Articles - The Heart Channel
The Heart houses the Shen and its most important clinical use is for mental emotional problems. This article will explore the clinical use of the Heart channel for uses other than for mental-emotional problems.
Points of the Heart channel have a marked effect in stopping pruritus (itching). The two main points for this are HE-7 Shenmen and HE-8 Shaofu, the latter being stronger. Using Heart points for itching is the equivalent of using herbs that calm the Mind and nourish the Heart (such as Ye Jiao Teng Caulis Polygoni multiflori or Bai Zi Ren Semen Biotae orientalis) which also stop itching.
Stopping itching is extremely important in eczema and is the first treatment strategy one should adopt because, although this disease causes itching, the scratching resulting from it perpetuates the disease by causing excoriation of the skin and possible infections.
Sexual Function in Men
The Heart channel is related to the Kidney channel within the Shao Yin channels. It is also indirectly related to the Kidneys through the Du Mai and Ren Mai, both of which flow through the Heart and originate from the space between the Kidneys. Both the Du and Ren Mai have a profound influence on sexuality and the sexual function including sexual desire, sexual arousal, erection, maintenance of erection and ejaculation. Furthermore, the Chong Mai also starts from the space between the Kidneys and goes to the Heart and, in addition, it controls the zong muscles in the abdomen which many interpret as being the penis. Thus, especially in men's sexuality, we can consider the Heart as an "Upper Kidney", influencing many of the above sexual functions. If we accept this, it is easy to see how mental-emotional stress affecting the Heart has a profound influence on the sexual function in men.
There is yet another important connection between men's sexual function and the Heart via the Minister Fire of the Ming Men. The Minister Fire is a special type of Fire that can actually generate Water: thus, the Fire and Water within the Kidneys are inseparable and interdependent. The Minister Fire warms and nourishes the Room of Sperm: when it is deficient, the Room of Sperm is cold and this may cause impotence or lack of libido; when it is excessive, it flares upwards affecting the Heart and Pericardium. The Room of Sperm, located in the Dan Tian is also called Bao, a term that applies to both men and women and that is therefore erroneously translated as "Uterus" (Zi Bao is the Uterus). In women, the Uterus corresponds to the Lower Field of Elixir (Dan Tian) which in men houses the "Room of Sperm". The "Golden Mirror of Medicine" (Yi Zong Jin Jian, 1742) says: "The Governing Vessel arises within the lower abdomen, externally in the abdomen, internally in the Bao...also called Dan Tian in both men and women: in women it is the Uterus, in men it is the Room of Sperm". This passage clearly shows that Bao is a structure common to both men and women being the Uterus in women and the "Room of Sperm" in men. The extraordinary vessels arise from this area. We can therefore consider the Pericardium (Xin Bao) and Room of Sperm (Jing Shi) (also called Bao) as two centres of sexuality, one in the Upper Burner, the other in the Lower Burner: it is the coordination of these two centres that controls sexuality and specifically in men, libido, erection, orgasm and ejaculation. These two centres, the Heart and Pericardium above and the Minister Fire of the Kidneys below regulate the ascending and descending of Fire and Water and mutually inhibit and nourish each other.
Thus, in men we can use the Heart channel points to treat sexual dysfunctions such as impotence or premature ejaculation which are nearly always due to a dysfunction of Heart-Fire (deficient or excessive) rather than a Kidney deficiency. That is why, in most cases, all these tonics with deer antler, dog's penis, seal penis or sea-horse never do anything. The main points for this function are HE 7 Shenmen and HE-3 Shaohai. I often combine the point HE-7 Shenmen with the opening points of the Du Mai. An example of a point combination for a man complaining of impotence or premature ejaculation against a background of mental-emotional problems would be SI-3 Houxi on the left, BL-62 Shenmai on the right, HE-7 Shenmen on the right and LIV-3 Taichong on the left if the pulse is Wiry, or KI-3 Taixi if there is also a Kidney deficiency and the pulse is Weak and Fine.
Connection with Uterus
The Heart is closely connected with the Uterus through the Uterus Vessel (Bao Mai) and this explains the profound influence of mental-emotional problems affecting the Heart on the Uterus. The Uterus is related to the Kidneys via a channel called the Uterus Channel (Bao Luo). The "Simple Questions" in chapter 47 says: "The Uterus Channel extends to the Kidneys".
The Uterus is physiologically related also to the Heart via a channel called Uterus Vessel (Bao Mai). The "Simple Questions" in chapter 33 says: "The Uterus Vessel pertains to the Heart and extends to the Uterus" and "When the period does not come it means the Uterus Vessel is obstructed".
