Heartache, Disappointment, Depression: Soothing Heart Pain with Acupuncture
Loss and heartbreak are part of life. They can be accompanied by shock and surprise; even despair and alienation. Each of us must find a way to navigate periods of disappointment, loss, chaos, uncertainty and the sense of grief, anxiety and sadness these periods can bring.
Many of us feel unsettled by world events. The way the world is going is not how we’d like. In some cases, we feel shocked and alienated by what’s happening around us. I’ve observed around me a widespread sense of loss and anxiety for the future. Some say they feel as if someone had died, or as if they’ve gone through a painful breakup with someone they dearly love.
Shock, disappointment and loss can cause many symptoms, both physical and mental-emotional: disruption to sleep cycles, fatigue, chest pain, depression, anxiety, lowered immunity, tongue ulcers, sexual and urinary problems, pain all over the body, fatigue, numbness, high blood pressure and many other symptoms.
Classical Chinese Medicine devoted an entire school of study to working with the many “heart pains” we encounter in our lives. The term “heart pain” has many connotations. It can refer to the physical “angina” pain we feel in our chests, during a heart attack. Heart pain can also be something less tangible – heartbreak, heartache, and the anxiety, chagrin, distress and depression that accompanies.
Chinese medicine is psychosomatic medicine. For thousands of years Acupuncture has illustrated how issues afflicting the mind and emotions can manifest physically. The reverse is also true. Physical trauma can also have an effect on the mind and emotions.
In this article, I will discuss the classical Chinese understanding of “heart pain.” I will present several acupuncture points that help treat symptoms associated with heartache. By the end of this article I will construct for your use an acupuncture point prescription for treating heart pain that can be self-administered through massage and/or the application of essential oils.
Note: when discussing acupuncture points I will give the English translation of the point name along with the Chinese medical abbreviation. This is so you can look up the point on the internet when you begin your exploration of working with these points through your own self-treatments. For example: HT-7 “Spirit Gate.” This is the 7th point on the Heart’s acupuncture channel. By looking up “HT-7 acupuncture point” on google, you can discover more information about point location as well as other details about this point.
To the ancient Chinese, the Heart is the most important of all the body’s organ systems. The heart is the organ that manages all others. It governs blood circulation, which the ancient Chinese observed to have a strong resonance with the mind, emotions and “spirit.”
The Heart is more than a blood pump in Chinese medicine. It is the residence of the “Shen”: the mind-spirit. It is the animating source of the body and mind which empowers all functions in the human system. It activates the willpower, empowers thought, morality, a sense of direction, focus and the capacity to give and receive love. The Shen via the blood is also the way we heal and repair our bodies moment to moment.
There are two acupuncture points located on the palm of the hand that are especially powerful in treating heartbreak and loss. The palm is philosophically seen as an area of desire. It is with our hands that we reach for the things we want. It is where we hold onto things, grasp and pull them into our chests and up into our mouths. There is an old Chinese medical expression known as “Hot Palms,” which is both a physical manifestation as well as a psycho-emotional state related to strong desires: the tendency to always be reaching for what we desire.
“Hot palms”: excessive, obsessive desire can lead to a state of burnout and great disappointment. I’ve seen many situations where people come to my acupuncture clinic with conditions of numbness, pain, physical degeneration, depression and exhaustion. The root of these problems is often coming from the Heart. This is part of a classic Chinese medical syndrome: Wei Atrophy, which means the burnout and exhaustion of functional energy. It manifests because of excessive heat coming from a blockage in the body. The medical classics say the blockage can come from fixation of the mind, resulting in disappointment and grief. Mental distress can lead to numbness, loss of physical function and degeneration. It can literally bleed the body until it’s lost its vitality and will to live a fulfilling life.
There is an acupuncture channel that travels from the wrist into the palms. It is called the Luo-Connecting channel of the Lungs. The classic symptom of this channel is “hot palms.” When we become so fixated on wanting something particular to happen in our lives, this can create a tremendous amount of heat in our bodies. Excessive heat exhausts the blood, fluids and functional energy of the body. It can also damage the tissues. This results in a state of burnout, boredom, loss of will or depression. This can happen simultaneously on the mental as well as physical levels of the body.
