How do you see your heart? Most people see it as a physical organ only. When they talk about their heart it’s usually in terms of cholesterol, eggs, fatty foods or health problems. It is true, the human heart is a powerful muscle. What you think of as a heartbeat is actually a muscle expanding and contracting. Each heartbeat pumps 2 to 3 ounces of blood on its journey around the body and through the 60,000 miles of blood vessels that make up your vascular system. This all takes place in a minute, which is about the time it takes your heart to send 1.3 gallons of blood out to nourish every cell in your body.
From a purely physical standpoint, this muscle is amazing, but the way it functions is truly a miracle. Every single day of your life, your system requires about 100,000 heartbeats to send 2000 gallons of oxygenated blood streaming throughout your body to maintain it. In terms of work that’s 35 million heartbeats and 700,000 gallons of blood each year. It’s quite a workhorse. But that’s just one way to look at it. Some people refer to their heart when talking about emotional issues such as love. It’s where we “feel” our emotions, and it goes way beyond love. Joy is the hearts true emotion but we seldom dwell there due to our stress and inability to shut off our minds.
Another way of looking at the heart is as an energetic center. In the Tantric system of energy, the heart is a center or chakra serving as the pivotal point between upper and lower energy fields of the body. Upper are usually associated with higher or more spiritual energy as opposed to lower issues of procreation and survival. The heart sits in the middle and can control the use of all your energy centers. That is of course if you are in control of your heart. So which are you? If you’re confused don’t be. You’re actually all three in varying degrees weather you’re aware of it or not.
The Taoists who originated all the healing arts in China, including Chinese medicine, felt the Heart held a person’s Shen or inner spirit. It was up to each individual to be engaged in certain activities that would help this inner light to come out and guide their life. They developed many forms of meditation, exercise and herbal formulations to assist them on this journey of discovering their true self. The Taoist had this idea that consciousness was an aspect of Heart/Shen and had very little to do with the brain.
One of the beauties of Chinese herbology is the ability to see that heart health involved different aspect such as emotions and the physical organ. Herbs were often used on a daily basis for promoting spiritual or emotional wellbeing. Herbs like polygala, albizzia flower, and reishi mushroom kept you on an even keel and opened you up to seeing life differently. We use those same herbs in TianChi and Inner Peace. It’s foundation of why I always say herbs put you in an energetic position to have an experience.
The impact of the emotions on heart health is easily understood when viewed through the Heart/mind aspect of Chinese Herbology. The Heart houses the mind, our innate intelligence, and relates to intuition or inner knowing more than analyzing data. The brain has more to do with accumulated information and working knowledge. Having a balanced blend of both helps us navigate through life. Modern living with its massive information overload and high paced lifestyle, tips the scale toward dependence on brain activity. Without the balance of quiet time for inner reflection, it’s easy to lose the connection to our real Heart, the center of inner knowing.
Relying strictly on brain activity to make crucial decisions puts you in a position of constant activation of your sympathetic nervous system. Constant soon becomes chronic as the body loses its ability to shut it off. Modern science calls this chronic stress and estimates that 90% of all disease is related to it. Reflection, meditation and breathing exercises are all ways of turning off sympathetic and turning on parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, switching from pure reaction to thoughtful process. It’s not surprising all of these methods encompass the idea of “quiet time”.
We all have ways of expressing things that indicate our innate intelligence about things of importance. “Getting to the heart of the matter”, “My heart’s not into it”, are expressions indicating that our “feeling Heart” lies at the center of decisions that matter most to us. It’s also why events that go against how you feel about things have such a powerful impact on the physical health of your heart. You have this organ that’s responsible for your consciousness, emotions and spirit, along with making sure blood is circulating and nourishing every aspect of your physical health. It is linked to nervous system activity and directly affected by stress and circulation of blood and energy.
Falling short of fulfilling our dreams, whether realistic or imagined, causes frustration that easily turns into anger or depression. Working in a job that stifles your creativity can add to your frustration and disruption of our carefree movement through life. Any negative emotional expression that goes on for too long will have a physical impact on your circulation of energy and will eventually impact the health of your heart.
The Liver is also connected to the nervous system and in charge of the degree of tension in your tendons and ligaments. That tightness in your neck and shoulders is really just a disruption in the flow of energy of the Liver and triggered by the daily frustration you encounter and label as stress. The same stress arising from your creative frustration at work or inability to express yourself can get bottled up to the point of feeling like you’re going to explode. This bottled emotional energy has to express itself and for most people who stuff down their emotions, it usually manifests as headaches, teeth grinding or even heart palpitations.
Just like the heart and liver organs are blood brothers, you could say on an emotional level, the Heart and Liver are “soul mates” in the fact that they are integrally related to your enjoyment of life. Like all relationships it takes an inter play of both energies to be able to experience life fully. The Heart rules the emotions and thus determines what aspects of Liver you’ll express on a daily basis. A person who is in touch with who they are on a spiritual level will be able to see the bigger picture in all situations and experience less frustration. Experiencing less frustration leads to fewer episodes of anger, which clouds the Hearts full expression.
In order for this relationship to work the Heart has to be in control. A truly Heart centered person will experience less trauma and drama, and be able to handle daily stressors better. Developing grace and compassion for the trials and tribulations of your fellow man is a great path to follow for tapping into your real Heart and be able to handle stress. That is why meditation, prayer, quiet time and getting out into nature have such a powerful influence on stress. It brings you back home to yourself and turns off your nervous system response to stress. It often takes the “big event”, such as a heart attack to slow down and reflect on what really happened.
One of the best stories I’ve ever read on this was by Michael Crichton in Travels. He told his own story of being a young medical student making the rounds of a cardiac ward and deciding one day to ask all the patients why they had a heart attack. Not a single patient on the ward talked about their diet, or fatty food, lack of exercise or cholesterol levels. Every single one of them talked about an event that wounded them emotionally, that struck at their real Heart. All the stories involved highly emotional events that they couldn’t face or were afraid to express their true feeling about. It brought home the idea that heart disease is as much about dis-ease as it is about poor food choices.
You can bet if you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress you’ve lost the internal struggle of your “soul mates” and your nervous system is over amped. Stress hormones are wrecking havoc with your body and now you’re stressed about your health. You might be thinking there’s no hope trying to do something about it, but there is hope. We created Inner Peace and TianChi for all of the above situations to relieve stress. Stress is the tipping point for all disease but dealing with it may be most important in keeping your heart healthy. Real formulas for stress establish proper rhythm in the body and allow for the free flow of emotions. It’s all about recovering from a stressful event and moving on. Your heart needs expression just as it needs to move on and heal.