In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the heart is the organ most closely linked to emotion. Think about all the terms we use every day to describe our state of mind: “heartsick,” “heartbroken,” “heartache” The heart is not the director of subtlety; the emotions it encompasses seem to always be on the far end of the spectrum, either extreme sadness or extreme joy.
The physical job of the heart in TCM is very close to what we know it to be in Western medicine. It controls the blood vessels, and also controls the sweat. If the heart is healthy, the heartbeat will be strong and regular, without palpitations. The blood pressure will be normal, the blood will circulate well, and the heart will settle back into its regular rhythm shortly after exertion. You may notice people with heart issues tend to sweat more than the average person. Excess sweating is a sign the heart needs to be tonified (built up and supported). Heat signs in general, such as facial flushing, might be a sign that the heart energy is out of balance. On the other end of the spectrum, if the energy is deficient, a person may present with a complexion that is pale or chalky.
The heart energy also controls the tongue. When this organ is working effectively, your tongue will work to help you taste your food, and to assist normal, clear speech. Stuttering, loss of words and other speech difficulties can result from a deficiency of the Heart. If someone talks incessantly, this can also point to an imbalance of the heart. If there is excess heat in the heart, it may show up as sores on the tongue, and the tip may be red or painful.
When the heart is balanced and healthy, it results in an easy transition into sleep. When we acupuncturists learn you have insomnia, we often treat the heart. Difficulty falling asleep, nightmares and sleep terrors can result when this organ is unhappy. If you are the type of person who lies in bed forever, unable to fall asleep because your mind is racing, acupuncture can help to settle the heart energy and give you a great night’s sleep.