Minding the Heart

Ask someone what comes to mind when thinking of the heart and different ideas emerge like love, the heart symbol shape, the area of chest where it’s located and the color red or pink. But how often do we think about the electricity, the pumping, the blood, the arteries and chambers, and the heart organ itself? It is noteworthy that most other organs, systems, and parts of the body tend to be linked to literal interpretations—in contrast with the mystery, romance, and other far reaching interpretations associated with heart.

bleeding_heart

Historically, Anahata, the heart chakra, is interpreted from Sanskrit as “unstruck, unhurt, and unbeaten.” It is here where the unstruck sound of the cosmos can come into fruition: The wishing tree, the lotus flower, a branching system that reaches out to the rest of the body and simultaneously to the mysterious divine. The heart creates the ability to transcend karma through playing out heartfelt connection without attachment. The chakra is associated with the thymus gland and immunity—weaving the interplays of the heart system with other vital functions of the body. This is reflected in Ayurvedic Medicine where all three doshas (vatha, pitta and kapha) hold some space in the heart. Also, the respiratory channel, mind channel, and lymph channel are housed in the heart. Imbalances in heart health can often be linked to the mind and treatment can include an initial focus on detoxification and digestive strengthening with ayurvedic herbs, dietary suggestions, light physical activity and bodywork.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the shen, or spirit, resides in the heart. Disease involving the heart can come from external or internal sources and lifestyle. The liver is often approached when there is a blood related issue, but the supreme source of the blood is the heart.  So, the heart is a point of focus when the blood carried through the vessels is too much, to thick, not enough, too hot, etc. The heart is tied into the 5-element theory as being associated with fire. Fire sparks joy and is embodied in the season of summer. The organ clock in TCM puts the heart hours from 11am to 1pm. It can be helpful to note how one feels at this time each day and what is being eaten at this time if it is suspected that there is an imbalance in heart health. The imbalanced heart can lead to disturbed shen, which may manifest as insomnia or mental imbalances. Often, treating the heart will thus improve sleep and mental wellness. Acupuncture is often used to balance the flow of meridians in the body, and can positively impact both emotional and physical heart health.

In Medical Astrology, the sun is the ruler of the heart and the heart can be reflected in the 5th house of the natal chart. To enhance the sun in a chart, for instance if it’s in a difficult aspect with another planet or if the fire element needs some ignition, cardio-tonics and plants with morphology that have sun-like characteristics (like bright yellow flowers that open with the sun), warming herbs that are detoxifying, and vision clearing/enhancing herbs can be therapeutic. Dietary suggestions and flower essences can provide additional healing. In ancient astrological traditions, including ancient Chinese, Mars was considered to rule the heart. This is interesting because Mars is linked to the blood, which is ruled by the heart in TCM. Many herbs that are helpful for healthy blood flow and heart function can be therapeutic to enhancing the planet Mars in the chart. Medical Astrology can provide unique insight into healing the heart and has been used in many civilizations for thousands of years.

A heart beats about 72 times per minute, 100,000 times a day, and 35 million times each year. Our hearts don’t get a break, so why not take some cardio-tonic herbs?

Three herbs for healing the heart:

Hawthorn is one of the best cardio-tonics. Most people can benefit from this thorny tree’s berries (sometimes other aerial parts are used too) that have a long lineage of use in Europe and TCM for heart conditions. Hawthorn has been shown in studies to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s also relaxing to the nervous system and great for balancing the effects that too much caffeine can have on the body and other over-stimulation or stress. Hawthorn berries can be added to broths, made into a tea (it’s more medicinal if simmered for a period of time as in an infusion), ground into a powder to sprinkle in food, and taken as a solid extract, capsules or liquid extracts. Hawthorn also helps to digest lipids and can help reduce strain on the body while maximizing absorption of nutrients from fatty meats and other rich food. Hawthorn does pose some risk of increasing the effects of blood pressure medication, so it’s best to monitor closely if the herb is being taken in tandem. Another possibility is tapering off pharmaceuticals with a doctor’s permission, and replacing the drugs with hawthorn or a hawthorn containing herbal formula.

Reishi is a medicinal mushroom that has been used to support longevity for thousands of years. It’s a very hard and fibrous mushroom, so the fruiting body cannot be cooked and eaten like some edible mushrooms. Reishi helps modulate the immune system and builds deep foundational support and strength. The catch to this miraculous tonic is that it generally needs to be consumed on a daily basis for at least a month to have any noticeable effect. Reishi can lower blood pressure and have other positive effects on the heart. In TCM, it helps to keep a healthy residence of shen, which lives in the heart.

Motherwort can help the inner-mother and has an affinity for the heart chakra area of the body. While TCM views motherwort as warming, Western Herbalism will describe the herb as cooling. Motherwort has a bitter flavor and will generally have a calming effect on the thyroid. The herb is taken for nervousness and anxiety and the effect on the heart is generally that of relieving pressure and agitation. Although generally safe, as with any herb, dosage should be taken into consideration, as high doses may be sedating or in some cases have the opposite effect. Since motherwort can calm thyroid function, it’s generally not advisable to use the herb where hypothyroid conditions are present.

Other ways to pamper your heart

Flower essences are an often-underrated energetic medicines that are healing on subtle levels and shift energy that might otherwise go unnoticed. An excellent flower essence for heart healing is Dicentra Formosa, or as it’s common name suggests, bleeding heart. It’s a great choice for hypertension that’s linked to deeper emotional issues such as imbalanced relationships and unresolved grief (and let’s face it, who doesn’t have unresolved grief these days?). Many choices exist for flower essence healing around the heart.  A few other that are commonly used include traditional Bach remedies vervain, cherry plum and vine.

There are many different styles of meditation and it behooves us not to get so caught up in how to meditate that we don’t meditate at all! Meditation can be done on the floor, a chair, under a tree, or even in bed. It’s preferable to have a clear space both visually and energetically to promote easier access for one to slip into a meditative state. Chakra meditations are simple and give the mind something to visualize. This involves imagining the colors of the chakras and perhaps focusing on one in particular. Visualizing green (and sometimes pink) can help to bring concentrated healing energy to the heart chakra.  This can be further refined with the use of crystal therapy.

heart_gems

Gems that are green or pink can be helpful, such as jade and rose quartz. They can be placed on the heart or kept near the person for an energy balancing and replenishing effect.

The human heart may be just a vital organ in a complicated body system, but it’s the symbols, imagery, stories, and love that bring the heart to life and keep it pumping.

About Aldyn Richmond

Aldyn is a Clinical Herbalist and plant-spirit lover. She received her training at the Ohlone Center where she also completed a TCM Tongue and Pulse Diagnosis mentorship with William Morris. After a period of time spent teaching in South East Asia years back, the world of tea culture began to present itself to her and she found Camellia Sinensis in her various forms to be a guiding light. A world of tea has drawn her toward unraveling the mysteries of plants as healers within the framework of psyche and physiology. Her intention is to merge creative drive and the practical side that strives for sustainability. Sustaining body, spirit, and mind reflects how we are able to be vital within the elusive universe. Vitality allows us to recognize the miracle of each moment and meet it with everything we are. She currently has her own herbal tea line and practice. Learn more about Aldyn at herbalhorizons.com.
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