Which human internal organ do you think this is? If you think it is the heart, you are right.
There is an old saying, “You gotta’ have heart” which alludes to a meaning that situations in life take a lot of love and patience and even forgiveness. Another one,” cold hands, warm heart.” Yet another, “He’s gotta lot of heart.” which means he (or she, of course) has courage and perseverance. You can hear this phrase about fighters in the martial arts or boxing ring and about fighters in other areas of life. Have you ever seen a sumo wrestling match and noticed that the wrestlers make a motion with their hands before and after the round? The wrestler is actually writing the Japanese character for “kokoro” or “heart” in the air with his hands. The heart, also translated as mind or spirit from the Japanese language, has been an important part of the samurai spirit in Japan and still is to this day. In the Japanese language there are hundreds of phrases with the word “heart” in them in the every day language. Do these phrases just pop up, or what is it about the heart that makes it so predominant in our lives? Well, there is a lot of real meaning behind those phrases, they don’t always just pop out of nowhere nor are they “weird” or just “old wives tales.” Let’s take a look at the function of the heart according to Traditional Eastern Medicine.
Eastern medicine is based on nature and seasons are a prime example of the cycle of nature. Just like the seasons, the internal organs of human and animal’ bodies have their cycles. Each internal organ functions constantly, but has an affinity or susceptibility to each season., in other words there is correspondence between certain organs of the human body and certain natural phenomena, the seasons being one of these. Understanding these correspondences is based on the Five-Element theory in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This system is typical of the ancient Chinese thought, as well as Japanese thought and other Asian countries. The five elements are: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. The term element is not the same as the term used in chemistry. If you equate those that meaning with these five elements, you are going to think, “Are you kidding? There are a lot more than five elements!” That is true for that meaning of elements. It is difficult to translate the original term for this theory from the Chinese and Japanese. One wonders how “they” came up with that English translation even. The Chinese (also Japanese) characters for this is “go gyou” (Japanese pronunciation) which literally means “five going” or “five guidances.” A “Gyousha” in Japanese is a person who is “going somewhere” but that going implies a person looking for enlightenment, self-perfection, self-improvement, or how to live correctly in this life. It does not imply a person’s financial or material success. At any rate, it is extremely difficult to get an exact translation, perhaps we can say the five “guidances” or and use the term the “five elements” because that is standard in English textbooks when learning the Oriental Medicine theory.
While there are many sets of correspondences with the five elements, at this time we are listing only those related to the seasons and certain internal human organs. Wood corresponds to spring and to the liver and gallbladder. Fire corresponds to summer and the heart and small intestine. Earth corresponds to no season or to all seasons, actually, it corresponds to the ending portion of each season, one of the most commonly known being “Indian summer” and “late fall.” Metal corresponds to autumn and the Lungs and Large intestine. The Water “element” corresponds to water and to the kidneys and bladder.
Since this is still summer, we are going to be talking about the heart and small intestine and how you can better take care of them through the summer season and beyond.
In Traditional Oriental Medicine, the most important heart functions are those of governing blood and “housing the Mind.” These two functions complement each other;. If the blood is adequate in quality and supply, the Mind will be in a good state and the person will feel mentally happy and vital. Conversely, if the Mind is happy and emotionally stable, this helps keep the heart and thus the blood, strong and functioning smoothly. It is commonly known in the West of the relationship between mental-emotional stress and heart attacks.
Another function of the heart in TCM is that controls the blood vessels. Blood vessels depend on the Heart Qi (Energy) and blood. If heart Qi (energy) is strong, the blood vessels will be in good shape, and the pulse will be full and regular. If the Heart Qi is weak, the pulse may be feeble and irregular.
The Heart manifests in the complexion. The state of the Heart and blood can be reflected in the complexion. If blood is abundant and the heart strong, the complexion will be rosy and lustrous. If blood is deficient, the complexion will be pale or bright-white. If the heart has heat, the complexion will be too red. If blood is stagnant, the complexion may be bluish-purple.
How does the heart “house the mind?” According to Chinese medicine, mental activity and consciousness “reside” in the Heart. This means that the state of the heart and blood will affect the mental activities including the emotional state. Particularly affected are: mental activities, (including emotions), consciousness, memory, thinking, and sleep. So if the heart is strong and blood plentiful, there will be a a balanced emotional life, a clear consciousness, a good memory, keen thinking and good sleep. Restless sleep is a disturbed heart. Adequate nourishment from the blood is important to the heart.
The Heart “opens into the tongue.” The tongue is considered to be the “offshoot” of the Heart. The heart controls the color, form and appearance of the tongue, and is especially related to the tip of the tongue. The condition of the heart also affects speech and abnormalities may cause stuttering or aphasia. The heart also influences talking and laughing. An abnormal condition of the heart may cause a person to talk a lot. On the other hand, too much heat inside may result in aphasia.
Blood and body fluids have a common origin. Sweat is one of the body fluids which comes from the space between skin and muscles. a person who is hemorrhaging should not be subjected to sweating and a person who is sweating profusely should not have drying herbs or food, nor should bleeding technique in acupuncture be used. A person with deficient Heart Qi or heart energy may be prone to spontaneous sweating, and if there is a deficiency of heart fluids (yin), the person may be prone to night sweats. Blisters and sores on the tongue can be an indication of too much heart “fire” in a person.
The heart is related to “joy” within the Five-Element correspondence scheme. Therefore a happy state of mind is obviously beneficial to the Mind and the body. However, when joy is excessive it becomes a cause of disease and it can injure the Heart. Yes, excessive joy can be a cause of disease. Excess joy, in the sense of excessive excitement can injure the Heart and makes its function slow down. Remember, more is not better! The Japanese phrase, “Chuu you de are,” means “go the middle of the road,” or “all things in moderation.” This comes from the Chinese philosopher Confucius, originally. So a little bit of the flavor and food that the human organ has an affinity for is good for it, too much and it becomes a poison. This is important to remember, because it seems that the American concept is that if it is good for you, then more must be better. Not! Remember, even too much joy damages the heart. Remember the phrase, “too much of a good thing.” Have you ever done that and then paid for it? So you know what I am talking about.
Great advances in medical technology, diagnostics and surgery have offered no help to the incidence of heart and vascular disease, nor has a great reduction in the number of deaths from these degenerative diseases occurred. This is because of the lack of prevention; excessive and incorrect dietary habits and a lack of exercise are the main culprits.
What specifically does the season of summer mean to the heart and how can you take care of your heart, especially through the summer months? Lucky you, nature set up things so beautifully, so perfectly. Have you noticed that certain fruits and vegetables and even fish have their “season?” If you haven’t, go visit the local farmers markets. Vacaville’s farmers market is every Saturday morning from 8:00 a.m. until noon in the summer months. Take advantage of the beautiful days, the chance to walk, browse and talk with local farmers and merchants, and the chance to buy fresh produce in season and eat it while it is still fresh!
Each human internal organ has a specific flavor that affects it and foods with a bitter taste stimulate the function of the heart. Foods in this category include green leafy vegetables such as kale, endive, escarole, lettuce, watercress, dandelion greens, collard greens, rhubarb, radish and okra. In the East, grains are and have been the main stable of the basic human diet. This is more balancing than eating too many fruits or meats. The grain of summer is corn , it is in season now, and guess what? The heart has an affinity for corn and corn is especially good for it. Funny how nature has it all set up! That is why always eating with the seasons ensures better health, not just because the food is fresher and more nutritious then, but also because that is what the body needs more at the time of the year. Another staple of the season is beans, especially green beans and that is the correspondence in the five element system with the heart and also the small intestine. So eat your fresh green beans. Simmering and steaming vegetables is best in the summer. Do not overcook them and do not eat them raw for the most part. Depending on the vegetable, you will want to steam or boil anywhere from 2 to 7 minutes. Barbecuing steak and other meats outdoors in the heat of the summer is a good way to get heart attacks. This will tax the heart too much and bring in excess heat into your system. Try grilling your favorite fresh vegetables in season and corn! Fabulous, beautiful corn. In Japan, the outdoor markets always have grilled corn on the cob in the summer when it is in season. You buy it right there and eat it, while you are shopping. It is delicious! Eat heavier meals in the morning and at lunch. Eat light meals for the evening. This will make you feel lighter in the heat of the day, maintain your energy, and aid in weight loss.
