In Chinese medicine the heart is considered to be the most important of all of the internal organs, and is often referred to as the “emperor.” Its primary functions are to govern blood and house the shen. Like many other Chinese concepts, there is no exact English equivalent for the word shen. It encompasses many different ideas, including consciousness, thought, intellect, insight, and cognition, as well as the emotions and the soul. This reflects one of the fundamental ideas of Chinese medicine, that our physical body and spirit are one, that they are inseparable. In fact, every internal organ has a representative non-material function. Because the heart houses consciousness, however, it is the emperor.
The heart channel is one of the shorter channels and has only 9 acupuncture points on it. It originates in the heart itself and travels down the inside of the arm to the tip of the pinky finger (why heart conditions are sometimes felt in the arm). Some of the more obvious conditions that this channel treats include chest pain, palpitations, and irregular heartbeats. Since the heart houses the emotions (not the brain!), this channel is very important for calming the shen, treating anxiety and panic attacks, and helping people relax more easily so that they can fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly through the night.
The acupuncture channels are more like a large connected web, with primary pathways and secondary branches. For example, one branch of the heart channel ascends to the root of the tongue while another goes up the neck, crosses the cheek, and connects with the tissues surrounding the eye. Because the heart belongs to the fire element, this makes it an ideal channel to needle when there are signs of heat (pain, redness, inflammation, infection) in these areas like tongue ulcers, sore throats, or irritated eyes.