Chinese Medicine: The Heart-Mind ConnectionJustin Ngui-Hon-Sang, R.TCMP, R.Ac. May 1, 2012
Modern science tells us that in order to live well, we must have a strong heart. In allopathic medicine this means that the heart has to be robust, it has to pump oxygen-rich blood to the cells, and it has to ensure the circulation of nutrients.
But people are made up of more than blood and nutrients. We know that a “strong heart” can also apply to the determination, devotion, and will of an individual, synonymous with having “a lot of heart”. We all know someone like this and, more often than not, that person shows a high degree of vitality. So where does this apparent connection stem from? In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we can explain this using Classical Chinese Medicine Science (CCMS).
TCM describes the Heart (or “Xin”) as the organ that is responsible for maintaining the connection between consciousness and the material world. The mind is understood as an entity consisting of organ function (which we will get to later). In CCMS, the Heart and Mind are connected through vital energy. In fact, it is said that “the Heart houses the Mind”. As the supplier of blood, nutrients, and Qi, the Heart keeps the mind grounded. CCMS also tells us that the association between the Heart and Mind is a two-way street. So if you affect the Heart through the stimulation of Acupuncture needles, you can affect the Mind. And, of course, the reverse is also true – if you affect the Mind with depression or anger, the Heart will also be affected, causing a deterioration in the body’s blood, nutrients, organ function, and energy.
We Are Of Two Minds
Looking at this relationship from the viewpoint of the Mind, there are two components: first, the Emotional Mind or “Xin” which resides in the Heart; and second, the Wisdom Mind or “Yi” which resides in the Spleen. The Emotional Mind is emotionally driven to do things and express desire, but lacks the ability to make logical decisions. In this way, the Emotional Mind can be the Wisdom Mind’s worst enemy. It is the source of laziness, bad tempers, anxiety, depression, and so on. On the other hand, the Wisdom Mind is the home of a person’s wisdom and judgement. When the Wisdom Mind has an idea, it is able to actualize that goal in the physical world. A common occurrence for most people is for the Wisdom Mind to generate ideas, but those ideas become taken over by the Emotional Mind. For example, from your Wisdom Mind you know that you should get up at 6:30 am to go to work every morning. But, when the morning comes your Emotional Mind tells you that you don’t want to deal with your boss, coworkers, and environment, so you should go back to bed. This is a fairly simple example, but the moral here is to have control of the Emotional Mind, and not to let it run your decision making.
In this two-sided view of the mind, it is easy to understand why treating the Heart is important for successfully alleviating conditions related to depression and unhappiness. In fact, according to the Five Element Theory (FET) in TCM, the Heart is directly related to emotions of Joy.
Therefore, by stimulating acupuncture points along the Heart Meridian (channel of acupuncture points on the body that control Qi governing the Heart), we affect the Heart and those things that it directly controls – the mind and emotions. One such point that is very good for insomnia, talking during sleep, poor memory, manic-depression, epilepsy, dementia, desire to laugh, mad laughter, uncontrolled outbursts, sadness, fear and fright, and disorientation is called Heart-7, pictured above.
The beauty of the TCM approach is that it is not limited to understanding mental illness through a biological medical model (which is completely valid for some cases), but expands this to incorporate emotions as the symptom of a particular organ dysfunction. For example, when the Heart functions properly, and there is ample blood and Qi, then the mind can be clear; thoughts are fluid and plentiful, and the body is full of energy and vibrancy. On the other hand, too much of a happy emotion like excitement can over-stimulate the Heart and correspondingly, hurt the mind. It is important to understand that over-stimulation of a happy emotion does not equate to true happiness, and that too much of anything – even if it’s good – can cause your system to be unbalanced. True happiness calms the Heart, while excessive happiness may cause hyperactivity resulting in a “crash” or weakness.
According to the FET, when the Heart is weak, it directly affects the regulation of the Spleen and Stomach. The result is worry and over-thinking, the two emotions that are related to the Spleen and the Stomach.
|Liver||Non-Corporeal Soul (Hun)||Anger|
|Spleen||Potential Consciousness (Yi)||Concern|
|Lung||Corporeal Soul/Animal Soul (Po)||Grief|
In the chart above, we can see that TCM understands emotions by grouping them into five main categories. Those categories are connected to a pertaining organ (or residence), called a “Zhang Organ”. These organs maintain a relationship with Qi, blood, and nutrients just like the Heart and Mind. The second column in the chart, which refers to Spirit, is a very important one to understand and is in no way connected to ideas of “spirituality” or religious connotations. In this case, the Spirit is a container for competence and responsibilities that are inherent in a human being. It is recognizable across cultures and is used to understand and integrate the nonphysical aspects of a person’s life into a system that encompasses both illness and health.
The Shen is the Spirit that guides a person’s consciousness in the world. The Yi contains the wisdom and decision-making portion of the mind. The Hun is the part of the individual that is not attached to the human body. It contains virtues and kindness when healthy, and can endure pain and suffering. The Po is the part of the individual that ceases to exist when a person dies. It is the Spirit that is dependent on a person’s physical life based on reactivity or animation of a person. Lastly, the Zhi is the home of intentions, self-determination and effort. We know this simply as “will-power”.
This TCM view of the connection between emotions, the mind, and the body (and organs) is extremely powerful. The fact that organs can be linked with emotions is documented with a science that extends through thousands of years. With this knowledge, you can develop an understanding of your own heart-mind relationship, and emotion-organ relationship. This enables one to prevent emotional rollercoasters and mental illness by making each side of the relationship stronger and healthier through diet, exercise, and rest. Work out your heart through cardiovascular exercise, and remember that this also affects your mind. Work out your mind with relaxation and equal contemplation and it will do wonders for your heart. Keep your emotions healthy and in balance by proactively keeping the corresponding organs healthy, and begin to better understand your body by observing the emotions that take hold of you.