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.
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:
- irregular and weak pulses
- lethargy and general body weakness
- 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,
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford