Meditation: Improve Your Health in 20 Minutes a Day

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Chinese Medicine Says - Balance Equals Health

Chinese Medicine is all about balance. Balance in all aspects of life is what keeps us healthy and keeps disease away. In a time long ago, this balance was the normal way of life for most people, and they understood the importance of doing things in moderation - like eating, physical activity, expressing of emotions and all aspects of life. Chinese Medicine has always taught that this moderation in all things is the way to achieve balance and is ultimately the path to health. When something in life becomes unbalanced, illness can result. When this happens there are wonderful tools to help put the body, mind, and spirit back into a harmonious state - like acupuncture, Chinese herbs, moxibustion, gua sha and tui na. These are just some of the tools that Chinese Medicine has in its formidable toolbox. But ultimately, the goal is to live a balanced life so that illness never has a chance to develop, Chinese medicine is a medicine of prevention.

Losing Our Equilibrium

Now, many of us are living unbalanced lives in an increasingly unbalanced world. Finding the equilibrium that our ancestors enjoyed becomes more difficult as we live in a world that is more complex, and needs us to work more in a time where most of us are able to have less. There is a growing disparity between people who have and those who have not. Cities are growing as nature dwindles. People are being pushed, working more, sleeping less and getting sick because that balance has been lost. So what can we do? It is not realistic to quit the jobs we need to survive, and many of us live lives that we must and not the lives we would like to. One of the ways that we can get back to that balance, that equilibrium that keeps us aligned and happy is to slow down, sit and listen.

What is Meditation?

Meditation - Finding A Way Back to Balance

There are many ways to meditate, and everyone needs to find the one or the ones that are right for them. For some, walking is a wonderful healing type of meditation. For others, painting, cooking or writing poetry is their meditation of choice. I like to define a meditation as being in a state of complete harmony and flow. Like you are completely connected to the universe and in a state of bliss where time completely disappears. This is only my definition, but a similar sensation has been described by others in a state of deep meditation. It is like being in a complete and all-encompassing state of mindfulness.

Practical Meditation

In all my years of treating patients, I have found meditation to be one of the most effective healing tools, and one of the most empowering for patients. I often give patients a "prescription" for daily meditation to help them with their health and overall well-being. There are lots of reasons why it is such a great healing tool and why people love it so much. Here are just a few:

  • You can choose a meditation technique or practice that resonates with you - it is highly individualized
  • You can do it in the privacy of your own home
  • You do not need any special gear or equipment (although a lovely meditation cushion is so nice)
  • Meditations positive effects can be felt by doing it in as little as a few minutes a day
  • You can use your creativity to design a practice and a space that supports your meditation practice
  • The beneficial effects will ripple out into all aspects of your life
  • The positive effects will be felt by the people around you
  • With time, you will be able to handle stress and other difficult situations with more equanimity
  • Your memory, concentration and mood will be improved
  • You will have better quality of sleep
  • The power of this healing tool is completely in your hands

The list of meditations benefits is really enormous and there isn't enough room here to list them all. But for practical reasons, I can share an example of a meditation practice that can help to rebalance mind, body and spirit as well as all the benefits listed above.

Creating a Beautiful Space

One of the first things you can do, is to create a beautiful, calming, peaceful space where you will do your meditation. If you can, remove all electronic devices so that the space is quiet and you will not be disturbed. Keep the space clean and clutter free as this will help eliminate distractions while you are meditating. If you have a meditation cushion, you can arrange it so that it is appealing to the eye and when you look at the space in its entirety, it gives you a feeling of calm and joy. I am lucky to have a beautiful meditation cushion (which is from the lovely people at Chattra) - whenever I look at it, it makes my heart so happy and I thoroughly enjoy sitting on it. I don't have a lot of space, so I create a tiny space for myself with my cushion and a mosquito net which is lovely and really gives it an enchanted feel. Create your space however you desire, using objects (or the lack of objects) that make you happy and help to create a feeling of calm and serenity.

This is my lovely meditation space with my beautiful Chattra meditation cushion. If you would like one of your very own,
you can see all their beautiful designs here in their shop and enjoy 10% off (see coupon below).

20 Minutes to Health

You can choose however long you like in terms of your meditation practice, but I suggest that if it is new to you, to start slowly. You can start with just five or ten minutes a day and work up from there. I find that a good number is twenty minutes a day, or if you are ambitious, twenty minutes twice a day, morning and evening. Twice a day is ideal as it acts as a primer for the day and a bit of a cleansing of the days energies before bed to ensure a good, restful, rejuvenating sleep. If you can set aside twenty minutes when you wake up before you start your morning routine, you will find that you will set your intention for the day and be better able to focus as well as being better able to handle difficult situations. The more you meditate, the more you will find this equanimity in your life and in all things. In the evening, do everything you need to do and do your meditation right before sleep. You will find that the quality of your sleep will improve and you will wake up feeling more rested and ready to start your day with positivity and awareness.

The Meditation

As mentioned above, there are many different types of meditation, and I always recommend to patients that they find the one that feels right for them. A good way to start if you are looking for ideas is to sit comfortably in your meditation space and begin to focus on your breathing. Focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. I sometimes suggest trying to focus on breathing light into the top of your head, gathering the breath and all dark energy, emotions or experiences we are finished with, illness, pain or trauma and breathe it out with every breath. Sometimes, when you begin, it is good to have something to focus on and this one has worked for me, and for my patients.

Keep breathing deeply in and out focussing solely on the breath. Your mind will inevitably wander, but when you notice you are somewhere else in your mind, gently bring yourself back to the breath. At first, your mind will be all over the place - this is called monkey mind by the Buddhists (and here is a great definition) - but just keep bringing yourself back to the breath. This will get easier and easier the more you meditate. And try not to be hard on yourself. There are days when you will do nothing but bring your mind back to the breath, over and over again. But over time, you will find that you will have to do this less and less and that your mind will settle into a peaceful quiet which will allow you to connect to yourself in a way you may not have done before, and that is a wonderful thing indeed.

Chinese Medicine Living readers can enjoy this 10% off coupon in the Chattra shop. Visit www.chattra.com or click on the coupon below.

Chattra Meditation Cushion Review

If you would like to read my review of the lovely Chattra meditation cushion, you may do so here - Chattra Meditation Cushion Review

 



Mustard Greens & Pork Soup Recipe

By NourishU

Chinese Medicine Nutrition & The Summer Season

The excessive heat and humidity in summer can affect our health in many ways. It can cause the loss of body fluid and energy with profuse perspiration and can weaken our appetite. Drinking too much fluid to fight summer heat can dilute digestive enzymes which can lead to indigestion.

Extreme heat can lead to heat stroke with symptoms such as fainting, spasm, and fatigue. It is important not to over-expose oneself to the immense heat. Drinking excessive ice cold drinks can further damage the spleen system and cause food and energy stagnation. Eating seasonal vegetables such as winter melon and citrus fruits to quench thirst, to promote digestion and to expel heat and dampness is most beneficial to health. It is also important to eat food that can improve appetite, promote digestion and benefit spleen functions. Oily and heavy meat dishes should be avoided because they will cause indigestion.

Potassium

Potassium is the most important mineral of all which is necessary for good health. Potassium's main function is to promote cell tissue and growth. Our body needs to replace dead cells and tissue every day. There is no better source of potassium than vinegar---particularly natural apple cider vinegar. It is probably the best and cheapest agent to detoxify our body. As such, it should be considered as a critical component to the fountain of youth!

In summer months: add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar to a quart of water. Drink this on a hot summer day, especially before working out. Your body will feel very clean. In winter months: 2 TBLS of apple cider vinegar in a mug filled with hot water 3 times a day.

Pear

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Eating pear after a meal/BBQ.

The Seoul National University of Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine research team led by Professor Yang Meixi in September 2010 released a report saying that eating a pear after a meal can discharge a lot of carcinogenic substances accumulated in the human body.

