My Ten Day Vipassana Meditation

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I just returned from a 10 day Vipassana meditation. It was my first.

It was a deeply profound experience. It was both the best and the hardest thing I think I have ever done.

It is difficult to put into words an experience that by its very definition cannot be explained and must be experienced. It has been designed very deliberately to separate you from your daily life and distractions including banning all technology and communication with the outside world and even with your fellow meditators. This is so that you can venture into the depths of your being. It is the only way to get there. There have been 2500 years to figure this out.

First, let me tell you the facts. This is probably easiest.

Vipassana is a type of meditation taught by Gautama Buddha 2500 years ago. The technique existed before him, but he further developed it and it is his technique that is still taught today and is called Vipassana. Vipassana literally means seeing things as they really are. And this is what the technique helps you to do.

You are away for  twelve days in total, but the meditation course itself is ten consecutive days. You arrive in the afternoon of day zero and that evening after a brief orientation and light meal you descend into noble silence which continues for the entirety of the 10 days. You hand over your phones and any electronic devices when you get there. There are no books, paper, pens or pencils allowed. Dress must be modest and loose fitting. Clothing is worn to cover shoulders, navels and knees. And there is no eye contact.

Everyone is on their own journey and even though we are all together, living in close quarters, everyone is working in isolation. The rules attempt to eliminate distractions. You are out in the middle of nowhere, deep in nature where the only sounds are of birds, crickets and the thunder in the distance. It is incredibly peaceful and crazily remote.

There are both men and women who attend the course - I believe 24 of each - and they are segregated to different parts of the property. Each gender has their own dorms, dining hall and outside areas. The only time the men and women are together is in the meditation hall. We are on opposite side of the hall, and because there is no eye contact and when we meditate our eyes are closed, we never see each other. You are vaguely aware of their presence on the other side of the property, but so engrossed in your work that you don’t really notice.

vipassana meditation

Your meals are prepared by volunteers, former students who are giving their time so that we may all have this experience. All meals are vegetarian and prepared with intention and love. And you can taste it. There are 2 meals a day and tea at dinner time. The schedule is rigorous. You wake at 4am and the first meditation of the day starts at 4:30, and with the exception of meals and a break to shower and rest, you meditate until 9pm. There are recorded discourses in the evenings with instructions about the technique given by S.N. Goenka who was both incredibly wise and very funny which, after a day of intense meditation is a breath of fresh air and helps to deflate the tensions that linger from a long day spent inside your head. Lights out at 9:30pm, and, at least for me, there was never any worry about sleeping because I was practically asleep before I hit my bunk, and I wasn’t alone, by 9:15 gentle snoring could be heard floating down the halls. Each day is more intense than the last and you are working HARD. It is like boot camp for the mind.

There are teachers that supervise the meditations, one woman for the women, and a man for the men. They are there if you need to ask questions (you are allowed to speak to them for this purpose), and each gender has a manager that they may speak to if they have any problems with logistics - not feeling well, problems with food or accommodations. Things like that.

It is strange to think about how 24 girls could live in extremely close quarters for 10 days in complete silence with no ability to communicate, but it is amazing how adaptable we are. We soon all fell into a rhythm, ebbing and flowing with the schedule, sharing a bathroom and eating our meals. Together, but alone.

I came to get a very good sense of the energy of all the girls in our pod. There were 8 of us. And it got so that I could feel them coming and going and could tell who was in the room without seeing them.  It is amazing how much communicating you can do without words, and living closely with people for days you come to know what they need and what their habits are. This was fascinating to me.

In meditation hall this sensitivity to energy became amplified for me. I found that I could feel who was struggling and who was calm and in the zone so to speak. You draw strength from someone sitting near you who is focussed and solid in their practice and send energy to anyone you feel is really struggling. And this fluctuates all the time, changing minute to minute.

Dhamma Hall ready for the first course 4th October 2007

The first few days were tough. For me it was the schedule change. I have always been a night person and 4am is closer to my bedtime than the time I would ever consider getting up. Everything happens with the ringing of a gong which starts gently at 4am. I would crawl out of bed in complete darkness trying to be quiet and stumble outside where it was still the middle of the night and the stars still were out. I would quietly enter the meditation hall and find my cushion on the floor, (a spot is given to you on the first day and is kept for the duration), get comfortable and sit for 2 hours until breakfast. Then the gong would sound and everyone would quietly get up and move silently to the dining hall where we all peacefully eat breakfast. The dining hall was designed in such a way that you are never facing anyone, the entire experience is designed so that you can be alone and not be distracted. After breakfast three more hours of meditation until lunch at 11am. That is the last meal of the day, and the afternoon and evening schedule is hard core, with meditation from 1-5pm with a break for tea until 6, then meditation and the evening discourse until 9 by which point we were all so spent that we could barely make it back to our bunks before we were out cold. I slept like a corpse.

The first few days I was so exhausted that, strangely, it was a lot easier to pry myself out of my bunk at 4am and meditate, then crash out after breakfast until the next session, crash out after lunch until the gong and so on. I think I was just so tired that my body was on autopilot, and too tired to even be unhappy about it. It was about day 4 that I started coming out of the exhaustion and my head cleared. Interestingly, this is the day that they teach you the Vipassana meditation. Until then, you are doing what is called Anapana meditation in preparation for Vipassana which takes you deeper. We were told that day 4 and 6 are the hardest and when people tend to want to go home, or, as I think Goenka put it in his discourses - “run away”. For me, this is the day it got really REAL.

S.N. Goenka
S.N. Goenka

I never had the strong urge to run away, but I think that is only because I decided before I got there that I would surrender to it and let it take me where I needed to go. What I didn’t know is that it is YOU taking you where you need to go, and often where you don’t want to go. There is a purification that happens over the ten days, and it isn’t entirely pleasant. You are going deep inside yourself, and digging up old scars, hurts, anger, sadness, fear and other emotions that are still in there, long after the incident that caused them. They are things that we have been hanging on to, and if I understand it correctly, it is the hanging on that is allowing them to continually hurt us in the present, even if we are not consciously aware of it. The technique is allowing you to venture so deep that, at least for me, terrible, painful things are coming out, and it feels awful. But there is nowhere to go, nothing to distract yourself with, and this is the whole idea. You have to DEAL.

I was amazed at the things that were buried deep inside myself. The fears, the anxiety, they were overwhelming and several times I had uncontrollable urges to cry. I was not alone, and there were times people would be overcome with emotion. But the idea is, that you are doing a very deep surgery on yourself, trying to get at an infection, and when you finally reach it, you cut into it and all the pus comes flooding out. It feels awful, but you are cleaning out the wound. You are then able to apply healing balm to it, and let it heal while also learning how to live your life without acquiring any more infections, all the while allowing any remaining ills to come to the surface and be released. It is a healing purification on the most fundamental level.

The other thing that was interesting to me was what happens when you are in silence for a little while and out in nature. It makes you realize how loud the outside world is, that there are layers of noise and distractions around us at all times, and it isn’t until you take them away and be silent that something amazing happens. You begin to notice that everything alive and your natural environment has a hum that you can now hear. It is always there, but you have never been quiet enough to hear it before. Plants, insects, trees, the sky, everything has a hum, and it is like the most beautiful music - the music your ears were designed for. Every chance I got I would walk or sit outside. My mind became so focussed, I would watch colonies of ants, dragonflies or listen to birds speaking to each other in distant trees or the sounds of the wind sweeping through the landscape. I loved the silence that allowed these subtle sounds, and now that I know that they are there, I am looking forward to spending hours in forests, in the ocean and in trees listening. Quietly listening.

nature

Another thing that I discovered is that my own body had a hum which I became aware of during the process. My body and I have always had a pretty good relationship, each respecting the other, but the silence in my world now brought this to a whole new level. I have always accepted that my body has an intelligence that far exceeds the one attributed to my brain, and that became even more apparent in the ten days of meditation. Your body will speak to you if you are quiet enough to hear it. It will tell you if something is right, or wrong if you learn the language it is using to communicate. This is a bit difficult to explain. If you know what I mean when I say a gut feeling, then  it is similar to that, only more subtle. I was suddenly intimately aware of what my body needed, and if it was feeling bad, why. It is like discovering that your body is the best feedback mechanism for living the way you are supposed to - living your truth, whatever that is for you. For example, eating is hard for me until I am fully awake and that certainly doesn’t happen at 6:30 when we ate breakfast. The first couple of days I would try to eat but my body made it clear that if I tried to put anything into I would I spend the next few hours trying not to throw up (eww).  So I had a chat with “myself”,  explaining that I wasn’t trying to be cruel, but this was the time we had to eat and, if we didn’t take the opportunity we’d pass out with hunger by evening. This made a big difference and “we” compromised by eating a little granola with fruit. I am so glad that I had that time to make friends with my body again and reassure it that I am looking out for us and that I always have our collective interests at heart. In the real world, my day and life is ruled by my head and it often overrides what might be kindest for my body. I hope that in the future I can attain a little more balance.

