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BODYMIND: Heart of the Matter 

Since most of us average about 100,000 heartbeats per day, and 38 million beats per year, the effects of even a small restriction compound continuously.

Traditional Chinese Medicine associates summer with Fire. One of five elements, Fire includes the Pericardium, Triple Warmer, Small Intestine and Heart meridians. The pericardium protects the heart from shocks and Triple Warmer balances the thoracic, digestive and eliminative organs. In TCM, Small Intestine separates the pure from the impure, a metaphor for what it actually does.

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No internal organ has a bigger role than the heart. TCM views it as the home of "shen" or Spirit. The English reflects that: we are heartened by good news, disheartened by bad. If we take things too much to heart, we can end up broken-hearted. The French word for heart is coeur, as in encouraged and discouraged. In other words, Anglo-European culture's embrace of the bodymind connection is centuries old.

With help from the lungs, the heart supplies the brain with oxygen and nutrients. Keeping the "lights on upstairs" is the most important job in the body, hence the emphasis on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation.

However, subtle motions are important to the function and vitality of all our organs, including the heart. We're not just talking about the pulse and wave-like movement of blood, critical as that may be. There is mobility, the passive ability to accommodate the movement of adjacent structures. For the heart, this includes the bellows-like movements of the respiratory diaphragm, the lungs, and the ribs and sternum, but also our bending, turning, lifting, walking and running. The heart's function and vitality also depends on motility, the active movements around the organ's own axis. On the order of six to eight cycles per minute, most organ motilities are paired with another's, but the heart pendulums from side to side, independently. Perhaps, that's why the heart is sometimes called the lonely hunter.

Evolution has taken great lengths to protect the heart: skin, ribs and spine, pericardium, the serous fluid between each layer, and the three ligaments that suspend it in space to prevent collisions with its bony cage. Indeed, only the brain comes close, protection-wise.

Nonetheless, the heart remains vulnerable. It can still be bruised. It can be tweaked by tensions communicated to it by an adhesion between it and neighboring structures or by restrictions on any inch of the 120,000 miles of blood vessels. Think of the heart as the trunk of a tree, with the veins and arteries serving the abdomen and lower extremities as its roots and the veins and arteries of the arms, neck and head as its branches. A restriction on any one of these roots or branches could interfere with the heart's mobility, motility and pumping.

Since most of us average about 100,000 heartbeats per day, and 38 million beats per year, the effects of even a small restriction compound continuously. To minimize that interference, the body recruits muscles and sacrifices bones and joints to draw the restricted part closer to the trunk, thereby reducing the tension. Indeed, this is the origin of many chronic joint problems. Although restrictions may be purely physical, many include a bodymind component: some emotional overload that the brain has parked in the tissue, waiting to be discovered and released. I once treated a nurse who'd become overly attached to her dying patients. Her heart was nearly glued to her spine until she learned a different way to re-member them.

—Bend resident Mike Macy, LMT, is an avid skate-skier, fat-tire biker and birder. His book BodyWise conveys insights gained during 35 years as a Craniosacral Therapist. Reach him at mefmacy@gmail.com.

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