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Dr. Aimée Derbes, LAC

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The summer of love : it’s not about your heart, but your pericardium

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At my offices in Brooklyn (serving Gowanus, Park Slope, and Greenpoint) and Manhattan (Union Square), I see patients who are dealing with chronic pain (back pain, neck and shoulder pain, knee pain, hip pain, and ankle pain), headaches + migraines, digestive issues (IBS, colitis), infertility, stress, insomnia, PMS, women's health, and autoimmune conditions (Lyme, Hashimoto's, thyroid conditions, and many more).

The summer of love : it’s not about your heart, but your pericardium

Aimée Derbes

What if your heart doesn’t need to be healed, because it’s already whole? Maybe it already and always knows how to forgive yourself and others, how to receive love, how to give love, how to love yourself. It knows how to connect with others, how to express your spirit. Maybe it already knows it’s safe.

How does this feel, knowing that, at your core, there’s nothing broken, nothing that needs fixing? It’s just your pericardium that needs a little support, so that it can allow your heart to express its perfection.

Your heart is perfect, just as it is. I am going to say this again, because it’s important that you know : your heart is absolutely perfect and whole, always. It is warm and generous; it radiates joy and connection and presence; it is perfectly balanced in giving and receiving love and trust and forgiveness with ease. But if this isn’t your experience right now, don’t believe for one second that your heart isn’t perfect, because (again, my friend) it is : it’s actually your pericardium that has the issues.

Ever since the summer solstice, I’ve had fire on my mind. In the Chinese five element system, fire is the most yang of the elements, which is why it’s fittingly associated with summer. With summer, the heart, peak energy, expansion, the sun; with the sound of laughter, with joy, connection, and intimacy, boundaries and trust. My teacher Erin recently said that it’s the summer of love! Aka every summer, because summer is always all about the spark of connection, where our hearts rule the long days, where we are willing to be out and be vulnerable, connecting with new people, seeking pleasure and fun, laughing, loving. 

I’ve been noticing these themes and concepts reflecting back from every angle in the world around me, which is why I have planned 2 upcoming breathwork workshops around the themes of releasing control and receiving (July 13), and feeling the JOY (July 25). Excited and curious, I’ve been drafting and deleting blog posts about the heart and fire and connection all week....deleting because they all felt off, which was confusing given how much these concepts have been showing up in my life and work. Last night, though, I was toward the end of a breathwork meditation (when clarity usually comes in...) and suddenly realized, “Aha! Of course I can’t write a blog post about the heart. What’s been coming up is not about the heart or fire, at all.” What I’m actually interested in lies under the purview of another fire element organ, the pericardium, a powerful but little-discussed sheath of connective tissue that protects the heart.

The heart, though

In Chinese medicine, the heart is considered the empress, the supreme ruler who is not to be approached directly; sorry. If you want to get to the heart, protected as it is, you have to know a gal, and that gal is the pericardium, the gatekeeper who determines safety and boundaries, with final say on what does and doesn’t get through to the heart. Some acupuncture traditions say that heart issues are actually just the pericardium not doing its job properly; practitioners of these traditions don’t even use the heart channel, and only needle the pericardium channel instead.

While this is not what I was taught in acupuncture school, it is making more and more sense to me as I encounter interesting new people and the things that ail them in my healing arts practice. Encountering more and more hearts, that, it’s clear to me, are loving and breathtakingly perfect exactly as they are....even if there’s been some heartbreak, grief, trauma, shock, pain. The heart is where your spirit lives and expresses itself, where your consciousness and inner observer operate from. The heart is home to your inner child, who is safe beyond the reach of conditioning, pain, or trauma.

At this point, after seeing and feeling plenty of evidence, I know your heart is whole and perfect. I know it’s impossible that there could ever be something “wrong” or broken in your heart or spirit. I’m not even sure I believe in heartbreak anymore; it just no longer seems like a thing to me. The heart is the powerful, infinitely strong, alchemizing pivot between heaven and earth, as we say in Chinese medicine, and it brings together all the energies of earth and of the heavens into your unique human expression. It can’t help but be perfect.

Mind your pericardium

The pericardium, on the other hand…..oof. It’s doing *all* the heavy lifting, and it has the scars to show it. It literally protects the heart by keeping it in the proper location, protecting from infections, and providing insulation from external shocks. Also, shielding the heart from EMFs, and supporting the heart in spreading its coherent magnetic field to the rest of the body and to others. It’s the pericardium that decides what to let in and what to let out of the heart. Or rather, who to let in (ie. which other hearts to entrain with), and how much love and trust and vulnerability to let out. Um, kind of a big deal.

The pericardium is the one reading the room, evaluating what’s safe for us, how much openness, if any, is appropriate in any given situation. The pericardium, not the heart, yanks up the drawbridge when it feels threatened or unsure about another person. The pericardium absorbs all the pain from physical and emotional stress, so that none of it reaches the heart, and in the process, forms our own particular patterns of shielding and armoring. The pericardium holds all of our conditioning, so our heart can continue to be perfect and free. Our pericardium does everything it can to protect us from feeling our pain.

But if this is the case, what does it look like when the gatekeeper is impaired?

