Pain and the Heart as Compass – the Emotional Component of Health

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Image by Leela Longson 2016

Pain and the Heart as Compass

Addressing the Emotional Component of Health


Are you aware that there is an emotional component to your pain or illness, but you don’t quite know what to do about it? 

For me it’s frustration. I know frustration is linked to my tight shoulders and menstrual cramps. But I’m a caring person. I look at the world and see cruelty, greed and power trashing the environment. It doesn’t matter that if I were more enlightened I might understand that everything is one, everything is ultimately equal. In this moment I find cruelty, greed, and power abuse frustrating. But that’s not the end of the story. This is where body meets mind in the world of Chinese medicine.

The longer I’ve been with Chinese medicine and with meditation practices, the more I can directly feel the connection between my thoughts on one hand and my body’s physical response on the other.  I remember shortly after I learned that my mom had Parkinson’s, I drifted into worry one day, and when I “came back,” I could feel very clearly that my breath had tightened and my heart had sped up.

Our hearts are responding to our every state, physical or emotional – If we run or sleep, if we laugh, worry, or blame, if we surrender or try to control. What I learned from my body’s response to my thoughts and emotions is that it has a lot to do with control. When I worried about my mom’s Parkinson’s, I felt myself grip tightly as if I were literally trying to stop it from happening. This is one way emotions can turn into muscle tightness.

We want to have a certain amount of control. If we need to run a mile, we want just enough higher blood flow so we can do it without overheating. If we want to connect with another, we want enough warmth to be shared without scaring the other person away. Through the heart’s balanced response, we get a little bit of control.

But control has a trickier side. When I was gripping tightly I was seeking, through my muscles, control of something that can’t be controlled.  This type of control is sneaky because it can sound very practical, like that internal voice that says our heart’s dream is too unpredictable, or that we’ll be happy if only that other person would take responsibility for themselves.

The heart is like a compass: When we veer off course it can contribute to tension, potentially to illness, and may undermine the ability of the heart to get the nourishment it needs to feel joy.

We all have challenges getting what feels right and nourishing to the heart. These may express as particular tensions and imbalances, and this is where acupuncture can help. The tools of acupuncture allow us to address both physical pain as well as patterns that are getting in the way of what the heart needs. As patterns release, we can learn partly to be more successful in getting the heart what it needs, and partly to let go of the control we can’t have. Acupuncture, by addressing the emotional component of health, can help the heart restore its compass.

Leela Longson, L.Ac.

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