The acupuncture channels reflect physiological function as well as the disease processes in the body. The Luo channel of the Lungs, by traveling into the palms is saying that when we place a tremendous amount of energy and attention on something, it can exhaust us.
The image above is a rough depiction of the Lung’s Luo Channel. I would amend this image by showing it going into two more areas in the center of the palm.
These two acupuncture points located on the palm are amongst the best points in the body to treat the burnout related to heart pain.
Acupuncture channels are like rivers and waterways. When energy gathers at one point or area of a channel, like at the wrist in the case of the Lung Luo channel, it will eventually overflow down the channel into the other points. When energy overflows or “empties” from the wrist into the palm this can manifest as fixation or obsessive focus creating “heart pain.” When this stagnant energy collects in the palms it creates a pool of hot pressure that consumes the energy of the entire channel, leading to exhaustion.
By not getting what we want, we create a blockage in the flow of our own internal energy. This creates tremendous pressure, and generates inflammation. Heat spreads. It can travel from the palms back up the Lung and Heart (Pericardium) Channels, which flow up the arm into the chest. Stagnant heat can spread into the Lung and Heart organs, disrupting respiration and circulation, eventually spreading to all other organs causing systemic problems.
The first acupuncture point on the palm, called the “Lesser Palace” (HT-8) treats the first manifestations of heart pain – the reaction to the physical loss of something, or the pain of not getting what we want. This point is especially indicated for the tremendous heat and rebelliousness that can come from disappointment or loss. Common symptoms can be intermittent fevers, insomnia, anxiety, coughing, vomiting, nausea and distress.
The other acupuncture point on the palms is called the “Palace of Toil” (PC-8). It treats the more serious manifestations of heart pain. The distress of not getting what we want can be so strong it generates severe mental and neurological symptoms. The inflammatory response to disappointment can become so violent it creates damage to the tissues of the body – uncontrollable (febrile) heat raging out of control. It can also manifest as manic-depression, madness, epilepsy, obsessive-compulsive addictive behavior, paranoia, violent extreme emotions, and other severe dramatic symptoms.
Both of these points are “palaces.” The term “palace” relates directly to the role of the Heart. The Heart is “king” of the organs. A palace is where a king spends most of his time. Each of us have certain themes in our life where we focus most of our time and attention. Some of us want to be successful in our careers, others are very focused on relationship. Some focus on politics and events in the world, others on their own sense of adventure and personal “home.” The philosophical term given to these life themes are “palaces”: where our hearts spend the most time and attention.
Within Chinese philosophy, there are nine “Palaces”: nine major themes in life:
When a person becomes stuck within a particular “palace” or theme, this gives rise to a “Heart pain.” A heart pain is a type of fixation which we are having difficulty moving through or letting go of. It can become an obsession, stealing our attention and consuming our energy and resources.
Chinese medicine was created by Taoist sages. Taoism has a famous saying: when we are focused only on our desires, we see only the “manifestations” in life – the fixed, limited material world. But when we can release our desires, only then will we be able to see the divine “mysteries” of life.
Heart pains are teachers for us. They help us learn to let go. To the ancient Taoists this is a major part of spiritual cultivation.
I recall learning about childhood psychological development in my studies. Chinese medicine has its own model of psycho-social development. The stage related to the Heart is the “No” stage. The heart wants everything. It is pure desire. However the social world puts limits on our desires. The initial experience of this occurs early in our childhood development. Dealing with “No” can be difficult for the child. I related to this teaching. I was in my mind-20s, realizing I never fully graduated from this stage. “No” was still difficult for me. I had such a difficult reaction to it. I would become rebellious and angry when told I couldn’t do something. Even when it was for my own good! I had “hot palms.” I wanted to touch everything. I would frequently experience alternating periods of extreme agitated energy surges, followed by burnout and depression. I was completely consumed by my desires. My heart was stuck in the palaces of pleasure and relationship.
