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Complementary Corner

The HEART of it all, Part 2
(Read Part 1)

Renee Lehman

"The human heart feels things the eyes cannot see, and knows
what the mind cannot understand." (Robert Valett)
 

(10/2012) In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the HEART is the "Supreme Controller." In China 3,000 years ago, there was an Emperor who governed his kingdom. The Heart is your Emperor/Empress who controls and co-ordinates all of the Officials (your other organs) within the body and at the same time relies on them for guidance in "running the kingdom." The heart is not viewed as just a physical organ. On a physical level, the Heart is responsible for circulating blood to all parts of the body. When this is done well, then we feel nourished and strong. On an emotional and mental level, the Heart is responsible for clear thinking, insight, cognition, perception, consciousness, and self-awareness that gives life meaning. On a spirit level, the Heart is responsible for your capacity to feel compassion and demonstrate warmth, joy, and love. When in balance on a body/mind/spirit level, the Heart will allow you to feel calm, serene, and to "just be." You will be in harmony, balance, and peace.

The Chinese were not the only ancient culture that believed that the heart was responsible for influencing our emotions, decision making, and principles. The Egyptian and Greek cultures, and the Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions all had similar viewpoints. For example, in Proverbs 23:7, "For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."

Heart Research (Review)

The source of the heartbeat is within the heart itself (the heart rate is thought to be controlled by the brain). For example, when someone has a heart transplant, the nerves from the brain to the heart are cut, and are not reconnected (surgeons donít know yet how to reconnect them). However, this does not stop the heart from beating. After the surgeons have transplanted the heart and reestablished the heart beat in the new personís chest, the heart keeps beating (even though there is no longer a nervous connection between the brain and the heart).

The heart has its own nervous system, with a network of 40,000 neurons (Armour and Ardell, editors, Neurocardiology, 1984). It releases hormones that enable it to not only regulate itself, but also to send messages via nerve pathways to the brain. It is also through these nerve pathways that pain and other feeling sensations are sent to the brain. These nervous signals then regulate the many nervous signals that flow out of the brain to the heart, blood vessels, and other glands and organs of the body. Thus, the heartís nervous system has an effect on the entire body. These nervous signals also cascade up into the higher centers of the brain, where they may influence perception, decision making and other cognitive processes. So, you can think of this system as "the brain in the heart," and the heart has "intelligence."

"HeartMath research (The Institute of HeartMath Research Center, www.heartmath.org) has shown that the heart responds to stress first, and sends that information to the brain with a judgment attached before mental cognition ever occurs. If the heart perceives a situation as a threat, the brain then sets off the alarm signals to produce stress hormones, which initiate the inflammatory cascade. So, under certain circumstances, the heart can "think for itself." The references for the following information are: The Institute of HeartMath Research Center and from the book entitled: The HeartMath Solution by Doc Childre and Howard Martin, 1999.

Health Implications

How can emotions contribute to heart related problems and other ailments? People have long been aware of the connection between stress, mental and emotional attitudes, physiological health and overall well-being.

Scientific research now tells us plainly that anger, anxiety and worry significantly increase the risk of heart disease, including sudden cardiac death. Ground-breaking, long-term studies conducted by Dr. Hans Eysenck and colleagues at the University of London have shown that chronic unmanaged emotional stress is as much as six times more predictive of cancer and heart disease than cigarette smoking, cholesterol level or blood pressure, and much more responsive to intervention.

Rollin McCraty and colleagues observed that when individuals experienced negative emotions, the nervous system became unbalanced, and created irregular heart rhythms (American Journal of Cardiology, 1995); whereas, positive emotions were found to improve the nervous systemís balance, thus creating regular heart rhythms. The regular heart rhythms not only reduced the stress level within the individual, they also enhanced the personís mental clarity and intuition (The HeartMath Solution).

A Harvard Medical School Study of 1,623 heart attack survivors found that when subjects became angry during emotional conflicts, their risk of subsequent heart attacks was more than double that of those that remained calm (Mittleman et al. Circulation, 1995).

Men who complain of high anxiety are up to six times more likely than calmer men to suffer sudden cardiac death (Kawachi et al. Circulation, 1994).

According to a Mayo Clinic study of individuals with heart disease, psychological stress was the strongest predictor of future cardiac events, such as cardiac death, cardiac arrest and heart attacks (Allison et al. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 1995).

An international study of 2,829 people between the ages of 55 and 85 found that individuals who reported the highest levels of personal "mastery" (feelings of control over life events) had a nearly 60% lower risk of death compared with those who felt relatively helpless in the face of life ís challenges (Penninx et al. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1997).

So what can we do to reduce our risk for illness? Listen to our heartís intelligence! Emotions such as love, appreciation, caring, compassion, and true happiness not only calm the nervous system; they also decrease the production of the stress hormone, cortisol (think of adrenaline), improve your immune systemís responses, and lower blood pressure. This is the path to well-beingÖ listen to your HEART!

"You change your life by changing your heart."
Max Lucado

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman