In Taoist and Chinese Medicine, the body is understood as consisting of twelve main organs. These organs are correlated to the 5 Elements and further separated by their YinYang nature. Referred to as the 5 Zang organs (Yin) and 6 Fu organs (Yang).
In this article, we are focusing on the Heart and small intestine system and diving into:
- The function of the Heart & Small Intestine
- The Chinese Body Clock (11 am-1 pm)
- The role of the Pericardium & Triple Burner
- The emotion of joy and the Heart
- The Spirit of the Heart - Shen
In Classical Chinese and Taoist medicine, the Heart:
- Controls the cerebral cortex, consciousness and mind
- Governs the Blood and dominates the Blood vessels
- Controls the cardiovascular system
- Opens to the tongue and controls speech
- Manifests in the complexion of the skin
- Controls perspiration
- Houses the Shen (Spirit)
The Heart is held in such high esteem, that it is referred to as the ‘Emperor’, leading and guiding the rest of the body.
The Small Intestine
The Small Intestine is the Yang organ to the Heart’s Yin. Understood as an organ of digestion and elimination, the small intestine is said to separate the pure from the impure. This action extends itself from the physical processes of digestion, nutrient assimilation, and elimination to the energetic processing of information, experiences and emotions.
Disharmony within the small intestine can manifest as digestive issues including abdominal pain, nausea and a loss of appetite. These symptoms can be caused by or enhanced when there is an excess of mental stress or emotional turmoil (including matters of the Heart). When the small intestine is unable to effectively process the pure from the impure, clear judgement and mental clarity can be impacted.
11 AM - 1 PM is Heart/Small Intestine Time
Chinese medicine follows cyclical patterns, both physically, and in accordance with the natural world. The body-energy clock is therefore built upon the concept of the cyclic ebb and flow of energy/Qi throughout the body. During a 24-hour period, Qi moves in two-hour intervals through each of the organ systems within the body. Qi flows through the Heart from 11 am - 1 pm, and the Small Intestine from 1 pm - 3 pm. Understanding this cycle and aligning your daily habits and activities to the energy of these organ systems can greatly enhance their function and support your health.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Qi flows through the Heart system. It is during this time that working with purpose and holding your vision with intention is most potent, it is when hard work and problem-solving are supported. From 1 pm until 3 pm Qi flows through the Small Intestine, as the Yang phase peaks at midday, we slowly transition into the Yin and begin cruising through the rest of our day. Around 1 p.m. is the most ideal time to take an intentional break, sit down and mindfully eat your lunch. Finding thirty minutes to slowly eat a nutritious meal and intentionally disconnect from your work etc. can allow you to return to a calm and focused state, able to work undisturbed for the rest of your working day.
The Pericardium and the Triple Burner
The Fire Element is the only element that governs two extra meridian channels, the Pericardium (Yin) and the Triple Burner (Yang). Neither of these channels houses organs, however, both are still as important. The Pericardium is seen as the Heart’s protector, and as such, has the role of protecting the Heart from external pathogens, as well as any internal or emotional damage. As the emotional shield, the Pericardium protects the consciousness contained within the Heart from the emotional and sensory overload of the external world.
The Triple Burner (also referred to as the San Jiao) as the name suggests is composed of three ‘burners’. The Upper Burner/Jiao, is the body cavity above the diaphragm that houses the Heart, Lungs, Pericardium, throat and head. Controlling respiration, it spreads Gathering Qi to all of the organs, tissues and skin, functioning like a mist as it diffuses Fluids throughout the body.
The Middle Burner/Jiao includes the area above the navel and below the diaphragm, it includes the Spleen, Stomach and Gallbladder. Its main function is digestion and the distribution of nutrients throughout the body. Think of it as a ‘bubbling pool’ as it digests, churns and ferments the nutrients absorbed from the digestive system.
The Lower Burner/Jiao is located below the navel and includes the Liver, Kidneys, Large Intestine, Small Intestine, and Urinary Bladder. Despite its physiological ‘middle’ placement in the body, the Liver is part of the Lower Burner due to its close connection with the Kidneys. The Lower Burner acts like a drainage system, which filters the clear Water from the turbid Water. The clear Water ascends through the body, whilst everything else is transported to the organs of excretion, such as the Bladder.
*If you feel your physical or tonic herbal practice is bringing up too much too soon, we recommend working with a Chinese medicine practitioner who can provide individualised support, working to bring the smooth flow of Qi through the Liver/Gallbladder system.
Heart Fire is associated with the emotion of Joy
Every organ corresponds to the energy of a certain emotion. As a fundamental concept in Chinese medicine, it is perceived that a physical disorder (linked to a certain organ) can *originally stem from an imbalance in the emotion associated with that organ. The reverse of this can also be true, *that an imbalance in an organ may heighten or exacerbate the associated emotion, *and can be a vicious cycle.
The emotion of the Heart is joy. Experiencing this emotion in its purest form nourishes the Heart. When there is a lack of joy in our lives this directly affects the Heart, whilst inversely any depletion of Heart Fire can impact one’s ability to think clearly, leaving them to feel listless and apathetic. This depletion can affect sleep, dreams, memory, concentration and the ability to connect with others. When there is an excess of Heart Fire, that joy can expand beyond its capacity and feel manic, agitated and restless. The Heart is at the centre of perception itself, unattached to the emotions of worry or fear, its purpose governed by the desire to find harmony, love, connection and joy.
The Spirit of the Heart: Shen
Shen is our Spirit, or our highest consciousness; the wisdom we want to share with the world. Shen is most commonly translated as Spirit, but may also be translated as our highest consciousness, or source consciousness. It is generally the end goal of a Taoist to build their Shen. Shen is expressed as our most virtuous nature. When we further embody acceptance, non-attachment, forgiveness, love, compassion, kindness, generosity and tolerance, we consider this to be an expression of Shen. It manifests itself as our wisdom and our ability to see all sides of an issue without the influence of right or wrong interpretations.
When you imagine the Spirit living in the Heart, you must ensure that your Heart is a welcoming home and an inviting space. If you wish for your Shen to continue to grow throughout your life, the greater you know yourself, the more you can evolve this home within your Heart and the more authenticity can shine through.
When Shen is expressed harmoniously we experience clear thinking, self-awareness, a strong sense of self, balanced emotions, clear speech, connection, compassion, empathy and joy.
When Shen is disturbed and the Heart is affected, one may experience mental disturbances and emotional imbalances, low self-confidence, disconnection from self and others, poor self-awareness, disturbed sleep and little capacity for compassion and empathy. This can be when we are living without passion or when we are ignoring our inner wisdom/intuition.
Shen herbs work primarily through the Heart meridian system to keep this cycle of Qi flowing smoothly. The Heart controls the rhythm and circulation of Blood throughout the body, delivering life, nourishment and Spirit to every cell (Blood follows Qi remember). We use the SHEN formula primarily to help release emotional disturbance and mental chatter so we can move through our days, months and years, with a calm mind and joyful Spirit, rising above the obstacles of our lived experience to gain wisdom and character.