The survey results indicate that smoking or eating grilled & roasted meat, the carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the body will be significantly lower after eating a pear. The result of the findings indicated that heated pear juice contains a lot more anti-cancer substances - Polyphenol.

Mustard Greens & Pork Soup Recipe

 

This delicious image by INRTracker.com

SYMPTOMS:

Slight internal heat syndrome with symptoms such as slight constipation, red eyes, and bad breath.

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS:

Clears internal heat and relieves constipation.

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • Mustard Greens  芥菜 -  300 gm
  • Lean Pork -  180gm
  • Ginger – 2 slices

1.   Wash mustard greens and cut into pieces.

2.   Rinse pork and cut into thin pieces, season (a little sugar, salt, pepper, cornstarch and sesame oil) and set aside.

3.   Boil about 8 cups of water in a soup pot and put in mustard greens and ginger to cook for about 30 minutes over medium heat. Add pork and cook for another 6 or 7 minutes and serve.

USAGE:

No restrictions.


Beautiful featured image photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash



The Most Important Qigong – III (Standing Post Zhan Zhuang)

By John Voigt

This is the third and concluding article about Standing Post, a qigong pose of stillness, complete relaxation, and no observable movement. It features two versions of Standing Post, the latter version attributed to the legendary qigong master, Dr. Yan Xin http://www.yanxinqigong.net/aboutdryan/index.htm .

A list of books, online articles, and videos about Standing Post – Zhan Zhuang will be given at the end at the end of this article.

Many masters of Chinese health, martial arts, and spiritual practices say this type standing meditation is the most important of all exercises to do. The previous two articles about Standing Post appeared in the January and February 2018 issues of Chinese Medical Living. The Most Important Qigong - Standing Post Zhan Zhuang & The Most Important Qigong - Standing Post Zhan Zhuang II

Standing Post With Seven Imaginary Beach Balls, complied by
John Voigt

This image from https://sciencekungfu.wordpress.com/tag/zhan-zhuang/

First and most important: Have the entire body and mind complexly relaxed ignoring any discomfort—but if there is any pain immediately stop doing this exercise.

The feet stand straight ahead at approximately a shoulder’s width. The knees are slightly bent and never protrude past the toes. The spine is straight. The chin is slightly tucked in. Imagine that the crown of the head is gently being pulled up by a thread to the heavens.

The tongue rests on the palate. The eyes are half closed (as the Chinese say, “Look but don’t look). Breathe softly, slowly, deeply through the nose in a natural rhythmic way down into the lower abdomen. Don’t think, but do be silently aware of what is happening internally in the body; in other words keep the mental focus on your posture and especially on how it feels.

Hold an imaginary beach ball. The picture shows a typical way, at the upper chest, but the ball can be held at a higher or lower position. The hands and wrists are relaxed with the fingers pointing at each other; the thumbs point to the upward. The shoulders and elbows are also relaxed.

Next imagine that your elbows are resting on smaller beach balls, and that you are holding a smaller ball in each of your underarms, and one between your upper thighs.

Now imagine a super-sized beach ball and sit back on it (like sitting on the edge of a bar stool). Be careful—seriously, don’t fall over, this is imaginary after all. We want the weight of the trunk, head and upper limbs to rest on the thighs; and the weight of the body to be evenly distributed on both feet.

At the end of doing the Standing Post pose do some mild stretches, and it’s also good to take a walk.

Dr. Yan Xin on Zhan Zhuang

Image from www.china.com

The legendary Qigong master Dr. Yan Xin (born 1950 - ) http://www.yanxinqigong.net/aboutdryan/index.htm (pronounced “Yan Shen”) wrote the following: Now we talk about Standing Post (Zhan Zhuang). You always need to stand in the correct and relaxed way, then the movement is very easily learned; with just one "stand" you'll get it. But if you stand in your old incorrect way, that will easily produce or make you feel irritable and bored. Then you will loose any interest in learning it or doing Standing Post. It will be difficult to get started and gain any significant progress or results that way. Therefore, for those who say that they want to do this practice, we must nurture and cultivate their interest, and their desire to learn. How is this done? By having them recognize the importance of qigong and become aware of its many benefits. [From Eighty Characters: The Essentials of Qigong Practice. http://www.yanxinqigong.cn/fali/temp_lifa_yaoling_80zi_01.htm ].

[John Voigt speaking:] In the early 1990s my Chinese language tutor, Ms. Sheng Xue, learned Standing Post in Beijing from Dr. Yan Xin, or at times from his teaching assistants. (Dr. Yan moved to California in 1990, but made many trips back to China to do healings sessions with the then Premier.) She kindly gave me the following description of what he taught :

Preparation: “In the morning face east; during the night face north. Relax and the energy comes. [Note: In the profound words of Ms. Sheng, “You don't ‘have it,’ (if you think that) the qi-energy (will) go away.”] Have fingers not too tight—just a little bit open. Arms go up horizontally at sides to palms over the head to guide qi into the crown of the head (baihui). Then have palms gently and slowly come down in front of you which by itself—and without any word directions or mental will power—will cause the qi to flow inside through the face, eyes, lungs, into the dantian. Don't direct qi after its entrance in the baihui; just mentally focus on being aware of your dantian[the life energy storage center in the lower abdomen] and allow the qi to flow naturally down into the dantian. End by placing the hands over the dantian; then palms face the ground; drop hands slowly—that way the qi that has been built up is not lost.” [Note: this preparation is an example of the widely practiced Daoist qigong form, “Drawing (or “Pulling”) Down the Heavens.”]

Ball Holding Stance: More from Ms. Sheng: “Next slowly go into ‘Ball Holding Stance.’ Take three deep breaths, then [sit] down on the horse. Just standing you feel qi in the arms and hands—then it going into the bones. Then into shoulders; then upper legs, lower legs and feet; then shoulders and neck. Feet [pointed slightly in] helps keep knees from overlapping the toes. Think happy thoughts like family, [or being in beautiful] nature. Slowly go into ‘Ball Holding Stance.’ Take three deep breaths, then [sit] down on the horse. Feel hot qi in the arms. Do not go to thighs parallel with ground [i.e., extreme deep knee bends] unless [under the direction of a experienced] teacher. Expect to get hot [because of qi buildup] as well as working up a good sweat—this is a muscle exercise after all. Stand Pole [sic] has large quantities of life energy—qi power arms, legs and body.” End the same as beginning [with Drawing Down the Heavens] . . . then slowly place hands above dantian; then hands slowly return to the sides.

Concluding Odds and Ends

Zhan Zhuang in Chinese characters is站 ,and pronounced Jan [sinking tone] Jwong [high tone].

About Dr. Yan Xin. See: Yan Xin Qigong at http://yanxinqigong.net/
Many believe him to be one of the most outstanding qigong masters of all times in both in scientific experimentation, teaching, healing, and exhibiting paranormal abilities.

Highlights as a Healer: After a three year exile to the United States, he returned to Beijing to help heal the Chinese premier Deng Zhou Ping, who was dying of advanced metastasized cancer. Both Eastern and Western medical doctors had given up on Deng's survival, and the enemies of Qigong brought Dr. Yan back to China in the hopes of discrediting him and Medical Qigong. Deng Zhou Ping did not practice the qigong that Yan Xin asked of him, but at least Yan Xin was able to keep the Premier alive for another year and a half, essentially by his living off of Dr. Yan's bioenergy (Qi). This precipitated the "legalization" of Qigong in China under the [auspices of the] government controlled Chinese "Sports Authority."
http://www.michaelshaman.com/dr-yan-xin.html

He also went to the U.S. White House eight times to give energy treatments to President Bush, Sr., which gives some explanation to Bush’s paratroop jump in his 80s!
https://www.mind-energy.net/archives/246-the-highest-technology-of-all-technologies-the-yan-xin-secret.html

Since the 1990s, Yan Xin's main activities of teaching, writing, and participating in scientific research on external qi used for healing have been in the United States, and Canada.

A short biography exists on the Encyclopedia of Chinese Culture. https://contemporary_chinese_culture.academic.ru/907/Yan_Xin

As an example of his qigong superstardom, including some improvisational spontaneous standing meditation go to严新气功功理功法精选 1 [Yan Xin Qigong power law selection 1] on YouTube - [only in Chinese].
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvdet8nmSOw

For Further Study: Books – Articles – Essays - Videos
Kenneth S. Cohen. The Way of Qigong; pp. 133-143. Ballantine Books, 1997.

Michael P. Garofalo. “Standing Meditation," research by Michael P. Garofalo [at]
http://www.egreenway.com/taichichuan/wuji.htm

Karel Koskuba. Zhan Zhuang. [at] http://www.yiquan.org.uk/art-zz.html

Master Lam Kam Chuen. The Way of Energy. Simon & Schuster, 1991.

John Voigt. “The Ultimate Energy Exercise: Zhan Zhuang – Standing (Like A) Post. Qi Journal, vol. 23/n.2; Summer 2013. https://www.qi-journal.com/store.asp?-token.S=qi&ID=3319

“Wang Xiangzhai.” [at] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Xiangzhai

Wang Xiangzhai: Entering the Quiet State; [at] http://mitqigong.blogspot.com/2011/03/wang-xiangzhai-entering-quiet-state.html

Wang Xiangzhai. “Seek Fullness of Spirit and Intention.” [at] http://mitqigong.blogspot.com/2011/04/wang-xiangzhai-seek-fullness-of-spirit.html .

Wang Xuanjie & John Moffett. Traditional Chinese Therapeutic Exercises: Standing Pole; [text in English]. Foreign Languages Press, 1994. [Has seven standing forms, five seated postures, four lying postures, and three moving postures. Master Wang said that Zhan Zhuang can even be adapted and used by people without arms or legs.]

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit. Stance Training and becoming a Scholar-Warrior
[at] http://shaolin.org/general-2/stance-training.html .

Yiquan: Collection of Essays 1996-2010, (e-book); published by Andrzej Kalisz. Yiquan Academy International Network. [at] http://www.scribd.com/doc/44719012/Yiquan-essays .

Yu Yong Nian. “Still Life,” Metro Beijing, March 23, 2011. https://www.scribd.com/doc/145816955/Still-Life-Yu-Yong-Nian-on-Zhan-Zhuang .

Videos on the Internet
Ken Gullette. Zhan Zhuang: Standing Stake Tai Chi Lesson. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnckgTx3-rE .

Standing Meditation Basics - Yiquan Masters Demonstrate. YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtUKTd2WKsc&feature=related .

Zhan Zhuang Lineage and Memorial. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OIcCTrLsCA

Sources of Pictures
Holding The Ball. https://sciencekungfu.wordpress.com/tag/zhan-zhuang/
Dr. Yan Xin. http://news.china.com/history/all/11025807/20161226/30114727_all.html


Essential Oils for Health & Wellness

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

A Brief History of Essential Oils

Essential oils have been used by traditional cultures for thousands of years, and were some of the most highly valued possessions of traditional peoples, along with jewels and precious metals. Essential oils are considered to be the distillation of both the intelligence and spirit of the plants they come from. They have been used throughout history for their medicinal, emotional, aromatic and spirit enhancing effects. In recent years there has been a revival in the use of essential oils, many people use them in their homes, healthcare practitioners use them to offer patients an alternative to conventional treatments like medications, and companies are using essential oils in their products as natural alternatives to chemical ingredients.

My own experience with essential oils goes back as far as I can remember. Long before I became an acupuncturist, I used them in my home for things like cleaning, for making skin and hair care products as well as aromatherapy, and in my medicine cabinet to help heal a wide variety of problems. When I began treating patients as an acupuncturist, essential oils were a vital part of my toolbox. I have always loved the versatility that essential oils afford the person and certainly the practitioner. They have been an invaluable part of my practice, and I am always humbled at how powerful they can be to correct a huge number of imbalances and heal on a multitude of different levels.

Essential Oils At Home

I think that many people may not be aware of the enormous versatility of essential oils that you can use in your home to make everyday products. In an age where we are bombarded by toxins (you can read more about this here - 5 Toxins to Avoid for Better Health - essential oils offer the ability to make these products knowing they are pure, health-promoting and toxin free. You can make household cleaners, skin and hair products (some of the worst offenders in terms of toxicity), soaps and lotions as well as using a diffuser to gently release certain oils into the air to detoxify, cleanse the air and for health reasons - like certain oils that act as decongestants when you or your family are suffering with a cold. There are oils for relaxation and stress, you can add them to the bathtub to help calm - I use this often for my very high energy 2-year-old baby boy, and it works smashingly. Oils can also be put into laundry soap, on rags in the dryer instead of dryer sheets, and a drop or two placed onto a pillow or bed sheets to help freshen things up or aid with things like insomnia, stress or depression.

This lovely photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Essential Oils In Health Care

I use essential oils every day in my clinic with my patients. They are simply another tool that I have in my healing toolbox. There are many ways in which to use essential oils for healing. In Chinese Medicine theory heat and cold are properties that contribute to health and disease. Essential oils also have heating and cooling properties, as well as having affinities for certain organs and meridians, so with this knowledge, I am able to use them on patients depending on both their constitution as well as what is ailing them. There are many ways that I use them - sometimes I apply them to specific acupuncture points, sometimes I mix them into massage oil to massage into certain points of areas of the body and sometimes I put oils into the diffuser for a more subtle effect. I often prescribe their use for patients at home, suggesting adding them to a bath, or massaging them into specific points when certain symptoms appear. For patients to participate in their own healing is the goal and essential oils are a wonderful way to help the process.

Using Essential Oils with Children & Babies

Since I have had children - and I have two, a two-year-old and a six-month-old - I have found that massage and essential oils are the most useful things I have to deal with everyday health matters. They also serve calm an excited child before a nap or sleep at night, dealing with anxiety, excessive crying in a colicky baby, and just keeping a chaotic house as relaxed and delicious smelling as humanly possible. Acupuncture is difficult on small children mostly because they have a hard time sitting still, so essential oils have been my go-to for everything that has to do with my babies, from their overall health, the state of their emotions and their wellbeing.

But, because they are so small and their systems so delicate, dosages and dilution are very important. You would always use way less of an oil on a child compared to an adult, and a good rule of thumb is to put any oil you are using medicinally into a carrier oil (I use coconut oil most of the time) and apply it to the feet as they are the farthest away from important organs. When my son gets a cold, I use various oils in this way which always helps clear his congestion, makes him more comfortable and I find that he gets over things a lot faster. With my baby girl, I tend to put a few drops of various oils into the diffuser when she isn't feeling well and I always find this helps her feel better, calmer and helps her sleep (which when you have 2 babies in your house is vital!!).

The other thing I have found is how powerful our olfactory senses are and the connection they have to our health and emotions. I find that just a drop of my favourite scent on my pillow after a long, intense day with 2 small children has a hugely calming effect on my nerves and psyche. A few drops on the sheets freshens up the room and makes for better sleeps. Some lavender on the temples helps you relax and all that tension you had in your jaws, neck, and shoulders, seems to just melt away. The therapeutic effects of essential oils are really limitless, and I know I am so grateful to have an arsenal to help me keep my children healthy without toxic chemicals while also being kind to the environment. Win/win!

Essential Oil Safety

It is important to remember that essential oils are medicine, and need to be used with caution. Like herbs, they can be very powerful and it is important to educate yourself about the oils properties, as well as any contraindications before using them therapeutically. Most commercially produced essential oils are used in the food and perfume industry (about 95%). However, when using them in your home for cleaning, skin or hair products or anything that will come in contact with your body, please be sure that you use high quality, therapeutic grade oils, that are extracted in a clean way and not using toxic chemicals. Here are some very good safety guidelines for using essential oils. When using essential oils directly on the body (and the best advice is to never use them directly on the body without diluting them or using a carrier oil) is to be careful of how much you are using or how much to dilute them. This is especially important when using them with children. You can find useful information at the link above about how to dilution ratios.

