TCM’s Understanding of Heart Health
–Why You need a Peaceful Heart
It simply isn’t possible to have true health without a peaceful heart. A strong statement? You have to understand the heart from the TCM perspective for it to make complete sense.
In TCM your heart is the Heart of your being—with a capital “H.” And its capacity and power extend way beyond the physical organ. It’s the king of the kingdom, providing the force that coordinates all activity— physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – in the body. TCM believes the Heart houses your spirit or Shen.
While it’s true that your body and its organs need energy or Qi to power their functions, they also need the right “message.” The important task of the Heart is to provide this message, a kind of all-encompassing organizing force.
Essentially, TCM sees everything in terms of relationships—how things interact. You must have enough Qi and all your organs must work well in order to have good health, yet the organs must also work well together, in harmony. Your Heart serves as a sort of master message coordinator for the organs, receiving and relaying the countless impulses and messages continually sent back and forth between them. This means that if your Heart is troubled and is not peaceful, its function will be affected and this upset will also impact all the other organs.
The Heart is responsible, along with your Liver, for controlling blood circulation. Blood moistens and nourishes your entire body, but it also is the material basis for all mental activity, according to TCM. Normal mental activity is reliant on sufficient blood and proper blood circulation.
When TCM speaks of the mind, it is a much broader concept than in the West—it’s Mind with a capital “M” and not the small, chattering mind. The Mind in TCM includes all aspects of consciousness, including thinking and intelligence, emotions, as well as memory and sleep. So TCM would see issues such as mental problems and sleep irregularities like insomnia and nightmares as potentially arising from an unbalanced Heart.
If the Heart does not have enough energy or blood, it cannot house your spirit. When this is the case you may experience an uneasy or restless feeling. Sometimes this will cause mental cloudiness and an elusive memory. Without a strong, balanced Heart these key aspects of consciousness can be dull and disturbed.
What’s the best way to care for your Heart? There is perhaps no greater difference between East and West than on this point. In the West the way to strengthen this organ is through exercise, preferably the sweaty, cardiovascular kind. But in the East the path to a strong, balanced Heart is to foster a peaceful, open Heart—to create a state that promotes peace in your internal and external kingdom. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but especially by emptying the mind, through meditation and through service.
There are specific traditional Qigong (energy) exercises that also greatly benefit the Heart. One is practicing “Baby Heart”: cultivating the soft, pure, nonjudgmental qualities of all our Hearts when they were first born into this world. Another is “Smiling from the Heart.” By smiling directly from the Heart —not a fake smile but a true one—you can make Qi and blood flow throughout your entire body, having a profound physical and spiritual effect. Once you master smiling at yourself in this way in front of the mirror, try smiling from the Heart at others.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each one of us to tend to our own Hearts. Accepting this responsibility for how we live and for the state of our Heart is the first step to true health. The world can distract us, yet it is our job to ignore or quiet our incessantly chattering mind and listen to our Heart and see what exactly it is saying to us. We must remember to always send ourselves a positive message and keep our Heart clear and loving. This is the gateway to health and beyond: the Heart’s capacity for unconditional love places us directly at the threshold of infinity.