Disconnection

Say you’ve been feeling isolated, a little disconnected, alone. Your heart is still perfect, doing its generous, loving thing; the heart knows it's not separate, that its natural state is connection with all the other hearts. This feeling of disconnection is your pericardium constricting instead of relaxing to allow more openness and connection. It’s afraid because it remembers other times when you were hurt, and it is doing everything it can to protect you from feeling the old pain, from maybe taking on new pain now. You can’t exhale or fully relax, because your tense pericardium is connected to the central tendon of your diaphragm, impacting your ability to fully breathe with ease. Thank your pericardium, because it totally means well, but in this case, it’s trying to keep you from being your naturally relaxed, expansive self. It’s keeping you from looking at your old trauma patterns, and in the process, keeping you from your full loving connection in the present. It might be time to let that go!

Such a thing as too much joy

On the other hand, maybe you’ve been feeling like, super excited, joyful, energized and expressive as all that fun fire energy rises in your body and charges you up. Maybe this is the beginning of a romance, and you’re feeling the dopamine rush every time your phone vibrates with a new text from your crush. Maybe you’ve been feeling a little manic, unmoored, ungrounded, as you feel the blood pumping through your veins with every heartbeat. Maybe you can’t sleep at night. Again, your heart is perfect : it’s doing the natural thing, which is being all lit up by the joy and spark of connection. But in this case, your pericardium is a little too lax. It’s not holding your heart in the right place, not supporting your heart in alchemizing the heaven and earth energies to keep you centered and grounded. It’s not holding the appropriate boundaries to keep you balanced. 


Supporting your pericardium

  • Acupuncture and acupressure : Chinese medicine is full of powerful and wise tools to support the ever-wise and loving heart via the pericardium, deep healing on a constitutional level, and optimal health in the present moment. If you're in between acupuncture appointments, try pressing lightly on PC6, which is located on your inner arm, about 1.5-2" up from the crease of your wrist, in the middle of the most prominent tendons. This point opens the chest through its embryologic fascial connections to the pericardium, diaphragm, and liver; PC6 makes space for easier, deeper breathing, and relaxes the diaphragm/liver fascial connection, which is why it also alleviates nausea and stomach pain.
  • Tapping : I've talked about tapping before, but this is a powerful tool for getting in touch with the beliefs and fears that have been programmed into your cells (and pericardium) by past traumas. A few scripts you can try as you go tap through the points :
    • Even though my heart feels broken, I deeply and completely accept myself.
    • Even though I feel afraid to give and receive love, I deeply and completely accept myself.
    • Even though I'm still learning to trust love, I deeply and completely accept myself.
    • It's safe for me to feel my pain. I can handle it. It's safe to let it go. My heart is whole and perfect. It's safe to trust love.
  • Grounding exercises : The pericardium needs to feel the safety and support of the earth. I wrote about a few quick and easy grounding exercises that you can try out to increase feelings of groundedness and support.
  • Breathwork and mindful breathing : I mentioned the pericardial connection to our diaphragms above. Breathwork is something I facilitate because it opens up space and helps release trauma patterns unlike anything else I have ever encountered. If you don't want to try a breathwork session or group at this time, you can try simply inhaling down towards your belly for a count of 4 breaths, and exhaling for a count of 6 breaths. A longer exhale than inhale tells your body that it's safe, that there are no emergencies, so it can relax and shift into parasympathetic mode. As you breathe, bring awareness of your breath into the back of your body, the back of your ribcage, the back of your heart between your shoulder blades. These are the areas of the body where we receive, and breath can free up space and help release anything that's blocking our natural state of graceful receptivity.
  • Writing : Creative practices, such as writing, can often shed some light on the old beliefs and tensions we are holding in our bodies. Here are a few prompts to get you started....
    • Have you experienced heartbreak? When, and who was involved? Have you experienced the same type of heartbreak over and over? What might be possible in your relationships if you are no longer braced in expectation? Are you willing to let this pattern go?
    • Where do you hold tension in your body? If it's lower back pain, do you really believe it's just from your chair at work, or is there something else going on in there? Where do you feel unsupported in your life? Where are you withholding support from yourself?
    • Do you trust that it's safe to give and receive love? Or is there a part of you that feels afraid to trust love? Has someone you trusted not treated you well? Is there a part of you that believes all people you love will act in this way? 
    • Where are you holding resentment? Towards yourself, and towards others? Is there room to forgive yourself, to forgive others? What would it feel like to forgive, and to let it go?
    • Do you feel you have to act or perform or be a certain way in order to deserve to be loved? Do you believe love is conditional? What if you are already perfect, exactly as you are, right now? What if there's nothing to fix?
    • Where are you trying to control? Have you noticed that, when you try to control, there's no space for you to actually receive? Can you try loosening the reins a bit, to make a little space? What does that look like for you?

Upcoming breathwork groups

July 13 at 97 Wellness Club (tix here)

July 25 at my Gowanus Studio (tix here)

A few books with interesting info on the pericardium
Alchemy of the Extraordinary : A Journey into the Heart of the Meridian Matrix
The Spark in the Machine : How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine
Nourishing Destiny : The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine
Wood Becomes Water : Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life

(image from @heart_roars)