Hence normal menstruation and fertility depend on the state of the Kidney Essence and Heart-Blood. If Heart-Blood is deficient Heart-Qi does not descend to the Uterus. If the Kidney-Essence is deficient, menstruation does not occur. A deficiency in either Heart or Kidneys can therefore cause infertility or amenorrhoea.
There is also another important connection and that is via Blood: the Heart governs Blood and the Uterus stores Blood. Although the overwhelming majority of gynaecologists will emphasize the role of Liver-Blood in relation to the Uterus, some put the accent on Heart-Blood. Thus, when they want to nourish Blood in gynaecological problems, these gynaecologists would nourish Heart-Blood with points such as HE-7 Shenmen and BL-15 Xinshu. Moreover, the famous Qing dynasty's gynaecologist Fu Qing Zhu said that the Heavenly Gui (i.e. menstrual Blood) derives from the Kidney-Jing but with the assistance of Heart-Yang which must flow down to communicate with the Kidney-Jing. Thus, tonifying the Heart, will necessarily help Kidney-Jing to produce menstrual Blood. This is probably the reason why Gui Pi Tang, which nourishes Heart Blood, is such an important formula in gynaecological problems.
Dr Yao Shi An mentions several patterns of the Heart which affect the gynaecological functions.
Women are prone to stagnation of Qi, this often turns into Fire which affects the Heart; Fire harasses downwards and disturbs the Directing and Penetrating vessels, the Sea of Blood becomes reckless and this may result in Heavy Periods or Flooding and Trickling. The "Ji Yin Gang Mu" says: "Fire burns the Heart, Blood becomes reckless and causes bleeding downwards".
Sadness over a long period of time may cause Heart-Yin deficiency, the Mind has no residence, this causes Heart-Yang to float and may cause menorrhagia. The "Simple Questions" says in chapter 44: "Sadness leads to severance of the Uterus Channel: when this is severed Yang Qi is agitated in the Interior and the Heart causes menorrhagia".
When Heart-Qi rebels upwards, it impairs the descending of Lung-Qi; Qi cannot descend and communicate with the Uterus Vessel and amenorrhoea results. The "Simple Questions" says in the chapter Ping Re Bing Lun: "If the periods do not come it means the Uterus Vessel is shut...Qi rises to harass the Lungs, Heart-Qi does not descend and the periods do not come".
Overwork weakens Heart-Yin which leads to Empty Heat: this may also cause amenorrhoea. The "Secret Record of the Orchid Room" (Lan Shi Mi Cang) says: "Mental strain and stress (Ó« ? ) weakens the Heart, Heart-Fire rises and the periods do not come".
When there is Fire in the Heart channel, it rises to harass the Heart and the mouth and below it may cause excessive vaginal discharge. Chen Zi Ming says: "Vaginal sores in women are due to mental restlessness and chaotic Heart and weak Stomach-Qi resulting in stagnation of Qi and Blood". The "Simple Questions" in the chapter Zhi Zhen Yao Da Lun says: "Pain, itching and sores are due to the Heart".
Pensiveness and worry agitate the Heart, the Emperor Fire moves and fails to communicate with the Kidneys, Water and Fire do not communicate and infertility may result. Wang Yu Tai says: "Pensiveness and worry may make it difficult for a woman to conceive, the Heart houses the Mind. pensiveness makes the Heart turn towards the outside, the Emperor Fire cannot descend, Above and Below do not communicate, Water and Fire do not communicate and infertility may result".
After conception Blood is deviated to the nourishment of the foetus, Fire easily rises, this disturbs the Heart and causes mental restlessness. The "Discussion of Gynaecology" (Nu Ke Jing Lun) says: "When the Heart is affected by Blood Heat, Heart-Qi is not clear and this causes mental restlessness".
Worry agitates the Heart and causes a difficult birth. The "Gynaecology of the Bamboo Grove" (Zhu Lin Nu Ke) says: "When the Heart is affected by worry and pensiveness, Qi and Blood stagnate or flow in the wrong direction, in many cases this cases a difficult birth".
The book "Explanation of Acupuncture Points" recommends tonifying HE-8 Shaofu for prolapse of the vagina or vaginal pain and itching. The "Great Dictionary of Chinese Acupuncture" mentions HE-5 Tongli for heavy periods or Flooding and Trickling, especially in combination with LIV-2 Xingjian and SP-6 Sanyinjiao (Great Compendium of Acupuncture, 1601).