I can’t speak to other people’s experience, but I found the entire process to be life changing. If you had asked me the first few days I would have had a different answer, and the days after that when I was in the depths of it I might have had a different opinion still, but it is going through the whole experience, beginning to end that allows you to see, to FEEL the complete picture. It is only after getting rid of all that darkness that you realize how terrible it was making you feel and how amazing you feel without it. And I know I felt this enormous gratitude for the fact that this place existed and that I was able to have this experience. The entire organization runs on donations, and they are all from students. There is no fund, or company set up to financially keep it going, the staff are all volunteers (former students) and all the money that keeps it operating is donated from students who have completed at least one course. I remembered thinking one day in one of the bazillion meditations that I was able to have this experience because a former student donated the money to allow it to happen. That was incredibly humbling.

This may seem strange or even impossible, but its true. It is all by donation. There are centres all over the world, with 9 in the United States and 5 in Canada. Also, in case some of you are wondering, there is no religion, no dogma, no rites or rituals. Everyone is welcome, no matter your race, where you are from or what you believe. It is a meditation technique, and its goal is to bring humanity out of its suffering and unhappiness, teach compassion and love for others so that we may all be happy, harmonious, peaceful beings. There is no purer thing in the whole world than that. And I know that I am incredibly grateful that it exists. I know that I got enormous benefit from it and I will be forever changed because of it, and my wish is that anyone who wants to be happy and live a peaceful life goes and has the experience as well. I wish it for all of you.

Peace is good.

P.S.

If you are curious about Vipassana meditation and would like to watch an excellent documentary about it, watch
The Dhamma Brothers. It is a very inspirational story. If you would like to read about my second Vipassana retreat you can do so here - Vipassana 2.0.

dhammabrothers


The Raven's Warrior

Chinese Medicine Living friend and contributor Vincent Pratchett offers a teaser from his new novel - The Raven's Warrior. And we are so happy that this, his debut novel, is getting rave reviews (2 of which are included below) - congratulations Vincent!!!

By Vincent Pratchett - www.vincentpratchett.com

From Wikipedia

The British historian Joseph Needham and the American historian Robert Temple write that the practice of inoculation for smallpox began in China during the 10th century.[6][7] A Song Dynasty (960–1279) chancellor of China, Wang Dan (957–1017), lost his eldest son to smallpox and sought a means to spare the rest of his family from the disease, so he summoned physicians, wise men, and magicians from all across the empire to convene at the capital in Kaifeng and share ideas on how to cure patients of it.[8] From Mount Emei in Sichuan, a Daoist hermit, a nun known as a "numinous old woman" and "holy physician"—who Temple says was associated with the 'school of the ancient immortals' and thus most likely specialized in 'internal alchemy'—introduced the technique of inoculation to the capital.[9] However, the sinologist Joseph Needham states that this information comes from the Zhongdou xinfa (種痘心法) written in 1808 by Zhu Yiliang, centuries after the alleged events.[10]

From The Raven's Warrior

This Chancellor, once the emperor’s most trusted minister, ambled throughout the palace grounds like a wraith. He had always borne the responsibility of his post well, but now it paled by comparison to the weight that pulled him down and slowed his every step. He was without purpose, a man who knew that in reality his life had amounted to nothing. Sorrow was a heavy burden, and the fact that he would never really know his son added to it greatly.

His regrets were many. Their time spent together was as an official with his heir, he wished now it had been much more as a father with his son. There was no comfort and no solution, and for all his worldly influence, he was now utterly powerless. He had steered his boy away from all things frivolous, but would now give anything just to hear that childish laugh once more.

With no real way to escape his pain, he wandered vacantly to the only place that gave him small respite. As he approached this private spot, he froze when he saw another in his place. He stood quietly and watched carefully to see what the boy had come to steal. Instead he saw the page light an offering before the urn that held the ashes of his son. The smoke rose and circled as the boy bowed three times and thrust the incense into the bowl of alter sand.

An image of chopsticks stuck in a rice bowl came to mind. He walked forward, and at the sound of his closing footsteps, the page’s tear-wet face turned suddenly in his direction. The frightened boy stood clumsily and prepared to flee. “Stay,” the minister bid, and reluctantly but without choice the boy sat once more. “Why are you here?” the chancellor asked, and when the page answered, “I came to visit my friend,” his eyes could not hide their surprise.

He raked through memory for anything his son may have told him about this friendship, but there was nothing. He did remember the distain his boy had of the rough commander, and what once he thought irrational now began to make more sense. Their status was as opposite as night and day, but their ages were similar. In the adult realm of the palace, the minister was starting to believe that his son may have had a secret friend. The Chancellor asked bluntly, “What besides your years could you two possibly have had in common?”

The page responded with an unwavering stare, and with an answer that took the emperor’s highest official completely off guard, “Horses, Sir. Your son loved horses.” There was a time his boy walked into the palace smelling like the stable, and the memory of how he had rebuked his child now scalded him like bitter tears.

Over the course of the afternoon he gleaned many details from the page about a boy that he didn’t know. The minister heard about his son’s dreams of one day joining the military. Proudly he heard that his son was kind to the page and the animals that he tended. In a short time the minister realized that this boy knew his son much better than he did, and he took delight in every hidden detail.

The page eventually apologized but explained that he had his duties to attend to, and that any slip would bring harsh retribution. The minister did not want him to go but understood the workings of the palace. He felt much lighter as he stood to face the page whose position now grew more desperate with every passing moment.

"Sir,” the page intoned with one final recollection, “It was your son’s strongest desire to rid the land of the sickness that came in time to claim him.” With an awkward and uncustomary embrace the minister said, “Goodbye.

The minister walked with new direction, grateful for the gift the young page had given him.  He was clearer in thought and lighter in spirit than he had been since his son’s departure. Once inside his private chamber, he took his position behind his desk. He sat straight and breathed deeply as he looked at the blank silk paper that lay before him. Gathering in mind the spirit of his boy, he dipped the brush and began to write in his beautiful cursive script.

Before assigning his seal, he examined carefully his first official decree since the death of his son, and was well satisfied. The minister had written a summons to physicians, wise men, and magicians from all over the empire, to come to the capital and try to find some remedy.

The official proclamation was sent out across the entire kingdom. It went out over the land like the smoke of the many funeral pyres, and touched the furthest corners of the realm. 

The Raven's Warrior by Vincent Pratchett

Reviews of The Raven's Warrior

The Raven's Warrior is a most fascinating and splendid read! The marvelous Vincent Pratchett has fashioned one of those great adventure novels that literally grab you with the first sentence and never lets go. What a truly wonderful literary ride it is!

The attention to detail, the sense of history and fantasy, the vivid characters who leap off the pages, are all seamlessly integrated to produce a most memorable read. Mr. Pratchett has a magnificent way with a sentence.It is as if there is not a single superfluous word..every word is integral to the whole.

The Raven's Warrior combines so many terrific elements..Celtic history, Arthurian Legend, the supernatural..and all fit in so well in the overall narrative. The adventures and startling life of Arkthar, from kidnapping by Viken raiders and descent into the Baghdad slave market is brought so vividly to life. When Arkthar arrives in the Middle Kingdom..the reader feels as if they have accompanied him on the remarkable journey. Everything a great book should be!

I must also applaud Mr. Pratchett for the immense amount of research that has obviously gone into THE RAVEN'S WARRIOR..there is quite a bit of fact mixed with fiction..together producing a rollicking adventure..and a must read!

AN OFFICIAL JAMES MASON COMMUNITY BOOK CLUB MUST READ

RICK FRIEDMAN
FOUNDER
THE JAMES MASON COMMUNITY BOOK CLUB - 7,150 MEMBERS

 

ForeWord Review

Original review here - The Raven's Warrior - ForeWord Review

Terry Pratchett’s kin crafts a smooth, new branch of the Arthurian legend.

Debut novelist Vincent Pratchett takes readers from Celtic Europe to China’s Middle Kingdom in a fantasy tale that commingles Western European, Northern European, Middle Eastern and Chinese landscapes and cultures. The result is a novel full of spiritual growth, rousing fight scenes, and a respectful use of martial arts in both their philosophical and martial aspects.

Celtic warrior Vincent is taken by Norse raiders to a slave market far from his homeland. Dusty, weak, wounded, and near death, he is bought by a man and his female servant and settled into a wagon. The pair, whose names he mispronounces as Merlin and Sea Lass, are actually Mah Lin, a former Buddhist monk, and his daughter, Selah, a healer and herbalist. Vincent mistakes them for wizard and sorceress on first meeting. As Selah tends his wounds, she reveals their true callings. Vincent has also gained a guardian, of sorts: a raven has followed him since his Norse captors wended their way to that slave market.

