To help students grasp an understanding of the energetic responsibilities and disharmonies within the body, in Chinese medicine the body is likened to a kingdom. Just as there is a certain order and display of responsibilities without, so there is within. The poetic discussion of the officials serves as a sort of metaphor that allows the practitioner to approach the energies within the body effectively and with the proper respect and order. And so, the organs are described as though they are officials in a court. It’s also important to note that the energetic entity of each organ is seen as a precursor to the organ itself. The Heart channel carries out its energetic function, and therefore there is a Heart.
The Heart plays a very important role in the body, from a Western medical sense and from an Eastern medical sense. Within the scope of acupuncture, when we talk about the organs, it’s important to bear in mind that a disturbance in the Qi of the Heart does not necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong with the physical Heart from a Western medical standpoint. Because the scope of acupuncture does not include diagnosing Western medical issues, I’m never going to speak to Western diagnoses - it is not my place!
So then, what does the Heart do in Chinese medicine? The channel manifests in the Heart itself, and so it governs the flow of blood in the body and controls the Mai (vessels). The Heart is the sovereign, the emperor of the kingdom that is the body. The Heart is the seat of the Shen (spirit, often more literally considered to be the mind, and disorders of the heart do negatively impact the functioning of the mind and the mood). All emotions in excess will injure the Heart, but especially excessive joy (think mania). Going back to the classics of Chinese medicine, the Heart channel was considered too deep, too respected to treat anything on the channel besides one safe, self-regulating point, so there was only one point on this channel. During many treatments, I use this point to re-center the patient in their own mind and body after the more intense treatment is complete. The Heart also works closely with the Kidneys to manifest that which is uniquely you in this world. Today, we do often treat the Heart channel in other ways besides the one point from the classics, but in my style of acupuncture (Worsley’s five-element acupuncture), we commonly avoid the Heart channel at first, initially working with other related channels that are less invasive, unless the particular case suggests that the Heart requires treatment.
When the Heart is affected, the patient will experience palpitations. They often also experience emotional and/or sleep disturbances because it is the Shen (the spirit/mind) that allows these normal activities of the mind to occur. The Heart is particularly vulnerable to shock, for example when the person is exposed to an extreme stimulus (whether emotional or physical). In such cases, the Heart must be treated for the patient to experience relief.
When the Heart is in balance, the person will be centered in themselves, they will experience a calm joy when appropriate, and they will be a joy to be around. Their eyes will be filled with the light of joy and awareness that signifies a healthy Shen, like the little boy pictured above.