Red Valentine: Taking care of your (TCM) heart



The arrival of February can only mean one thing: Valentine’s Day. Through years of commercial conditioning, and also possibly because of Chinese New Year’s tendency to fall somewhere around the end of January and the beginning of February, this period of the year has a very definite “red” characteristic to it for me.


Mention heart in a clinical sense, and cardiovascular diseases will most probably pop up, along with blood pressure (high or low) and possibly breathlessness. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the heart’s responsibilities are mainly that of controlling the blood circulation (easy enough) as well as mental and emotional activities (hold on, what?). To understand the heart’s functions I find it’s a lot easier if you step back and look at the symptoms when things go wrong.


Think of the fragile invalid typical of Victorian literature: delicate constitution, weakness due to prolonged illness, shortness of breath, palpitation, pale complexion, dizziness. These are all typical symptoms of a heart deficiency syndrome, which makes sense due to the poor/blocked blood circulation. Heart deficiency can also result in anxiety, restlessness, insomnia or frequent dreaming and this is what we mean by mental and emotional disturbances.


On the other end of the spectrum, common symptoms of excess conditions affecting the heart include palpitation, an oppressed feeling on the chest, dizziness, and in extreme cases, chest pains. There may also be signs of confusion, insomnia or difficulty falling asleep and a tendency to be easily frightened.


Acupuncture can be very useful in balancing the heart’s functions and settling the mind. But what can you do on your own?

  • Avoiding stress is a good start as stress greatly influences the heart’s ability (it’s no coincidence it houses the body’s mental and emotional activities). This includes violent images from TV or movies; swap watching the news with just reading headlines online but not the entire story – you don’t need to know all the details.
  • Add a relaxation routine into your day: try tai chi, yoga, swimming or just simple walking. Rather than just doing nothing, your relaxation should have a positive sense of gentle activity.
  • At the same time incorporate some concentration training like crosswords, sudoku or meditation.
  • Have a regular bedtime routine to ensure you get good quality sleep (and enough of it!).
  • Cut back on sugar and caffeine. If you can cut them out completely, that’s even better.
  • Eat regularly and eat mild, easily digested food. Avoid chillies or really spicy meals.


The general idea here is one of gentleness: gentle exercises, mild (not bland) meals, simple nurturing of your body. Rather than the pounding of a boxing match imagine the slow stretch of a ballet dancer.


Photo credit: Neal Fowler via flickr

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Pointspace’s monthly roundup | November



Bonfire Night, pointspace turns one, mild weather, the turning on of Christmas lights all around London. It has been a particularly delightful November this year.


1.  In case you need even more reason to avoid sugary beverages, a new study has found that women who drank two or more sweet drinks (sweet tea, soft drinks, coffee drinks that look like desserts) were at an increased risk of heart disease even if they did not gain weight. Even more reason to kick that caramel frappuccino habit.


2.  Saunas always evoke that lovely feeling of calmness and maturity for me (there was no way you could get my 15-year-old self to sit there and just be for more than five minutes). It turns out that saunas really can improve your mood and your heart by improving your heart function by increasing the heart’s ability to pump blood (and boosting the amount of exercise you can do) as well as allowing the body to release more serotonin (the happiness molecule).

3.  What is your view on the nature or nurture discussion? Well when it comes to your health, it may appear that your living conditions as a child does have an impact on your biological being, more specifically your DNA.


4.  Stress has been in the top three of health concerns I’ve seen amongst my clients this year, regardless of what their actual main health reason was when coming to see me. How does traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture approach stress? At its simplest, as with a lot of disease and disorders, it’s down to an imbalance. This easy to understand article, by acupuncturist Janis Egan, gives quite a good explanation of the concept.


5.  Video: Work out like a Hong Kong action hero. I came across this set of exercise routines from Michael Nevermind (that’s his name, not because I couldn’t be bothered to write it up). It seems like a great fun way to work up the heart rate in your living room, shades optional. 


6. And finally, something truly inspiring: watch this video of what a simple bottle can do.

Photo credit: mendhak via flickr

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Health and Wellbeing | Can how you feel affect your health?



I am what some would call, a geek. I don’t have Einstein hair, and my terrible myopia doesn’t seem to have come with an extraordinary dose of genius (so I’m not that kind of geek) but I do like cool non-cool things. Physics and chemistry were my favourite subjects in school and I’m still intrigued with giving myself self-induced furrows reading about the universe. “Bobby Fischer Goes to War” is one of my all time favourite charity shop purchases. I noticed Michael Bublé much later than everyone else, and then only because he had a great way of messing up songs, not because he has an amazing voice. I devoured my school library’s collection of Kurt Vonnegut novels and then proceeded to buy them over and over again, as I moved from country to country, leaving my books behind at each location.


But I don’t do sci-fi movies or TV shows. Star Trek? Nope. Star Wars? Nyet. Aliens? Nein. (Although I did enjoy Spaceballs with John Candy and Terminator 2, despite the headaches I get with Hollywood’s rubber rules of time travel.)


However for the past few weeks I have been watching Dr Who. I blame my boyfriend, who is also a geek (I have to insist here that our flat isn’t Geekopolis so don’t start planning any pilgrimages our way). Being British, he can’t help but be a fan of Dr Who but I have free will and so managed to live in a parallel universe where there was no Doctor. Last year the Boyfriend tried to introduce me to it with an episode about a crack in the wall being a crack in the universe, it was fun but no Homes Under the Hammer (told you I was a geek).


Then last month the Boyfriend played another episode in my presence and it was quite good. It was ridiculously scary featuring the Silence, creatures who have the eerie ability to make you forget about them the second you turn away. Like any kind of “brain-wiping”, too much of it and your mind goes a bit loopy.


I can imagine nothing scarier than being stalked by something I can’t remember once they are out of my sight. How can I defend against a non-memory?


Is fear damaging?


Much has been said about this series of Dr Who being the scariest ever and whether this was appropriate for children. The consensus is that children and adults alike enjoy being frightened out of their skin – why else would they love haunted houses and rollercoasters?


Extreme fear obviously has survival value, it is sudden and temporary and the adrenaline response calls for action. However, in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM, of which acupuncture is a branch) fear, or any prolonged emotion, is considered to be damaging.


For some people, the continual stress of modern living may result in a state of fearful anxiety that is less extreme but chronic. What does this mean? Well the person may have fear of being in enclosed spaces, fear of being alone or fear of being unloved. Chronic fear could then lead to panic or anxiety.


Using TCM syndrome differentiation, emotions tend to affect mostly the:

  • Heart: symptoms include palpitation, insomnia, and restlessness.
  • Liver: symptoms include irritability, distending pain in the hypochondriac region, belching, and irregular menstruation.
  • Spleen: symptoms include poor appetite, distending pain in the abdomen, and loose stools.


The theory of yin and yang that is the basis of TCM is often incorrectly simplified to represent a New Age abstraction. At its core is the fact that if the scales are balanced, our bodies will function properly. It’s not enough to only concentrate on one aspect of our lives even if we are passionate about it. TCM’s take on emotions merely highlights the fact we need to take care of our bodies by having good nutrition and exercise, as well as taking care of our mental state of mind by cultivating good supportive relationships.


What do you think? Are our emotions a symptom or the cause for our state of wellbeing?


Photo credit: Peter Dutton via flickr

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