The Heart-Brain Connection
Rachel Condon, Lic. Ac.
Part One: The "Little Brain in the Heart"
This is the first in a series of articles exploring the connection between the Brain and the Heart, bridging Eastern and Western medicine, as modern scientific discoveries and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) come to the same conclusion.
In Chinese medical school, we learn that the
Heart is the most important organ system in the body
. It is considered to be the Emperor, the Master, or Ruler over all the others - When the Heart is functioning properly and is in alignment, all is well. You are in good health and in balance - body, mind and spirit.
A reminder that TCM looks at organ systems differently than Western medicine.
In TCM, the organs have a broader and wider definition
- this includes the organ itself, its channel pathways, along with its functions and relationships with other organ systems. Each organ system is also associated with a particular emotion, spiritual/mental function, season, taste, sound, etc, which we have referred to in many other articles. This may initially sound strange or confusing to our Western ears, but when the theory is applied, it actually makes a lot of sense!
the Ling Shu
, a classical Chinese medical text, it states that the "Heart is the Monarch of the 5 Yin organs and the 6 Yang organs and it is the residence of the Mind..."
We've discussed in previous newsletters how each of the five elements has an associated emotion, such as the Metal element (Lungs and Large Intestine) is associated with grief.
Each major organ also has an associated spiritual/mental function;
the Heart's is the S
, which usually translates as the mind.
*When the Heart and the S
are in alignment in the Tao, when Life and Nature flow seemlessly, then you are full of health and well-being.
Chinese medical theory correlated the functions of the mind with the Heart, not the Brain. And now, a few thousand years later, we find more and more similarities between that ancient wisdom and modern scientific research. Of course, the brain is still considered to be an incredibly complex, sophisticated system in the body, and we are still in the process of discovering all that it is capable of.
But what seems to have been a missing piece for a long time (in Western thought and science) is this -
We need BOTH:
the heart, as pumper of blood, and the brain, to survive and function within our environment. And the fact that they do communicate with one another and work together, far more than previously acknowledged, deepens our understanding of the human body.
When the heart and brain are working together
, in coherence,
we are in balance
, in alignment, and can feel a sense of well-being.
In 1991, a scientific discovery, published in a peer-reviewed journal, described what has come to be called the
"little brain in the heart"
: - a neural network surrounding the heart, made up of about 40,000 specialized neurons, and it both operates on its own and communicates directly with the brain. This has opened up a whole new field called neurocardiology. It has great implications for the expanded roles of the heart and brain in the body, and the ways they communicate.
As the lead scientist, Dr. J. Andrew Armour of the University of Montreal, has said, based on his work,
"It has become clear in recent years that a sophisticated two-way communication occurs between the heart and the brain, with each influencing the other's function."
Research on heart transplants
have furthered this work, showing that people who have had heart transplants have profound changes in behavior, preferences, in their very personalities, which reflect those of the person who donated the heart, that seem to suggest that the heart stores memories, and perhaps other experiences as well. This is fascinating stuff, and there are now several books with case histories available on this subject.
The little brain of the heart has been found to function in
two distinct yet related ways:
- It can act independently of the cranial brain to think, learn, remember, and even sense our inner and outer worlds on its own
- It can act in harmony with the cranial brain to give us the benefit of a single, potent neural network shared by the two separate organs.
So, the heart is far more than just the organ that pumps the blood throughout our bodies! It has this sophisticated neural network, communicates directly with the brain far more than we thought, AND has its own independent neural network. In addition, it's powerfully electromagnetic.
generates the strongest known energy fields in the human body
; electrically, it's between 40 to 60 times stronger than the brain.
In part two
of this series, I'm going to discuss the implications of the human heart's powerful electromagnetic field, in light of further discoveries in the last 30-40 years about the existence of a "field", a matrix of energy, in which everything, literally, is connected.
And later, we'll look at some of the current explorations into what this means for our potential as human beings, and
how we can use this information in our everyday lives (and on the acupuncture treatment table)
, to increase health, longevity, and well-being, thru creating greater coherence between the heart and the brain.
As someone who studied behavioral neuroscience and philosophy as an undergraduate, and then years later studied Chinese medicine, I LOVE this kind of thing and think it's fascinating!
But I also find it to be important information to share and understand together, to expand on our understanding of what it means to heal and to find balance, and indeed, to recognize how very much we are all connected.
Resilience from the Heart, Gregg Braden, 2014. Hay House.
Taking Care of our Skin in Fall and Winter
Anne Louise Smallen, Lic. Ac.
Our skin is
our best natural protection against viruses, toxins and harmful bacteria
. These invade our body through the pores of our skin and our senses (mouth, nose, eyes, etc.). To prevent damage from the environment, we should take care of our skin year round; it is considered
the largest organ of our body
. We should especially take good care of it in the fall and winter because it is under additional attack from cold and wind.
Cold and wind
make our skin thinner, dehydrated, dry, flaky, scaly and itchy. Our lips crack and we feel uncomfortable. Skin does not like the confinement and roughness of winter clothes. The fairer our skin, the more precautions we need to take, in order to keep it healthy. Naturally we all know that taking care of our skin makes us attractive and reduces signs of aging, but it also keeps us healthy during the cold months.
At all times,
we need to protect our skin
by avoiding poor diets, excessive sun and environmental pollutants (from smoking, chemicals in cosmetics, environmental pollution, etc.). In addition, in the fall and winter, we need to give it an extra layer of protection by
reducing the number and length of showers
, increasing our intake of
Vitamins A, B and E
after bathing to increase skin moisture (water and oil keep the skin cells plump and healthy). Olive, avocado or almond oil can do wonders on our skin.
The best way to get the necessary vitamins helping our skin is (as always) is through proper food rather than by taking supplements.
Supplements never match the complexity of whole food
is abundant in the following vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, turnip greens, beet greens, green onions, winter squash, Chinese cabbage and Swiss chard. Make sure to buy organic to avoid pollutants. Vitamin A is also high in algae such as spirulina and chlorella available at natural food stores or in wheat/barley grass. Skin dryness is strongly related to Vitamin A deficiency.
is contained in miso, tempeh, algae (hijiki, kombu, kelp and nori). Nori is the seaweed wrap for sushi. Spirulina and chlorella are also good sources along with fish, oysters and clams.
, eat cabbages, asparagus and cucumbers, sprouted wheat, sprouts of all kinds, almonds and hazelnuts.
And naturally, keep
drinking plenty of water
and use a
at home. Once more, healthy skin is very important to the protection of our health, second only to the purity of the air we breathe. Take good care of both this fall and winter and see if you keep colds and flu at bay.