Backache in Men
I often use points of the Heart channel for lower backache in men. The reason is the same as that given for the use of these points for men's sexual problems: the Heart is like an "Upper Kidney" and it therefore naturally influences the lower back. I find that the point HE-7 Shenmen is the best for this function because, besides its indirect action on the Kidney channel (and therefore the lower back), it also has a general anti-spastic effect, thus relaxing the muscles. I usually combine this point with the opening points of the Du Mai (only if the pain stems from the spine area). An example of a combination would be SI-3 Houxi on the left, BL-62 Shenmai on the right, HE-7 Shenmen on the right and KI 4 Dazhong on the left. If the pain is unilateral, I use KI-4 Dazhong on the side of the pain and HE-7 Shenmen on the opposite side.
Although nausea and vomiting are always related to Stomach-Qi ascending instead of descending, Heart-Qi also has (or should have) a descending movement. The "Explanation of Acupuncture Points" says: "When Heart-Qi rebels upwards there is belching or vomiting: this means that Heart-Qi is full; tonifying the Water point [HE-3 Shaohai] will make Qi descend". The same also specifically recommends it for nausea and vomiting. The same text also recommends HE-5 Tongli for vomiting of bitter fluids and HE-7 Shenmen for vomiting of blood. The "Great Dictionary of Chinese Acupuncture" mentions also HE-6 Yinxi for vomiting of blood and HE-1 Jiquan for dry vomiting.
Furthermore, the Heart channel is closely related to the epigastrium; in fact, in the old times, the distinction between Heart pain and Epigastric pain was somewhat blurred. Incidentally, this is borne out by modern medicine too when symptoms of incipient cardiac infarction may often resemble indigestion.
Thus, if Heart-Qi ascends rather than descend, nausea and vomiting may ensue (which incidentally may also occur in the prodromal stage of a heart infarction). This is probably the reason why P-6 Neiguan (acting on the Heart) is such an important point for nausea and vomiting. From the Heart channel, HE-5 Tongli is the best point, and also Ren-15 Jiuwei or Ren-14 Juque both of which act on the Heart.
Calm Nerves in Asthma
Points of the Heart channel can be used to treat acute attacks of asthma. This is probably due to their anti-spastic action and they presumably relax the bronchial muscles and therefore relieve broncho constriction. Thus, in this case, Heart point are not used to "calm the Mind" but to relax the bronchial muscles. The main point used is HE-7 Shenmen, usually in combination with Du-24 Shenting and Ren-15 Jiuwei (which relaxes the chest and acts on the Heart). The "Explanation of Acupuncture Points" recommends HE-7 Shenmen for rebellious Qi and Heart-Fire causing breathlessness. Heart points also help asthma because they help to restore the descending of Qi in the chest. The "Great Compendium of Acupuncture" recommends HE-7 Shenmen, SP-9 Yinlingquan, BL-60 Kunlun and GB-41 Zulinqi for breathlessness.
Heart points can be used to alleviate tremors in Parkinson's disease. They have an effect on tremors for two reasons: first, through the anti spastic effect mentioned above; secondly, because Heart points will nourish Yin in the arm and will help to alleviate tremors of the arm (since Wind, especially in old people, derives from Yin deficiency). The main points are HE-7 Shenmen, HE-6 Yinxi and HE-5 Tongli. The "Great Dictionary of Chinese Acupuncture" recommends the point HE-3 Shaohai for contracture of the hand and numbness of the arm.
The Su Wen mentions a combination for swollen and painful knee: SI-2 Qiangu, HE-8 Shaofu, KI-2 Rangu and BL-66 Tonggu. The Heart points affect the knee firstly because of the relationship with the Kidney channel and secondly, because Heart points can be used to clear Heat and cool Blood in general. They are therefore used usually when the knee is inflamed and swollen. The best point is HE-5 Tongli.
Both the Heart main and Connecting channels flow to the eye and Heart points can therefore be used for eye problems, especially from inflammation. The best point is HE-5 Tongli. In fact the "Explanation of Acupuncture Points" recommends HE-5 Tongli for painful and red eye (from Heart-Fire) and HE-7 Shenmen for yellow and painful eye.
The Heart channel points can be used for urinary problems due to its connection with the Bladder channel through the Small Intestine channel. In fact, the Heart is exteriorly-interiorly connected to the Small Intestine and this, in turn, has an Above-Below connection with the Bladder channel within the Greater Yang channels. The Heart channel is particularly used for Lin urinary problems from Heart-Heat transmitting to the Small Intestine and Bladder, and the main point is HE-8 Shaofu, in combination with SI-2 Qiangu, BL-66 Tonggu. Sometimes Heart-Fire combines with Liver-Fire to cause urinary problems and the main points are HE-8 Shaofu and LIV-2 Xingjian. The "Explanation of Acupuncture Points" recommends HE-8 Shaofu (with reducing method) for urinary problems.