On the way to the Middle Kingdom, Mah Lin teaches Vincent the way of the warrior priest and Selah educates him on nature’s warning signals and herbs’ efficacy. Another case of mispronunciation leads Selah to call him Arkthar, which is approved by the raven’s raspy repetition of his new name. His healing way and physical education are, however, in danger: an imperial commander seeks Mah Lin to revenge himself for a long-ago event.

Thus the mystical circle that began with Mah Lin/Merlin finds and joins with Vincent/Arkthar, the connection is made, and the readers know that The Raven’s Warrior is another branch on the tree of Arthurian legend.

Finishing a novel is a challenge; being first cousin to Terry Pratchett, one of the most beloved fantasy writers alive, might add even more reason to expect a well-written debut. Readers are in luck: Pratchett is a natural storyteller and he knows how to structure a fantasy novel that’s much more than that.

Pratchett’s approach to the Arthurian legend is rare if not unique. Katy Moran’s 2010 novel Spirit Hunter has several similarities toThe Raven’s Warrior. Pratchett’s addition of a might-have-been China, an imperial ruler, and the deep knowledge of a martial artist cause a reader to pay closer attention to the story and how it unfolds. A ribbon of concern for the loss of old ways and skills (and their rescue) weaves through the novel as well. This is not your grandma’s Arthurian saga.

From his personal experiences as a traveler across Asia via ancient roadways (the routes of Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, and Marco Polo), a martial artist and instructor, firefighting and teaching, Pratchett has indeed crafted a new branch of the Arthurian saga. The novel flows smooth as silk, the characters are as real as your next-door neighbor, and the setting and pacing are spot-on.

The Raven’s Warrior reads like the work of a mature writer well seasoned with much background material on which to draw. It will be interesting if Pratchett returns to this world for more of his vision of Arthur—the quality of this first foray into novel-length fiction bodes well for such ventures.

Janine Stinson


The Raven's Warrior - Martial Arts Meets Chinese Medicine

The Writing of The Raven’s Warrior—A Novel

By Vincent Pratchett

Many people have an interest in martial arts. That interest however, is as unique as every individual who has trained and sweated through any art pursued. We bring a modern western perspective to an ancient eastern discipline. For me, the very first time I entered the dojo a new world opened up. The bowing, the white gi and the white belt I tied it with, the foreign names of the martial technique I learned, all took me to a place far different from the neighborhood I grew up in. Almost inevitably, the student at some point will turn their attention to the origins of their endeavor, both personally and historically. It is this understanding that provides the strongest foundation of who we are, and what we do.

At the University of Guelph I took a course in Chinese history, and felt once again that sense of wonder. In the library I poured over volumes of books on the science and technology of ancient China. This vast empire, isolated from the rest of humanity, developed and produced inventions and innovations that made the rest of the known world seem a very primitive place. The European world of A.D. 900 was a harsh environment. Ireland was regularly besieged by Viking raiders. Life in many places was as simple as defend or die. In contrast, China at this time was flourishing.

Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist doctrine formed the basis of their unified society. The Chinese had weapons of steel, while the rest of the world wielded iron. They had the compass while all others navigated by wind and star. Theirs was a working cosmic understanding of the earth and the universe, while for the rest of humanity the world was still quite flat. Advances in medical theory, arts and literature, paper and printing set them apart. It was here that the discovery of the destructive power of a volatile black powder would change the nature of war for centuries to come.

I have always been a writer. I was born with an Irish soul. Inherent in this culture is a deep love and respect for both the written and spoken word. How these words come together to form stories is really the heart of the magic and the enigmatic beauty of creation. Within my family I was taught that stories surround the tellers silently like the air that they breathe. Their gift is to listen and to record, to bring tales from the ether, and give them voice. As one raised in Canada I was skeptical, but now that The Raven’s Warrior is finished, I don’t think that this explanation is without merit.

The stage was set.

In my mind’s eye I could see and hear the savage warrior of my ancestral land dropped into the advanced civilization that was theirs. The writing of the novel began with the first sentence. It came to me as soon as I sat with pen and paper. With the first complete thought inked onto paper, the process of listening and recording was underway. Like the successful application of a martial technique, writing this novel was simply creativity drawn from the heart of chaos.

A man sees the world through the eyes he has been given. The wounded Celtic prisoner of war ripped from his homeland, is liberated by a priest and his daughter in the land called China. For him, hazy images of silk, steel, herbal potions, and healing needles, can lead to only one conclusion, he has fallen into the hands of a wizard and his witch, and Arkthar fears for his very soul. Although the grueling physical journey is over, his spiritual journey has just begun. Under Death’s plotting eye, a warrior, a priest, and a healer embark on a quest to save a kingdom. I hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 11.22.49 AM

Every man’s life story begins at first breath, but this is not my story alone, and so it begins much closer to my last.

Chapter 1 – The Beginning

I soar in effortless circles around the plodding caravan far below me, gently riding the desert winds. It is not the glitter of sunlight on jewels that attracts me, for I do not covet the spoils of war, but crave only my humble share of war’s terrible outcome. The hot rising air is cradled beneath the feathers of my outstretched wings, and carries with it the tantalizing odor of sand and blood. I fly on, driven by primordial hunger and beckoned by the smell of death. Drawn closer now, I am intrigued, for I have found its source.

I can see him clearly. He is chained behind the cart laden with plunder and pulled by great horned oxen. He jerks and stumbles forward at every tug of the cattle’s methodical steps. Blood is the clothing that covers his body. Wounded and tortured, decay did not wait politely for death’s cue, and the flies have already joined the feast.

My spirit knows that this cruelty is the work of men, nature is much more merciful. I can see that the dying captive is mad. He raves with agony and fever at every near fall. Nature mercifully has removed mind from body, so his mind knows nothing of its body’s plight or pain, and by nature’s mercy I sense his journey will soon be over.

But that time has not yet come, and I fly upwards towards the heavens to banish my gloom. As clouds part and early stars move slowly before my eyes, I bite and savor simple concepts, tasting the timeless comfort of universal truths. With pain and blood they are born, they live, create life and take life, and then with blood and pain they leave through Death’s cold gateway. It is Death’s black finger that puts the final punctuation at the end of every man’s life sentence.

It was then that I heard Death laughing, and when he had finished his chuckle he began to speak. “I have heard the delirious ramblings of countless dying minds. I am amused by yours. Heavy philosophy to hapless metaphor, ‘my black finger puts the final punctuation at the end of every man’s life sentence?’ That is very funny given your circumstance. Fly down with me to see the wretch again.” As we flew lower Death continued to speak.

“Many times in many battles I came to take him, but he was elusive and agile. Even though I couldn’t reach him, he did my work well and sent me many. Did you know I have whispered to him every step of his journey and still he will not come? Yet even if he does not die along the way, he knows I wait to embrace him at the executioner’s block. Why does he resist?”

We angled closer to the man as he continued. “I know this unreasonable tenacity is testimony to the power of life and creation, and to feel life’s pulsing strength is a new experience for me, an experience for which I will always be grateful.” We flew closer still, and hovered. The stench was intoxicating. I saw the war prisoner’s wild eyes, and in a heartbeat ravenous euphoria was replaced by terror.

I saw and understood that this smell of what was once a man was me, and in panic I began falling from the sky. Death steadied me, “Do not be afraid,” he said as I plummeted towards myself. “I came once more to take you, but I am in your debt. You have challenged me, aided me, helped me hear life’s song, and finally you have even made me laugh. ‘My black finger puts the final punctuation at the end of every man’s life sentence,’” and his laughter began all over again.

We had begun the final dive of a bird of prey. There was no turning back. We were very close and flew very fast, faster than the speed of reflex. For me there could and would be no stopping. A wing tip away from impact, he flashed his final words. “No punctuation yet, your life sentence has just begun.”

Instantly my world blazed white. Like the coals of a forge it cooled, sinking steadily through a sea of red and orange. Finally it settled into the black cold depths of the night, from where I emerged and moved as a man once more.

The fever had broken. The heat and redness around the wound still remained, but my arm no longer ached at every passing heartbeat. The blood that had seemed unstoppable had slowed to a trickle and had cleaned the wound as best it could. Dead flesh was gone, and the children of the flies had also vanished. A mind forced away by the body’s anguish has returned to its temple to worship at its altar of bearable suffering once again.

I had survived, I had begun to heal, and I had forgotten everything that Death had said to me.


