Imbalances in the TCM Heart

In TCM, the heart is the organ most closely linked to emotion. Think about all the terms we use to describe our state of mind: “heartsick,” “heartbroken,” and “heartache”. It 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. We also attribute the heart to the Fire element.

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 perspiration. If it is healthy, our heartbeats will be strong and regular, without palpitations. Our blood pressure will be normal, blood will circulate well, and it will settle back into its regular rhythm shortly after exertion. You may notice people with cardiovascular issues tend to sweat more than the average person. Excess sweating is a sign the heart needs to be tonified (built up and supported). A traditional heat symptom, such as facial flushing, might be a sign that the Fire 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 Fire energy also controls the tongue and speech. When the heart is working effectively, your tongue will 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 Fire energy. If someone talks incessantly, this can also point to an imbalance of the Fire meridian. 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 Fire energy is balanced and healthy, it results into an easy transition to sleep. As acupuncturists, when we 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.