During this time in my life, I recall the acupuncturist I was seeing treating the points on my palms every time I saw her. I began to develop a strong relationship with the “Palace of Toil” and “Lesser Palace.” These points would almost instantly change my mental and physical chemistry. I would go from spinning out of control or feeling depressed and exhausted to a state of calm contentment. These points seemed like little miracles to me, capable of changing my sense of life in a very short time.
In time I began to observe my tendency to become fixated on my desires. I was able to track my journey from extreme animated excitement to fixation, burnout and depression. I began meditating. I learned to appreciate the Taoist teachings: to let go of my desires and allow myself space to see beyond what I wanted so I could experience a deeper truth: the “mystery” of life.
The mystery is a dramatic name for something that is quite miraculous, but also very simple and commonplace. I noticed the more I let things come and go naturally, the more my life seemed to work itself out. Even when things I dearly loved were taken from me, or when “No” blocked me from getting what I wanted, if I could pause, breathe and look deeper into the situation, I was able to experience a sense of grace – being taken care of by something greater than myself. I don’t consider myself religious. But I have come to develop a relationship with some mysterious force greater than myself. I like what the Taoists say about this. They say the “mystery” is such that to name or define it only misses the true nature of it. It cannot be named or defined, only experienced. But for this to occur, we must be able to step outside of our desires, surrender to the moment in calm abiding and observation. The truth is always there, waiting for us to let it in. We just need to calm our desiring hearts so it can make itself known.
Many people around us are experiencing Heart pain relating to the “Global” Palace. The events of the world are causing tremendous anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances. People are catching colds and flu more easily, and having many physical and mental issues from the past resurface. Many of these symptoms are coming from the Heart.
One such patient, a 40 year old woman I’ve seen recently lost the strength in her arm. This weakness is accompanied by extreme pain along the very pathway I have described above: from the wrist into the palms. The root of this problem is the heart.
Now is a time when all of us can benefit from learning to work with our Heart pains. I encourage all of you to develop a greater relationship with the acupuncture points on your palms.
Working with an acupuncturist can be a very powerful way of resolving Heart pain. However we can also learn to treat ourselves at home. Massaging the Lung’s Luo Channel is helpful. We can also use essential oils on the acupuncture points to stimulate and soothe them.
The essential oil I would suggest for use on the Lung’s Luo channel when experiencing“hot palms”: fixation, obsessiveness, inflammation and excessive desire is Lemon Myrtle. Start by applying the oil on the acupuncture point LU-7 “Broken Sequence,” on the wrist. Massage the oil down from the wrist into the thenar eminence of the palm where the acupuncture point LU-10 “Fish Border” is located. Continue to massage the oil into the palms of the hands – to the points HT-8 “Lesser Palace” and PC-8 “Palace of Toil.”
When in the depressive state, lacking willpower and animation, I’d suggest massaging the same channel with Pine essential oil.
It is important to treat the Lungs when balancing the Heart. Each organ system has a balancing and controlling relationship with another set of organs. The Heart is balanced by the Lungs and Kidneys: the two organ systems most directly involved with breathing.
Have you ever noticed how effective deep breathing can be when feeling anxious or panicked? This is why we use the Luo Channel of the Lungs to treat the initial stage of Heart pain.
The Luo are special axillary channels. Each major organ system has one. The entire channel system of the Luo is like the circulatory system. The ancient Chinese observed that circulatory issues can result from reaction to our desires. The Luo as circulatory channels are highly related to the things we become obsessed or adverse to: that which we want to devote all our time and attention to and that which we want to deny, ignore or escape from.
The Heart “palaces” and their resultant pains are so central to our lives that the entire circulatory system is involved in processing them. The Luo channels as a whole are an outgrowth of the Heart. They conduct the themes of the Heart palaces; they are also the sites in the body where heart pains manifest and become stuck. To treat our Heart pains is to treat the circulatory system. To free the Heart of its pains is to free the circulatory system. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The Heart is the king. It is truly the way to health, longevity and freedom.