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Shen: The balance of Heart and Mind

Cartoon of brain in the shape of a heart

The classical texts of Chinese Medicine teach us; “The heart and mind are one” and “The mind rests in the Blood,” these priceless adages must be considered when treating issues which involve the mind.  The body is comprised of a complex multitude of systems which support us when in balance.  However, when an Organ becomes depleted the rest of the system also becomes compromised.

Considering the time of day one becomes most restless is also an important factor.  Many report waking between the hours of 3-5 am, this is the time of day when the yin organ the Lung is most active.  If the Liver is overpowering the Lung, the Lung cannot perform its function of descending and dispersing Qi as well, which may lead to waking.  With each deep breathe the Lungs gently press down on the Liver to inhibit its tendency to flare its energy upward and thus controlling the Liver and encouraging it perform its proper function of aiding the smooth flow of QI throughout the body.

“The mind rests in the Blood,” in order for this function to take place the Blood must be healthful — meaning in good supply and adequate smooth flow.  The organs responsible for the production of blood are the Spleen and the Lung.  The Spleen transforms and transports the Qi of grain (food) to the Lung where it combines with the Qi of air to be transformed into blood, from there it is transported to the Heart where it becomes Blood.  This well nourishing smooth flowing Blood can be compared to a flowing calm stream where the Mind can glide upon it like a canoe gracefully enjoying the current.

The Heart is referenced as the Emperor.  The Emperor knows all, feels all and sees all.  When deficiency occurs it is difficult for the Heart /Mind complex known as Shen to be calm, as it perceives there to be a lacking , and the Heart becomes agitated.  There are many levels of this deficiency.  Progressing from Qi where we may see nervousness or anxiety, to a more developed pattern where we may see more pronounced complaints like palpitations, or in the most serious Yang Deficiency; not being able to keep up with the demand and need of circulation throughout the body.  Most important is prevention, we do not want a deficiency to progress.  Nourishing the deficiency before it becomes more profound is done with both acupuncture and herbal medicine, as well as food recommendations.

Unfortunately, many current day dietary diets or fads have made way for such patterns to arise.  Such as high protein low carbohydrate or keto type diets lead to yin deficiency.  In fact one published study even notes that a long term keto diet can lead to cognitive decline, muscle loss and heart disease. 

Yin can be thought of as the essential fluids not just water and blood, but all the building blocks within the cells to nourish and protect.  In fact, wheat and barley are used in herbal formulas to calm the spirit.  I am not stating we need to have poor quality carbohydrates like the food pyramid of the older days.  However, an ample supply of the energy rich molecules from a nutritious source such as sweet potato and whole grains and other vegetables will supply not only this energy rich nutrient and bring micronutrients along with it.  These nutrients will also benefit the calming aspect we need to tread our way through the many stresses our modern lives entail.

Yin and Yang are connected and ever transforming into one another.  Yin is form, Yang is function.  Their balance is vital for life and healthfulness.

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