Natural Medicines

I am a firm believer that the cure for every disease that exists on this planet is available in its forests, rainforests, and jungles. Natural medicines have been healing human beings since the beginning of time. So many cultures have the wisdom to cure using these natural, plant-based medicines. This wisdom has largely been forgotten by Allopathic (Western) medicine that chooses to use petroleum-based pharmaceuticals to treat symptoms that are the result of our modern diseases.

This beautiful photo by Trần Anh Tuấn on Unsplash

From everything that I know about Chinese medicine, and indeed many of the wisdom traditions that have been around for thousands of years, the key to staying healthy is to live a healthy and balanced life. This has been increasingly difficult because many of us live in an unbalanced, toxic culture. For us now, I believe that living in the most natural way possible is the key to health. Eliminating toxins, eating clean, natural, fresh foods, drinking clean water, getting enough sleep and when we do become sick, using natural medicines to get us well again. Acupuncture, herbs, exercise, a healthy diet (using food as medicine) as well as things like essential oils are the best ways I know of to keep us all healthy, and if we fall ill, to bring us back to health again. Incorporating as many of these into our lives and our homes will ensure that we stay as healthy as we can, and empower us to heal ourselves when we are sick.

This beautiful photo by Vero Photoart on Unsplash

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Featured image photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


My Struggles Have Made Me A Better, More Empathetic Doctor

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Some of the most useful things that I have been able to bring to my patients are things that I have learned through my own experiences with trauma, pain, emotional issues, illnesses - and how I was able to get through them. These experiences also allow me tremendous empathy for the people I see, both in clinic and in everyday life. My thinking is that the more I go through and GET through, the better I can serve my patients and ultimately, my fellow human being. No matter our financial status, where we are born, our religion, colour or beliefs, we will all experience difficulties, pain, fear, sorrow, and illness at some time in our lives. And it helps to know that you are not alone and that you will ultimately get through it, and be stronger for the experience.

An Unusual Life (Let me get philosophical for a moment)

I have had, well, an unusual life. This has been mostly of my own making, and even though there have been a lot of ups and downs (oh *so* many), I wouldn't change any of it. I have never believed in regret. I believe that every experience that we have in this life contributes to making us who we are - that we are an accumulation of those experiences. I also think that it is important that we are at peace with the person we have become, no matter what may be happening in our lives. This certainly is not always easy. Remembering to be kind with ourselves as we are a young species, and here to learn a great deal which includes things which we judge to be unpleasant like pain, grief, loss, fear, anger, and frustration are all important pieces of the whole. Like Chinese medicine, I believe in a holistic system, with every part synergistically connecting to every other. I can draw so many parallels back to Chinese medicine, which is why I connected to it so strongly and why I fell so deeply and passionately in love with it. It is an allegory for life, and perhaps, all things in the universe and beyond.

Ever since I can remember I have been hungry for so many of the experiences that life has to offer. I didn't have a choice in the matter, it was like there was a force driving me, and I could either allow it to push me in the direction of experience or be crushed and ultimately destroyed by it. I wanted to do everything, try everything. I was driven by a curiosity about the world and my existence that has lead me to live a very, uh, interesting life. I was fascinated with travel and wanted to see as many places and cultures as I could. I loved the way that each place had a unique smell, a look, a feel and each would arouse such emotion. I also loved the newness of a different country, a new city or tiny village. I thrived being immersed in a completely alien culture and absorbing as much of it as I could, being exposed to its magic, its customs, rituals, food, and music. There is such beauty, creativity, and wonder that permeates the cultures of the world, and that is what I was after. I loved seeing what each had to offer, and learning how its people communicated, loved, celebrated and mourned. I absolutely think that travel is the best education. I learned more in my travels than I ever could in a classroom or books.

I have also been living my life in, I suppose, a unique way. I knew from very early on that I would never live the life that most people end up living. Buying a one-way ticket to another country and not knowing where you were going to stay, not having a job and not knowing how long you would be there? This is insane! they would say. Going to China alone to work in a tiny city so small (6 million people) it wasn't even on the map, and just hoping it would be ok? Foolish! Moving to Central America with a tiny baby to make a better life with hopes to buy land, live off the grid and create a sustainable community and healing retreat without the resources (yet) with which to do it? Madness. And yet, I have done all of these things with varying degrees of success. With these experiences came a lot of worry, grief, loneliness, frustration, and despair, I am not going to lie to you. And yet, even though they involved a lot of pain and emotions which are hard to deal with, I am glad I did those things because I learned a lot about myself, and how to process all the crazy things that life can throw at you. And even when things are difficult and painful, you do come out the other side, and the feelings then, are often intensely joyful because you have passed through such darkness to get to them. And yet, these experiences are not for the faint of heart. And many would say choices made by someone who may be a few crayons short of a full box.

I was once sitting in a session with a therapist before my imminent departure to a foreign country and he said to me "you know, this thing you are doing, would scare the hell out of most people. Aren't you afraid?" And, this was the first moment that I really thought about fear in connection with the situation. After a minute I said, "no, I am not scared of this at all." And then he asked me the inevitable question. "Well then, what are you scared of?" And the answer came to me quickly. I said "I am scared of being married to someone I don't love, working a job I hate and feeling trapped in a life I don't want. I fear getting to the end of my life and feeling like I never really lived."

Pain & Growth

In my experience, it has been the darkest moments, the most difficult times and when I was deeply suffering that I learned the most. It took me a long time to admit because I didn't want it to be true. I wanted to be able to learn from happiness, joy, freedom, and love, and I have. But not like I evolve when I am facing darkness. But maybe it is just me...

Take Vipassana meditation for instance. This, by definition, is taking a stroll through the winding path of your consciousness, that inevitably leads to some of the darker places in your subconscious. Vipassana is defined as "seeing things as they really are", which, at least in my experiences, have meant the whole she-bang. The light bits and the darker ones as well. And it is the darker ones that we tend to hide from, the ones that hurt us, leave scars and can hinder us in the present until we are able to heal them (acknowledging them first which is usually not easy and can bring up a lot of difficult feelings) and finally let them go.

**if you would like to learn more about Vipassana Meditation you can read about my two Vipassana retreats here - My Ten Day Vipassana Meditation and Vipassana 2.0.

I have seen this for many years with patients. As a practitioner, I like to get deep into things. I want to understand why you are having those headaches, the insomnia, and the panic attacks, so I ask a lot of questions in an attempt to get to the root of things. And I have found that so much of what makes people sick are things that have hurt them in their past that they are dragging with them into their present. That may sound strange, but in my experience, it is absolutely true. As a culture, we are all striving for health, but most of the time that is limited to the physical realm. And yet, as well as physical bodies, we all have emotions, but few of us are taught or have the skills to deal with them in a healthy way. I think that because I was such a sensitive child, and constantly overwhelmed by not only my emotions, but by the emotions of others, that I have been working my whole life to find a balance and a way to deal with them effectively so that they do not become demons that haunt me in my present.

Chinese medicine is well aware of this phenomena and the emotions are considered to be one of the causes of disease. Now, to clarify, HAVING emotions is not a cause of disease, but emotions that are suppressed, unexpressed or expressed in an inappropriate manner are seen to contribute to disease. So basically, emotional health is just as important as physical health, and so it should be. Patients are often surprised at how much attention I give to their emotional state as we talk in each session. And I tell them that it is a hugely important factor and that I need to be aware of how they are feeling so that I can better help them to rebalance and gain the equilibrium that will bring them back to health - body, mind, and spirit.

