Ahhh Summer. Finally. Nature has exploded in color and fragrance, and we are all breathing a sigh of relief.

Chinese Medicine associates the Summer with the emotion “joy”; this is also when the Heart organ / channel are most active and most vulnerable.

The Heart is considered the “emperor” of the body not just because it pumps the blood that nourishes all of our cells, but because it also houses our spirit. In Chinese medicine we call this spirit “shen.”

According the “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic”—the oldest known text in Chinese medicine—the strength of the shen is fundamental to good health: “If shen is strong, the body will be strong; if we lose shen, the body will perish.” Think of shen as the force that animates the body. It guides consciousness and intellect, reflects upon what it observes in the outside world, and gives us a sense of awareness.

Shen is the spirit of the heart-mind-body connection. People tend to point to or place a hand over their chest when referring to themselves rather than point to their heads. Our spirit is contained within our hearts, not our brains.

Intense joy can make the Heart fall into a state of imbalance…. Think back to when you first met your partner or the love of your life – you couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, felt your heart race or “skip a beat”, were in a state of constant distraction with an inability to focus, and likely walked around for days (or weeks) with a goofy smile on your face. This is intense joy; it is also an example of the Heart in imbalance.

Your kids will likely be in a similar state once school is officially out for the summer….

Feeling joy is a wonderful and absolutely necessary part of life. But in order to maintain balance in the body, this heightened state of joy must naturally retreat so that your sleep, appetite, focus, etc can return to normal in relatively short order.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. While genetics play a small role in the development of heart problems, experts agree that most heart disease is caused by preventable factors.

One of the key features of Chinese medicine is its emphasis on disease prevention. Chinese doctors know that long before the physical heart gets sick, the shen will show signs of deterioration, such as anxiety, fear, depression, obsession, and insomnia. These are all symptoms of an unsettled spirit. Many forms of mental illness including bipolar disorder are examples of Heart imbalance.

For the shen / spirit to be healthy, it needs a sense of community, purpose, and ease. It is important for people to find connection – to themselves and to others. Meditation, walking in nature, and participating in activities with others will all help to “nourish your shen” and greatly improve your heart health.

Chinese medicine recognizes and treats a much wider range of “heart” problems than Western medicine. People will occasionally come in for treatment with a western diagnosis of heart palpitations, arrhythmia, heart disease, or heart failure, but more often I see people with insomnia, anxiety, depression, or a sense of “loss of purpose”. In all of these cases, the Heart is imbalanced. The western diagnosis may be 10-20-30 years off, but it is simply a matter of disease progression.

The Heart controls sleep patterns, so insomnia is a key sign of imbalance in this organ. The Heart in excess exhibits manic behavior: insomnia, anxiety, inappropriate / excessive laughter, obsessive tendencies, etc. The Heart in deficiency has depressive tendencies: (also) insomnia, depression, inability to express emotion, etc.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine work much better in preventing serious disease than correcting disease once it has progressed to the state that you receive a western diagnosis. This is why I discuss ongoing preventive care of acupuncture treatments every 3-4 weeks and ongoing treatment with Chinese herbals to help keep things in balance. We have been taught to only seek treatment when there is a problem. Chinese medicine teaches that you should seek treatment to help prevent problems. This approach makes much more sense to me.

I’ll have a Summer “cheat sheet” available at the office for the next couple of months on other ways to nourish your heart and your shen. Feel free to pick one up at your next appointment!