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Chinese medicine views the organs not as separate entities, but as connected physical, chemical, and energetic networks. Here, we’ll dive deeper into the Chinese medicine concept of the Spleen system and how we can use herbal medicine to boost our health.
(Note: we will capitalize “Heart” when discussing the Chinese medicine Heart system to differentiate from the general organ of the heart.)
The main functions of the Heart system in Chinese medicine are to course qi and blood throughout the body and process and express emotions.
Emotions: all emotions, joy, delirium, numbness, heartbreak
Sense Organ: Tongue
Paired Organ: Small Intestine
Western Associations: heart
Other Associations: pericardium, blood vessels, blood
Common Conditions: cardiovascular conditions, arm pain, wrist pain, palpitations, anxiety, any emotional condition, fatigue, poor memory, forgetfulness, dream-distrubed sleep, insomnia, tongue ulcers, speech disorders.
In Chinese medicine, the Heart is considered the “emperor” and is said to “govern” the blood. This means that it is the job of the Heart to manage and maintain the flow of blood through the entire body.
The Heart is also the seat of mind in Chinese medicine, unlike in Western medicine where we think of the brain as our mental center. It is from the Heart that we plan, process, focus, and dream. Conditions like forgetfulness, memory loss, and mental illnesses are often attributed to the Heart system.
Each organ system relates to a specific emotion that we feel when the system is out of balance. For instance, the Liver’s emotion is anger, and Kidney’s emotion is fear. When it comes to the Heart, it’s main emotion is joy, but it experiences and processes all emotions.
The Heart is also the keeper of the spirit (or Shen), which needs a safe and nourished place to rest for us to be able to fall asleep. When the Heart is healthy, we are able to fall asleep and rest quietly through the night, feeling refreshed when we wake up. When out of balance, however, we have trouble sleeping, can’t stay asleep at night, and may even have nightmares.
The Heart system has an important impact on the mouth, tongue, and speech. The Heart channel opens to the tongue. Issues with speech, stuttering, incessant talking, inappropriate laughter, or an inability to speak up for yourself or express yourself are sometimes considered Heart system problems.
Each organ in Chinese medicine is associated with an energetic channel where qi travels along the body, closer to the surface of the skin. These channels create a web of connections and are how acupuncturists “tap” into the body’s energetic system to stimulate change.
The Heart channel begins in the Heart itself, then enters the Lung. From there, it emerges at the armpit and travels down the inside of the arm, elbow, and to the ulnar (pinky) side of the wrist. It moves along the palm and up to the inside corner of the little finger.
An additional internal branch shoots off from the Heart to connect with its paired organ, the Small Intestine.
Because the Heart channel moves along the arm, wrist, and hand, it can be used to treat local pain in addition to the more internal conditions of the Heart. Interestingly, this is the same area where people tend to feel pain during a heart attack.
The Heart is a powerful organ that must be protected and nourished for a long and healthy life .Here are some of our favorite formulas to support the Heart and address heart health challenges:
Dan Shen is one of the most famous herbs for circulation. It helps to nourish the Heart system while also invigorating the blood and moving blood gently through the vessels. This formula can help to reduce chest pain and angina while increasing blood circulation. It could help to prevent heart attacks and stroke, but should be used with caution. Reach out to a Chinese medicine herbalist for advice.
An Shen Bu Xin Wan is the perfect formula for when you’re feeling hot, bothered, and restless. This excess heat can easily disturb the Heart and therefore your shen, or spirit/mind. The result? Insomnia, anxiety, and agitation. This formula cools and calms the Heart so you can relax.
When the Heart is undernourished, the spirit can’t rest. We experience this as nighttime anxiety, trouble staying asleep, or dream-disturbed sleep. Suan Zao Ren Tang helps to nourish and tonify the Heart and blood so your mind can peacefully drift off to bed, or stay cool, calm, and collected during the day.
Two other formulas which nourish the Heart and calm the spirit (Shen) to promote restful sleep are An Mien Pian (also helps when sleeplessness is tied to digestion– for instance eating too close to bedtime) and An Shui Wan (a large formula which contains several herbs that all go to the Heart to help create the conditions for peaceful sleep and a calm Spirit overall).
As the “emperor” of your body, the Heart deserves some extra TLC. Shop our full collection of Chinese herbal formulas for better heart health and emotional balance today!