10 Easy Tips to Get Healthy Right Now

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Here is my list of 10 simple things that you can do to improve your health right now. Most of them seem obvious, but sometimes its good to have a little reminder as we are all so busy that it is hard to always find the time to take care of ourselves. All of these are based on Chinese medicine principles, but they really are excellent tips regardless of where they come from, because they really work.

1. Eat Real Food

Vegetables
This one seems like a no brainer, right? Well, eating real food isn’t always easy, especially when we are short on time. Convenience will usually win out over eating properly, especially when we are rushed, and there is a literal ocean of fast foods to choose from. They are often full of chemicals, fats and so little nutrition that you have to eat way more to feel full, which is one of the ways that people gain weight. You will find that when you are eating real, fresh foods, that you will actually eat less and feel better. My rule is always quality over quantity.

The way I would define “real food” is to say that it is food that is as close as possible to its original form, ie- when it came out of the ground, or off the tree. Staying away from packaged foods is a good way to ensure that you are following number one, as well as number 10 (avoid chemicals), as packaged foods almost always contain preservatives, flavour enhancers, fats, salt, sugars, and all of those unpronounceable ingredients that are so bad for us. Labelling laws vary from country to country, but many places do not require companies to label everything that goes into the foods they producs, so it is almost impossible to know what you are eating.

Eating fresh, locally grown foods that are in season is the best way to show your body some love. This is after all the way our bodies were designed, and our digestive systems have evolved to function best when we eat this way. At first, it does take a little more planning, but once you start eating fresh foods, you will notice very quickly how amazing you feel and soon those pizza pockets and big macs won’t appeal to you anymore and you will wonder how you could have ever eaten them! So eat real food, I promise your body will love you for it.

2. Go Outside

go outside

The ancient Chinese had an intimate relationship with nature. Life and all of its processes revolved around nature and the ebb and flow of the seasons. When I was in China, I noticed that there was no separation between inside and outside, windows were always open (I once tried to close one because I was freezing and got some serious sass in Chinese), and having fresh air is an important aspect of health. Closing up our houses causes the air to stagnate and this, when left for long periods, can lead to illness. We are constantly needing to breathe in fresh air and the simple act of going outside accomplishes this and much more.

We get energy from the earth, and we are not getting that energy if we are sitting in front of our computers. Being outside is incredibly grounding and relaxing to the body. Looking at the plants and flowers is nourishing for our eyes, taking off your shoes and walking in the grass or on the beach in the sand is you literally connecting to the planet. Being outside in nature nourishes all of your senses, and most importantly, builds up your body’s own energy, or qi, and going for walks is a very effective way to move energy and avoid illnesses caused by stagnation.

3. Breathe Deeply

breathe deeply

Anyone who has ever done yoga or studied martial arts understands the importance of the breath. It is the basis for many types of meditation and breathing is necessary for keeping us alive. The Lungs are associated with sadness and grief in Chinese medicine, and many of the ways in which we can release intense or overwhelming grief is through deep breathing exercises.

In times of stress, worry, anger or sadness a few deep breaths can dissipate those strong emotions and clear our heads. The breath is incredibly healing, taking in the new, and letting go of the old. Breathing deeply also brings more oxygen into the body and more oxygen means increased brain function and that is always a good thing. Oxygen improves the immune system, calms the mind and stabilizes the nervous system, improves concentration and memory, speeds up the body’s ability to recover after physical exertion, improves digestion, alleviates headaches and migraines, detoxifies the blood and strengthens the heart. So breathe deep, its good for your health!

4. Express Your Emotions

express your emotions

Emotional health is a big part of Chinese medicine. It is also interesting to note that in Chinese medicine, the emotions are one of the causes of disease. This may seem strange to us in the West, but think about how you feel when someone you love passes away, or a family member is in a serious accident. Those are incredibly strong emotions and they absolutely affect your health. Of course having emotions is a normal part of being human, they only become pathological when they are repressed or unacknowledged, expressed without control (wild outbursts for example), unexpressed or felt intensely for long periods without being resolved.

The most important thing for having a healthy emotional life is, if there is something happening in your life that is upsetting you, acknowledge it. This is the first step. It isn’t always easy, but it is vital to moving through it in a healthy way. Second is to allow yourself to feel it without judgement. We often judge our feelings about something which can be much more destructive than having the emotion in the first place. There is often a comparison to someone else who is in a worse situation. So feel what you are feeling. Don’t judge it. It is valid, and once you have felt that emotion, then you can let it go and move on.

Here are a couple of articles about the emotions that will give you some more information about how they are viewed in Chinese medicine and some tips on how you can deal with them in a healthy way.

Emotions in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Grief - A Chinese Medicine Perspective

5. Be Mindful

be mindful

There was never such a paradox, that something that should be so easy could be so hard. What does being mindful mean? Being present. Being absolutely focussed with all of your being at whatever you are doing (or not doing) at the present moment.

This is particularly difficult for us. We live in a culture that has values multitasking. The more you can do at once, the more valuable you are. You are a master of productivity. You are the envy of your colleagues and your friends. How do you get so much done?

Because Chinese medicine grew out of Taoist teachings and ideas, there is a big emphasis on mindfulness in everything you do and living in the present. It is not about getting as much done as possible, it is about doing a few things well and with intention. The idea in terms of health is that when you are doing one thing, your qi or energy is focussed and you are able to channel all of your energy into one thing. When you are doing more than one thing at once, you are scattering your qi, and your focus. Your qi works best when it is focussed. Constantly scattering your qi will lead to deficiency and eventually can lead to illness.

The other reason that being mindful is good for your health is that the spleen, which is the organ of digestion in TCM, is the thing that is responsible for digesting everything that comes into the body. This is not only food and drink, but information and stimulus as well. All the multitasking means that the spleen has to work extra hard to digest all that food/information/stimulus at the same time and it becomes exhausted. We live in an extremely spleen deficient culture because of this. So, being mindful is actually a way to be kind to your spleen, which is really at the core of our health.

Here is a quote that illustrates the idea of being mindful written by Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.

~ Lao Tzu

6. Get Enough Sleep

Man sleeping

Sleep is the body’s much needed chance to rest and heal. Sleep is necessary for the body to repair itself of any damage, right down to the cellular level. It is the body’s chance to build up its energy stores so that it can keep you awake, keep your heart pumping, your lungs breathing and you alive and healthy tomorrow and for many days to come. We are a sleep deprived culture. We often cram so many activities into our lives that we simply cannot get the sleep we need to function at optimum levels.

Not getting enough sleep saps our energy, and has a significant effect on our ability to focus, concentrate and significantly affects memory. We all function a lot better,  and feel clear and alert when we have had a good night’s sleep. There are a few things that you can do to help you sleep. Don’t eat stimulating foods such as spicy foods, coffee and alcohol in the evenings before bed. They can over stimulate the nervous system and make it hard to get to sleep. Massaging your feet before you go to bed is very relaxing and opens up the meridians encouraging the free and uninhibited flow of qi. Make sure your room is completely dark. The brain associates darkness with sleep and it is more difficult to sleep in a room where there is too much light. And finally, try to go to bed before 11pm. In Chinese medicine, there is an organ clock, each organ having 2 hours of the day when it needs to regenerate. The liver time is from 11pm-1am, and it is widely accepted that it is best to be asleep as the liver is responsible for many of our bodies processes and emotional responses.

7. Drink Lots of Water

drink water

How many times have we heard this one? But its true. There are many ailments whose cause is simply dehydration, and the body is 70% water, so it is vital to our bodies functioning at optimum levels. Water is purifying to the body and helps flush out toxins which can lead to illness. A good thing to do is first thing when you wake up in the morning is to drink a glass of water which will help flush out all the toxins that have accumulated during the night.

Drinking enough water is important as water aids the body in regulating temperature, keeps the skin (the body's largest organ) healthy, cushions joints, contributes to heart health, rids the body of waste, aids in digestion and protects the nervous system - including the brain and spinal cord. Dehydration is also a common cause of headaches, so keeping hydrated will help keep your entire body balanced, hydrated and happy.

According to Chinese medicine, it is also important not to drink very cold water and not to put ice in your drinks. This is because it uses a lot of the body’s energy to warm it up, and cold injures the spleen which is charge of digestion.

8. Find Love

Dog Kisses Firefighter

Romantic love is wonderful. But I am talking about the love that is everywhere and available to everyone at all times.

Love is one of the most important things for our happiness and our health. Love is everywhere, if you chose to simply notice that it is there.

Love is noticing a beautiful flower. Someone holding a door open for you when your arms are full of groceries - this is love. When your cat crawls into your lap and goes to sleep - this is love. A smile from a stranger - this is love. When a friend listens to you rant about your bad day - this is love. Someone cooks you a delicious meal - this is love. And when you look in the mirror and see the beauty instead of the flaws, this is LOVE. These are all acts of love. And that is what love is, it is action with intention. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It is everywhere. <3

*This photo illustrates a lovely story. This firefighter pulled this dog out of a burning home, saving her life. He then went back into the house to continue fighting the fire. When he came out and sat down to rest, she walked right over to him and thanked him for saving her life.