A Better Healer

I hope that because of all the experiences that I have had, and all the pain that I have been through, that those experiences have made me a better version of myself. A wiser, more compassionate self. And I also think that my struggles with pain, grief, anger, loss and my journeys into the darkness have given me the ability to recognize those struggles in others. I know that darkness, I have spent a lot of time there. I know that place and I can empathize with you if you are there too.

It is rarely the thing that people say they are coming in to see me for that is the thing that needs the most attention. And, because I have been there, in that dark place where you feel like you are hurting and all alone, that I can see that person, take their hand, and hopefully, lead them back into the light. Which is, after all, where we all want to be.

This beautiful quote by Ram Dass is one that has always really hit home for me, in my life and in my work. <3


The Most Important Qigong II - (Standing Post - Zhan Zhuang)

by John Voigt

In silence there must be movement, and in motion, there must be silence.

A small movement is better than a large movement,

no movement is better than a small.

Silence is the mother of all movement..

In movement you should be like a dragon or a tiger.

In non-movement you should be like a Buddha.

--Wang Xiangzhai, the Father of Standing Post Qigong

This is a continuation of the article - The Most Important Qigong - that appeared in Chinese Medical Living, January 2018.

A Quick Summary.

Stand straight and relaxed with chin slightly tucked back. Raise your arms and pretend to hug an imaginary large tree (or large ball). Breathe slowly, deeply, and smoothly. Hold the pose as long as possible. Relax into any discomfort you experience. If you experience any pain then stop immediately. With an empty mind be aware (feel) your posture; and gently correct it if necessary.

How Long to Practice.

Even a few minutes of serious practice each day should bring about some positive results.  As long as there is no pain, slowly extend the length of the practice. With an accomplished teacher several hours—even more—are theoretically possible.  However, for those who need more specific instructions: “Start by doing the standing exercises  for five minutes a day.  After three weeks, increase this to ten minutes.  Three weeks later, aim for 15 minutes, and 20 minutes after a further three weeks.  You can stand longer if you wish, but 20 minutes will refresh your whole system.”  Master Lam Kam Chuen.  The Way of Energy, pg. 25.

The important thing is to practice as relaxed, as long, and as often as you can.

MANAGING THE DISCOMFORT:

Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/519532506985622303/

Discomfort is to be expected and dealt with by relaxing and breathing into the strained area.

Ignore any itches, tingling, even minor quick flashing pains which often are signs that energy blockages are being opened.  If it gets to be too much just stop doing the standing posture for a few seconds, then return to it with the arms not held so high, or the knees not bent so much. To alleviate some discomfort in the arms, imagine they are suspended up by strings from the elbows and wrists.  Or lower the hands down to in front of the belly.  Or imagine the arms are made of cotton.

Other ways to reduce discomfort are more fanciful, but perhaps more effective:  imagine you are floating in a pool of warm water; or you are a feather floating in the air.  For those that are more spiritually aggressive, imagine you are an angelic being of light floating in the heavens.

The simplest remedy is paradoxical: with the hint of a smile on your lips, just disregard the discomfort and sink into it as if it weren’t there—something like getting a “second wind” for a long distance runner.

However if sharp or intense pain occurs anywhere, especially in the knees or other joints, STOP!   If pain continues to occur during future practice, discontinue all practice until you receive professional advice from someone experienced in these matters.   

TECHNIQUES TO BETTER THE PRACTICE:

A Straight Back.

Be aware of the alignment and symmetry of your pose, and gently adjust and correct it as needed.

Although they may think that they are standing straight, most people lean slightly backwards or forwards when doing Standing Post. To experience what a straight back really feels like, lie on the floor in a supine position, or stand against a wall.  Or do it with a full length mirror to check your stance; or have someone look at you and tell you when are not straight.  Or imagine you are hanging from the limb of a tree by the hair on the top of your head.

Do not “tuck the tailbone under.”  Do not put that kind of force on your spine.  If you “sit back” on an imaginary high stool, the coccyx will properly straighten by itself.

Note:

Many people need to feel that they are leaning forward to get a correct straight posture.

Look at Grand Master Yu Yong-Nian with his students in the next picture.  For most (and especially with Master Yu) a theoretical plumb line could be dropped from the crown of the head through the center of the abdomen down to the perineum area.  Not only that: the Kidney-1 points (behind the balls of the feet) also line up, and all this is done so effortlessly!

Grand Master Yu Yong Nian with his students, Beijing, circa 1985.
Image source: http://www.yiquan78.org/postures.htm

MIND:

This is a mental as well as physical exercise, overcoming random thoughts is an important aspect …. Only [by] being completely relaxed and natural, not trying to control, just letting thoughts come and go Without  Attachment, can one really stabilize and liberate the consciousness. Wang Xiangzhai: Entering the Quiet State.

Other methods to clear the mind to gain that needed “quiescence”:  listen to the breath - make it silent - listen to the silence of the breath.  If that is too difficult, count each inhalation up to ten, then go back to one and repeat the counting.

Superstar martial artist Bruce Lee may have said it best in the movie, Enter The Dragon” with his “Don’t think, feel” … [that way you won’t miss ] … “All that heavenly glory.”

EYES:

Gaze in an absent minded way at the hands. As the Chinese say, “Look but don’t look.” This helps to more deeply relax into the static standing posture.

SHOULDERS:

If you have trouble keeping the shoulders loose, inhale and squeeze the shoulders up; then quickly exhale and drop the shoulders.

FINGERS-HANDS-ARMS: 

The fingers are slightly spread apart, and the thumbs are slightly bent—(imagine each hand is catching a ball).  Or, sometimes I tell my students, “think tiger claws.”  And keep the wrists loose.

Hands and arms are normally just below shoulder level, but they may be at the level of the lower abdomen (dantian), or the forehead, or the palms may face the ground;  there are many possible options.


The Eight Zhan Zhuang Posts of Yiquan
Image source: http://mitqigong.blogspot.com/2011/06/eight-zhan-zhuang-posts-of-yiquan.html

KNEES:

The knees should never go past the toes; doing that can harm the knees.

About Knee Bends. 

Many martial arts teachers say that with the legs wider apart than shoulder width, you can gain a lower crouching stance which will enable more vital energy (qi) to be packed into your body.  This certainly has validity.  However in the standard practice of Zhan Zhuang, it is only an advanced option, and is best done only under the supervision of an experienced master teacher.

Normally the knees are bent about an inch—but it is standard to bend them as

much as you can without experiencing pain.

The knees should slightly push outward. To accomplish this, imagine a large ball expanding against, but simultaneously being held in place (isometric-like) by your knees. Guide your body weight to—and slightly lift up—the yongquan (Kidney-1) acupuncture points directly behind the balls of the feet.  This lifts the arches and distributes the weight between the heels, toes, and sides of the feet.  This will help you feel lighter and more agile.  It also keeps the knees from pointing inward.

Be a TREE. 

Zhan Zhuang sometimes is translated as “Standing Like a Tree.”  It may be helpful to bring the concept of  Tree into the practice.  For example, do the exercise outdoors among large healthy trees—You can imagine that you too are a tree standing straight and powerful; drawing up earth-yin energy and drawing down sun-yang energy.

Or visualize you are squeezing a tree and making it smaller; not only with your hands and arms, but also with your knees and legs.  Or imagine that you are pulling it out by its roots. All of these are done without any external movement.

To Prevent Energy Leakage.

Very gently tighten the muscles in the anal and perineum area.

What Not To Do. 

Master Wang Xiangzhai taught that Conscious Awareness and Physical Form working together is the basis of this work: In his words, “Mind activity is born from the posture; posture follows mind activity.”  What this means is that although he did teach using certain visualizations, he rejected thought controlled qigong practices such as orbiting qi in the meridians, working with specific acupuncture points, or Daoist or Buddhist breathing techniques.  I think he wanted us to be without any words in a place of Oneness (the “Flow” or  what athletes call, “In the Zone”).

