Tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day a time to show affection for someone often in a secretive way by card or a secret message and portrayed by the symbol of the heart or by passing time with someone special.
The story of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius and to show his silent love for her, before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.
During my studies of Traditional Chinese medicine based on teachings passed down over thousands of years the symptoms of heart imbalance include palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating easily, mental restlessness, insomnia, forgetfulness, chest pain, tongue pain, and burning urine. Hence, in order to prevent heart disease it is important to look after your emotional health, mental function, memory, and spirituality (in the sense of being at ease with oneself) as well as maintaining a good lifestyle.
The role of the heart (xin), known in traditional Chinese physiology as the ruler of the other organs, has exceptional importance. Its function in traditional Chinese medicine parallels its Western anatomic function of pumping blood throughout the body to maintain life.
There are many different terms used in Chinese to signify the psyche or mind, but in medical literature words that include Spirit (or Shen) is commonly used. In a similar way the prefix ‘psycho’ is used in western medical terms. It refers to our physiological vitality as well as consciousness, and the function of thinking and feeling. This ‘spirit of mind’ is said to reside in the Heart and its outward manifestation are our emotions. Hence, the concept of Spirit or Shen in Chinese Medicine is not ‘spiritual’ in any conventional religious sense. Psychological diseases are seen as pathological abnormalities of the Shen, which reside in the Heart. The channels of energy for different organs are known as Meridians.
The Heart Meridian starts from the heart, and divides into three branches. One of these branches emerges under the arm and runs along the inner side of the forearm, elbow and upper arm. It then crosses the inner side of the wrist and palm and ends at the inside tip of the little finger. Along the Meridian at the wrist is an acupuncture point known the Shen Men and this a well known point to use for calming the mind. There is another Shen Men point on the upper earlobe also used to calm the mind. I noticed that both Princess Diana and Cherie Blair had Chinese herbs applied in these points when they were going through personal stresses. I frequently use this acupuncture point for anyone suffering stress or anxiety and to help people attempting to quit smoking with good effect.
The Chinese view of the Heart is more than just a pump to move blood. The Chinese pinyin character of the Heart not only reflects the physical shape of the Heart, but also that it is a bowl or receptacle that communicates and governs the body, bringing animation to life and a ‘joie de vivre’. The Heart is the reason why we have to go and see wonderful scenery, be well rested, have good food and drink, in order that life is more refined.
However, the key to this radiating Shen is that it comes from a space or void that is the receptacle of the Heart. To achieve this space the Heart must be calm, tranquil and peaceful so the communication of Shen is not blocked or obstructed.
The flow of energy or Qi, as it is described in Chinese Medicine, ensures that the joy of living is felt. If we pursue our Western lifestyle of being constantly ‘on the go’, striving for more possessions, more knowledge, constantly stimulating our senses, we are filling up our Heart receptacle, which is then blocking the free communication, and movement of our Shen and making us vulnerable to disease and psychological disorders.
The Heart oversees the functioning of the body so that happiness or unhappiness, illness or health, longevity or premature death all depend on the Heart.
That is an Eastern perception but when I reviewed the empirical research of Friedman & Rosenman (1959) (both cardiologists) there seemed to be some remarkable similarities!
They found that people with type A personality run a higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure than type Bs.
Their theory was based on an observation of the patients with heart conditions in their waiting room.
Unlike most patients, who wait patiently, some people seemed unable to sit in their seats for long and wore out the chairs. They tended to sit on the edge of the seat and leaped up frequently.
What was unusual was that the chairs were worn down on the front edges of the seats and armrests instead of on the back areas, which would have been more typical. They were as tense as racehorses at the gate. The two doctors labeled this behavior type A personality.
They conducted a longitudinal study to test their hypothesis, in which 3200 middle aged managers and executives (all men) were given questionnaires over a eight and a half year duration.
Examples of questions asked by Friedman & Rosenman:
• Do you feel guilty if you use spare time to relax?
• Do you need to win in order to derive enjoyment from games and sports?
• Do you generally move, walk and eat rapidly?
• Do you often try to do more than one thing at a time?
From their responses, and from their manner, each participant was put into one of three groups:
Type A behavior: competitive, ambitious, impatient, aggressive, fast talking.
Type B behavior: relaxed, non-competitive.
Type C behavior: ‘nice,’ hard working but become apathetic when faced with stress
Eight years later 257 of the participants had developed coronary heart disease. By the end of the study 70% of the men who had developed coronary heart disease (CHD) were type A personalities.
The behavior type A personality types makes them more prone to stress-related illnesses such as CHD, raised blood pressure etc.
Despite this study having been carried out in the 1950’s and with limitations it still seems to be upheld.
It is not surprising there is such an increase in meditation, mindfulness and yoga amongst those experiencing stress. Research has shown that by participating in regular yoga and /or meditation there is a significant decrease in blood pressure.