9. Move Your Body

hula hooping

Our bodies are designed for movement. We have evolved over many thousands of years to move. It is only relatively recently that our lives have become so sedentary, and a lack of movement is at the root of many of our health problems. In Chinese medicine, illness arises when the qi becomes blocked or stagnated. When there is a blockage of the flow, the whole system is thrown out of balance. The best way to circulate qi is simply to move your body around. If you sit at a desk all day, get up and walk around your office every few hours. Take a walk at lunch, and if the weather is nice, walk or ride your bike to work.

There are many ways to move your body. From simply doing some stretching exercises at your desk, to taking a yoga class, or doing tai chi or qi gong. Walking, riding a bike, playing with your dog, or getting down on the floor and playing with your children, they all achieve the same purpose, movement. If you have ever watched children, they are always moving! Every parent knows how exhausting it can be to keep up with a small child, but they instinctively know that movement is good for our health. So, keep moving, and get that qi circulating!.

10. Avoid Chemicals

hazard

This one is huge. And not easy in this day and age. Just start small and be mindful of trying to keep things as natural as possible; from what you put in your mouth, to what you use to clean your house. Have a yard? Grow a garden. Vegetables can be grown in a small plot and are relatively low maintenance and easy to grow. Live in an apartment, or a place with winter? Try an herb garden in pots, they will add so much to your cooking! Shop at the farmers market and eat as much organic as possible. If you have to eat packaged foods, read labels. Take time to cook and bring your lunches to work, this way you will know exactly what is in the food you are eating.

Make your own laundry detergent. Here is a recipe and it is chemical free and costs about a tenth of what the store bought stuff does. Instead of using harsh cleaning agents that are full of chemicals, consider using natural cleaners like vinegar, alcohol, lemon and baking soda. There are many great recipes online, places like Pinterest are wonderful resources.

Makeup and beauty products are some of the worst offenders when it comes to chemicals, and you are applying them to your skin, the largest organ of your body. You can make wonderful masks, sugar scrubs, moisturizers and lip balms with natural ingredients that you can find at the health food store. Things like almond oil, honey, beeswax, rose water, coconut oil, oats and cucumber are some of the ingredients that you can use to make your own beauty products. They are easy to make, you can customize them to your skin type and they smell delicious! You also know that you are not absorbing any chemicals into your delicate skin.

Chemicals cause the body to age prematurely. They also decrease fertility in both men and women and increase the risk of birth defects. It is especially important for growing girls to avoid toxic chemicals to avoid problems having healthy children in the future as they are born with all the eggs they will ever have.

Our bodies are bombarded by a barrage of chemicals every day. Of course, we can’t avoid them all, but if you are mindful, you can avoid a lot of them. Keeping life simple and using common sense is the best way to live a healthy and balanced life.



Causes of Disease in Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

According to traditional Chinese medicine, we are healthy, happy beings because our bodies are in a state of harmony. This harmony is between yin and yang, the different organs in our bodies and our relationship with the external environment. And yet, this harmony is constantly in a state of flux because of the activities of our daily lives; the way we treat our physical bodies, how we deal with our emotions, the changing weather, the stresses of work and family and the constant uncertainty of life itself.

When a person is healthy and an imbalance is created, it is quickly restored. If a person is unhealthy and there is an imbalance, because the strength of the body is compromised, it takes longer for the body to return to that harmonious state. When the body is in a prolonged state of imbalance, disease will occur. In Chinese medicine, it is the factors that cause the body to lose its harmonious balance that are the causes of disease.

Human beings have always struggled with external and internal threats to their health. External factors such as the weather are not normally causes of disease. It is only when the body is in a weakened state, or the external factors occur too quickly for the body to adjust that the delicate balance is disrupted and illness can occur. Some diseases are also seen to be caused by internal factors, such as problems with the organs, emotional stress, and excess sexual activity.

External Causes

Wind

Symptoms of external wind manifest with fever, chills, and sweating. Wind particularly affects the lungs which leads to coughing, stuffy, runny nose and an itchy or dry throat. Wind is said to be the master of 100 illnesses.

Heat Fire

The difference between heat and fire is temperature. Fire is not only hotter than heat, but it always flares upwards which manifest in symptoms of the upper body. Symptoms of fire include a strong aversion to heat, restlessness, irritability and thirst. Someone with fire symptoms has little sweat, a flushed face and red eyes.

Summer Heat

Symptoms of summer heat occur mostly in the summer season. Of all the external pathogenic factors, summer heat is the only one that is seasonal. It is also the only factor that is caused solely by heat from the external environment. There is no internal summer heat. Symptoms of summer heat include fever, excessive sweating, thirst, irritability, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Heatstroke is a common ailment in the summer season and its symptoms include dizziness, nausea, lack of energy. The best way to combat summer heat is to keep hydrated by drinking lots of water.

Dampness

External dampness includes the humidity in the air, and the water, rain and fog in the environment. Living in a damp environment, such as a basement in a damp climate, can cause dampness to invade the body and lead to disease. Symptoms of external dampness include chills, fever that does not improve with sweating, a heavy sensation in the body - especially the limbs and a cloudy, heavy feeling in the head. One of the main symptoms of dampness is a lack of thirst because the body is already inundated with moisture.

Dryness

Dryness is associated with autumn, so it occurs most often in that season. Dryness enters the body through the nose and mouth so most effects the lungs. These symptoms manifest as dry mouth, nose, throat, skin and cough. Dryness with the addition of heat also causes fever, headaches, sweating, thirst and irritability.

Cold

Cold is the main climatic element of winter, but of course, exists all year round and can combine with other elements such as dampness and wind. When the body is exposed to cold, either from cold weather or staying in a cold place for too long, the body will exhibit symptoms of fever, aversion to cold, headaches, body aches, stuffy nose, coughing and lack of sweat. Overeating raw foods, which are considered very cold in Chinese medicine is another way that cold can affect our health. Symptoms of over consumption of cold foods are pain in the abdomen or stomach, indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhea. Staying warm when we go outside and while we sleep is a good way to keep cold making us sick.

Internal Causes

Internal Wind

The main symptoms of internal wind are spasms, convulsions, rigid neck, upward turning of the eyes and opisthotonus (a severe muscle spasm where the back is arched and the head and toes are almost touching). Some less serious symptoms of internal wind are numbness or tremors of the limbs, blurry eyes, and vertigo. In Chinese medicine, the liver is the organ that generates wind, so someone presenting with these symptoms would be suffering from liver wind.

Internal Heat Fire

Signs of internal fire are more severe than external fire and include bleeding from the nose, blood in the urine or stools, bleeding associated with hemorrhoids and eruptions, boils or rashes on the skin and cold sores on the tongue or mouth.

Internal Dampness

Internal dampness usually has to do with a dysfunction of the spleen. The spleen, when out of balance, is prone to dampness. A common symptom is difficult urination. If the dampness is in the upper part of the body like the lungs, the patient will feel tightness in the chest, dizziness and vertigo. If the dampness is in the stomach they will feel fullness and distension in the abdomen, nausea, soft or loose stools, heaviness of the limbs and have a sticky sweet taste in the mouth.

Internal Dryness

Internal dryness results in the lack of blood and body fluids, and can occur after a feverish illness, not allowing the patient to recover completely and causing their illness to linger. Internal dryness is common after someone has suffered a chronic disease as the body and body fluids are often exhausted and the body is not able to nourish tissues. Many medications are also considered very heating in Chinese medicine and can contribute to dryness inside the body. Symptoms of internal dryness include thirst, dry skin that can be coarse and flaky, dry hair, constipation, emaciated muscles and a dry tongue.

Internal Cold

Internal cold is caused by a deficiency of fire or yang energy inside the body. Yang deficiency can occur in any of our organs. The symptoms a person experiences will correspond to the organ affected. For example, if the yang of the heart is deficient the function of the heart will be compromised as we see with heart failure. These patients feel cold, have palpitations, shortness of breath and a stagnation of their qi and blood which can lead to severe chest pains. Lips and face are often a bluish or purple in these patients.

Emotional Factors

This beautiful photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

It may seem strange that something like emotions could be considered a cause of disease. Of course, emotions are a normal part of being human. But feeling them intensely for prolonged periods, being unable to express your emotions, or experiencing a sudden shock or trauma is the way in which they can become a cause of disease.

Each organ is associated with an emotion in Chinese medicine. When the organ is out of balance, there will be a disturbance in its associated emotion, and conversely, if you are feeling overwhelmed by a specific emotion, it may damage its corresponding organ. Here are the organs and their corresponding emotions...

