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Condition Index

The functions of the TCM Heart


The Heart is said to be the most important of all the Zang Fu, it is sometimes called the ‘master’.  Its main functions are to govern blood, blood vessels, and to house the mind.

The functions of the Heart include:

     - governing blood

     - controlling blood vessels

     - it shows its health in the facial complexion

     - housing the mind/spirit (shen)

     - it opens onto the tongue

     - controls sweat

     - effects dreams



Governing Blood


The Heart governs the blood in 2 ways:

1) Gu (food) Qi from the Spleen is transformed into blood in the Heart

2) Circulation of the blood (with Liver, Spleen, Lungs)

Just as in western scientific views, if th functioning of the Heart is poor, supply of blood to the tissues is deficient, i.e. Heart blood deficiency – which can cause cold extremities.

The human constitution is said to be determined by the Kidneys and their Essence, although it is also partly related to the Heart and blood.  If the Heart is strong and the supply of blood in the body is plentiful, the person will be strong. 

Inherited or constitutional weakness is quite often manifested in the midline of the tongue as a crack.


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Controlling blood vessels


The vessels depend on the health of the Heart Qi & blood to maintain a strong, regular, and full pulse.  The state of the vessels therefore directly shows the health of the Hearts Qi.  If the Heart is weak the pulse may be weak and irregular.


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Showing health in the facial complexion


If the Heart is governing its vessels properly and moving the blood through its circulatory functions, the facial complexion shows a rosy lustrous glow.  If the Heart blood is deficient the face will show a pale or bright white.  If the blood is stagnated the face will show a purplish/blue, and if the Heart has heat the complexion will get red.


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Houses mind/spirit (shen)


Shen:  mental functioning, corresponds to the mind – relates to the Heart.  This encompasses emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of the whole human, in this sense it plays a role in all the organs functions – especially the Yin organs.


Therefore, health of the Heart & blood directly effect the functions of mental activities (including emotions), consciousness, memory, thinking, and sleep.  If the Heart and blood are strong and plentiful, Shen will be normal, regulated, balanced, and clear.  If the Heart health is not right there may be depression, poor memory, unclear thinking, insomnia, and other problems related to the mind.  This also shows that development of intelligence is effected by the state of the Heart health.  If heart blood is deficient and is unable to root or anchor the mind (Shen), it will manifest as restlessness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other emotional problems.  Conversely, these problems with the Shen can cause Heart blood deficiency which in turn causes palpitations, pale complexion, and weak and/or irregular pulses.

Emotionally, if the Heart is strong the spirits will be high, if the Heart is weak the spirits will be low.  Heart health also determines ones capacity to maintain meaningful relationships – able to give positive energy to others.

If the Heart is in excess a person may show signs of manic depression.  Of course other organ functioning should be considered as influential in any situation. 

Essence and Qi are the physical basis for the mind.  If these are strong and flowing smoothly the mind will be strong.  This is why the state of Shen can be observed through the spirit/glow of the eyes.  The mind, Qi, and Essence are considered the ‘three treasures’.


As mentioned before, the Heart is not the only Zang Fu involved with emotions, mind, and spirit.  Each Yin organ plays a vital role in the health of the Shen.

     - Heart & mind (Shen)

     - Liver & ethereal soul (Hun)

     - Lungs & corporeal soul (Po)

     - Spleen & thought (Yi)

     - Kidneys & will power (Zhi)


“The mind is a transformation of Essence and Qi:  Both Essences (pre-heaven & post-heaven) contribute to forming the mind.  The corporeal soul is the assistant of Essence and Qi:  it is close to Essence but it moves in and out.  The ethereal soul complements the mind and Qi:  it is close to the mind but it comes and goes.  Thought corresponds to memory:  it is the memory which depends on the Heart.  The will power is like a purposeful and focused mind:  the kidneys store Essence…and through the will power they can fulfill our destiny.” (Spiritual Axis)


Ethereal soul (Hun):  Liver: from western point of view pertains to the soul or spirit.  This soul enters the body shortly after birth and is ethereal (not physical), it does not die with the human body.

Corporeal soul (Po):  Lung: the part of the soul that lives and dies with the physical body, the physical expression of the soul.  Po gives us sensation, feeling, hearing, and sight.

Will power (Zhi):  Kidneys: mental drive and courage which gives people determination and focus toward the accomplishment of goals and dreams.

Thought (Yi):  Spleen: applied thinking, studying, concentrating, and memorization. 


*It should be noted that around the Ming dynasty, before the introduction of western scientific thought in China, many doctors began to attribute intellectual functions to the brain.


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Opens onto the tongue


The tongue is considered to be the sprout of the Heart.  It is related specifically to the tip of the tongue, but it also influences the colour, form and appearance of it.  The sense of taste is controlled by the Heart.  Therefore disease of the Heart can be easily recognized on the tongue.  If there is heat the tongue will be red possibly dry with a redder tip.  If the heat is severe ulcers can show on the tongue, they will be painful.  If the Heart is weak and blood is deficient the tongue will be pale and thin.

Speech is also directly effected by the Heart (i.e. stutters, aphasia).  If the Heart is in excess there may also be excessive/inappropriate laughter, states of over-joy, and non-stop talking.


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Controls sweat


Sweat comes from the space between the skin and muscles.  Blood and body fluids have a common origin.  When blood is thick the fluids help to thin it, they intricately are a part of one another.  The Heart governs blood and sweat is a body fluid.  Deficiencies in Heart Qi can cause spontaneous sweating, deficiencies in Heart Yin can cause night sweating.  Too much sweat can cause a deficiency in body fluids and lead to a deficiency in blood.


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Effects dreams


The Heart houses the mind, therefore it is closely related to sleep.  If Heart blood and Yin are abundant a person goes to and stays asleep easily and soundly.  If the Heart is weak the mind floats causing sleep disorders and excessive dreaming.  Therefore all dreams are in some way related to the Heart. 


“When the Heart is weak, one dreams of fires; if the dream takes place in summertime, one dreams of volcanic eruptions.” (Simple Questions).  “When the Heart is in excess, one dreams of laughing…when the Heart is deficient, one dreams of mountains, fire and smoke.” (Spiritual Axis).

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