During this time of uncertainty and fear, we may be experiencing insomnia, dizziness, chest tightening, shortness of breath, palpitations, or unexplained rashes and temperature fluctuations. These anxiety-related symptoms, in traditional Chinese medicine, relate to the heart. Every organ in the body is in service to the heart and it is central to our wellbeing. So at this jittery time, it is essential to keep it calm and healthy. Here are a few tips from shiatsu, Chinese medicine, and food energy specialist Joanne Faulkner to keep the heart pumping easily and the blood flowing smoothly.
In Chinese medicine, red foods benefit the heart. It is the antioxidant anthocyanins that give foods their red and deep purple color, which together with bioactive polyphenols, help detoxify the blood, ensuring easy distribution. Good circulation and easy flow of blood are essential at times of high stress to prevent a raise in blood pressure. Good blood flow makes sure all your organs, tissues, and muscles are oxygenated, reducing inflammation and heat. So up your intake of red peppers, beetroot, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, Chinese red dates, goji berries, watermelon, rosehips, and pomegranates. This can be in a mixed fruit salad or a summer lettuce salad, but for something different try mixing pomegranate with a carbohydrate such as bulghar wheat and flat-leaf parsley. Use a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of olive oil for a wonderful warm salad.
All these red fruits and vegetables contain high doses of vitamin C. Most people are aware of the health properties of vitamin C for the immune system. When we have a cold we reach for the orange juice, but did you know vitamin C can do more than just protect us from the common cold? It helps convert cholesterol into bile and prevents gallbladder disease. It destroys free radicals in the bloodstream, which are responsible for cell damage and the obvious signs of ageing. It helps the body absorb iron, it helps us burn off stored body fat and, most importantly for the heart, it helps to rebuild damaged tissues and arteries which transport the blood to all parts of the body. It helps synthesise collagen which keeps arteries flexible and flowing, reducing blood pressure, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Tomatoes are perfect heart-friendly food. They even look like a heart with their blood-red outside and cavities inside. In the five element system of traditional Chinese medicine where organs have a colour, a flavour, an emotion, and a time of day to keep them tip-top healthy, it is the bitter flavour that serves the heart. In Western medicine, tomatoes' high lycopene and potassium content dilate and protect the blood vessels, meaning lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease. Unlike other vegetables that lose their minerals when cooked, lycopene is more easily absorbed by the body when cooked. So a tomato sauce with plenty of red onions, red peppers, and sweet potatoes would be perfect heart-healthy food to keep us in the pink.
Then we come to the emotional aspect of the heart. The element for the heart is fire, so don’t let emotions feed the flames so they overwhelm you, leaving your heart damaged and your spirit overwhelmed. Take a little distance from events. Just for 10 minutes allow yourself to settle. Park thoughts and feelings that are occupying your mind, allowing 10 minutes of solitude. When you sit in silence, without distractions of the news and external events, something begins to happen. At first, you may feel frightened and alone but gradually, with practice, you will hear only your heartbeat which helps develop a sense of deep unwavering internal rhythm. By establishing a sense of self you won’t be swept away on the tsunami of other people’s panic and fearful outcomes. Your heart will a peaceful home in which to rest.
Try this next exercise either while sitting in silence or when you feel overwhelmed and anxious. Open and close both hands into fists. Make sure your fingers curl down to touch the palms of your hands, then stretch out to fully expand the fingers. Use the middle fingers to find the calming point in the centre of your palm. Open and close your hands at least 15 times and feel the circulation. Try doing it with your arms open wide for extra expansion and blood movement. This increases blood supply to the heart and distracts the mind from overthinking and worry by bringing the attention back into the body and our peaceful, steady heartbeat.
For more information on shiatsu conscious cooking or to buy the books full of recipes, tips, and Chinese medicine visit www.joannefaulkner.ie or find her on Facebook @joannefaulknerShiatsu and join in at 8.30am for free morning chi gong sessions