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

 



Vipassana 2.0.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I am constantly reminded that the moment I think I might know something about something, I really don't know it at all. Sometimes this is a kind and gentle reminder, and sometimes it is like being hit by a train. Vipassana is the ultimate truth teller.

I have just returned from another foray into the bewildering/fantastical/frightening world that is my subconscious. That trip manifested itself as a 10 day Vipassana meditation in Georgia. It was my second, and so very different from the first. My reference above to the "thinking I know something" and the "not really knowing it at all" were at play during my time there. The reminders came gently, but relentlessly, with the cold, the hunger pangs, the bad taste in my mouth and my walks in the woods.

I tried to go having no expectations. I had only been once, and, intellectually at least, I thought, every time will be different. You are a different human being each time, arriving with different baggage that needs unpacking. But, even though I understood it with my mind, I didn't really believe it, because I was surprised and to be honest, a little disappointed each time something was different. Immediately I am reminded of the Sanscrit word for impermanence - annicca which we heard over and over again. Let things arise and then pass away. Don't have expectations. Just observe without craving or aversion. Lovely words, such lovely words...

Vipassana Meditation : Chinese Medicine Living

The two experiences were wildly different. I was surprised by how different they were, but I now have to consider that it was a different human being that attended a year and a half ago than the one that arrived on that cold Georgia morning a couple of weeks ago. I was wildly different. Both times.

One of the first observations I had about the difference was that this was a very yin experience. Very contracted. Serious, and a little dark. This was partially the weather I am sure, it was cold as @#*! (in Georgia, really?) and it felt like we were all struggling with our psyches as well as the cold in our bones for ten days straight. Waking up at 4am to haul yourself out of a moderately warm bed to plunge yourself into the middle of the night where you could see your breath and there was ice on things was simply more than I could bear on some mornings. I slept in my hat and sometimes my scarf, and I wore the one pair of long underwear I had day and night for ten days. (I lost my dignity long ago...). Another reason for the yin nature of this experience was also I think that the average age of most of the ladies participating was over 50 which was really interesting. I felt young. (whee!)

My first experience was in late June/July and it was hot as the devil. It was lush and green and everything felt very alive, including all of us. The experience felt like it was awakening something in me, something dormant and decidedly yang in nature. Also, most of the girls were under 30. There were a couple of older ladies, but the rest were young. It was a very expansive energy and much lighter. Less serious. There was joy in the air amid the occasional snore and sob heard in the meditation hall. An occasional titter when someone farted while we were all concentrating so hard.

The Silence

Noble Silence : Vipassana Meditation

 The ten days (actually it is eleven) that you are there, you are completely silent. There is no speaking. There is also no technology of any kind, so you hand over your phones, tablets and all things technological when you arrive. You cannot have books, pens or paper either. And there is no eye contact. This may sound harsh and kind of a terrible way to spend ten days, but honestly, it is the best way for you to get the most out of the experience. And it is sort of awesome.

Personally, I loved the silence. Both times, I was sort of sad when we were allowed to speak again. The world gets loud, and so do your thoughts. How many times in your life do you spend ten days in the woods being completely silent? What HAPPENS to you when you remove the noise from the outside world and the noise coming out of your face? Well, it gets quiet. Really quiet, and eventually, something amazing happens. Your mind gets quiet as well. And when it stops churning and running and make believing (I did a lot of that), then some pretty profound stuff can happen. And some painful things too. For me, this time was a lot about the pain. I brought a lot of it with me, and I knew I was going to have to face it while I was there, because there were no distractions and there is nowhere else to go. Vipassana is like holding up a very large mirror helping you to see things the way they really are. That is the definition of Vipassana. And sometimes the way things really are isn't pretty. But that's ok, because it will pass. It isn't permanent.

I found that this time I knew the mechanics of things, the way things worked. The logistics. And this seemed to free my mind up for deeper, slightly scarier and more intense work. I had a lot to work through this time. The last time I went with a problem, a question I was grappling with and a curiosity about what this thing was and what it was going to do to me, but this time I was arriving after a complete life collapse. And what I wondered about this time was that if I delved deep into the darkness that had become my world of late, if I would ever come out. If I faced my demons, if they would overcome me or if I would come out the other side, back into the light. I am happy to say that I did come out the other side, and was reminded that darkness can't exist without light. They are both there. Always. It just depends on which one you are focussing on at any particular moment.