BENEFITS FROM DOING THE PRACTICE:

“I do Zhan Zhuang and I’m happy! I do Zhan Zhuang and I’m healthy! I do Zhan Zhuang and I have a long life!”  - Grand Master Yu Yong-Nian https://munndialarts.com/english/master-yu-yong-nian/  (he lived 93 years).

Standing Post strengthens the muscles, and increases qi (life energy) in the body. It grants an awareness of the self—which may lead to profound psychological and spiritual experiences. Relaxing and being able to ignore discomfort is a skill that may be used in dealing with many of the difficult situations we may face in life.

Health: 

A basic premise of traditional Chinese health practices is that illness is caused when qi (vital life energy) is deficient, stagnant, excessive or blocked.  Properly done, Standing Post helps correct these problems.

Psychological:

Standing Post trains the mind to be still and concentrated, thereby gaining alertness, self discipline and will power.  The mind does not lose itself so easily in the daily stresses of modern life which often trigger a variety of psychological problems.

Spiritual Growth:

“In Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung one learns to return to the source of all power, to enter back into the very womb of universal energy and to experience the truth of the power of the void, the still point, the wuji" [i.e., the empty potential for infinite creation], (from Internal Arts Journal. http://www.qigonghealer.com/zhan_zhuang.html . Standing Post, occasionally called “Standing Meditation,” can bring the Body, Life Energy, and the Mind into an experienced state of Unity.  A place of Oneness: first with the self, then with nature, then the world, then the universe.  And finally perhaps with what some might call the “Dao.”

WARNINGS: 

If you have substantial [qi-energy] blockage in your body, the accumulated energy derived from Zhan Zhuang would cause internal injuries.” Wong Kiew Kit.  The Shaolin Arts. p. 150.   Do not practice when sick, instead go see a doctor!  Some sources say do not practice if you have high blood pressure, or excessive blood flow during menstruation or menopause, or if pregnant or right after childbirth.  As always, consult with professional health providers before doing any exercise or qigong; especially if you have any medical problems or health issues. As mentioned throughout this article: if there is pain stop. If the pain continues consult with a professional healer.

Notes

(Zhan Zhuang is translated many ways: “Standing Post” is accurate but without meaning for most English speakers.  Other terms are “Standing Stake,” “Standing Meditation,” “Standing Pole,” “Standing Like a Tree,” or “Stance Training.” Even its most important teacher in the 20th century, Master Wang Xiangzhai, near the end of his life called it Health Nourishing Postures,” and “Postures of Primeval Unity.”

This article is a summation of  “The Ultimate Energy Exercise: Zhan Zhuang – Standing (Like A) Post. Qi Journal, vol. 23/n.2; Summer 2013.  https://www.qi-journal.com/store.asp?-token.S=qi&ID=3319

The next issue of Chinese Medicine Living for March, 2018 will have the concluding The Most Important Qigong – III:  (Standing Post - Zhan Zhuang). It  features

Dr. Yan Xin’s http://www.yanxinqigong.net/aboutdryan/index.htm version of Standing Post, as well as a list of books, online articles, and videos for further study.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Featured image source: http://www.yiquan78.org/postures.htm


Winter Recipe - Black Bean Congee to Promote Kidney Health

By NourishU

Eating in Winter According to Chinese Medicine

Winter with the drop of temperature is the time to slow down on physical activities because our body's metabolic rate will be slower. It is also the time to eat nourishing food to help the body to preserve energy. Animals follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter. Human should also preserve energy and build up strength, preparing the body for regeneration and new growth in spring.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, tonic-taking in winter has a great bearing upon the balancing of Yin and Yang elements, the unblocking of meridians, and the harmonizing of Qi and blood. In the five elements theory of TCM, winter is when the kidneys are highly active and they have astringent and active storage functions that help in preserving energy. People should eat food with less salty taste in order to reduce the burden on the kidneys. Uncooked and frozen foods can damage the spleen and stomach and should be taken in moderation.

In winter when body's resistance is low, elderly people are especially advised to take food tonics which can improve their body constitution and promote better resistance to illness. Food tonics can have much better healthful effects than supplementation and drugs.

The tonics include superior warming herbs, fatty and meaty foods. Our body is designed to absorb the rich and nutritional foods better at this time of the year. For people who have a cold constitution with cold hands and feet, weak kidney health with frequent urination, cold and stiff body and constant pain in their backs and ankles, winter is the best time for them to correct these health problems when the body is most responsive to nutritional treatment.

The warming winter foods include chive, chicken, mutton, shrimp, ginger, garlic, walnut, mushroom, chestnut, mustard, vinegar, wine, gingko, red pepper and spring onion. For people who are cold in nature, they should also use the warming herbs such as dang shen, ginseng, astragalus, reishi mushroom, longan fruit and deer horn, etc. to promote yang energy.

For people who are hot in nature, they should use moderating foods such as spinach, eggplant, crab, white turnip, persimmon, honeydew, bitter melon and pineapple to moderate the heat.

For people who have a moderate constitution (neither too hot nor too cold), they should use moderately warm herbs such as Chinese yam, goji-berries, American ginseng, glehnia and Solomon's seal to maintain a healthy balance.

Black Bean Congee

Therapeutic Effects

Promotes kidney health.

Ingredients

  • Black beans 黑豆 – 2 spoonfuls
  • Little red bean 紅小豆 – one spoonful
  • Chinese Yam (shan yao) 山藥 – 30gm
  • Goji-berry / Chinese Wolfberry (gou ji zi) 枸杞子 – 10 to 20
  • Rice – half a cup

Directions

1.   Soak beans and yam for 2 hours and rinse.

2.   Soak goji-berry for 30 minutes and rinse.

3.   Rinse rice. Bring 4 cups of water in a pot to a boil and put in all ingredients. Boil again, lower heat to medium and cook for about 45 minutes or until beans are soft. Add water if necessary.

Usage

No limitation. Eat in the evening with dinner for best results.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Winter Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Winter Season in Chinese Medicine.

**Photo by Sandra Frey on Unsplash


Diet and Spirituality: Feeding the Mind, Body, and Soul

By freelance writer Sally Perkins

The idea that food can be a direct route to health and happiness is a belief that’s been long held by proprietors of traditional Chinese medicine. Recipes have passed down through generations that are used to help prevent and treat disease, slow down the aging process, or simply improve overall fitness. To this day, many households that use a traditional approach to health consider the pantry to be synonymous with the medicine cabinet.

In traditional Chinese medicine, food is more than just sustenance. It’s a healthy lifestyle choice that has a significant impact on your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Practitioners of traditional medicine promote the idea that a carefully crafted diet plan should be the first line of defense against any illness or ailment. Traditional medicine has shaped many common Chinese dishes that include a wide variety of vegetables and meats considered to have positive health benefits. Different health call for different ingredients, including herbs, spices, and vegetables that are known to have healing properties.

Dampness

Foods that are damp in nature can slow the digestive system and interfere with the flow of energy throughout your body. This blockage can lead to pain, disease, chronic allergies, and even arthritis. Signs of dampness can include congestion and excessive mucus formation, indigestion, weight gain, and swelling in the joints.

Foods to Include

  • Cooked vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans, lentils, and legumes
  • Lean protein
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Seaweed and kelp
  • Nuts and seeds

Foods to Avoid

  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Refined sugars
  • Processed flour
  • Coffee and alcohol
  • Bananas and avocado

Yin Deficiency

Responsible for keeping you cool, a deficiency with your yin can lead to overheating and fever. Yin is closely associated with the kidneys, which function to remove toxins from your system. An imbalance in your Yin can be the result of stress or overwork, but it may also be due to an inadequate diet.

Foods to Include

  • Barley, millet, and other whole grains
  • Beans and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Fruits such as apples, pears, and bananas
  • Seafood and red meat

Foods to Avoid

  • Hot or spicy foods
  • Caffeine, cigarettes, and other stimulants
  • Sugars

Yang Deficiency

Also often a result of improper kidney functioning, a deficiency in Yang energy is characterized by soreness in the joints and lumbar region, cold sensations in the limbs, difficulty urinating, incontinence, and a decreased libido.

