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Carnival & Your Heart (acupuncture & the heart)

Carnival It’s the middle of summer. And in Rio it’s time for the Carioca self-professed “greatest show on earth”. There is celebration in every corner of the city (and far beyond) with Blocos & Bandas and processions from the crack of dawn, through dusk and through till dawn again. And then again. And again. Days on end. Unceasing….

Heart …Just like the unceasing beating of your heart. On and on, morning, night, pumping blood throughout your body. Its beat is heard and felt in every quarter of your body like the rhythmic beat of a samba school, the unchallenged ruler of the land. There is no part of you that fails to fall under its mesmerising rhythmic command.

And in acupuncture theory, your quivering heart is indeed the undisputed ruler. Stand aside, the cerebrum of biomedicine. There is no democracy here. And no desire for democracy or rebellion (with the possible exception of your mind). For your heart is the perfect benign dictator. Ever present, its beat provides the backdrop so constantly that its subjects (your other organs) are almost unaware of its presence, like Lao Tsu’s ideal Emperor (see Ch17, Tao Te Ching).

Yes, it calls the beat, but just like the Samba Drum, your heart is actually empty. Both physically and of desires – despite what you have been lead to believe by your cerebrum. I can hear your cries of protest, but bear with me. Just as the emptiness of the Samba drum’s large surface area is like a super sensitive ear, picking up the sounds and vibrations and reverberations from all around, your heart is also listening to every part of your body (including your rebellious mind). Ever-returning blood carries news and whispers from every crook and cranny of its empire. And each next beat is more an instruction of compassion than command – to create the best rhythm possible for the whole ensemble.

Emotions Carnaval… Joy. Celebration. Allegria, Excitement! These are the emotions most associated with your heart. But really all of the emotions are felt there. Oriental Medicine views emotions as the expression of certain qualities of energy. The original meaning of ‘emotion’ in Latin is to ‘move something’, to ‘agitate’ or ‘stir up’. And the place this agitation is perceived most clearly is in the emptiness of the heart.

Anyway, the point to note is that the emotions themselves are not inherently desirable or undesirable in the larger context. They simply are. Where things get complicated is when there is a chronic or extreme overabundance or lack of one type of emotion (moving energy).

Which brings us back to Summer with the Carnival drums calling the time. Too little Joy we can all identify as a problem. Obviously this is not what we are after. “But too much Joy!?” you ask, shaking your head (no doubt to a samba beat). I respond with a question of my own: how many of the Cariocas (those born in Rio) fled the city for quietude at its moment of most uplifting joyous expression during Carnaval. And why!?

Yang The movement, the expression, the openness, the heat, the summer. These are all things Yang. And indeed, your Heart is the epitome of Yang in the body. Particularly in the Summer when your immediate environment is hot and the days long, the heart must work even harder than usual. The moving-energy of Joy is also “hot” in nature. Its makes our energy rise up and hopefully out (in song or laughter). But too much of this upward moving energy can disturb the natural balance of heat distribution in your body and potentially be catastrophic for a heart already struggling to cope with its unceasing summer workload.

Revolution Long before becoming associated with strong human feelings, the word ‘emotion’ took on a meaning of “political agitation or disturbance” (more akin to the meaning we now give to the word commotion). You can imagine an excess of the upward moving, heating energy of Joy as a political disturbance in the usual harmony of the Heart’s empire. And already being the hottest most active area of your body (located above, where this upward moving energy is headed), the Heart would be the place most affected.

What to do? So what can we do? Prescribe a good dose of Misery to one and all! This may indeed be effective but I don’t see this policy garnering many votes. Essentially the problem is heat. So we have 2 strategies available.

Radiation The first is to ensure the effective radiation of heat from your body on a regular basis. I discussed this in my last Newsletter: The End of the World.

Retention The second is to control the amount of heat rising up inside your body. Fortunately you already have a first class energetic cooling and heat retention system installed in your Kidneys, with a relationship so close to the ruling Heart that there might be cries of nepotism and corruption if the Heart were not so pure and free from desire (More on this another time). To get it functioning at its best is an interesting challenge. Of course, good acupuncture treatment can help, but for the purposes of this blog I will focus on food. And more specifically, on flavours and their energetic (metabolic) effects. The important ones here are Salty and Bitter.

Salty & Bitter Salty is the flavour of the Heart*. Bitter is the flavour of the Kidney*. That sounds nice doesn’t it. But what on earth does it mean!? The energy of Saltiness is like Joy. Its is hot. It is the Summer of the flavours. Yes, it has a more internally heating effect than even Spiciness. (Its a strange world!). Bitterness, the energy of the Kidney is the counterbalance. The direction of its effect is downwards and inwards – and therefore cooling.

In terms of food types, Meats are more yang/ salty/ heating. Cooling foods are found more in the form of (dark) green leafy vegetables and bitter-gourds. Unfortunately our digestive systems are no good at processing truly bitter/ cold substances. (Despite the fatal attempts of oriental alchemists searching for the “elixir of life” under the fateful command of the First Emperor.) So the best strategy during the Summer is to beware of excessive Salty input.

Carne Vale Which brings me back one final time to Carnaval (yes, just like your Heart, it goes on and on!). One suggested etymology of “Carnaval” is the expression “Carne Vale”, meaning “farewell to meat” signifying the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent. No, I am not asking you to forgo your churrasco. (I too shall most certainly partake!) But through the heat of summer a wise energetic strategy might be to reduce meat intake and increase the Bitter foods described above. Your heart might thank you!

Finally, the word carne can also be translated as “flesh”, suggesting carne vale as “a farewell to the flesh” - in this case, your own flesh. In this sense, you are being encouraged to let go of your former (everyday) self and concerns and embrace the carefree nature of the festival.

Bom Carnaval!

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