. Spices and pungent flavors can induce sweating, which help to cool the body, especially if you are prone to being hot. The key is not to overdo it with the spicy foods. In the same vein, don’t eat too many cold foods either as it weakens the digestive organs and causes contraction which can hold in sweat and heat. Similar to spring, foods should be sauteed as quickly as possible and also steamed and simmered in a short amount of time.

When it is really hot, the best cooling fresh foods to eat are salads, sprouts, fruit, and cucumber. Cooling teas include chrysanthemum, mint, and chamomile, while common cooling fruits are watermelon, apples, lemons, and limes. As I mentioned above, dispersing hot-flavored spices are also considered appropriate for hot weather, as long as you don’t overdo it. While the initial effect is to increase warmth in the body, the spices should ultimately bring body heat to the surface (our skin) to disperse as sweat. Examples of dispersing hot foods to include in the diet are red and green chili peppers, cayenne red pepper, fresh (and not dried) ginger, horseradish, and black pepper. Again, I can’t stress enough, eating too many dispersing foods will result in body weakness and actually a loss of yang, decreasing your ability to stay warm during the cooler seasons. This is why hot and spicy foods should usually be added in smaller quantities.

It’s best to minimize or avoid heavy foods during hot summer days as this can cause sluggishness. These foods include excess meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, and grains. In general eating less and eating light on a hot, bright summer day will keep you healthy and energized through the season.

Cooling fruits, veggies, and herbs to keep in mind during the summer:

  • Apples
  • Apricot
  • Cantaloupe
  • Lemons/LImes
  • Orange
  • Peach
  • Watermelon
  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Mung Beans
  • Seaweed
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts
  • Summer squash
  • Watercress
  • White Mushroom
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Mint
  • Peppermint

Summary of tips for the summer season:

  • Wake up early.
  • Rest in the middle of the day.
  • Go to bed later in the evening.
  • Stay hydrated with water. Drinking water infused with lemon and cucumber throughout the day will keep you cool.
  • Add pungent flavors to your diet.
  • Eat in moderation as overeating, especially during the hot weather can cause indigestion and sluggishness.
  • Avoid heavy, greasy foods such as dairy and fried foods.
  • Try not to get angry or irritated over things and instead stay calm and even-tempered. (Anger and frustration can also increase heat and stagnation in your body).

Enjoy your summer!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Contact Dr. Elain
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