The Chinese Medical Theory ( CMT ) has different considerations from conventional medicine when looking at the health of the heart. Whilst Western medicine stresses exclusively on the physical integrity and functions of the heart muscles, conductive tissues, nerves, valves and blood vessels, CMT looks more at the influence of Qi on this vital organ. Furthermore, the stomach and spleen are regarded as important organs affecting the heart because these two organs extract Qi and distribute it to the heart and lungs through their meridians which are connected to the heart.
In CMT, the “heart” does not refer to the physical heart alone, but also to the complex body systems that affect it. The heart is controlled by the “heart constrictor” ( or “pericardium” ) and “triple warmer” systems which are unknown to western medicine. The heart is identified with the “element” of fire, and “accumulation of excess heat” results from unhealthy emotions and attitudes. Stress, anger, and aggression weaken the heart. Modern medicine agrees – these can precipitate heart attacks!
The heart meridian extends from the heart, across the lungs, and down the inner side of both arms to the lateral tips of the little fingers. In comparison, medical doctors are familiar with the “referred” pain from the heart that runs down the inner side of the left arm only.
Where the heart meridian passes the wrist-crease level is the important Heart acupuncture point H7, or Shenmen. Stimulation here will calm both the heart and emotions. At the centre of the palm is another important point ( P8, Laogong ) along the pericardium meridian which then splits, with one branch ending at the tip of the ring finger to connect with the triple warmer meridian which continues on the back of the arm.
A branch of the heart meridian extends along the esophagus into the head – to the tongue, eyes and brain. Thus the heart and mind are connected. Emotions and mental stress affect the heart. Conversely, ailments of the heart affect the emotions and mental stability. The mind-heart connection is so strong that in CMT, the term “heart” is also synonymous with the mind. Their understanding of mind-body ( or psychosomatic ) medicine was well ahead of western medicine!
Stimulation of the energy points along the heart meridian is therefore beneficial for the heart as well as for emotional and mental health.
Another branch of the heart meridian branches down to the small intestines. So the heart is connected to the stomach meridian and to the intestines as well. In Western medicine, the stomach and intestines absorb food for energy and nutrients. In CMT, they also absorb Qi for direct supply to the heart via the meridians. This connection probably also explains why any intense emotion will not only excite our heart, but also gives that “butterflies in the tummy” feeling!
The tongue is regarded as the external “opening” of the heart. A healthy pink tongue indicates good circulation of Qi along the heart meridian. Poor Qi circulation is reflected in a pale tongue and face. However, a fiery red tongue may indicate an “overheated” troubled heart.
QIGONG EXERCISES FOR THE HEART
Even in western medicine, it is now accepted that both physical and emotional stress are important in the causation of heart disease. For this reason, Qigong exercises for the heart must be done as slowly as possible, especially for those who have heart problems. Both the heart and mind must be calm. Negative emotions, worries etc. must be forgotten and restlessness avoided when doing the exercises.
The movements must be smooth, calm and relaxed. This will cause a smooth flow of healing Qi internally. Physical exertion must be avoided, especially in the beginning. Upward slopes must be avoided to prevent such exertion when doing the Qigong walk. As the heart condition improves, the movements and walk can be faster, but always in a calm, relaxed manner.
Conventional aerobic exercises for cardiovascular health require gradual exertion until the heart is stressed to progressively higher levels ( within safe guidelines, eg. Heart rate not to exceed 70% of 220 minus your age ). This is also how heart health is diagnosed during a cardiac stress test – physical symptoms and ECG signs are monitored while the patient goes through incremental aerobic exertion on the treadmill.
Qigong exercises for the heart are not aimed at stressing the heart at all. Instead, the exercises cause the blood flow rate to increase only slightly. But the increased Qi flow makes the blood circulation more efficient, opening up small blood vessels, and nourishing more tissues, including the heart muscles themselves. There is no strain or risk to the heart. Often the effect can be obvious with flushing and warming of previously cold extremities.
All the Qigong exercises, by increasing Qi, and improving its flow and health in general, will be beneficial for the heart. The heart is the central pump and distributor of blood, and is connected to several other important organ meridians as well. Thus exercises aimed at improving the other organs will also ultimately benefit the heart.