Foods to Include

  • Berries and nuts
  • Red meats such as lamb and venison
  • Seafood
  • Strong spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, peppermint, and more

Foods to Avoid

  • Cold foods and liquids
  • Raw food

According to traditional Chinese medicine, a balance between flavor and nutrition helps to promote both physical and spiritual well being. By eating the right foods, you can keep your body in balance and reduce or alleviate the symptoms of certain chronic conditions.

 

**Beautiful featured image by Blair Fraser on Unsplash


Meditation for Health, Happiness & Wellbeing

By Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP

For thousands of years cultures around the world have known about the benefits of meditation and have woven the practice into their daily lives. Meditation is not just a way to relax or clear your mind, it has been used for millennia to raise consciousness and connect us with the divine.

Meditation for many of us has become a sort of buzz word. Meditation is touted as a way to help you relax, get better sleep, lower stress and improve mental functions. And while meditation does all of those things, they are just a few of its wonderful byproducts. If you look at the complete picture of what meditation is and what it was originally intended for, the benefits of meditation go much deeper. A devoted practice can help not only feed the physical as well as the psychological aspects of ourselves, but can also connect you to your spirit, fostering self awareness, and filling you with feelings of compassion and loving kindness. When some are in a deep state of meditation, they are able to activate the pineal gland (also known as the third eye) - a small pine cone shaped gland that sits in the centre of the brain - and is thought by many cultures to be the doorway that leads from the physical to the spiritual worlds. The pineal gland is extremely sensitive to light, and this is why in many ancient cultures, serious meditators have always engaged in long periods of meditation in complete darkness. This darkness activates the pineal gland and allows humans to traverse from the physical to the spiritual worlds and gain insights into the nature of life and the cosmos as well as connect with the universal energy (of which we are all a part). These experiences remove the body and the ego completely and allow a person to shed their worldly trappings and feel what it is like to be in complete oneness. This has been described by some as what it is like when we "die", leaving our bodies and returning to source energy.

Science & Spirituality

It is only in our recent history that science and spirituality have been broken into two separate entities. They used to be considered part of the whole of things - the macrocosm, neither being able to exist without the other. But things started to change - subjects were broken apart and people began to specialize, meaning it became more difficult for anyone to see the whole picture. With the world as it is now, with its focus on science, it is difficult to accept that science and spirituality were at one time inseparable. Many ancient cultures had a holistic view of life and the cosmos, and their lives were part of a vast web that included all of nature and indeed, everything in existence. As a species we have become so identified with our minds and especially our thoughts, that this connection to the whole, of all there is, has largely been lost. We have slowly separated ourselves from the world that we came out of and have become more and more identified with our thoughts - one tiny aspect of who we are.

Impermanence - Anicca

Ancient cultures around the world realized what to us living in the modern world seem to have forgotten - that life is a microcosm of the universe itself, and is in a constant state of change. The only constant is change itself. This is what the Buddhists call "anicca" which literally means impermanence. This knowledge did not cause worry or fear as it might today, but a sense of calm and peace, the acceptance of the way things are, and that everything rises and passes away in an unending cycle. As a culture, we are taught to yearn for things or experiences that are desirable or cause us to feel pleasure, and to avoid painful or negative experiences. The acceptance of anicca in ones life is actually quite liberating. Instead of spending energy craving or avoiding things, you just accept everything as it comes, not judging it to be good or bad but simply allowing it to happen and then, inevitably, to pass away into the ether.

The Benefits of Meditation in Modern Life

The benefits of meditation are particularly compelling and needed at this time in our history. Many people live more unnaturally than they ever have, working long hours in offices in front of computers, living in huge buildings alone in tiny apartments, eating at their desks, consuming foods that are processed and made in factories, not getting enough sleep, spending little to no time outside and always in a hurry. Does this sound familiar? If this is not you, then you are fortunate, but it is the life that many of us have - often out of necessity. We also have problems like violence, addictive behaviours, mental illnesses and suicide in unprecedented numbers. Our modern lives, and the fast pace at which we live them, have caused us to lose the connection to ourselves and to others. So many of us are sick, sad and lonely and struggling to live lives with the most basic of necessities. Also, for the first time in a long time, life is not getting better for each subsequent generation, it is getting harder. The political, and economic landscape has become divisive, corrupt and many people are losing faith in their ability to live a happy, fulfilling life.

The gift that meditation can give you is a chance to slow down. It is amazing all the sounds you can hear in the silence. It is amazing what happens when you slow down and LISTEN. Going outside and sitting in the grass quietly, you will begin to hear that nature has a hum that you have never heard before. It is communicating with you, it has always been communicating with you, but you have never been able to hear it. The natural world speaks a language that we have all known since the dawn of time, but our lives - the way we are living our lives - are drowning it out and we have slowly forgotten it.

Our fast paced, hectic lives take a toll on us on many levels. Physically they exhaust our adrenal glands (the glands that sit on top of our kidneys and manage our fight or flight responses to perceived threats or danger). Due to the high levels of stimulus constantly coming at us, our nervous systems are overworked and easily become exhausted leaving us feeling frazzled and anxious. Many of us are overworked and under-slept not giving our bodies time to heal, relax and play that they desperately need. Some may need to work more to pay off debts, school loans or support families, parents or grandparents. It has become increasingly difficult to live a balanced life in an unbalanced world. With the widening gap between rich and poor, life for many is getting harder and not easier putting even more stress on us individually and as a species.

With this constant focus on the external world, which is where we must focus at least some of our energies if we are to survive, there is little time to look inward and cultivate our inner worlds. This includes the cultivation of our spirit which contributes to our health and wellbeing. It also allows us to remove ourselves from the world of the physical, detach from our ego's and reconnect with the one universal energy.

Meditation & Health

Meditation is something I recommend to all my patients. In my opinion, there is not a single person that would not benefit from meditating regularly. It does not require any expensive equipment, any in depth knowledge or adherence to a specific set of beliefs or a level of physical fitness. All you need is the desire and a little time.

I usually recommend starting slowly to help get your body and mind into the habit. It can be overwhelming at first and many experience what can be quite an intense "monkey mind". That is the mind racing from one thought to another and never seeming to quiet down. This is normal. If you think about it, we rarely simply allow our minds to wander - letting them move from one thought to another without pulling them in one particular direction. We are constantly tasking them with specific things, forcing them to focus and never really allowing them to relax and for our thoughts to meander as they like. So, when you begin, your mind tends to sort of freak out, having never been allowed to run free before, it runs wild and in all directions at once. I find that starting slowly helps, and after a few days or sometimes weeks, your mind starts to quiet down. There are many, many meditation techniques out there, and if you like, you can find one that resonates with you, but for the beginning I simply tell patients to get to a point where your mind is quiet. Once there, focus on your breathing and the physical sensations on the body. Just observing them. The wind hitting a spot on your arm. The breath as it enters your nose. The smell of a flower growing just outside an open window. The mind will inevitably wander, but you must not get frustrated, you simply kindly and gently bring yourself back to the breath. Twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening is ideal and you will find that just this small thing will have a positive effect that will ripple through your entire life.

Meditation Benefits

There are numerous benefits to maintaining an ongoing meditation practice for body, mind and spirit. They are:

  • Improves memory, concentration and clear thinking
  • Improves quality and quantity of sleep
  • Decreases anxiety and stress
  • Builds a sense of wellbeing
  • Deepens our sense of compassion and insight
  • Nurtures a sense of joy, peace and love
  • Helps to build connections within ourselves and with others
  • Helps us to process and manage our emotions
  • Cultivates personal growth and self discovery
  • Helps to connect us to our inner selves
  • Separates us from the ego and helps us to connect to source or universal energy

Beginners Meditation Tips

  • Start Slowly - Just 10 Minutes at a Time is Great
  • Find Time Everyday - Preferably Morning, Evening or Both
  • Find a Comfortable Seated Position
  • Be in a Room with No distractions - Clean & Quiet with Good Energy
  • Expect Your Thoughts to Run Wild at First - They Will Calm Down with Time
  • Focus on Your Breath - Whatever Thoughts Enter Your Head, Just Gently Return to the Breath
  • Be Kind to Yourself - It Takes Time!