The Heart - Joy

The Liver - Anger or Frustration

The Lungs - Sadness or Grief

The Spleen - Worry or Overthinking

The Kidneys - Fear

An example would be someone suffering from the sudden loss of a loved one. The shock might cause an overwhelming sense of loss and grief which, if intense could cause lung symptoms like asthma, shortness of breath and cough. This also works in reverse, if someone was suffering from a prolonged cough, they might find that they were feeling more melancholy than usual. It is a constant cycle of interaction.

Then we have what are called the “miscellaneous factors” in Chinese medicine. These are the causes of disease that do not fit into the previous categories of internal, external or emotional.

Diet & Eating Habits

Nutrition and eating habits are necessary for the body to perform its vital functions. One of the major causes of disease is poor diet and bad eating habits. If we are not able to attain enough nutrition to keep our bodies healthy and functioning at optimal levels, then illness will occur. The amount of food and the frequency at which we eat it is also important. Many smaller meals are always better (and easier on the digestive system) than one or two large ones. Everyone is different, but we tend to live in a culture with larger than necessary portions and not enough time to eat regularly, the body loves consistency.

Eating a varied diet, full of fruits and vegetables, being careful to wash foods carefully will help keep the body strong and the immune system able to fight off pathogens from inside and out. Food therapy is a huge component of Chinese medicine, each food having its medicinal properties, temperatures and seasons when they are best consumed for health. The Chinese have used food as medicine for thousands of years and there is a wealth of knowledge on how to use food to keep yourself in the best health possible all year round.

Another thing important in TCM is being mindful when you eat. We are so often doing more than one thing at a time, and people often use their lunch breaks or dinner to catch up on work, watch tv or help the kids with their homework. One way we can relieve some of the burden on our already taxed digestive systems is to really focus and when we are eating, and just eat. The spleen, which is the organ of digestion in Chinese medicine is responsible for digesting not only the food that we eat, but information and stimulus as well which is why allowing it to digest those things one at a time will lift some of the burden. And we all want to have happy spleens right? Of course we do.

Stress

Stress is also a normal part of life. We all experience heightened levels of stress that are often beyond our control. The key to health is being able to maintain that balance and find healthy ways to deal with stress so it does not become overwhelming. Thankfully, Chinese medicine offers us many tools with which to effectively deal with stress.

Qi Gong

Qi Gong is an internal martial art which has been practiced for thousands of years in China is an ideal way to calm the mind and body with its fluid movements and emphasis on breathing.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is another excellent exercise and way to calm the mind, body, and spirit with forms of graceful movements also with an emphasis on the breath. Both are best practiced outside, as nature has a calming, grounding effect on body mind and spirit.

Meditation

Meditation is another tool employed to help combat the effects of stress. It is amazing how dramatic the act of sitting quietly for 20 minutes can affect how you feel. It is a wonderfully simple way to pull yourself out of what is worrying you and become more centered. And, because nature is such a fundamental part of Chinese medicine, the simple act of going outside, taking a walk and taking deep breaths is an incredibly healing, calming thing for mind and body. Make sure to take the time you need to step outside of what is stressing you and give yourself the gift of healing with one of the many modalities that have been used for thousands of years by the Chinese.

Fatigue


Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

In this chaotic time, this is perhaps one of the most common causes of disease. We are a chronically under-slept culture. The incredibly healing restorative power of sleep cannot be overstated. Sleep is the time that our bodies have to heal and repair any damage. It is also a time for the mind to rest, which is an incredibly important aspect of health. Everyone knows that feeling of being run down, and how susceptible we are to illness when our bodies and psyches are exhausted. Give yourself the time to sleep. It is important for the immune system, stress and is your body’s time to rebalance itself which it really needs.

Excess Sexual Activity

This is one that surprises people. Is it really possible that excess sexual activity can be bad for you? Yes. It is true, that in Chinese Medicine excess sexual activity is a cause of disease, and let me tell you why. First of all this problem is more relevant for men that it is for women and that is because sex for men usually ends in ejaculation. That ejaculation contains the man’s fundamental essence, called Jing. A substantial and ongoing loss of this Jing can have long term health consequences which become more severe as the man ages. A loss of Jing causes the body to age prematurely. For women this loss of Jing, the body’s fundamental essence can occur by having too many children too close together. Pregnancy is traumatic to the body and supplementing and allowing the body to heal sufficiently afterwards is important so that you are not unnecessarily draining your Jing. Also, marrying too young and engaging in excess sexual activity before your body is fully developed is another way you can injure Jing. Don’t get me wrong, having a healthy sex life is a very important factor in good health, but, like everything in Chinese medicine, it is all about balance. So, my advice to you would be moderation. :)

Injuries & Trauma


Photo by Julian Paul on Unsplash

Injuries and traumas are unavoidable and often out of our control. Broken bones, sprains, cuts, pulled muscles and animal bites and accidents happen to all of us. The damage is usually localized, and if treatment is sought right away and given correctly then there are usually no long term effects. But, if treatment is not received quickly enough or things like infections develop, they can lead more serious problems and eventually be causes of disease.

Parasites

Parasites are still a problem in many parts of the world where there is poor sanitation and health regulations. Parasites have a profound effect on the body often causing pain in the abdomen, poor appetite, and emaciation. Parasites drain the body of essential nutrition leading to deficiencies and weight loss. Children especially are susceptible to parasites and worms and should be checked if any of the above symptoms are observed.

Chinese medicine was developed over thousands of years and as a result has a robust understanding of the human body and the causes of disease which is why, there is, and always has been, a huge emphasis on prevention. The idea being that if the body is strong, healthy and in balance, disease will never have a chance to develop. There is a quote that illustrates this and basically sums up the idea that is at the core of Chinese medicine. It was written in the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty by the famous emperor Huang Di.

Maintaining order rather than correcting disorder is the ultimate principle of wisdom. To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one already feels thirsty or forging weapons after the war has already begun.

~ Huang Di / The Yellow Emperor   476 - 221BC


Loving Your Heart in Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

One of the things that made me fall in love with Chinese medicine was its beautifully poetic way of explaining the world, our universe, the human body and the nature of disease. Ancient wisdom taken from Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism all had their influence in the way this incredible medicine was developed, and so did the profound way in which they saw the world, human beings and existence.

The way Chinese medicine explains the human being is complex and yet seems completely logical. The ideas and theories were developed at a time when people lived in complete harmony with the world around them. Life revolved around nature and the ebb and flow of the seasons. People practiced preventative medicine, always striving for balance, and thus, health.

In Chinese medicine, every organ has its functions or “responsibilities” . These are not all physical, they are psychological and spiritual as well. The heart has special importance in TCM as it is seen to be the “ruler” of all the other organs, and when the body is healthy and balanced, it is a kind and benevolent leader.

Heart Health in Chinese Medicine

The Heart Houses the Shen

The Shen in Chinese medicine is a difficult concept to explain. The best comparison is to say that the Shen is equivalent to the spirit or soul, but it also encompasses the mind. Shen describes our mental activity or consciousness, and is seen to be at the centre of all of our mental and physical activities. It is the source of thought processes, mental focus, planning, intelligence, any thought, idea and the will to carry it out can be seen as a manifestation of Shen.

The 7 emotions - anger, worry, sadness, fear, joy, grief, apprehension and the way they are involountarily manifested in the body as laughing, sobbing, moaning, sighing, gestures, body movements and facial expressions are also considered a reflection of Shen.

Each Yin organ (each Yin organ having a Yang organ partner) is considered to have its own soul or spirit, and the Shen is seen to have a controlling and regulating effect on them all.

  • Hun refers to the self-awareness and self-control mechanism associated with the liver.
  • Po refers to the body's basic reactive instincts associated with the lung.
  • Yi refers to the ability of thinking and remembering associated with the spleen.
  • Zhi refers to the function of memory associated with the kidney.
  • Shen refers to the function of processing all incoming sensory and intuitive information and supervising the body/mind reaction to it associated with the heart.

One of the most important ways in which we can determine the state of the Shen is through a person’s vitality, and can be seen especially in the eyes. The saying “the eyes are the window to the soul” is especially relevant. If one has dull, lusterless eyes, we can assume that there is a problem with the Shen.

Chinese Tongue Diagnosis

this image from tobybluewolf.com

Opens to the Tongue

The tongue is the root of the heart, therefore, problems with speech are a good indication that there is an imbalance in the heart. Symptoms like talking incessantly, speaking very quickly or laughing inappropriately indicate a heart imbalance. More serious heart disharmonies can lead to things like stuttering and aphasia (the inability to speak). In many ancient spiritual traditions around the world, speech is regarded as a powerful force and one is often urged to speak the truth of their heart which demonstrates the connection of the heart to expression via the words we speak.

