A healthy heart for a healthy mind
Article by Dr Helen Bourke, CMD
The heart in Chinese medicine
The heart’s physical function is controlling blood circulation and the blood vessels. In Chinese medicine it is also believed to control consciousness, intelligence, thinking, memory and sleep, as well as providing a haven for a person’s spirit, or shen. People with healthy Hearts are aware of the world around them without being overwhelmed by it. They are able to come up with solutions to problems. They are also reasonably content and enjoy life, as the emotions directly related to the Heart are joy and happiness.
Signs and symptoms of imbalances of the Heart include:
- scattered confused mind;
- either too much or no laughter;a very red or very pale face;
- speech problems such as stutter or verbal diarrhoea;
- depression; mental illness;
- loss of memory;
- poor circulation;
- a weak spirit;
- an aversion to heat.
Insomnia and anxiety
Two very common Heart related health issues in our society are sleep problems (insomnia) and anxiety. While there can be a number of factors contributing to these issues, it is quite often related to a busy lifestyle and the affect it has on the Heart system. Overworking and not allowing your body and mind adequate time to rest and rejuvenate, can over time deplete the body’s reserves and cause an imbalance of Yin-blood and Yang-Qi.
How to create imbalance of Yin-blood and Yang-qi:
- continually working long hours;
- exercising excessively;
- doing everything in a rush;
- not taking breaks to switch your mind off;
- not leaving your desk or workplace at lunch time;
- continuing to work at night and weekends;
- not allowing yourself enough time to “switch off”;
- constantly thinking about what you have to do next.
If the Heart yin is not strong, it can’t nourish the mind and support or contain the shen (spirit). This allows it to rise to the head causing thoughts to rush around uncontrolled. The mind becomes overactive and hard to switch off resulting in things like anxiety, insomnia, irregular heart beat and/or wild dreams.
Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night up and difficulty falling back to sleep. It can also be sleep that is interrupted or restless so you still feel tired in the morning. Anxiety psycho-emotional symptoms can include over-thinking, over-analysing and worrying. Physical symptoms can include chest tightness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, excess sweating and a sense of panic. If you’re already experiencing any of these symptoms of Heart imbalance, or just recognise that your lifestyle doesn’t allow for much recovery time then start taking steps to ensure you get the best sleep possible.
Calming the mind by nourishing the Heart yin
Adequate sleep is an essential element for nourishing the Heart blood and Yin. Heart blood and yin play an important role in calming and nourishing the mind. Creating a good sleep routine is very important. Problems with sleep can quickly become a vicious cycle. For example, you can’t sleep so you’re not getting the quality sleep you need to nourish blood and yin. The lack of blood and yin needed to anchor the spirit and calm the mind makes it harder to sleep. Often people will start going to bed later and later to make themselves more tired hoping they’ll fall asleep more quickly when they get to bed. This may feel like it works at first, but often results in poorer quality sleep and less hours of sleep time. This is particularly so if you still have to get up early for work in the morning. Fatigue increases and the imbalance gets worse.
In Chinese Medical theory any sleep before 12am is the most rejuvenating to Yin. Research has shown that the natural sleep hormone Melatonin is at its peak in your body between 10-11pm. Being in bed asleep capitalising on this has been shown to promote better quality sleep.
You can promote good sleep hygiene in many ways. Start by switching off computers, phones and TV at least 30mins before bed to help the mind wind down. Light from the screens are stimulating to the brain. Relax with a chamomile tea, meditation or whatever helps you wind down, and do your best to be in bed by 10pm to ideally get the best quality sleep.
Practice your smiles
Another little (but not always easy) tip to supporting Heart health is to smile often – both to yourself, and to other people. Practise it till it feels genuine, and feel gratitude for yourself and those around you. Smiling stimulates the Heart and brings a sense of internal peace.
During the exciting time of summer and festivities, energy increases and is more outward and vibrant. The days are longer and you’re more physically and socially active so smile lots and enjoy the season. However, take care maintain the balance by nurturing your Heart yin and blood to ensure long term good mental and physical health. Adequate sleep and relaxation time plus a good diet including some cooling seasonal foods to counteract the dry heat is a good place to start.
Let us help you
If you are already experiencing insomnia and/or anxiety, you may need some assistance correcting the balance. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy can really help, so come in and see us today.
*image courtesy of Carolina Farion