The Fire Element expresses in the physical body through the organ systems of the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Triple Heater (sometimes referred to as the Triple Warmer or San Jiao). For this blog post we will be focusing on the Heart system, which is considered the Ruler of the entire body in Chinese Medicine. It is said that the Heart delegates to all the other systems and at the same time relies on the other systems to maintain all aspects of life, which is why in the Fire Element there are three additional organ systems to protect the heart. The Heart system rules the body’s blood flow and pulse. It also houses the “shen” or spirit of the animal or person, which can be seen as the sparkle in the eyes. When the Heart system is in harmony there is a sense of joi de vivre (joy of life) to the being, the person or horse sleeps well, expresses compassion toward others, and has deep connections with others/herd mates. When the Heart is out of balance the symptoms may include: anxiety, depression, volatility, mania, shoulder issues, nervous system disorders, excessive sweating, a swollen tongue and cardiovascular issues.
As we progress through the seasons, the dreams we held in winter and envisioned, planned for in spring, now need to flourish. Summer represents coming into our fullness, reaching for the peak expansion of our true self, in Chinese Medicine it is the life phase of maturity. “Only in the fullness of maturity do we have the inner abundance and self-sufficiency to truly share with others.” ¹ We build our inner Fire by fully being and expressing ourselves and then sharing from our inner abundance. This is mirrored in the natural world, too. The plants must come into their fullest expression in order to then be able to grow the fruit to be harvested in the fall.
The experience that perfectly illuminates the energy of the Fire Element is the traditional summer campfire. Picture a memory you may have of sitting around the campfire or firepit on a warm summer evening. Sitting in a circle you are connecting with friends or family through stories, laughter, perhaps some singing. You share good food and drink and the feeling of openhearted warmth gives way to not having a care in the world. There is no effort, no pushing, no resisting…just going with the flow, which ultimately expresses as joy. This is the Chinese concept of wuwei: effortless effort; when we align ourselves with the natural flow (inner/outer) of the world, life just flows.
This is also the state many people are constantly searching for with their horse(s). The state of ease, when there is an ebb and flow with our horse, whether in-hand or in the saddle, can be felt, sensed and witnessed. We know it when it happens. Unfortunately, in our desperate seeking for it we may become controlling of the horse, which will create anxiety and resistance in our horse. The key to wuwei is openhearted surrender, being present with our horse and releasing the outcome. Enjoying the moment. Have you noticed how often I have mentioned joy…it is the emotion of the Fire Element and wuwei is the experience of the heart in harmony.
Life feels very stressful lately, even more than typical. This stress causes us to feel worry, anxiety and frustration and these emotions impair the way we live and interact with people and our horses. These emotions are also examples of the Fire Element being out of balance. However, when we focus on and express love, appreciation and gratitude we can live and connect with others at an optimal level, when the Fire Element is in harmony. Coherence is when our heart, mind and emotions are in alignment and working together in harmony. According to Heartmath, “When we are generating a coherent heart rhythm, the activity in the two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System is synchronized and the body’s systems operate with increased efficiency and harmony.”
The Heartmath Institute, (heartmath.org) is a nonprofit organization that has developed reliable, scientifically validated tools since 1991 to help people bring their physical, mental and emotional systems into balanced alignment with their heart’s intuitive guidance. Through their research they have discovered that one of the most effective ways to reduce stress is to access the vast intelligence of the heart by working with the rhythm of the heart-beats, or Heart Rate Variability (HRV). A low HRV is reflective of health issues. But by increasing our HRV we enter into coherence, which leads to psychological resilience, the ability to handle stress and change, and improvements in mental performance.
Heartmath sponsored research by Ellen Kaye Gehrke, Ph.D found that horses naturally tend to be in a state of coherence most of the time where people tend to be in a state of incoherence most of the time. They also found that human emotions do impact horses and that horses will mirror our emotional states. So the next time you go out to visit your horse, consider taking some time to enter a coherent state. I’ve included a guided exercise below to help you do just that.