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Acupuncture + Depression: The Empty Heart

Acupuncture + Depression: The Empty Heart

Heart Peace

This is the second post in a series on acupuncture and depression. The first post is Building a Fire in Your Life.

The quiet center of our hearts offers endless rejuvenation and reassurance.
It does this by being empty: at any given moment the heart has both full and empty chambers. The Chinese character for the heart depicts an empty vessel (through which our spirit can shine).

But we usually don’t like to talk about the empty parts (of our hearts or our lives). Often we try to live right up to the edges. We sense that emptiness and we move away from it, constantly. We eat a quick snack or check our phones or get irritated about something or… (the possibilities for being distracted are endless!)

This generates heat which constrains the heart further and could show up as anxiety, heart palpitations, a feeling of heat in the face, stuttering, insomnia. An acupuncturist would pick up on certain signs on the pulse such as irregularity or tightness.

Instead of feeling full and exhilarated, we end up feeling crowded and frenzied. And we mistake that feeling for being alive.

What if we just made friends with the emptiness and didn’t try to run from it? We just sat next to it occasionally, contemplating the vastness of the sky, the vastness of our minds, the vastness of our hearts.

Maybe then we could sense that the emptiness at the core of everything is actually a fullness unlike anything we could fill ourselves with in the world. Not sex, not food, not love, not accomplishment. Then we could enjoy those things from a place of being already-satiated, rather than from a place of endless longing.

We’re afraid that the empty places mean sadness or depression or loneliness. But if you get quiet enough, you’ll hear that the heart is just repeating “all is well, all is well, all is well.”

You may experience a layer of anxiety and then a layer of sadness, but just underneath all the layers, you’ll hear that reassuring refrain loud and clear.

Here are 5 ways to tend and nourish your heart:

Meditation: This is the formal practice of getting quiet enough to hear your heart. If you do it on a daily basis, you will find it easier and easier to stay in contact with that deep centered place.

Pause: If you notice a beautiful view, take a moment to drink it in. Stop on your hike to admire an interesting plant. It can take just a few seconds to open up to life in a fuller way. The turtle I saw while deeply depressed was a huge boost. Take time to notice.

Bitter foods: Each of the organs in Chinese medicine is associated with a particular flavor, and the heart’s is bitter. It can be hard to find truly bitter foods in the supermarket, but think of dandelion greens, whole grains – you can even eat just a little bit of the rind if you’re having an orange or grapefruit.

Exercise: Just the right amount of aerobic exercise. Too much will weaken your heart in the long run. This will vary from person to person, of course, but 30-40 minutes 3-5 days a week is a good recommendation.

Cultivational exercise: Different from aerobic exercise and just as important. Yoga, tai chi, qi gong are all ways to subtly build and sustain energy in the body, and certain forms and poses have a direct relationship with the heart.

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