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  • Emma K. Dweck, M.Ac.

Opening (and Closing) the Heart's Gate

Valentine’s day is regarded by many as a superficial Hallmark holiday. And while the mainstream media has certainly done its best to take the depth out of the day, romantic love is an extremely important part of (nearly) everyone’s life. Finding a way to honor that part of ourselves, whether we are in a partnership or not, can be a deeply spiritual and fulfilling experience.

In Chinese Medicine emotional and physical well-being are equally important. This includes the health of our relationships with others. Each organ controls a specific function, and not surprisingly it’s the Heart, and associated organs, that are responsible for romantic relationships and intimacy.

In the classical Chinese texts, the Heart is the “Emperor” of all the other organs. When the system is in balance, the Heart assures that there is a perfect rhythm to all functions: physical, mental and spiritual. The Heart is so important in Chinese Medicine that there are two meridians (energy pathways) dedicated to it. Its protector, or partner organ, is the Pericardium.

The Pericardium, which is actually a sac surrounding the Heart, is also known as the Heart Protector, and is in charge of shielding the Heart from anything that might cause harm. Its job is to ensure that the heart is safe and healthy.

On a psycho-spiritual level, the Heart Protector regulates our ability to connect with others, especially romantically. When the Heart Protector is healthy, we are able to discern the appropriateness of potential partners and connect with them in a joyful, authentic way. Unfortunately, and as most of us know first hand, heartbreak is common, and can lead to a dysfunctional Heart Protector.

The Heart Protector is like a gate to the heart, and when it's not functioning properly, it affects our ability to connect. If the gate is always closed, we become lonely, isolated, and depressed. On the other hand, if the gate is always open, we can expose ourselves to relationships that are damaging and inappropriate. Having a healthy Heart Protector (and thus, a healthy Heart) requires the right balance of opening and closing. And this may mean different things at different stages of life.

Both the Heart and Heart Protector (as well as two other organs, the Triple Heater and Small Intestine) are associated with the Fire Element. Fire governs our ability to feel and share joy. Fire is about laughter, celebration, connection and intimacy. We use all kinds of fire analogies to describe different aspects of romantic love: we feel a spark, things heat up or cool down, we describe attractive people as "hot." Warmth is necessary for intimacy, but too much heat in a relationship can be just as damaging as not enough. Again- balance is key!

One of the amazing things about Chinese Medicine is that it can heal a traumatized Heart and Heart Protector. It can ease heartbreak, cultivate the energy it takes to put ourselves out there, and facilitate connection with our own desires and needs. It is also great for depression, and those struggling to be intimate with others (whether they are in a relationship or not).

Fire is the most yang (active, moving, energetic) of all the seasons, and winter is the most yin (dormant, quiet, still) time of year. It’s pretty interesting that there’s a holiday in the dead of winter that can help remind us to tend the fires of our Hearts and Heart Protectors. Whether you have a partner or not, this Valentine’s day can be a time to reflect on how you’re doing at opening and/or protecting your own Heart. If it feels like the gate is creaky or stuck in one way or the other, bringing your attention to it can be a great way of nudging it towards a place of balance. And if that doesn’t work, try acupuncture!

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