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Heart Afire: The Fire Element

The organs in Chinese medicine are more than just the anatomical organs of the same name. The organ systems include not only their physiological function, but also their mental, emotional, spiritual and elemental qualities that align with nature and the seasons. There are many “correspondences” in what is known as Five Element theory (五行). This theory is one of the most important in traditional Chinese medicine. Let’s explore the Fire element and its organ, the heart.

The season corresponding to the heart is summer, and both are considered the most yang: hot, bountiful and abundant. Yang is what is bright, moving, outward, hot and loud. Yin is what is more inward, still, dark and cooler. The associated color of the heart is  red, the climate is heat, the flavor is bitter and its paired organ is the small intestine (many urinary issues are due to “heart fire” heat descending). The sense organ aligned with heart is the tongue, and the vessels associated with heart are the corresponding tissues. The heart sound is laughter and the emotion is joy. The heart houses what is known as the shen, which is the mind and spirit. You can see a person’s shen in a healthy complexion and radiant eyes that are clear and bright. The heart is in charge of circulation and keeps the tissues well nourished. It is also associated with mental clarity, memory and strength. The motion of this fire element is upward, like a flame. The heart is also connected to speech. An imbalance in heart energy can result in stuttering, speaking excitedly or talking excessively.

A white heart cloud in a deep blue sky

A healthy heart energy exudes a sense of joy, enthusiasm, action, warmth, charisma and fun. These people are the “life of the party,” and love to have a good time with friends and to be the center of attention. When the heart is balanced, sleep is sound and one is well rested.

On the other hand, an overabundance of fire can result in restlessness, anxiety, sweating, excitability and symptoms such as palpitations, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, disturbing dreams, mouth sores, thirst, red face, constipation and dryness. This person might shrink if not in the limelight, seek constant attention and need activities that produce a lot of excitement. He or she might have trouble being introspective and have difficulty being alone. “Overjoy” is an imbalance of heart energy and is likened to manic behavior. A dominant fire may also be extremely sensitive to heat. A lack of the fire element, on the other hand, can result in a lusterless complexion, low energy, inertia, depression, feeling cold, low libido and the personality may lack warmth. This type may seem cold, frigid, lack drive and may be prone to addictions.

How can you help your heart stay in balance? Red foods have been shown to help the heart biochemically; foods such as hawthorn berries, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, tomatoes, watermelon, peppers and goji berries keep your heart happy with lycopene and anthocyanin, antioxidants and beneficial vitamins. Other helpful foods include garlic, cayenne, cilantro, basil, magnesium (found in leafy greens, nuts and soy) and green tea. Also try ginseng, jujube dates, reishi mushrooms, dong quai, seaweed and schizandra berries. Calming activities such as walking, tai qi, or qi gong help to calm the shen.

It is best not to self-diagnose, so see your healthcare provider to see if those foods are right for you. You don’t want to assume you have too much of one element and end up eating the wrong foods. A Chinese medical specialist can give you a proper diagnosis as far as the Five Element theory goes to see which element is dominant in you, and they can treat your condition with acupuncture, herbs and offer advice for beneficial changes in diet and lifestyle.

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