My favourite part of each day was the hour after lunch when I would walk in the woods. The woods are so wonderful and full of healing energy. When there is no outside (or inside) noise, it is like every tree, every insect and every blade of grass is speaking to you. It is the hum of nature, the qi of everything that is alive. I remember this from the last time too. Nature becomes so powerful. So communicative. I wanted to touch everything. Appropriately. I picked up leaves, ran my hands along ferns and touched the bark of trees communicating back to nature through my hands. Interestingly, everyone else seemed to be feeling the same thing. All the ladies could be seen out and walking in the forest, drinking in every bit of energy that radiated from it. Some would be standing looking up at trees, crouching looking at something on the ground or inspecting some flower or plant along the path. At one point early in the ten days, something cool happened. Someone drew a heart with a stick in the sand on the path. I smiled when I saw it. Every time I saw it. And then some lovely being made a piece of art out of different coloured leaves and twigs and left it by the path for others to enjoy. And as the days went on, more and more of these lovely pieces of art began to appear along the path, like a burst of creativity, being pushed out through nature by the ladies in our dorm. I was amazed at how creative they were. And how up lifting. I was excited to get out each day and see what new ones would be waiting.

Something I was not expecting was that I didn't sleep. The last time I slept like a corpse. Every night. I was practically asleep before I got into my bunk, but this time I feel like I didn't sleep a whole night the entire time I was there. I felt haunted. And was uncomfortable in my bed. It wasn't my bed that was uncomfortable, it was me. My mind was uncomfortable. My thoughts restless and dark. Sometimes I was still awake when the gong rang at 4am and wondered how I would sit for 12 hours in meditation on no sleep. But amazingly, I did it. Every day.

Another thing I noticed about this time more than the last was the need (or attempt) to overcome the body. There are three meditations in the day where you are asked to sit for one hour straight and not move. You work up to this, and I think these start on day three or four. At first, you feel like you are going to be paralyzed. That your knees will explode or that you will simply go insane. I know because when speaking to the girls at the end, we had all had this thought. More than once. But after a few sessions, you start to be able to sit, and to not move and you sort of surrender your body to it and that helps. Eventually, you can drop into it no problem when only a few days before you were sure they were going to have to carry you out of there on a stretcher. You are not "in" your body identified with it, you are a casual observer, looking from the outside. This is the point. Start with the body, and move it into your life. Its a powerful lesson.

The lesson is compounded by the fact that as an "old" student - which means that you have done at least one full ten day Vipassana course - that you will not eat after the 11am meal. At 5pm there is a snack which consists of tea and fruit for "new" students, but old students must refrain from eating. So... breakfast is at 6:30am, and lunch is at 11am... then you don't eat again until 6:30 the next morning. Now, I don't know about you, but I am a lover of food. Eating is like the best part of my day. I am also not a breakfast person as it takes my stomach a while to wake up. This usually happens fully at around lunch time. This caused serious problems considering 11am was the only meal my stomach was awake for. I had to really maximize that meal without looking like a greedy lunatic. For the first few days I did pretty well. I just decided, well, there is no food after lunch so don't think about it. Even at 5pm when the others were eating, I made a point not to look at the fruit they were eating and that did it. I just didn't think about it and therefore, wasn't hungry. Then on about day 4 I accidentally made eye contact with a bowl brimming with delicious and tasty looking fruits and it was all over. It was all I (and my poor stomach) could think about for the afternoon and evening meditations. All 8 hours of them. I was hungry. SOOOooooooo hungry. And that continued every day until the end. I managed, but the feeling of hunger never went away. I am not sure my stomach will ever forgive me.

Another thing that is granted to "old" students is a meditation cell for some of your ten days. I was given a cell for two whole days. The meditation cells are in a hallway located behind a mysterious door next to the meditation hall. I remember last time I was there wondering fiercely what was behind that door and what the meditation cells were like... Behind the door is a narrow hallway and 5 or 6 doors, all very close together. I was in cell number one, the first. I opened the door and there was a meditation cushion on the floor. That was it, it was the size of a meditation cushion with enough space to open the door. I spent two intense days in that cell, burning through all the painful emotions that I brought with me. Those were by far the most intense days for me, but it was a good chance to feel through them and finally let them go.

All in all I am so glad that I went. People asked when I got home if it was a good experience. It was a difficult experience, but a worthwhile one. I came back exhausted and had lost some weight, but I felt clean. Purified. It was a healing experience. A friend who had come with me and I spoke at length on the way home in the car and this was a fascinating and extremely edifying conversation. How interesting how two people could have the same experience, but, at the same time have a completely different experience. It was a really helpful conversation.

Again, I am struck by how pure it remains. It doesn't matter what you believe, what colour you are or what your background is, all are welcome. The goal is to bring human beings out of suffering by teaching them to gain mastery over their minds. A worthy goal, and one the planet so desperately needs. I think the intensity of the experience is really up to each individual. How deep you are willing to dig, how much light you are willing to shine on the dark places. And what you brought with you. I will go back. I am going to try to go every year to keep myself sane. As an attempt to be a better healer and a better human being. It is a work in progress.

Happy Beings : Chinese Medicine Living*Image from Root Down Coaching & Yoga 

If you would like to read about my first 10 Day Silent Vipassana Retreat, you can do so here - My 10 Day Vipassana Retreat. If you would like to learn more about Vipassana meditation, you can watch this excellent documentary called The Dhamma Brothers. It will leave you inspired. :)

 

Vipassana 2.0 : Chinese Medicine Living