by Erin Kumpf, L.Ac
“The Compassionate Sage acts on that aspect of our lives that is distinctly human. It affects what the Chinese call “Shen” or Spirit. The Spirit is what is outgoing, advancing, and connects to life; it centers us and allows us to reach out. It allows affinity and clarity, and when it’s not nourished properly we can become scattered and lose our sensitivity. The … Fire organ, according to old Chinese texts, is enlightened and compassionate…(with) deep sympathy and lucidity to how we sense the universe and ourselves…”1
In Chinese medicine theory, it is said that the Heart stores the Shen. The Shen is usually translated as spirit, but it includes our consciousness, mental functions and emotion. Our Shen is a dynamic integration of our thoughts, feelings, intention and self-awareness with appropriate timing and connection to the people and world around us. When our hearts are not nourished, our ability to reach out, connect with and help those who are suffering may become hindered.
An undernourished heart can lead to various ailments, including: anxiety, insomnia, palpitations, sweating, mouth sores and dream disturbed sleep. In Chinese Medicine, we use patterns of diagnosis and this may translate to Heart Blood Deficiency, or Heart Fire Blazing for example and usually has an element of emotional disruption. In Western Medicine, this may translate to certain heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure.
Did you know that uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke? 2 People with high blood pressure are 4 times more likely to die from a stroke and 3 times more likely to die from heart disease, compared to those with normal blood pressure.3
Most of us know that healthy lifestyle choices can benefit the heart such as quitting smoking, exercising, eating more fruits and vegetables and eating less processed foods that are often chock-full of sodium and other harmful ingredients that are doing us no good. In acupuncture, we work with needles to correct imbalances in the meridian system (including the Heart meridian) that result in disease. Acupuncture has a regulating effect on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and our heart rates slow down, our endogenous opioids (our own natural substances that have effects similar to morphine) are released and we feel relaxed and our hearts become settled. However, did you know that expressing compassion to others is also beneficial to our hearts?
Compassion is the acknowledgement and response to the suffering of others that elicits a desire to help alleviate the suffering. The etymology of compassion (in Latin), however, is “co-suffering”. It is not only feeling intense emotions (passion) or empathy towards someone but actually engaging to certain level in their suffering and it motivates us towards action to reduce that suffering. A nourished heart means we are open and able to develop healthy relationships with others and enables us to feel compassion for ourselves for people around us. Research has indicated that there may be a deep evolutionary purpose to compassion and that it is an instinctual emotion that has ensured our survival as a species.4 Another recent study indicated that infants’ pupil diameters increase in size when they see someone in need but decrease in size when they can help that person or when they witness someone else helping “suggesting that they are not simply helping because helping feels rewarding.”5 When we feel compassion, we release certain hormones such as oxytocin (the bonding hormone), our heart rate decreases, our stress levels decrease and our immune system strengthens, all of which can ultimately strengthen our heart and our Shen or Spirit. Compassion makes the world a better place by reducing the suffering around us and contributes to the wellness of the whole.
The other amazing benefits of compassion include:
* May lengthen our lifespan 6
* Makes us feel good! Neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health demonstrated that the pleasure centers of our brains are lit up when giving to charity just as much as when we received gifts.7
* Makes us happier, more optimistic and more supportive of others. A University of North Carolina study evaluated levels of inflammation on those that rated themselves “Very Happy” due to living a life of pleasure verses those that were “Very Happy” due to living a life of purpose and meaning and the inflammation levels were less with those living a “eudaimonic” life.8
* Less stress! 9 Stress is no bueno for the body and mind.
How do we cultivate compassion?
Meditation is a great way to start. By focusing your attention first on the breath you can start to slow your heart rate and quell the mind chatter. Then imagine with each breath, you are inviting in the universal energy around you from the top of your head and direct it to the center of your chest. After a few cycles, start imagining with each exhale you are radiating energy and compassion from the center of your chest out to your extremities and then out to the world.
Imagine this compassion elevating those around you. By engaging in this mental imagery we can start disengaging from self-focused thoughts and increase our sense of connectivity to the world around us, making us more receptive and understanding. Try this for 10 minutes, first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day or right before you go to bed, prepping your body for a night of fitful sleep.
Acupuncture: By balancing the yin and yang of the body, of moving stagnant qi and blood and by nourishing the spirit via heart nourishing herbs, your acupuncturist can help move physical or theoretical obstacles that are preventing your heart and spirit from flourishing and connecting to others. To set up an appointment, call 201-338-0552!
Yoga: yoga, in general, has amazing effects on our entire body. Certain poses are centered at opening those parts that are related to our heart center (such as back bends!) and our ability to connect to others.
Schedule your appointment today with Erin by clicking here.
Erin Kumpf L.Ac, MSTOM is a nationally board certified and state licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist. She holds Masters of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is continuing her studies by completing her doctorate. She incorporates various facets of this ancient medicine including acupuncture, herbs, tui na, gua sha, cupping and moxibustion. While working as a general practitioner, she also has clinical training as an acupuncturist at the Lutheran Medical Center, working in the Labor and Delivery Ward as well as experience working at the drug addiction treatment center at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers. She works with patients of all ages: babies through the elderly. She approaches and respects each patient as a unique individual with unique ailments and strives to help them to wellness with personalized strategies.
1 Compassionate Sage Description. Retrieved from http://www.goldenneedleonline.com/ on Jan. 29. 2016
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital signs: awareness and treatment of uncontrolled hypertension among adults— United States, 2003–2010.MMWR. 2012;61(35):703-9.
3 Stamler J, Stamler R, Neaton JD. Blood pressure, systolic and diastolic, and cardiovascular risks. US population data. Arch Intern Med. 1993;153:598-615. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital signs: awareness and treatment of uncontrolled hypertension among adults—United States, 2003–2010.MMWR. 2012;61(35):703-9.
4 Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., Oliveria-Souza, R., Grafman, J. 2006. Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vol. 103 no. 42. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/103/42/15623.short
5 Hepach, R., Vaish A., Tomasello, M. Young Children Are Intrinsically Motivated to See Others Helped. Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/9/967.
6 Konrath, Sara; Fuhrel-Forbis, Andrea; Lou, Alina; Brown, Stephanie. Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychology, Vol 31(1), Jan 2012, 87-96. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025226 7
7 Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., Oliveria-Souza, R., Grafman, J. 2006. Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vol. 103 no. 42. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/103/42/15623.short
8 Fredrickson, B., Grewen, K., Coffey, K., Algoe, S., Firestine, A., Arevalo, J., Ma, J., Cole, S. (2013). A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America. Vol. 110 no. 33. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/110/33/13684.abstract.
9 Poulin, M., Brown, S., Dillard, A., Smith, Dylan. Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality. American Journal of Public Health, Sept 2013, Vol 103, No. 9. Retrieved from http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/ abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300876.