If, therefore, a traditional acupuncturist tells you that you are suffering from something like” Heart Yin deficiency” or “Heart Qi deficiency”, you may well start to worry. But you needn’t.
The Heart in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is not the same thing as the heart as understood by western medicine – we capitalise the ‘H’ at the beginning of the word to make the distinction. In TCM organs like the Heart are defined by a set of functions, only some of which overlap with the corresponding organ as understood by western medicine. In particular the Heart of TCM is considered to house the “Shen”, or Spirit, so problems such as anxiety, restlessness or insomnia may well be attributed to the Heart, for example with a diagnosis of “Heart Yin deficiency”. Most people with Heart Yin deficiency will not having anything wrong with their heart that western medicine would pick up.
Also relevant here is an important difference between western medicine and TCM when it comes to diagnosis, which becomes obvious if we look at the way they understand health. Health in western medicine is the absence of disease, whereas in TCM it is a state of harmony and balance. If, for example, you have a routine check-up with your GP, you may get a clean bill of health (let’s hope so!) Sometimes even you may go to your GP because you are not feeling good, and all the tests are negative, so that despite your subjective experience, there is nothing wrong with you; there is no positive diagnosis. If, on the other hand, you were to see a traditional acupuncturist, it would be rather unlikely that you will be found to be in perfect internal harmony; inevitably there will be some subtle signs and symptoms showing just a small imbalance somewhere, perhaps having its origin in your inherited constitution or in your lifestyle. And the more skilful the acupuncturist, the more able they will be to pick these imbalances up; in the case of something like Heart Yin deficiency, at the beginning they may just manifest as an almost imperceptible vague anxiety and a slight ‘thready’ quality on your pulse. These imbalances are important because they may over time become more pronounced, and the acupuncturist will want to help you prevent this happening; it is much easier to restore harmony and balance when there is just a slight deviation than when it has become more marked.
So just because you may have Heart Yin deficiency, for instance, there is no need to worry. It doesn’t mean you are on the verge of a cardiac arrest. But more to the point, is there ever any need to worry? A Buddhist text tells us that if we are worrying about something, we should ask ourselves whether there is anything we can do about the situation. If there is, we should quit worrying and get on and do it. If there is nothing we can do, worrying will make no difference anyway, so we may as well not bother with worrying. Easier said than done; worry can be a deeply ingrained habit. Quite a few people tell me they are “born worriers”, and are clearly of the opinion that nothing is going to change that.
Nevertheless, worrying about our health, whether because a well-meaning acupuncturist tells us we have a little bit of Heart Yin deficiency, or because of the latest health scare in the Daily Mail, puts us in a catch-22 position, because at least from the perspective of TCM, prolonged or excessive worry will actually make us ill! Although we can perhaps take some consolation from the fact that according to TCM, worry tends to mostly effect the Spleen and the Lungs, rather than the Heart!