The sense of taste is also a reflection of the heart’s energy, so if the heart is healthy, we will be able to taste all the flavours and enjoy our food.

Pathology of the heart is clearly reflected on the tongue, especially the tip. A tongue with  a red tip indicates a heart imbalance, usually heat. Heat in the heart can manifest as symptoms such as sleep problems, palpitations, red complexion and bitter taste in the mouth. Excessive heat in the heart can be caused by excessive grief or worry, chronic stress or emotional trauma.

What Can I Do To Keep My Heart Healthy?

There are many things we can do to keep our hearts healthy. From what we eat, exercising, expressing ourselves honestly and openly and living in accordance with our true natures all feed and nourish the heart.

The colour associated with the heart is red, therefore, red foods are seen to nourish the heart. Most are considered warm in nature and are used to nourish blood, improve circulation and build yang or fire energy in the body. They are recommended especially for people suffering with cold symptoms, or a deficiency of yang or fire energy in the body. These symptoms include cold limbs, pale face, anemia, muscle weakness and palpitations.

Heart Foodsthis beautiful image from gaiahealthblog.com

Foods Beneficial to the Heart

Tomatoes
Beef
Cherry
Saffron
Red Beans
Watermelon
Red Apple
Beets
Radish
Strawberries
Rhubarb
Red Lentils
Longan Fruit
Red Dates
Chili
Cumin
Cow Milk
Goats Milk
Egg Yolks
Coffee
Tea - Green tea is colder in nature than black tea

Exercises for the Heart

The heart meridian starts in the axilla, or armpit, and runs along the inside of the arm, terminating at the corner of the nail bed on the baby finger. For this reason, exercises stretching and strengthening the arms are the most beneficial to the heart.

There are many ways to protect the heart. For example, going to bed later in the evening and getting up earlier in the morning; wearing lighter clothing and changing more often; eating less warm food and more sour, sweet and spicy food to make up for excess sweating; and keeping in a good mood. Here are some exercises for keeping the heart healthy:

Clenching Fists

Sit up straight. Place the both arms between the thighs and let them hang naturally. Breathe evenly. Then slowly make fists, exhale when clenching and inhale when loosening. Repeat six times.

This exercise regulates the qi and stimulates blood flow through the arms. Exerting strength following the breath is beneficial to the normal functioning of the meridians through which the qi circulates. When making fists, the movements of the fingers can massage the lao gong points (the 8th point on the Pericardium meridian) at the center of the palms, which is good for heart maintenance.

Reaching for the Sky

Sit up straight. Use the left hand to wrap around the right wrist.

Breathe evenly. Raise both hands above the head as if lifting something heavy. Exhale when the hands are up and inhale when they are down. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Then put the right hand around the left wrist and do the same. Also repeat 10 to 15 times.

This exercise promotes the normal functioning of the meridians, regulates qi and blood flow, and stretches the muscles and joints of the arms.

Knee Push

Sit up straight. Clasp the two hands. Bend the right knee, put the knee between the two palms. Exert strength against the knee, then relax. Change to the left knee and do the same. Repeat six times each. This exercise can treat ailments in the chest area. It also stretches and strengthens the muscles and joints of the limbs.

Tranquil Breathing & Teeth Clenching

Sit up straight. Place both hands on the knees naturally. Close the eyes slightly. Breathe evenly. Close mouth slightly. Sit still for a while. When the saliva accumulates, swallow it in three gulps. Then clamp the teeth 10 to 15 times. This exercise can tranquilize the nerves, strengthen the teeth and invigorate the function of the spleen.

Note - Do exercises in a quiet place with cool, fresh air. Early morning or in the evening is best. Elderly people, people suffering from weakness and those with heart troubles should do more in the summer.

Joy & the Heart : Chinese Medicine Livingthis lovely image from indianparentingsociety.com

The Heart and Your Emotions

The emotion of the heart is joy. When we experience this wonderful emotion honestly, we are feeding our hearts. When there is a lack of joy in our lives, the heart is the most affected. When heart energy is depleted, we can suffer from insomnia and dream disturbed sleep, an inability to think clearly, forgetfulness, concentration problems  and poor memory. In extreme cases we see manic behaviour or even coma. Living a joyful life and expressing emotions freely is an excellent way to keep your heart energy full, and your body healthy.

In Chinese medicine theory the heart is at the centre of perception itself. Therefore, self awareness, the ability to connect with others to have meaningful relationships and living a fulfilling, happy life is the essence of a happy, healthy heart. The path to joy is living with wisdom and purpose, seeking truth in all things and having meaningful connections to ourselves, others and the planet.

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If you suspect you are having problems with your heart and would like an expert opinion, Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP offers skype consultations. For more information or to schedule a consult, write to emma@chinesemedicineliving.com.

The Heart in Chinese Medicine :: Chinese Medicine Living


Why We Should All Do Qi Gong

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I suspect we have all seen the groups of elderly Chinese in parks, moving gracefully in unison, seeming to be listening to something that cannot be heard by the rest of us. I have this memory as a child, living across from a huge park I would go out to walk the dog and sit in the grass, watching them. They were so beautiful, moving all together, like a flock of birds, communicating by some unseen force, many individuals, moving as one.

I later would discover that this was Qi Gong.

A Brief History of Qi Gong

Qi Gong has been practiced in China for thousands of years. Its purpose was to build the body’s internal energy or qi to promote health and fight disease. In 1122BC the I-Ching or book of changes was one of the first books to introduce the idea of qi. People used the concept of the universe to explain the laws of nature which was seen to be an integration of three fundamental energies - heaven above, earth below and man between them, joining the two. Studying the relationship between the three was the first step in the development of Qi Gong. During the Zhou Dynasty (1100-221BC), Lau Tzu, founder of Taoism, wrote about breathing techniques in his famous book the Tao De Jing. Interest in qi was heightened, and Qi Gong became an integral part of the development of traditional Chinese medicine along with concepts like yin and yang and the theory of the five elements.

Later, duning the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD) Buddhist meditation techniques arrived in China from India, integrating meditation with Qi Gong practice. Buddhist practitioners worked to cultivate their qi, strengthen their internal organs and control mind, body and spirit to achieve enlightenment and avoid the cycle of reincarnation.

It was during the Liang dynasty (502 - 577AD) qi gong was integrated into martial arts. This was a powerful union, as external martial arts like kung fu with its quick, explosive movements with an emphasis on strength, power, agility and flexibility, joined with the internal art of Qi Gong which focusses on using mindful breathing to strengthen the body, cultivate the mind and spirit, prevent and cure disease and increase longevity. Qi Gong practices were also introduced from other countries including Japan, India and Korea as information passed more freely from country to country.

Qi Gong developed into many traditions, each having its own purpose and methods. Below is a brief description of each.

Buddhist Qi Gong

Aims to liberate the mind, cultivate virtue and to obtain enlightening wisdom. The human body is considered a tool for attaining enlightenment. (84000 approaches mentioned in history; most popular type of Qi Gong.)

Taoist Qi Gong

Stresses preservation of the physical body and high virtue. Many Taoist Qi Gong masters enjoyed long lives. (3600 approaches are mentioned throughout its history.)

Confucian Qi Gong

Aims to promote high moral character and intelligence

Medical Qi Gong

Medical Qi Gong emphasizes the free flow and balance of qi (vital energy) in the body. The primary purpose is to treat illness or cure a disease. Medical practitioners learn how to use the inner qi for diagnosis and healing.

Martial Arts Qi Gong

Trains the body for protection from cuts by weapons or attacks using the four limbs. It also trains the body to deliver fatal blows enhanced with qi.

There are basically two ways to practice Qi Gong. One is with a series of gentle movements, or sets, where one moves systematically through the set, smoothly transitioning from one movement to the next, concentrating on the breathing and mindful awareness. The other is to practice Qi Gong by standing, sitting or lying  also paying close attention to the breath. This focus on breathing is to strengthen the immune, digestive and circulatory systems as well as strengthening qi and gaining an awareness of what is happening inside the body and mind. It is most effective when practiced outside, being connected to nature and the cosmos, which  is why it is so common to see groups of people practicing it in parks and outdoor spaces.

The doctor of Chinese medicine learns these practices so that he may cultivate his qi, developing an awareness of both his qi and the qi in everything around him. This leads to the ability to diagnose and restore balance in his patients using all of the tools in his Chinese medicine toolkit, including acupuncture, Chinese herbs, cupping, tuina and guasha.

Qi Gong is an excellent way to develop an awareness of your own internal energy and become more sensitive to that energy if it becomes unbalanced. It is also an avenue to restore that balance when it should arise. It is a practice that emcompasses all parts of our being, helping us to become more aware and with skill, to maintain a healthy body, mind and spirit.  