A Guided Meditation for Beginners (4 Videos)

There are almost limitless meditations and techniques, and I encourage any of you that are new to meditation to try things out and find something that resonates with you. Here is a nice guided meditation with some information and good instruction that you can check out on our YouTube channel, I will embed them below. Feel free in the comments to let me know what you think. :)

Samadhi - Guided Meditation - Chinese Medicine Living YouTube Channel

Meditation Gear

The great thing about meditation is you really don't need any "gear" at all. All you really need is a quiet place and, if possible, something soft to sit on so your bum and legs don't hurt. But, if you want to get more serious, then creating a lovely, peaceful space where you can meditate and having a few things can help get you into the right head and body space to do some serious meditating. I would say that having a dedicated space for meditating is wonderful if you can do it. The thinking is that every time you meditate in that space, you are building up the good energy there and it will help you slip into your meditations more easily. If you don't believe me, try it. Once you have been meditating in a space for a while you will literally be able to feel how powerful the energy is there. And it doesn't have to be big, all you really need is enough room to sit down and cross your legs.

Seated on my SPOKO meditation bench.
There are many ways to sit in meditation, you just have to find the one that is comfortable for you. 

Another thing that is nice to have is a meditation cushion, or bench to sit on for your meditation practice. There are a wide variety of both, and which kind you choose is really about your own personal preference. I have a few cushions of different styles that I love as well as this beautiful meditation bench which I have featured in this article. Now, I have used a few types of meditation benches which are originally what the Japanese use to meditate, and all of them were pretty uncomfortable, especially for long meditations. But, this particular bench was ergonomically designed and is actually incredibly comfortable - and beautiful to boot. It is called the Spoko meditation bench made by a lovely company in Canada. I love this bench as it is comfortable, beautiful and very portable for impromptu outside meditations. The legs come off so it is very easy to throw into a backpack if you are doing something like hiking up to a waterfall or walking in a forest and find a place you would like to stop and meditate to soak up the nature vibes.

If you would like to read my review of this sassy bench you can here - Spoko Meditation Bench Review.

Meditation for Everyone

In conclusion, I think it is exciting that meditation is getting so much positive attention these days. Scientists are now beginning to be able to prove its positive effects on the brain and body, and many cultures have known its benefits on all aspects of our beings for centuries. Even though I am a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I always stay open to all possibilities that can bring healing to us on any and all levels. Meditation, for me, has been one of the best healing tools that I have discovered. Like anything, there are layers to it and it depends on what you goal is when you begin, but I have found that one of the best things about meditation is that when you spend time in the silence, there is a unique opportunity to delve deeply into yourself, and that if you are willing to listen, this is where the answers to all the questions that you have ever asked lie. It has been a reminder that inside us is everything that we have ever needed to be healthy, happy and divine beings.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

End Notes

Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana meditation is approximately 2500 years old and is thought to be the meditation taught by the Buddha himself. If you would like to learn more about Vipassana meditation, you can read about the two 10 day silent Vipassana retreats that I have done here - My 10 Day Vipassana Meditation and Vipassana 2.0. There is also an excellent documentary about Vipassana meditation that I would highly recommend called The Dhamma Brothers.

In this article, I have featured the SPOKO meditation bench. If you would like to read the review, you may do so here - Spoko Meditation Bench Review. If you would like to have one of your very own, you may purchase it here - SPOKO.ca

The wonderful guided meditation is from The Samadhi Center via the AwakenTheWorldFilm YouTube Channel. Thank you for your awesomeness!

There is an excellent series of four videos called Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds. They cover a huge range of topics, but are a must see for everyone! There is quite a bit on meditation as well so check them out, I highly recommend them. :)

You can watch all four parts on the Chinese Medicine Living YouTube Channel.

Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds

Part One - Akasha
Part Two - The Spiral
Part Three - The Serpent And The Lotus
Part Four -  Beyond Thinking

The beautiful featured image Photo by Sarah Ball on Unsplash. Thank you!


Winter Recipe - Lamb Thigh & Warming Herbs Soup

By NourishU

Winter Recipes in Chinese Medicine

This beautiful Photo by Natasha Vasiljeva on Unsplash

Winter, with the drop in temperature, is the time to slow down physical activities as our body's metabolic rate slows down at this time of year. It is also the time to eat nourishing food to help the body to preserve energy. Animals follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter. Human should also preserve energy and build up strength, preparing the body for regeneration and new growth in spring.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, tonic-taking in winter has a great bearing upon the balancing of Yin and Yang elements, the unblocking of meridians, and the harmonizing of Qi and blood. In the five elements theory of TCM, winter is when the kidneys are highly active and they have astringent and active storage functions that help in preserving energy. People should eat food with less salty taste in order to reduce the burden on the kidneys. Uncooked and frozen foods can damage the spleen and stomach and should be taken in moderation.

In winter when body's resistance is low, elderly people are especially advised to take food tonics which can improve their body constitution and promote better resistance to illness. Food tonics can have much better healthful effects than supplementation and drugs.

The tonics include superior warming herbs, fatty and meaty foods. Our body is designed to absorb the rich and nutritional foods better at this time of the year. For people who have a cold constitution with cold hands and feet, weak kidney health with frequent urination, cold and stiff body and constant pain in their backs and ankles, winter is the best time for them to correct these health problems, as it is when the body is most responsive to nutritional treatment.

The warming winter foods include chive, chicken, mutton, shrimp, ginger, garlic, walnut, mushroom, chestnut, mustard, vinegar, wine, gingko, red pepper and spring onion. For people who are cold in nature, they should also use warming herbs such as dangshen, ginseng, astragalus, reishi mushroom, longan fruit and deer horn, etc. to promote yang energy.

Winter Recipe - Lamb Thigh & Warming Herbs Soup

Symptoms

Lack of appetite, cold hands and feet and general weakness due to being overworked.

Therapeutic Effects

Warms the center, promotes blood and qi, promotes vital fluids and prevents aging.

INGREDIENTS (3 servings)

Rou Cong Rong

  • Lamb thigh 羊脾肉 – 360gm
  • Broomrape (rou cong rong) 肉鬆蓉 – 15gm
  • Chinese Yam (shan yao) 淮山 – 30gm
  • Angelica Sinensis (dang gui) 當歸- 9gm
  • Asparagus root (tian dong) 天冬 ( 去心 ) – 9gm
  • Astragalus / Astragali Radix (huang qi) 北耆 – 6gm
  • American ginseng 花旗參 - 9gm
  • Atractylodes Rhizoma (pai chu) 白朮 – 6gm
  • Glutinous rice 糯米 – 60gm

Shan Yao - Chinese Yam

1.   Rinse lamb and put in boiling water to cook for a few minutes. Remove, rinse and drain dry.

2.   Brown lamb in a wok with no oil.

3.   Rinse herbs and rice and put together with lamb in a slow cooker with 6 cups of boiling water. Turn on high heat and let it cook for at least 4 hours until meat is all tender.

4.   Add salt and 2 spoonfuls of wine and serve.

Dang Gui Chinese Herb

USAGE

Not suitable if you have a cold or flu. Take once a day with a meal.

For people who may be too weak to accept this enriching recipe right away, it is recommended to start taking astragalus and dates tea, a couple of times per week for two weeks before taking this recipe.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Featured image by Photo by Tom Crew on Unsplash

If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Winter Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Winter Season in Chinese Medicine.