In terms of functions, the anatomical heart as understood by Western medicine is different from that of the traditional Chinese medicine’s view of the heart. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), besides controlling the cardiovascular system, the heart is an organ system that is also responsible for a number of physiological functions including regulating the functions of the nervous system.
The Heart Controls the Blood Vessels as Well as Blood Itself
Blood flow is regulated by the heart. This is the heart’s primary function. This organ pumps the blood into the blood vessels so that blood may be distributed through the whole body. The blood vessels, blood, and heart work as one to provide vital nourishment to the body. This harmonized functional relationship in TCM is called the ruling” of the heart.
The pumping function of the heart is known as Heart qi (Heart energy). If this qi is adequate or abundant, the face looks vibrant, pulse is strong and normal, blood vessels smoothly convey blood, and the heart pumps at a healthy pace. The body is adequately supplied with the nutrients it needs to live and thrive. If the heart qi is deficient or inadequate, the blood vessels do not carry enough blood that the body needs to function normally. The deficiency leads to a weak pulse, the person’s tongue may look white and pale and his/her face may look pale as well. Deficient heart qi means an unhealthy ruling of the heart which leads to chest pain and discomfort and palpitations.
The Spirit is Ruled by the Heart
By Spirit, TCM broadly means the person’s vitality. This vitality is mirrored on the person’s reactions, speech, eyes, and overall appearance. In specific terms, a person’s “spirit” is seen in the person’s intellectual, cognitive, and mental abilities. The physiological, mental and other functions of the body are controlled by the heart. The person will have a fast and clear way of thinking if the spirit is healthy and the ruling of the heart is in harmony. A discordant heart will manifest signs such as slow reaction and thought processes, low self-esteem, and forgetfulness.
The Heart’s Fluid is the Body’s Sweat
Sweat is an essential and integral part of blood and it is derived from our body fluids. The primary fluid of the heart is blood which is controlled by the same organ. Sweat and blood both come from the same source and so when one sweats too much, TCM practitioners think that the heart blood and qi is being overexploited also which can lead to heart palpitations. And so, people who tend to sweat profusely usually have a heart deficiency condition. A spontaneous type of sweating may indicate a heart yang deficiency type of disharmony. If sweating occurs during night time, this means that the disharmony is of a heart yin deficiency type.
The Face Reflects the Brilliance of the Heart
The face and tongue are the mirrors of the state of health of a person’s blood and heart based on the viewpoint of TCM. The heart and the tongue are connected to each other and so by carefully observing the brilliance of the face and carefully scrutinizing the tongue, TCM physicians and acupuncturists in New York can gain a substantial amount of information on how well the heart of a patient is functioning. If say, the function of the heart is regular, the person will have a pink tongue and red healthy cheeks. If a person suffers from blood stasis (blood flow moves sluggishly through the blood vessels) the person’s tongue and face will have a purplish color. If blood supply is good, hair grows normally and healthily; if there is a problem with the blood and heart, the person’s hair does not receive enough nourishment and his/her hair will look thin or he/she may slowly start to lose hair.