Intrinsically, we feel our hearts to be emotional centres; thus phrases such as ‘down hearted’, ‘heartbreak’ and ‘heart of gold’ are an integral part of our language. Eastern wisdom, as well as some Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, taught that ‘the heart is the seat of the mind and soul’; also, the universal symbol for love is a heart.
In the 1600s William Harvey demonstrated that the heart was a pump – its function being to circulate blood around the body; from this point its connection to emotions became disregarded in scientific thinking for hundreds of years.
More recently we have come full circle with the discovery that there is a bundle of highly receptive neurons in the heart sending messages to the brain as well as receiving those sent the other way. These neurons, dubbed ‘the heart brain’, influence brain activity based on information the heart receives.
The heart is particularly responsive to emotional stimulus – when we feel worried, anxious or stressed our heart rate responds with an increased pace and discordant rhythm. Chronic stress has been linked to cardiovascular disease, proving to be an even greater risk factor than smoking.
Healing the Heart
At this time of such uncertainty and change it is wise to take extra care of the heart. For those who have experienced grief or loss as a result of being separated from loved ones this can be particularly helpful. It is also recommended for individuals who suffer with self criticism or anxiety.
Hawthorn is a well-respected medicinal tree, particularly known for its benefits for the heart.
It is healing for both the physical and emotional aspects of the heart, so is used equally for arrhythmia, atherosclerosis and regulating blood pressure as it is for anxiety, heartache and the feeling of being broken hearted.
This month the Hawthorn or ‘Mayflower’ blooms, with a covering of delicate white-pink blossoms decorating the hedgerows around Britain. The flowers and leaves are used at this time of year, followed by the berries which are equally valuable in the autumn.
To make a tea of hawthorn, pick leaves and flowers on a dry day – you may be able to detect the delicate scent of the flowers, but be mindful of the sharp thorns on the branches. Use one tablespoon of fresh herb to a pint of boiling water and infuse for 15 minutes before drinking. Drink throughout the day.
Compassion is the feeling that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel drawn to help ease it. Though it is often thought of as a personality trait, one that we are either born with or without, compassion is actually a skill that can be developed with practice.
Studies have shown numerous benefits related to the practice of compassion including greater physical and mental wellbeing such as increased happiness and more positive aging. Compassion decreases the negative impact of stress as well as reducing anxiety.
One of the best places to start your practice is developing compassion towards yourself! The heart responds with an increase in heart rate variability (a sign of heart health) alongside all the positive emotional benefits1. Try including the simple yet powerful visualisation exercise on our website in your daily routine.
Once you are able to be compassionate to yourself, extending this to others comes much more naturally, though this too can be strengthened with practice. Easing another’s suffering generates positive wellbeing all around. Put succinctly, in the words of The Dalai Lama, “if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.
Did you know?
The heart generates an electromagnetic field which is 60 times greater in amplitude than that of brain waves. This can be detected and measured several feet away from the body and has been shown to interact with others in close proximity.
For those with a health condition or taking medication, seek advice before using herbal medicines.
The Herbal Clinic, 32 King Edward Rd, Swansea SA1 4LL.
MEILYR JAMES BSc(Hons) DBTh DAcu AcuC Dir MGNI Registered Medical Herbalist, Iridologist & Acupuncturist
Tel: 01792 474356 Web: herbalclinic-swansea.co.uk Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seppälä, E.M., Simon-Thomas, E., Brown, S.L., Worline, M.C. Cameron, C.D & Doty, R.R (2017), The Oxford handbook of compassion science. New York: Oxford University Press