Heart TCM

The Heart (xin) is one of the zang organs and is yin in nature. It rules the blood and blood vessels. When the Heart in TCM is working properly the blood flows smoothly and we can expect to see a normal complexion. A pale complexion can indicate a lack of blood, purple complexions can indicate stagnant blood.

Just like every other zang-fu organ, the Heart has its own Qi. The heart qi and blood are mutually dependent on each other – the blood nourishes the heart and the Heart qi is necessary to move the blood. If both are working in harmony, the pulse should be even and regular.

Our Shen (spirit) is stored within the Heart. When our heart is healthy, we are alert and respond well to our environs. Conversely, when our heart is imbalanced, our spirits can drop and we can be slow to react to our surroundings. If the hearts ability to store the shen is impaired we may suffer excessive dreaming, insomnia and hyper activity – almost as if our shen has nowhere to rest and so keeps us in a state of high activity!

Read More: Qi Circulation in the Body

While the face is an easy and readily available part of the body to assess the state of the heart, the heart opens onto the tongue. Look for a pale tongue to indicate a lack of blood or problems with the heart, a purple tongue to indicate stagnant blood. Also check for symptoms such as swollen tongue, deep cracks or ulcerations. Because the heart is so closely related to our Shen, we should look into the eyes to see the status of shen also. A healthy Shen will reflect in our eyes – I often think of smiling eyes as an indication of a strong and balanced Shen.

Body fluids are also controlled by the Heart in TCM and sweat is a good indicator of the heart. Excessive sweating indicates a lack of Heart Qi. In this sense, western anti-perspirants should be used with caution – not only are they full of harmful chemicals that seep into our pours only to be circulated around the body, they ‘lock in’ perspiration and prevent the healthy functioning of the body.

The heart is often described as the emperor of the body. If the emperor does not abuse its position, the ‘country’ will function normally.  The citizens of this country are the organs who send Qi (or chi) and Jing as a means of paying tribute.

A relaxed and functioning heart allows our shen to be at peace. If we are constantly stressed, we damage our heart. If we are always working, we tire our heart and shen. If we are inactive a lot, our heart slows and our shen becomes lazy. We must therefore be careful to neither overwork our heart nor be thrown on the couch all day. Like all things Chinese, a balance must be sought that allows our shen to be at its rightful place.

Consciousness and intelligence flow from having a shen that is in balance. That can only be brought about by a healthy heart. Modern life, with its frantic rush and the hundreds of distractions that intrude into our daily life is a major source of stress and our inability to truly relax. The need to have the latest fashion, car, house and gadget is damaging. The need to keep up with the Joneses, anxiety about future events, over indulgence in sexual activities, beating ourselves up over past events – these are all damaging to the heart and our shen. In a way, these can become a vicious circle.

Turning off the TV and dimming the lights while taking a few minutes everyday to meditate can act as a wonderful tonic to this hectic pace and allow our shen and heart the nourishment they need. By meditating, we can come to an acceptance of things past, calm our anxieties about future events, allow a few moments of peace for ourselves and return our shen to its correct place.

The heart’s element is fire, its season is summer and its direction is south. Joy is associated with the heart. It is paired with the small intestine – in some cases, burning urine, especially if dark or red in colour, can be treated by clearing heat that is residing in the heart. Bitterness is associated with the heart so take note if craving bitter foods.

In speaking about imbalances related to the Heart in TCM, we must consider that the pericardium is like the emperors innermost protective soldiers. It guards the the heart and is closely related to the heart. Once the pericardium is breached it is akin to the emperor being attacked while he sits on the throne – a most serious state of affairs.  Mental and physical abilities can quickly deteriorate once the heart is under attack.

The importance of Heart in TCM to all aspects of our lives cannot be overstated. Like the emperor, the heart sets the tone for our spirit, mental wellbeing, our emotions and physical abilities. If the tone is wrong, not only will our spirit or emotions suffer, but that ‘tone’ will be sent to the other zang-fu organs and possibly create problems there.


Symbolic illustration of the heart. One of a set of five illustrations of internal organs fromUibang-yuchwi(Classified Collection of Medical Recipes). The text says: Heart: Qi of li (Fire), essence of Fire. Its colour is red. It resembles a hanging lotus. Its spirit has the form of a vermilion sparrow. Heart engenders shen spirit, which is transformed into a Jade Woman. She is 8 cun tall. She wears brocade garments and holds a jade flower, and goes in and out of the mansion of the heart.
Picture from http://wellcomeimages.org/

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