Nourish the Shen for a Healthy Heart

For Heart Health Month, we spoke with four experts from different modalities to more intimately understand the qualities of a healthy heart. Craig Rigsby, Licensed Acupuncturist and Healer, has been working with clients in modalities such as Japanese Style Acupuncture, Classical 5 Element Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese Herbology, Reiki, Emotional Freedom Technique, and Matrix Reprinting for over twenty years.
Yoga Anytime: How did you come to Chinese Medicine?
Craig Rigsby, L.Ac.: Very early on in massage school, I remember vividly someone giving me Reiki, and it blew my mind. That was 1994. From that point on, I became interested in eastern healing modalities. The first day at college of Oriental Medicine in 2003, I had this feeling that this is what I wanted to be my whole life.
Describe that feeling of knowing, that quality being in the flow with yourself.
Rigsby: I felt a settled feeling in my body, even though there was a lot of uncertainty in the outer field, or my mental aspect of my being. Those thoughts, “how is this going to unfold, how am I going to make a living” were still there. Yet, somewhere deep inside me, there was a "yes" ... It was like home.
From within your field of expertise, how do you describe the heart?
Rigsby: The heart is the epicenter, and from the Chinese perspective, it is the overseer or the ruler, the supreme controller. It oversees all the functions of the other organs, both physically, and more importantly, meta-physically.
Can you explain how Chinese Medicine differentiates between the pericardium and the heart?
Rigsby: Think of the heart as the king or queen and the pericardium is its protector, the CIA to the President. If something happens to you in your life, a hardship or a letdown, it’s the heart protector that takes the blow more than the heart. You want the ruler of the country to be the most insulated from the wanton elements of the society. Our innermost heart needs to be protected.
Can the actual heart be hurt?
Rigsby: You might say that the heart is the connection to the Infinite or Spirit, it’s the interface. In yoga they talk about the atman as being housed deeply within the heart. There is a physical heart, but it’s the energetic heart that oversees the physical aspects of the heart.
I do know from experience that the actual heart meridian can be the one showing the signs [of imbalance]. It's more rare than the heart protector. Almost everyone I see has some level of heart protector imbalance and need for support. The heart itself tends to me more buffered. Yet I can’t say with any certainty that it’s an infallible spiritual domain.
Just shooting from the hip, I would conjecture that people who have experienced a psychic break of some sort, perhaps that would be a place where the heart has really taken a hit.
What is the Chinese Medicine definition of a healthy heart?
Rigsby: The shen is the main thing. They say the heart houses the shen and the shen is the embodiment of Spirit.
You know when you see someone and their eyes are clear, and they have a good color to them, and they can connect ... That is a sign that there is good shen and the heart is in good standing. If you are with somebody and you see lack of contact, or they have a vacancy in the eyes ... That can mean the heart has been affected.
There is another aspect to the heart health around setting appropriate limits. An appropriate ruler would oversee the running of the ministry if you will. If the ruler is not in good standing, certain aspects of the ministry may run amuck. You may see symptoms in other organs and that may be because the heart has lost its good energy. There are a lot of ways these organs interplay and cause problems in other organ systems. The heart needs to be regulating everything that is happening in the body from a certain standpoint, overseeing, but not micromanaging. Just a good leader.
If people can have a balance of spiritual, physical and mental energies, the cultivation of the spiritual is something that helps the heart stay in its right energy.
People that have some sort of spiritual inclination, practice, or even people who do things to down regulate their mental activity, tend to have better shen. Of course, not always, there are people who are just good spirited, and not necessarily “spiritual” people.
When people come into my office, one of the first things I do is help their shen get back on line first.
What are the main obstacles to that shen getting back online?
Rigsby: One thing is habits. A lot of people have habits that don’t nourish them.
What are examples of habits that don’t nourish the shen?
Rigsby: Facebook addictions. I have nothing against Facebook or TV, but if you do those things to the exclusion of things that nourish your spirit, they will keep gravitating to the habituated things that may seem easier to do. It might take a little more effort to sit and deep breathe for a few minutes, but which one is going to nourish you more?
Find a balance. If your gonna go on Facebook, then do something else also. Sometimes people go on Facebook and they do open their hearts. But the opposite is one of the things I see a lot in people. They come in a realize that it’s causing them harm. They take a break and they start feeling better.
We are a collective energy and the more we hook up to everyone else, that can be a stress on the body. We are either in a vertical alignment or a horizontal alignment. When we are plugged into people and events and your peace of mind is tossed and turned by whatever is horizontal, it transmits into your field and causes disruption.
Can you summarize that advice?
Rigsby: Unhook from the outer world and hook into the inner world, your true essence. Hook into Earth energy and Heaven energy. That is very nourishing for the Shen.
What are your 4 top recommended practices for a healthy heart?
  • Stretch. There is a heart stretch and breathing I do that comes from Mantak Chi called the Heart Healing Sound. You can find the practice on YouTube.
  • Breath. Any deep breathing practice will help. Breathing into your belly, focusing on your belly, even for a moment, stopping the mental chatter.
  • Meditate. Meditate on the line of energy running vertically through your body, connecting to core of earth and the heavens, a stream of energy pouring down from the heavens and another one pouring up from the core of the earth. Feel those merge, at the heart center or belly, one of the dantians.
  • Unhook. It's important to start pulling your energy off people and the world. Most people are in a co-dependent state of energy with a partner, or the world at large. Pull off and pray.
Is a healthy heart a choice?
Rigsby: Yes, I believe it is. There are circumstances where people have endured intense hardships and that requires a deeper, longer exploration to that question. It may seem that they don’t have a choice, [but] in the larger trajectory in soul’s evolution, hopefully everyone can get to a place where they have an opportunity to make that choice and I believe that is possible for all beings.
What brings your heart joy?
Rigsby: I like sitting by the beach, or being in the ocean, the mountains and trees. And breathing ... deep, conscious breathing.
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Kira Sloane
About the Author

Kira Sloane

Kira is fascinated by the study of what Is and loves to examine the ordinary every day miracles.


Christel B
Great article. Thank you.

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