For specific improvement to the Qi flow to the heart, the stimulation of Shenmen and Laogong points is most effective, as these activate the heart and pericardium meridians respectively. Shenmen can be stimulated by wrist exercises, acupressure massage, or acupuncture. Laogong is easily stimulated during many Qigong exercise. For example, this is done in the One-Step-Point variation of the Qigong walk ( see previous articles ), when you clench your hands each time as your foot touches the ground during the second step, and keeping them clenched while you pause. For better effect, the middle fingers should deliberately press at the centres of the palms.
The stimulation of Laogong is perhaps most effectively done with exercises using the rolling stick, which is a foot-long wooden stick ( about 3 cm in diameter, with smooth rounded ends ) that is continually rotated in between the palms as the body and arms execute various exercises.
COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES FOR THE HEART
If you seek alternative/complementary therapies for heart disease, it is best to make sure that the diagnosis and evaluation are accurate and confirmed by a good cardiologist. Any misdiagnosis can be fatal. However, some terms and evaluation criteria used in complementary medicine may be different and even not relevant to conventional medicine. But the heart that is getting healthier by complementary evaluation, should also be healthier by conventional standards. Aerobics exercises to improve heart and lung functions should also be part of the overall health plan.
With all the cutting-edge technology and advances in cardiology and cardiac surgery, is there still a place for complementary therapy for heart disease? There are many testimonies about the effectiveness of Qigong and various other complementary therapies, in some cases, even enabling patients to avoid heart surgery. I would like to share one such story.
Several years ago, a good friend of mine was diagnosed as having terminal heart disease. He was working in Singapore and the doctors there told him that it was too dangerous to operate on him. He was given 6 months to live, even with the best medical drugs available. However, they tried to help him by informing all the top cardiac centres worldwide about his case. Only one cardiac surgeon responded that he was willing to give a try, but first he wanted to personally assess my friend before giving a definite decision. Unfortunate, that brave cardiac surgeon, the late Dr Victor Chang, a Malaysian-born cardiac surgeon based in Sydney, was murdered before they could meet.
With the only surgeon willing to consider operating on him dead, he had no hope and so prepared for his death. He made a farewell trip to his birthplace in India, to bid farewell to his elders. There, he had a fateful meeting with a Professor of Unani Medicine, who advised him to try Unani medications. He agreed, and his condition improved steadily and he was soon off the danger list. Now he is in good health, although he still has to take his medications.
Unani Medicine ( “Unani” is the Arabic term for “Greek” ) is the surviving branch of Hippocratic Greek Medicine ( Hippocrates was the “father” of modern medicine ) that was practiced by Muslim doctors like Ibnu Sina ( Avicenna ), Ibnu Rushd ( Averroes ) and many other great physicians and surgeons. Ibnu Sina’s classic work “Canons of Medicine” was the standard textbook in most European medical schools for over 600 years!
Hippocrates had preached thus – ” Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food “.The great doctors, who were pious and spiritual as well, practiced by this adage. Being God-fearing, they also made sure that whatever they used in their medical practice were effective, not harmful, were from clean and permissible ( halal ) sources, and wherever possible, sourced from nature or were natural methods. So all the medicines used were nature-based. This, however, did not mean that they rejected innovations or modernization. Among them were inventors of some medical and surgical instruments, and pioneers of some medical treatments and surgical operations.
So until today, Unani medicines are made from natural sources. Nutrition/lifestyle intervention is a major part of therapy, and the roles of life-energy and spirituality are not neglected.
Although Unani Medicine ( Greek/Orthodox Medicine ) was actually the “mainstream modern medicine” throughout Europe during the days of Islamic Spain ( Andalucia ), it has been largely replaced by chemical-drug-based medicine ( the current “mainstream Modern Medicine” ) and relegated to being an “alternative/complementary” medicine. Fortunately, it has survived among the Muslims in India, with several Universities offering a full 6-year course in Unani Medicine & Surgery ( not restricted to Muslims only ). The training is thorough and accredited, and Unani is recognized by the Indian government as one of the three complementary medical sciences ( others are Ayurveda and Siddha ).