The arrival of February can only mean one thing: Valentine’s Day. Through years of commercial conditioning, and also possibly because of Chinese New Year’s tendency to fall somewhere around the end of January and the beginning of February, this period of the year has a very definite “red” characteristic to it for me.
Mention heart in a clinical sense, and cardiovascular diseases will most probably pop up, along with blood pressure (high or low) and possibly breathlessness. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the heart’s responsibilities are mainly that of controlling the blood circulation (easy enough) as well as mental and emotional activities (hold on, what?).
To understand the heart’s functions I find it’s a lot easier if you step back and look at the symptoms when things go wrong.
Think of the fragile invalid typical of Victorian literature: delicate constitution, weakness due to prolonged illness, shortness of breath, palpitation, pale complexion, dizziness. These are all typical symptoms of a heart deficiency syndrome, which makes sense due to the poor/blocked blood circulation. Heart deficiency can also result in anxiety, restlessness, insomnia or frequent dreaming and this is what we mean by mental and emotional disturbances.
On the other end of the spectrum, common symptoms of excess conditions affecting the heart include palpitation, an oppressed feeling on the chest, dizziness, and in extreme cases, chest pains. There may also be signs of confusion, insomnia or difficulty falling asleep and a tendency to be easily frightened.
Acupuncture can be very useful in balancing the heart’s functions and settling the mind. But what can you do on your own?
• Avoiding stress is a good start as stress greatly influences the heart’s ability (it’s no coincidence it houses the body’s mental and emotional activities). This includes violent images from TV or movies; swap watching the news with just reading headlines online but not the entire story – you don’t need to know all the details.
• Add a relaxation routine into your day: try tai chi, yoga, swimming or just simple walking. Rather than just doing nothing, your relaxation should have a positive sense of gentle activity.
• At the same time incorporate some concentration training like crosswords, sudoku or meditation.
• Have a regular bedtime routine to ensure you get good quality sleep (and enough of it!).
• Cut back on sugar and caffeine. If you can cut them out completely, that’s even better.
• Eat regularly and eat mild, easily digested food. Avoid chillies or really spicy meals.
The general idea here is one of gentleness: gentle exercises, mild (not bland) meals, simple nurturing of your body. Rather than the pounding of a boxing match imagine the slow stretch of a dancer.