Avoid excessively salty foods, fatty foods, simple sugar in any form, and coffee. Eat whole grains, small amounts of lean meats and better yet, fish. It is best for the heart not to eat anything with legs, as far as larger animals, including chicken and turkey. They all have saturated fat and this is what is turning into plaque in the arteries of so many Americans and causing heart disease. It is true, wild salmon is good for the heart. None better than wild Alaskan salmon. Mae sure it is wild. Farmed salmon, all farmed fish, are fed special feeds by the farmer and they get abnormally fat. Eggs, if the chickens are raised on pasture especially, and are given no antibiotics or chemicals, like most all commercial chickens are, are very nutritious. Yes, they have cholesterol, but it is not eating cholesterol that makes your arteries hard, it is saturated fat. Americans would do well to eat a lot more deep greens, and cook them. Raw salads are difficult to digest and one does not get enough vegetables when eating them raw as a salad. Cooked vegetables are more dense in nutrition and more bioavailable for the human being. Drink light herbal, green and black teas and exercise! If you are trying to break habits, such as smoking or overeating, walk or take an invigorating swim or cold shower!
What kind of common herbs can you take for the heart? There is hawthorne berry. Boil one quart of water and pour this over two grams of hawthorn berries and let them steep in the pot for 30 minutes. Drink a cup twice daily or one half cup four times daily. Try this instead of coffee! Another herb that is a general tonic and rejuvenator is ginseng root. However, many American’s conditions are already too hot for this root. It should be used carefully. Avoid carbonated drinks and energy drinks with it. If you are going to take some, you will probably be safer with American ginseng root. It is better to see a qualified Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist. It is a very “yang” root and there are many varieties. Many American people are hot inside and Chinese or Korean ginseng is the wrong herb for most. The borage plant, the leaves or flowers is another herb that can strengthen the heart, but more on the emotional level. The flowers can be eaten or made as tea, and have been used for centuries even in the West to help with sadness and melancholy.
The heart has a special relationship with its paired organ, the small intestine. Some herbs for the small intestine include comfrey root, licorice root, fennel seed, and anise seed. You often find the last three listed here in Chinese cooking. Comfrey root is tonifying and healing for the lining of the intestines and needs to be used for one to two months for this purpose. Boil one tablespoon of root in two cups of water for 20 minutes and drink one or two cups every day. If you have problems with gas or indigestion, fennel or anise tea can help. Simmer (a low boil) one teaspoon per cup for 20 minutes and drink when needed. Licorice root is a harmonizer and is used in many traditional Chinese herbal formulas along with other appropriate herbs and it goes into all twelve meridians of the body. It helps soothe the digestive system and is a mild laxative. If you ever use licorice root, you should see it as the root. It should look like wood, sliced. Anything other than that, don’t use it. All those processed over-the-counter herbs and supplements are not the way to take any herbs, really.
Acupuncture can stimulate and promote the circulation of Qi (energy) in your body. There are specific points for the heart, as well as all the other organs in your body.If you haven’t thought about acupuncture for keeping healthy or for getting healthy, you really should. It is amazing how well this medicine is put together and is just as relevant for healing and preventing disease as it was centuries ago. Have a wonderful summer, take time to relax and develop good relationships with your coworkers, family and friends, and remember to take care of your heart! Joy!