What if we had a map to our psyche that helped us guide our feelings and emotions? Taoist philosophy has one such map, as used in acupressure theory, consisting of five inner lands called Shen, I', P'o, Chih and Hun. These five aspects of the psyche represent how we interact with our lives. Each inner land corresponds to particular meridians, organs, body fluids, and certain body parts or tissues and is influenced by certain acupuncture points (acupoints). These acupoints release physical or emotional tension and help us connect to our innate self.
The Land of Shen
We will be focusing on the Land of Shen, which is the emotional or spiritual name for the land of the heart. It is the ruler of the psychic domain and strongly influences the other four lands, which are essentially manifestations of Shen. After all, Shen is the lifeblood of our unique selves, characterized by a passion for life and represented by the Fire element in Five Element Theory.
Shen is the spark of life which reflects in all of our activities. To lose touch with Shen means to lose touch with our core spirit. The result is a lack of self-confidence and hopelessness. We may be prone to psychic addictions, the inability to be present, and a loss of inner direction. We begin a "hope-hopeless" cycle that is destructive to ourselves and others. We become stagnant and creative pursuits becomes challenging. We experience a sense of emptiness and cling to worries, anxieties, and fears to fill that emptiness and to avoid despair.
"Shen is like the monarch of the bodymind. Our relation to this inner ruler is a crucial one. To feel Shen is to feel ALIVE. Shen is the seat of the
divine light, according to the classics."
-Iona Marsaa Teeguarden, Founder Jin Shin Do®Bodymind Acupressure®
From the Chinese perspective, an anxious heart leads to disturbed Shen. The primary stressors of the heart are sudden joy and shock or hurt. According to Chinese Medicine, anxiety related to the Heart meridian can be defined as repressed excitement. "At first, anxiety stimulates hyperactivity, but the after-effect is energetic depletion. Anxiety is a distressing uneasiness of mind, with muscular tension, or discomfort in the "pit of the stomach," a high resting pulse rate and feelings of being "on edge," impatient or unable to relax." While happiness represents synergic Shen, anxiety can show up in Chinese Medicine as sadness (hypoactive Shen) or over-joy and shock (hyperactive Shen).
Heart Meridian Imbalance in Five Element Theory
What happens when we get anxious according to Five Element Theory? Traditional acupressure theory states that when an emotion is expressed persistently, the related organ first becomes hyperactive and then breaks down into "pathological disorder". On the other hand, when we restrain our emotions and suppress our pain, we block the energy in the related meridian and then, like a domino effect, it translates into other parts of our bodymind system. "Because Shen rules the emotional nature, any stress affects the heart."
In Chinese medicine, extreme emotions of Shen are referred to as "evil" emotions, which is not to say that they are evil, but extreme, not bad. Whereas over-joy may seem like a positive emotion, both over-joy and shock are considered evil, or extreme, emotions. The classics say that both are strong passions which can reduce the bodymind energy. Over-joy translates into excitement, which can be addicting, and many can confuse it with joy. "Over-joy comes from a sudden "change for the better" which in effect bursts the heart open, or else is a compensation for the closed heart which cannot feel joy."
Here we will be focusing on the evil, or extreme, emotion of "shock", which leads to anxiety in the heart, or hyperactive and disturbed Shen. The classics say, "During shock, there is no home for the Shen." Shock causes chaos for the body energy and spirit. Shock may be characterized by traumatic, "shocking", or very stressful events. These can be immediate shock or "fright", as in someone immediately pulling out in front of you in their car, or long-lasting shock experiences, such as childhood trauma or the death of a loved one.
Western medicine states that shock can result from emotional stress and excessive fear, joy, anger, or grief, as well as from physical injuries and even an overdose of drugs. "Traumatic shock" may typically involve involve injuries, yet all injuries carry some degree of shock. Hyperactive Shen is being "all fired up", and includes emotions causing hyper-excité, elation, restless gaiety, nervousness, anxiety and hysteria. Hyper-excité is a "state of excitation beyond that warranted by the actual event, derived by reading something into it.”
Anxiety and Stage Fright
The classics say that excess joy can cause a "shaking of the heart", which could be defined as repressed excitement, or anxiety. Anxiety often exists between the now and later, whether you are focused on the past or preoccupied with the future, just about anything but being present here and now. Over-excitement generates energy, and the higher level of energy begins to feel like anxiety if it is bottled up. The goal would be to breathe through the anxiety and use the energy. Hara breathing could be an effective technique in reducing stress and tension.
Stage fright is hyper-excité arising from expectations about horrible or wonderful events that may or may not happen in the future. Removed from the present, we may have difficulty relaxing because we are stressed out about upcoming events. Stage fright often occurs when we are attempting to control natural processes or control the outcome of certain experiences. Anxiety can deplete our energies, leaving us angry and frustrated and "stressed out".
"The phenomenon of anxiety boils down to a lack of Self-confidence. Not trusting ourselves, we feel anxious about being able to respond
appropriately to new situations."
-Iona Marsaa Teeguarden, The Joy of Feeling
Teeguarden goes on to say, "A certain amount of anxiety can stimulate purposeful action, but excessive anxiety has the opposite effect, and interferes with effective functioning." Classic associations of Heart Meridian imbalance include being "easily startled, restlessness, insomnia, racing or pounding heart, sweating, dry mouth, light-headedness or dizziness, cold clammy hands and flushing." An anxiety attack would be a good example of an extreme case.
Teeguarden states, "When the Heart is in harmony, the face has a healthy luster and has color. When the Blood and the pulse are weak, the face is pale and lusterless. When the Heart energy is weak, the Blood and the pulse grow faint, and the face loses its redness (and may become dark). Stagnation is indicated by a purple coloring."
What is the difference between anxiety and fear? In acupressure theory, fear corresponds with the Kidney Meridian, while anxiety corresponds more with the Heart and Lungs. While fear may be object-specific, anxiety is "vague and indirect". They both stimulate the sympathetic nervous system of "fight or flight", however anxiety "begs to be attached to something and often looks for signs of impending misfortune." Causes of anxiety are often unconscious and involve the fear of losing control.
Healing the Heart
The Heart Meridian Source Point (H 7 - "Spirit Door") is an excellent point for anxiety. H 7 is located at the flexure of the inner wrist on the outer (ulnar) side, pressing under the tendon of the muscle flexor carpi ulnaris. Follow the diagram and use gentle, yet deep finger pressure at a slightly upward angle (away from the palm of the hand facing you) and towards the radial or opposite side of the wrist. As acupuncture points can start out as sensitive to the touch, hold the point and take some deep breaths until you feel the sensitivity has released and your anxiety has subsided.
The Pericardium Meridian Mu Point (Cv 17) is another excellent point for anxiety and to calm the Shen. Cv 17 is located at the center of the chest midway between the nipples on a male. A wonderful combination would be to hold this point on the chest, while simultaneously holding with your other hand, a point in the Hara region a couple inches beneath the navel. Both points are effective with finger pressure or the whole palm of the hand, which may feel balancing to the Heart-Hara connection. Hara breathing and/or meditation would be an excellent adjunct while holding these points.