The Heart houses the Shen, our mental energy and conscious awareness. The Shen is is our human capacity for connection, a vehicle for communication and the conscious integration of self awareness.
According to TCM theory, the Heart is the residence of the Shen and it plays a vital role in mental and emotional conditions. Inspiration, passion and the “lust for life” are all represented in the Fire element system.
The Heart opens to the tongue and is related to the flow of interpersonal communication and circulation of ideas. Have you ever noticed a difference in yourself or others when they are speaking from the heart? Maybe there is a flow, an openness or a relatability.
The Yin energies of the Heart involve personal insight and its function is to control the venous circulation of blood. The Yang energies of the Heart form expression and are represented in the arterial blood and the force that moves it, Yang Qi. These energies Yin Qi and Yang Qi are the foundation of the Shen.
An example of this Yin and Yang energies is seen in the dynamic of ideas and inspiration (Yin Qi) being brought to fruition by the action and energy put into circulation (Yang Qi). Passion, as well as the “art of love” and our conscious intellectual and emotional awareness are also energies housed by the Heart. How we love comes from our ability to express our desires and needs as well as being able to receive others in their expression of wants and needs.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine and Psychology point of view, Dr. Leon Hammer writes, “If Heart Yin energies are intact, the right creative side is functioning, and if Heart Yang energies are intact, the left logical and expressive ego functions will perform their roles in the total creative production.”
This expression of Yin and Yang coming from the Heart are the balancing forces that stabilize the mind. When our hearts and minds are harmonized, we are able to express ideas and communicate with others. Harmonious Shen also allows for the receptivity of others joy, passion and warmth.
Have you ever worn your heart on your sleeve? What words did you speak from the heart, without thinking? This is the energy of the heart, a place of intuition and emotional awareness.
Research shows that the heart has 40K sensory neuron cells in a concentrated network that are sensing, feeling, learning and remembering. The heart remembers and the heart knows.
So what happens when our heart is in disharmony?
Traditional Chinese Medicine describes a condition called Shen disturbance. This is when severe emotional distress has obstructed a person’s Spirit. Western diagnostics may suggest anxiety, depression, bipolar, manic depressive, OCD. Other more severe psychological disorders can also scatter, weaken or block the Shen.
Imbalances of the Shen generate heat, flaring upward and disturbing the Yin and Yang energies of the Heart. This can manifest as anxiety, manic behaviors, nervous exhaustion, insomnia or restlessness.
In the Meridian System, the Primary Heart Channel originates in the Heart and from the blood vessels surrounding the Heart. From the axilla at HT1, the Heart channel travels along the medial aspect of the upper arm to the elbow at HT3 and travels the antero-medial aspect of the lower arm, wrist, and little finger to terminate at HT9.
Commonly the axilla and shoulder joint capsule area are restricted or frozen. From my experience most people have deep tension and hypersensitivity within the axilla. The fluidity of the tissues is often congested, feeling dense and without fluidity. The associated structures like the scapula, rib cage and diaphragm are bound like a corset, restricting lung and breath capacity. It’s no surprise that we are protective and guarding of our hearts. This can be seen in body language with our arms held tightly against our sides, expressing a closed position or guarding.
It is a sensitive area to get into and can bring up some unexpected emotions trapped in the tissues. Anxiousness or sudden perspiration are “fight or flight” patterns within the fascia at the brachial plexus. This is often the work of Somatic practices, re-wiring the nervous system so that it can discern threat from non threat.
Using points along the heart channel have the potential to regulate the heart’s rhythm, reduce anxiety and palpitations and promote better sleep. The heart channel is often paired with points on the kidney channel to promote balance between the Fire and Water Element.
Chinese philosophy considered emotional sensibility and emotional intelligence as our greatest asset in the process of fulfilling human destiny.
Shen is recognized as one of the three treasures in longevity medicine. We are advised by the Sages, “Guard with care, secure and nurse these vital forces Jing, Qi, Shen and nothing else.”
Hammer, Leon MD. Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies. Psychology and Chinese Medicine. Station Hill Press.
Beinfield, Harriet. Korngold, Efrem. Between Heaven and Earth. A Guide To Chinese Medicine. Ballatine Books.
Fruehauf, Heiner. All Disease Comes From the Heart: The Pivotal Role of the Emotions in Classical Chinese Medicine. Classicalchinesemedicine.org