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The Heart and the Emotions

by Mary Martin(more info)

listed in heart, originally published in issue 96 - February 2004

My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
or else my heart, concealing it, will break."
The Taming of the Shrew

In physical terms the heart is described as a powerful pump. Amazingly it pumps over 4.5 litres of blood around the body throughout a network of blood vessels some 120,000 kilometres long, every minute. The danger of comparing the heart to a machine is that we may treat it like a machine.

Lifestyle Issues

The condition of the heart and vessels reflects lifestyle imbalances. Smoking, alcohol abuse, lack of exercise and obesity are some that spring to mind. Our affluent society has brought many benefits and also many problems. Stress is booming! There are greater levels of crime, much addictive behaviour, dehumanisation of work, breakdown of relationships and a lack of love and respect in many areas.

This kind of society requires a great deal of mental and emotional adjustment. Rising to such challenges is liable to create risk factors for heart disease, because most risk factors are dependent on attitude and behaviour patterns. It is easier for the average person to accept that physical causes can adversely affect health, than to acknowledge that thoughts and emotions have powerful effects too.

Mental Attitude

Studies show that people who are stressed or depressed are more likely to smoke, and are less successful in giving it up. Smoking narrows the arteries and encourages a build-up of plaque and the possibility of blood clots. Obesity is a complex problem that invariably involves psychological factors. Problems such as loneliness, broken relationships, low self-worth and a lack of meaningful support can lead to 'comfort eating'. Studies show that positive thinkers feel more in control of their lives and their health, and have stronger immune systems. They are more likely to investigate ways of improving their health, and more open-minded to complementary medicine. Pessimistic people tend to have poorer health.

During the Gulf War of 1991 Iraq directed a series of missile attacks against Israel. Many Israelis died but not because of physical injuries. They died of heart failure because of what was in their minds – fear, stress and anxiety of the bombardment.

The Sensitive Heart

The heart has always been considered to be the seat of our emotional being – literature is full of examples. We also use common expressions such as 'broken-hearted', 'heart-felt' 'my heart soared' or 'my heart sank' to describe what we feel in our hearts. People are described as cold-hearted or kind-hearted according their personality.

Heart and blood vessel function is governed by the autonomic nervous system. Signals from the brain adjust their function according to the demands made on them, minute by minute. What we think or feel has a profound influence on the heart and its vessels. Emotional reactions such as fear, anger, hostility or grief can accelerate the heart rate and the pulse races. When this response occurs daily, cumulative harm is done to the cardiovascular system.

Feelings Stored In The Body

Negative feelings are stored up due to unfinished business from the past – an abusive childhood, divorce, or bereavement etc. Feelings such as resentment, guilt, jealousy or repressed anger are masked because we present a different face to the world. Such emotions are 'remembered' by our cells and muscles and held in the body because the feelings were too painful to deal with at the time.

Eventually such feelings will be expressed in physical ways – palpitations, hypertension, muscular tension, headaches, digestive problems, backache, etc.


Touch is a powerful form of non-verbal communication and has a central role in healing. Apart from this, the importance of a good therapeutic relationship cannot be overestimated.

Treating the whole person may trigger emotional, as well as physical reactions, as part of a healing process. Unresolved depression or grief can resurface and patients may become tearful. This 'emotional cleansing' usually leads to a greater sense of wellbeing and increased confidence. Offering patients encouragement and support can boost their morale and facilitate other beneficial changes. With improved health and greater self-empowerment, patients feel able to take better control of their lives.

Case Studies


Madeleine aged 60 suffered from years of chronic stress. Within 3 treatments she was far more relaxed. She 'opened up' and told me that early in her marriage her husband was the victim of a road accident. This left him brain damaged with a changed personality, making life extremely difficult.

At the 4th treatment she said "Mary you are bringing out the sadness in me." She told me that her mother had died a year before and she had been unable to cry until now. Madeleine had been forced to keep her emotions under control for years to survive. Reflexology promoted emotional release.

At 7 years of age she had rheumatic fever. At the time it caused her chronic pain in her knees. Obviously these symptoms had not been fully alleviated because the pains resurfaced after two treatments. After 53 years the problem was fully resolved through reflexology. Uncovering layers of disorder is the most interesting aspect of reflexology.

John And The SAS

Healing reactions can manifest in vivid dreams. John, aged 19, injured his back during an accident at work. He was unable to work and was extremely angry, blaming the company for the accident. At the 2nd session he told me how he was experiencing vivid dreams of being in the SAS with lots of action. His dreams were a healthy way of getting rid of his anger. He became far more focussed and his back problem was also alleviated.


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About Mary Martin

A qualified teacher, Mary Martin established her School of Reflexology in 1987. She founded the Association of Reflexologists in 1984 and is an Honorary Life Member. Previously she practised as a Gerson therapist. Mary belongs to a network of therapists attached to the cancer centre at Mount Vernon Hospital. She has had a busy practice in Ruislip since 1983. She may be contacted on Tel: 01895 635621;

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