Interview with Andrew Schlabach - Co-Founder & President of The Acupuncture Relief Project

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Andrew Schlabach, who is co-founder and president of the Acupuncture Relief Project, kindly agreed to sit down and answer a few questions about his organization and all the good things they are doing with their clinic in Nepal.

For those who don’t know about your organization, could you tell us a little bit about it?

Acupuncture Relief Project (ARP), along with our local partners, operates a small primary care clinic in a rural village of Nepal. Founded in 2008, Acupuncture Relief Project provides healthcare practitioners of various disciplines an opportunity to gain valuable field experience while making a positive impact on the local community. Our efforts include the treatment of patients living with HIV and AIDs as well as people suffering from extreme poverty and social disenfranchisement. We are a completely volunteer-based project and rely on a grassroots approach to sustainability and community support.

Why did you choose Nepal? Did you have a personal connection to it, or did you think it would be the place that would most benefit from this type of clinic?

I had the privilege of working as a mountaineering instructor at the notorious Himalayan Mountain Institute in Darjeeling India and participated in several expeditions in Nepal, Tibet and Northern India. Through this experience I fell in love with Nepal and its people. Later when I trained as an acupuncturist I envisioned a program which would not only provide service to a community that had very little access to medical care but would also provide an opportunity for healthcare practitioners to experience the complexities and hardships of the developing world. Hopefully providing an experience which challenges practitioners to connect to a deeper understanding of their medicine and foster the growth of compassionate wisdom.

Were the local Nepalese people open and receptive to coming to the clinic to get acupuncture, or did it take some time for them to warm up to it?

We don't characterize ourselves as an "Acupuncture" clinic even though we are primarily staffed by acupuncture physicians. Mostly we are just a primary care clinic... a place where anyone can come to get medical care and advice. Like anywhere in the world, some people are very open-minded about acupuncture and some are very skeptical. Once we establish trust, it doesn't really matter whether we are using acupuncture or allopathic medicine, people know they can come in and we will do our best to help them. It is very difficult to describe to people in developed countries what it means to live without access to care. Many times our job is more about patient education, assessment and referral than it is about any particular treatment modality. Just the fact that we can assess whether a child's fever is manageable or an emergency provides the community with a priceless resource.

Acupuncture Relief Project

Did the locals have any prior knowledge of what acupuncture was?

Not really. We get asked many times a day "what kind of medicine is on the needle". We explain that there isn't any and that we are simply assisting their body in healing itself. That is probably a bit mystifying but then, after couple treatments, they start getting better. Then they bring their whole family.

You have a group of wonderful local interpreters who work with the practitioners. Is the language barrier still difficult?

Our interpreters are world class professionals and they continue to improve. Several of them have worked with us since the beginning. The difficulty for both us and the interpreters is the limitation of the language itself. There are three common languages in the area in which we operate. Nepali, Newari, and Tamang. Each language has it's own unique limitation. For example in Newari there is only one word for the torso which translates in English to "heart". A patient may come in complaining of "Heart Disease" which for us only narrows it down to the torso. They could be suffering from anything from indigestion to angina to hepatitis. They don't have specific words or an understanding of internal organs so our interpreters do the best they can and we rely on many non-verbal cues and diagnositics to direct our assessments.

What are some of the conditions that you treat most?

People in the village are mostly subsistence farmers and they work very hard throughout their lives. About 65% of patients that we see are coming in for chronic pain. Low back, neck and knees particularly. This is something acupuncture is quite good at addressing and we see very good results in getting people back to work so they can take care of their families. We also see a multitude of other conditions including digestive disorders, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, febrile stroke, uterine prolapse, asthma, tuberculosis and typhoid. We also sometimes deal with social issues like domestic violence and substance abuse.

Do you only use acupuncturists?

No. We primarily use acupuncturists because this treatment modality allows us to treat a large number of people for very little money or overhead. The clinic also hosts herbalists, Tibetan traditional practitioners, homeopaths and massage therapists. We have also had several allopathic and naturopathic physicians work with us. We try to provide as much care as possible and we find that we do very well without the overhead of a pharmaceutical dispensary. We do utilize a small stock of antibiotics and other drugs when we need to but we will try to get a patient to an appropriate facility a patient has a serious or emergency condition.

Acupuncture Relief Project

What were some of the things that surprised you about running the clinic in Nepal?

I think what continues to amaze me is how much impact a small clinic can have on so many people. Not only our patients who of course benefit from our care but also our interpreters who have meaningful jobs supporting their own communities. Additionally our volunteer practitioners continuously report to us the effects of their experience in Nepal. Many have shared how they have gained a new appreciation for patient care and that has carried forward into their own practices and communities.

About how many people do you treat a day?

The clinic sees about 80-120 people per day. We also conduct several outreach clinics in outlaying villages each week.

Do you have any idea how many patients you have treated since the clinic began?

Well over 100,000 patient visits.

Is the clinic operational full time, or only at certain times of the year when you can bring volunteers?

Yes. There are practitioners at the clinic year round, however the clinic runs at varied capacity depending on the availability of volunteers and other resources. Organizationally, we focus particularly on our training program which operated from September to March every year. During this time the clinic opperates is at it's maximum capacity. The availability of healthcare in the winter months is particularly critical to the village so we prioritize our efforts for this time of the year.

Acupuncture is very cost effective compared to Western medicine. How much does it cost to run the clinic?

Again, we characterize ourselves as a primary care clinic and not an "acupuncture" clinic. We utilize a variety of modalities (including Western medicine) and attempt to determine the "best" care for a particular patient. In many cases, acupuncture is the "best" care.  The total cost of operation including all of our herbal and western dispensary, we provide primary care year round for about $4.80 USD per patient visit. I don't wish to take anything away from other types of service projects but for sake of comparison, you can compare us to a visiting medical/dental camp which operates in Nepal for a few weeks each year which costs $24-30 USD per visit. I will say that the dental services that they provide are worth every penny to the communities they serve.

Acupuncture Relief Project

What is the most difficult thing about running the clinic?

I think with any service project there are constant stresses around resources. There is never enough money, time or volunteers to accomplish everything you might envision. Also, as a US based non-profit there are many logistical complexities of operating a clinic half way around the world. All of these are relatively minor in the grand scheme but they must be constantly addressed in order to insure our long term sustainability.

What would you like to see the Acupuncture Relief Project do in the future?

Training local practitioners is our ultimate goal and one that we are actively trying to solve. In 2011, we fully funded a scholarship for one student only to be setback as the only Oriental Medicine school in Nepal became defunct. We have now adopted an apprenticeship program for two students and we are also exploring the possibility of sponsoring a student to study in the US, Canada, Australia or China. Our major obstacle is a lack of legitimate accreditation and licensure in Nepal so obviously this issue will be on our list for awhile.

Acupuncture Relief Project

Here is some more information about Andrew from the Acupuncture Relief Project website...

Andrew Schlabach MAcOM EAMP

Andrew Schlabach is the co-founder and President of the Acupuncture Relief Project having received his Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in 2008. His master’s research project founded a Practice Based Research Network for Oriental medicine practitioners and researchers in Oregon and Southwest Washington in collaboration with the Helfgott Research Institute. Now practicing at Healthwerks - Acupuncture Wellness Clinic, Vancouver Washington he is the author and publisher of the Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine - Clinic Survival Guide. Mr. Schlabach also served as President and Creative Director of Split Diamond Media, Inc. of Portland Oregon for 15 years. Specializing in business-to-business advertising, Split Diamond Media pioneered digital publishing technologies and internet services for a variety of regional and national companies. Mr. Schlabach is also an accomplished mountaineer with expedition experience in the Himalayas, distinguishing himself as an instructor at the prestigious Himalayan Mountain Institute in Darjeeling India. Having travel extensively in central Asia, Mr. Schlabach has become a student of world theology, Tai Ji and yoga. As a veteran of the U.S. Army, he received an Army Commendation Medal for distinguished service to his unit.

To learn more about The Acupuncture Relief Project and the wonderful work they are doing, please visit their website at www.acupuncturereliefproject.org

And be sure to watch the 30 minute documentary, Compassion Connects about their clinic in Nepal. It is incredibly inspiring!


Quan Yin - Goddess of Mercy and Compassion

Quan Yin is the Goddess of mercy and compassion worshipped by East Asian Buddhists. The original sanscrit word used to describe her is "karuna" meaning to weep. Karuna is the ability to relate to another in such an intense manner that any harm done to the other is felt as if it has been done to us. The term karuna is central to the Buddhist tradition, and is often described as a "love for all beings".

kuanyin2

Quan Yin is a Bodhisattva, a being of wisdom, destined to become a Buddha. She has taken the vow of Bodhisattva to save all beings from suffering.

The following mantra is associated with her:

Om Mani Padme Hum