The Upside to Feeling Down: The Fire Element & Depression (Part 5)

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

The Fire Element and its related Heart organ system is about maintaining control in your life. Since some level of control is essential, keeping this system in harmony is a key factor to living a life in balance.

The tendency to be over-controlling however can lead to internal disharmony by creating too much heat in your Heart. Excessive heat in the Heart system can lead to a range of physical symptoms, from shortness of breath to high blood pressure and heart disease. And since the Heart stores your Shen (Spirit) which influences your mind, this excessive heat can cause hyperactivity of the mind, which can lead to such conditions as ADHD, OCD, insomnia and anxiety.

The Heart’s Connection to Depression

It’s not uncommon that individuals suffering from anxiety also experience depression. In Chinese Medicine, this is a condition of the Heart and Kidney systems not communicating well or supporting each other properly.

The Heart’s Fire and the Kidneys’ Water energies make up the central axis of our energetic system.

When functioning normally, the energy of the Heart descends its Fire to help warm the Kidney’s Yang Qi and to reciprocate, the Kidney offers its Water energy to cool the Heart so it doesn’t overheat. These cooperative efforts counterbalance the body’s core energies to maintain homeostasis within these systems and the body as a whole.

So the challenge lies to keep a balance of function between the Heart and Kidneys. This balance begins with utilizing the power of the Heart’s control function to manage your excessive drives and desires.

A person with a lot of Heart heat generally can’t settle down very easily, so sitting down quietly or meditating can be difficult tasks.

Heart Fire type individuals like a lot of stimulation so they can easily get addicted to stimulants such as coffee which can further create internal heat. They also like to multitask and have many interests going at once, often overextending themselves to the point of exhaustion.

This is a pattern of how excessive Heart Fire leads to elevated cortisol levels which first create a hyper-adrenaline response and over time can lead to adrenal burnout (adrenal exhaustion = Kidney Qi energy depletion).

When your Heart is overstimulated, your Kidney’s Yang (adrenals) get overly activated and this consumes the Kidney’s Yin Water (resources to create your reproductive hormones) that supports your Heart and mind to be cool and calm.

This common condition leads to a Fire and Water imbalance wherein symptoms of anxiety (Fire Excess) and depression (Water Deficiency) can then begin to manifest.

Therefore, balancing your Heart and Kidney energies helps you settle anxiety and the need to be over-controlling in your life, which will help you cultivate a sense of inner peace and trust since trust is a virtue of strong Kidney Qi energy.


The Heart Controls the Lungs

When the Heart becomes overstimulated, it can also suppress the energy of the Lungs.

Since the emotions relating to a Lung imbalance relate to sadness and grief, if the Lung’s energy becomes overwhelmed by the Heart’s Fire energy, the Lung’s Qi will become weakened and depression can develop.

This pattern of excessive Heart Fire along with Lung Qi depletion therefore contributes to the complex dual pattern of anxiety occurring with depression.

My Daoist Classical Chinese Medicine teacher, Dr. Jeffrey Yuen, states that the Lungs “govern Qi” for the purpose of ‘self-rectification’. Self-rectification is about finding redemption in our lives so we can overcome the burdens of guilt and shame that depress our Qi and keep us in a state of depression.

Therefore, in order to move beyond a state of self-loathing and deep sadness, an inner cleansing is essential to cultivate a peaceful heart and mind and lessen the heaviness of a depressed state. This internal cleansing is about cleansing the blood from past emotional traumas.


Heart Blood Stores Your Emotional Traumas

In Chinese Medicine, the blood stores our past emotional traumas and if unresolved, these emotions will stagnate the blood circulation. With that said, a primary issue to work on when a person presents a lot of blood stagnation signs involves helping the person begin releasing the past emotional traumas that may have occurred in his or her life.

Classical Acupuncture has specific protocols designed to release the blood stagnation to support you to release these emotional holding patterns that may be underlying your physical symptoms.


Your Tongue Can Reveal Excess Heart Fire & Blood Stagnation

Symptoms of anxiety, depression and an overactive mind due to excessive Heart Fire can be assessed by looking at the tip of your tongue.

If your tongue tip is more red than the rest of your tongue, then there is too much heat in your Heart. If the entire body of your tongue is a deep red color, then there is too much heat throughout your entire body, including your Heart. In this case, you may tend to overheat easily and even experience night sweats, usually a sign of internal heat that is burning up the body’s Essence.

If you see dark blue veins under your tongue, this is an indication of blood stagnation.

If the dark veins occur in the lower portion of your tongue, the blood stagnation is pooling more in the lower pelvic region. If the dark veins show up all the way toward the tongue’s tip, then blood stagnation has moved into the heart region as well.

Liver Blood Stagnation will also show a purplish hue along the sides of the tongue and sometimes the whole body of the tongue will become bluish. I’ve seen in clinic a patient who had a turquoise blue colored tongue. This patient had severe blood stagnation which was created from being exposed to radiation as a child in Japan during the Hiroshima nuclear bombing. It took about 10 months of Acupuncture and herbal medicine treatment before her tongue color began to normalize and her chronic symptoms started to improve significantly.


Freeing Your Heart Allows For Miracles In Your Life

In summary, according to Five Element Theory, the Heart’s Fire element controls your Lung’s Metal energy and, in contrast, the Heart’s energy is controlled by your Kidney’s Water energy.

Through an imbalance of these two relationships, depression can develop along with anxiety which is a common pattern found clinically with depressed individuals.

As we’ve seen throughout this series on depression, there are multiple issues to be addressed to overcome a chronic pattern of depression. Once a condition has become chronic, we know there is likely a pattern of emotional stagnation that is being held within the blood.

Detoxifying the blood system is therefore essential to release the burden of old emotional wounds and traumas.

Chinese Medicine is designed to specifically address this process of cleansing the blood to free up your Heart which in terms of Chinese philosophy can allow a deeper level of self-love to blossom, a greater sense of unconditional love for others and for miracles to occur in your life through the opening of your powerful, magical Heart Qi.